Review: Eternal Wanderings by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

44671370Eternal Wanderings by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Publication date: April 1, 2019 by Paper Phoenix Press

Pre-order this book at: Amazon | B&N

Synopsis: Mortal. Immortal. Musician. Mage.

On a journey from the boroughs of New York to the heart of Tir na nÓg, from innocence to the deepest darkest crevices of her soul, Kara O’Keefe found power and strength in the discovery of self. But with that peace came a hard truth. As a bridge between many worlds, none of them held a place for her.

She must find her own way, forge her own path.
To honor a vow to Granddame Rose, a matriarch of the Kalderaš Clan, Kara joins the Romani caravan, only to find herself even more of an outsider than before. While she strives for acceptance, and to honor her vow, little does she know she has once more become a lure to an ancient and deadly enemy, drawing danger into the midst of her unsuspecting hosts.

Once savior of the world, Kara must now save herself and the innocents around her.

She has come into her legacy, but where will destiny take her?

Rating3 star

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

I wish that I had known this book was the fourth in a series before I requested it because I think I would have enjoyed it more having read the previous works. But I did not know and the premise sounded fascinating.

This was a good story. It was very well written, the characters were engaging and the story was a lot of fun. The author also peppered in enough information about previous books that I was able to follow along by about 40 pages in. I was captured in the story even when I didn’t entirely know what was happening.

My biggest complaint with this one was the length. The story described in the synopsis is only about 70 pages long, barely a novella, when I was expecting a full length novel. The remaining 70 pages of the book was a collection of short stories for this series universe. I skipped all but the first one because I had no idea who any of the characters were and didn’t feel the title story should be negatively impacted because I couldn’t follow those side stories. But 70 pages is barely anything. I felt like the story was just reaching the climax point and then it was over.

So, while I loved the writing and I loved the story I was left feeling unsatisfying because it didn’t feel complete. I may venture back to this series at some point and read from the beginning though because it was very well done.

Review: And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks

45894105And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks

Expected Publication: February 11, 2020 by Liveright

Pre-Order this book at: Amazon| Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Exciting fans of such writers as Kelly Link, Karen Russell, and Carmen Maria Machado with prose that shimmers and stings, Amber Sparks holds a singular role in the canon of the weird. Now, she reaches new, uncanny heights with And I Do Not Forgive You. In “Mildly Happy, With Moments of Joy,” a friend is ghosted by a simple text message; in “Everyone’s a Winner at Meadow Park,” a teen precariously coming of age in a trailer park befriends an actual ghost. At once humorous and unapologetically fierce, these stories shine an interrogating light on the adage that “history likes to lie about women”— as the subjects of “A Short and Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife” and “You Won’t Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women” (it’s true, you won’t) will attest. Blending fairy tales and myths with apocalyptic technologies, all tethered intricately by shades of rage, And I Do Not Forgive You offers a mosaic of an all-too-real world that fails to listen to its silenced goddesses.

Rating: 1 star

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

The best thing that I can say about this book was that it was forgettable. The worst thing I can say about this book was that it is forgettable and pointless. The short version of this review is that these aren’t actual short stories. They are pieces of stories. Not a single one of them actually has an ending. They end, but they don’t have an ending. Even the one story that I liked just….ended with no resolution. And several of them were three paragraphs long and left me wondering what the point of even reading it was.

Add in the rampant, militant feminism that every male in the stories is a bad man, hurting women and doing terrible things and every woman needs to be avenged for the collective sins of men and I just couldn’t bear this book at all.

WARNING: Spoilers from here on out.

The one story that I enjoyed was about a couple who can’t stop thinking about the great amount of noise their upstairs neighbors make in the middle of the night. Are they moving bodies up there? Do they own ten Great Danes? Teach midnight tap dancing? Everyone who has had upstairs neighbors knows this feeling. So it was very relatable and fun. But then it was just over. The male of the couple goes upstairs to confront the neighbors about the noise and she just keeps waiting for him to come back, the end. Very abrupt and ended right in the middle of the resolution. This made it so forgettable that it took me ten minutes to remember the premise of this story when I sat down to write this review.

There were also some fact problems with this book. For example, the story about the Sabine women. I am familiar with the story and I am familiar with the varying interpretations of the story over the years. Basically soldiers from Rome invade the city of Sabine killing all the men and taking the women as war trophies to rape and force into marriage. It was a fine story but when the Roman soldiers invade Sabine the women cry out to the goddess Demeter for assistance. Why? Demeter is a fierce goddess to be sure and a great defender of women, but she’s also a Greek goddess. Five minutes on Google will tell you that Sabine was part of the Roman empire in, what is now, Italy. So why would they be crying out in anguish for a Greek goddess’ assistance? That made zero sense and took away from the story.

Also, none of the women actually have to take responsibility for their actions in these stories. Men are bad and women cannot have freedom or happiness until men are eradicated from the world. That’s the main premise of every story in the book. Even when you are living with someone who is obviously mentally ill, has proclaimed themselves a messiah and is planning a massive murder/suicide plot….just blame him for your decision to stay with him and complain that he just abandoned you for his delusions. Don’t try to intervene to get him help or anything, let him go along with his plan but bitch about it every step of the way because obviously he’s the bad guy. Where’s the accountability? Where’s the compassion to try and get someone who you love the help that they obviously need? No, he’s obviously the bad guy and the poor woman doesn’t have to take any accountability for her choices. This is just one example out of many.

Some of the stories even stretch plausibility to the breaking point to make men the bad guy. At one point a girl just randomly happens on the janitor from school abducting her friend and fights to free her. It didn’t fit the story at all and was so unexpected that I just couldn’t get there. I almost thought about abandoning the book at that point because it was nonsensical and only happened to make janitor guy a monster. Or the story about a historical woman who helped her husband achieve greatness while remaining in the darkness herself, despite being more accomplished. This should have been a fascinating story to tell. But instead we got two women joking over text messages about how religion is ridiculous and men are stupid. With almost those exact childish words. Really? I’m supposed to take these women seriously when you paint them as immature children?

At the end of the day I will have forgotten about this book by tomorrow because it was just that pointless.

Review: Asperfell by Jamie Thomas

Asperfell_CoverWithBleed_101918Asperfell by Jamie Thomas

Expected publication: February 18, 2020 by Uproar Books Inc

Pre-order this book on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Only the darkest and most dangerous of Mages are sentenced to pass through the gate to Asperfell.

Not one has ever returned.

Never did Briony dream she might set foot in the otherworldly prison of Asperfell. She was, after all, neither Mage nor criminal. She was simply her father’s little whirlwind—fingers smudged with ink, dresses caked with mud—forever lost in a book or the spirit-haunted woods surrounding her family’s country estate.

But Briony always had a knack for showing up where she was least expected.

Only by braving the gate of Asperfell could Briony hope to find the true heir to the throne of Tiralaen and save her kingdom from civil war. And so, she plunges into a world of caged madmen and demented spirits, of dark magic and cryptic whispers… and of a bleak and broken prince with no interest in being rescued.

Hauntingly beautiful and lavishly told, Asperfell is a must-read for fans of Jane Austen who always wished she’d dabbled in blood magic.

Rating: 2 star

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

I wanted to like this book. I really really wanted to like this book. It is exactly the type of book that I normally enjoy. A young, spunky female lead character. Magic. Society that seems to be based on a Victorian standard. Mysteries. Prisons. Other planes of existence. But I just couldn’t like it.

The writing is very good and thus why I gave this a two star rating over a one star. The dialogue is engaging, the plot moves at a fairly good pace, and the narrative flows beautifully. The first half of the book seemed a bit on the slow side while the second half was very rushed but that is my only complaint about the writing.

WARNING: From this point on there will be lots of spoilers, consider yourself warned.

This book has never met a young adult trope that it didn’t like….and utilize…..frequently. Let me preface where my opinion is coming from on this novel. The very first sentence, before I even hit the first chapter is that the author wants to “smash the patriarchy one novel at a time!”. Now, I will also explain that I am rather tired of reading militantly feminist literature, it seems to be everywhere these days. Normally I can overlook an author’s personal views or opinions about the book and just take the book for the story it presents. But not when that’s what you open with. The very first thing you told me about your story is that it’s smashing patriarchy with its strong female characters so you need to live up to that. You have now infused that idea into your novel and need to deliver.

This did not deliver. Instead I got the same old tired tropes of the young adult genre that feminist readers complain about constantly. How exactly are you smashing patriarchy? By presenting me tropes that I’ve been reading since I was 13 years old?

Briony is just like every young adult female lead character. She is spunky, sassy, strong willed, and bucks the patriarchal system that she was born into. Her older sister is the perfect lady of the court. This isn’t a new dynamic and it can be a good one when used correctly. I didn’t actually mind this because it set up Briony as a character who is questing to be knowledgeable. Knowledge and wisdom will be her weapon in the fight against what society has said her place is. That’s all well and good. My problems start when Briony gets to Asperfell.

Naturally she instantly dislikes Prince Elyan. He is dour, brooding, and wants nothing to do with her and largely he is exactly what one expects from the young adult male lead. I assumed Briony would be on a mission to find the answer to take him home whether he protested or not. But…..she doesn’t. Within the space of a chapter she seems to have completely forgotten about her mission and just goes along with working in the gardens and learning magic all while throwing a glare at Elyan when he deigns to make an appearance. He, of course, is primarily there to ridicule her efforts before disappearing again.

It wasn’t until about the last forty pages that Briony suddenly remembers that she is supposed to be getting Elyan back to their homeland. And only because someone whacked her across the head with the information that would lead her to that goal. She was far too busy trading gossip, learning magic, gardening, and making sarcastic remarks at Elyan to actually discover the answer on her own.

Another trope, instalove. Authors think that they are avoiding this if their characters start off hating each other. But Briony and Elyan go from coldly tolerating each other to gazing at each other affectionately literally in the space of a single dance. So not quite instalove but maybe 3 1/2 minute love? Microwave love? Be sure to wait for the ding!

Briony was also revealed to not be that strong or much of a feminist either. The most offensive example of this is when another character attempts to sexually assault her. Okay, we kind of have to assume that’s what he’s doing because it doesn’t get very far but I’m fairly confident that’s where this was headed. Briony courageously defends herself. She fights off her attacker and escapes to safety before the situation escalates into anything much worse. I was cheering for her! I was so proud of her for reacting in her own defense so decisively and swiftly. But then she decides to have a whole inner monologue about how she feels shame about the situation. Why exactly? Surely you would be feeling scared but also proud of yourself? She even says to herself that she has nothing to feel ashamed about…..but then concludes that thought with “but I do” and moves on. Is this really an example of a strong woman? Feeling shame about something that you recognize should not be causing you shame and during which you admirably protected yourself? I was highly disappointed.

Next we have the other young adult trope that I despise so much. Briony does something very stupid and reckless. She recognizes internally that it was reckless and stupid. But when Elyan points out that it was reckless and stupid then she yells at him about it. Because, how dare he think that he can control her! He doesn’t own her! She can do what she likes without him! Does anyone actually think that this is the makings of a strong woman? Actual thoughts that she had. No one was trying to control her or prevent her from doing anything on her own. She made a reckless and foolish decision, but because a male confronts her about it then he’s controlling. Then later he, naturally, apologizes for daring to question her reckless, foolish behavior because he was just so scared of losing her. And she gets to walk away feeling smug. Strong women rejoice! Patriarchy smashed!

Finally, the ending. We spent a very long time getting to Asperfell. We spent an equally long time gardening and learning magic in Asperfell. That left about 60 pages for the conclusion. I thought the conclusion was supposed to be the rescue of Elyan from Asperfell and delivering him back home. Except that didn’t happen. The book ends with them in the woods. On their way to a potential way to get home, but they aren’t actually sure it will work yet. And of course, it ends with a kiss. Frankly, it left me wondering what exactly the point was? We couldn’t spare another 30 pages to actually get back to Tiralaen? And then end it once they have successfully left Asperfell? I recognize that we’re setting up a sequel here, but the sequel works just as well starting with the moments after they escape Asperfell as the moments before.

Overall, this story reminded me of every single bad young adult novel I’ve ever read. Exactly the same characters. Exactly the same plot devices. Exactly the same tropes.

Review: Penitence by Mark Campbell

43083591._SY475_Penitence by Mark Campbell

Published July 10, 2018 by Darkest Hour Publishing

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Synopsis: 

A deadly influenza pandemic.

An escaped convict.

A single mother desperate to protect her only child.

As the insidious virus cripples society, providence brings two survivors together in an unlikely partnership to survive in a world fraught with chaos.

In a small poultry farm located in Delaney, Georgia an antigenic shift causes the H7N9 bird flu virus to jump species. The contagion burns through everything in its path despite the federal government’s ham-handed efforts to mask the mutated virus’ true nature. Its unprecedented mortality rate paralyzes the nation and paves the way for FEMA’s martial law to be established across the country.

At a maximum security federal penitentiary south of Tucson, Arizona, Inmate Teddy Sanders’ world of structure and routine crumbles to dust, as the virus starts spreading within the confines of the prison. As the virus callously strikes down guards and inmates alike, the administration loses control and Teddy finds himself fighting enemies both old and new. Circumstances force him to form precarious new alliances in order to escape what has effectively become a concrete tomb.

Meanwhile, fifty miles away from the penitentiary, a young woman named Jane risks it all to keep her young son Danny safe in a residential tower in the heart of downtown Tucson. Surrounded by armed looters and desperate survivors, Jane ventures out on her own to forage for supplies. Not only does she have to contend with those left behind, but she also faces an increasingly hostile military presence.

As their paths cross and inalterable choices are made, will the unwitting pair find salvation?

Rating: 4 star

Review:

***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. Thank you NetGalley and Darkest Hour Publishing!***

I am a sucker for an apocalypse novel, especially if there are killer viruses afoot. One of my favorite mobile games is about trying to develop a disease that wipes out the population of the planet, so this is something I have a dark fascination about. I am always willing to pick up a novel with that theme. Often times they disappoint, this did not.

We start the book with Teddy. He is our main character and I expected him to be more of an anti-hero. You don’t want to be rooting for him because he was in federal prison for doing bad things to people, but the world is ending and he’s one of few who survived so go Teddy! He was a bit of what I expected, but also came across as a really big boy scout. I mean, come on, we all know the things you did. We all know because you told us fairly quickly and bluntly. So can we please stop acting like he’s a good ole boy who just got caught in an unfortunate circumstance? I really didn’t like that about him. You don’t end up with a life sentence in federal prison because you had a bad day. But, regardless, the plot was enough to move me along despite my irritations with Teddy. In the end I just had to disregard what I thought his character should be and accept what he was and then we got along just fine.

Jane and Danny were fantastic. Jane is a woman after my own heart and I would like to think that in similar circumstances I could show the same resilience. I enjoyed them both immensely and I sincerely wanted to see the three of them ride off into the sunset together. They made me laugh, they made me cry, and I love it when that happens.

The plot was not quite what I expected but I liked how it worked out, which is always a nice surprise. I didn’t expect so much of the story to take place in the prison. But despite not expecting it, I loved it. A completely contained environment that gets infiltrated by a virus that kills nearly everyone it infects. How do you keep order and at the same time try to keep people healthy too? You’re still dealing with bad people who are violent and unpredictable in nature, add in the threat of death and things can spiral out of control very quickly. And spiral out of control they did. It was deliciously devilish.

I liked how the book ended. I understand that the book is expected to be a series, so it makes sense in that aspect. But if I never read the second book I would also be satisfied with how it ended. Teddy is still looking for redemption, trying to be the man that he might have become if not for the prison stint, and being put into a situation that is at once completely alien but oddly familiar. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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.

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: 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.