September 20, 2017

Dawn Kurtagich: "The Dead House"

Title: The Dead House [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None (though there's a companion novella, The Dead House: Naida, that was only issued in digital version)
Author: Dawn Kurtagich [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery, Horror, Supernatural
Year: 2015
Age: 14+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: A lyrical mindfuck that steals your breath and plunges you into the heart of darkness. A lead (leads?) who pulls you in.
Cons: A tad too ambitious, weaving voodoo into an already complex enough story. A few occurrences are too convenient. An almost-love-triangle is included.
WARNING! Gore, insanity, self-harm and severed tongues. Not to mention, if you need a neat ending, you should probably stay away.
Will appeal to: Both those who love psychological horror and the classic brand.

Blurb: Two decades have passed since an inferno swept through Elmbridge High, claiming the lives of three teenagers and causing one student, Carly Johnson, to disappear. The main suspect: Kaitlyn, "the girl of nowhere." Kaitlyn's diary, discovered in the ruins of Elmbridge High, reveals the thoughts of a disturbed mind. Its charred pages tell a sinister version of events that took place that tragic night, and the girl of nowhere is caught in the center of it all. But many claim Kaitlyn doesn't exist, and in a way, she doesn't - because she is the alter ego of Carly Johnson. Carly gets the day. Kaitlyn has the night. It's during the night that a mystery surrounding the Dead House unravels and a dark, twisted magic ruins the lives of each student that dares touch it.  (Amazon)

Review: The first time I heard about TDH was when Christopher Pike mentioned it in a post of his on Facebook. Now, it's not like Mr. Pike recommends a book and I automatically buy it, but his comment got me curious enough to look TDH up on Goodreads. And since the blurb sounded insanely good (no pun intended), this book ended up on my TBR list. Not only, but I bought it shortly after it came out (well, only a few months after...which is a short amount of time for my standards). As to why I'm only reviewing it now, two years after it hit the market...it's a mystery whose clues no camera, no diary entry and no Post-It has recorded for the posterity to solve 😉. (This refers to the many media used to tell the story, in case you haven't heard about it yet).

THE TRUTHS ARE OUT THERE

Unreliable narrators come in all shapes and sizes. And as intriguing as they may be, they're not guaranteed to keep things interesting per se. Now, I am not an expert of unreliable narrators by any means, but I think it's safe to say that this particular brand of UN is unheard of. (Almost) everyone in Carly's world thinks that Kaitlyn doesn't exist, and dismisses her as the product of a severe case of Dissociative Identity Disorder*, but if she isn't, WHAT is she? another soul trapped in the same body as Carly? a paranormal or supernatural entity? I love it how the book doesn't have an answer for that, though in the end it hints at one possible version of the truth, but here's the thing...One. Possible. Version. Now, if you're the type of reader who needs answers or spelled out endings, chances are this book won't work for you. But the journey into Kaitlyn's mind (and Carly's, up to a point) is fascinating, not to mention that I couldn't stop underlying quote after quote in her diary. What I can say is, for someone who supposedly doesn't exist, Kaitlyn sure sounds very real, and she will probably break your heart. I mean, if her little sister Jaime doesn't break it first.
*Note: Kurtagich mentions having a family member with DID in the author's note. Since Carly/Kaitlyn's therapist works under the assumption that DID is the reason why Kaitlyn exists, I have to trust the author to be able to correctly represent this particular (and, in Carly/Kaitlyn's case, supposed) disease. On the other hand, this is not a contemporary book, so I also assume there's been room for a few tweaks... [...]

September 07, 2017

James Wymore et al.: "Borderlands Anthology"

Title: Borderlands Anthology [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Actuator (book 1.5 of 4)
Author: James Wymore et al. [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Year: 2014
Age: It's marketed as an adult book, but it can be read by teens, though a few stories are a bit heavy on horror
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Eclectic bunch of stories, covering a wide range of genres and (fictitious) eras. We get a glimpse of how the Change affected some people unaware of the Actuator's existence. But one doesn't necessarily have to be familiar with the series in order to read this collection.
Cons: Not every genre tackled in here can be everybody's cup of tea. The quality (and most of all, originality) spectrum varies from high to less impressive.
Will appeal to: Those who like eclectic short-story collections. Those who want another perspective about the Actuator.

Blurb: When the Actuator breaks the earth into a patchwork of altered realities, the remaining Machine Monks begin looking for the Keys to put it back. In the meantime, everyone in the world has been transformed without knowing why. This collection tells about some of the people struggling to deal with the change. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I am a semi-regular reviewer of Curiosity Quills titles (like this one), but if you look back at my ratings, this never prevented me from being unbiased. And all the books I received from them were generously sent with no string attached.
Note: Apparently, an earlier version of this book featured a story called Cult of the Actuation instead of Cyber Cowboy (both by James Wymore). Judging from the blurb for the first story, it has been later incorporated into Book 1 of the series, Fractured Earth, providing its new ending. Cyber Cowboy was originally included in the Curiosity Quills anthology Primetime (2013).

WAR OF THE WORLDS

Sort-of-disclaimer: I usually don't read anthologies, unless they 1) contain stories by one of my favourite authors, 2) are part of a series I'm reading (like in this case), or 3) have a unifying theme that calls to me like a siren song (like the excellent Windows into Hell, also by Curiosity Quills Press). The reason why I'm wary of short-story collections is that, most of the time, I don't enjoy them as much as novels. They need to be as homogeneous as possible (which isn't an easy feat), or at least to have a strong common theme. The stories in Borderlands loosely fulfill my second condition in that they all give us a taste of the life right after (or simply after) the Change, that is, after the Actuator (a reality-bending machine) has turned the whole world into a patchwork of different, often plain weird realities. On the other hand, such a premise gives the authors ample freedom when it comes to creating a bunch of worlds at odds with one another, or playing with any genre or trope under the sun. This probably accounts for my having mixed reactions to these stories, since some of them are not my scene, but it's not the only reason. I'll come back to that in a minute, but first off, let me tell you that despite my overall rating, there are a few gems in here. [...]