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. [...]

August 26, 2017

Janet McNally: "Girls in the Moon"

Title: Girls in the Moon [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Janet McNally [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2016
Age: 12+
Stars: 2.5
Pros: Lyrical writing. A love letter to New York and music.
Cons: Relies on a bunch of stereotypes when it comes to characters - even those who are relatable sound too refined to ring true. Conflicts get resolved too easily, or are ultimately glossed over. Both the setting and the music scene are painted with rounded edges, which detracts from believability. Not much happens. 
Will appeal to: Those who like quiet stories with a coming-of-age angle and a cute romance.

Blurb: Everyone in Phoebe Ferris’s life tells a different version of the truth. Her mother, Meg, ex-rock star and professional question evader, shares only the end of the story - the post-fame calm that Phoebe’s always known. Her sister Luna, indie rock darling of Brooklyn, preaches a stormy truth of her own making, selectively ignoring the facts she doesn’t like. And her father, Kieran, the co-founder of Meg’s beloved band, hasn’t said anything at all since he stopped calling three years ago. But Phoebe, a budding poet in search of an identity to call her own, is tired of half-truths and vague explanations. When she visits Luna in New York, she’s determined to find out how she fits into this family of storytellers, and maybe even to continue her own tale - the one with the musician boy she’s been secretly writing for months. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I thought this book would be the next Luna-C for me (WHICH YOU HAVE TO READ NOW, THANK ME LATER). Heck, both of them even have a main character named Phoebe (because, reasons) and a moon reference in the title/band name. Boy, was I wrong.

MEET CUTE

So, back in 2016, everyone and their dog was raving about this book. I meen, not literally EVERYONE, but those who had read an ARC were in rapture or something. The few who weren't mainly complained about the book being uneventful, which didn't sound like a big deal to me, since I can enjoy a quiet narrative, provided it's deep. And GITM seemed to qualify. This resulted in my 1) putting this book at the top of my TBR list and 2) ultimately purchasing a HARDCOVER copy, because I didn't want to wait till the paperback was released.
Now, I know part of my disappointment in GITM is due to great expectations gone sour. I can't honestly say it is a BAD book, and the writing is lyrical enough without getting purple - conversely, I would say that there's nothing overwritten or convoluted about it. But the thing is, I no longer have patience with books (or media in general) that perpetuate stereotypes or don't try to break ground in some way. For all its superficial pleasantness, GITM relies on characters and occurrences that we are very much familiar with, and doesn't seem to want to turn them upside down. So, what we ultimately get is a bland coming-of-age story, a too-cute-for-this-world romance, and a bunch of potentially dramatic (or wait, not really) situations/conflicts that either get resolved in a hour or two or are very much glossed over. [...]

August 20, 2017

James Wymore & Aiden James: "Fractured Earth"

Title: Fractured Earth [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Actuator (1st of 4 books, but there's also a set of short stories which is Book 1.5)
Author: James Wymore [Site | Goodreads] & Aiden James
[Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Year: 2013
Age: It's marketed as an adult book, but it can be read by teens without any problem
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Creative premise. Breathless adventure, though there's a time for reflection as well. Constant change of scenery.
Cons: Essentially a "male" book, though at least a female character plays a somewhat bigger role. Would have benefited from a little character backstory, or better, interaction, before chaos ensued. Some convenient occurrences. A handful of (harmless) typos that apparently escaped revision.
Will appeal to: Alternate realities enthusiasts. RPG fans. Readers who get bored easily.

Blurb: On a secret military base, a dangerous machine lies hidden from the American public. Known as “The Actuator”, this machine is capable of transforming entire communities into alternate realities. In theory, these often terrifying realities are reversible. The scientists in charge of this machine employ operatives called Machine Monks. Experiments progress to where they feed more than twenty different genre ideas simultaneously into the Actuator’s database. Meanwhile, an unknown saboteur dismantles the dampeners. The effect is catastrophic. The entire world is plunged into chaos, and familiar landscapes become a deadly patchwork of genre horrors. Can a few surviving Machine Monks band together to set things right again? It all depends on whether Red McLaren and the Monks can survive their journey through the various realms that separate them from the Actuator, where ever-present orcs, aliens, pirates, and vampires seek to destroy them. (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. It's just that they have so many (sometimes underrated) gems under their belt.

CROSS-WORLD PUZZLE

The premise of this book (well, series) is fantastic, and I couldn't resist its pull. Although not a fantasy aficionado or a role-player, I always enjoy a story where reality as we know it gets upended and pretty much anything can happen, all while the characters have to navigate a suddenly unfamiliar landscape. In a sense, I got more than I bargained for with Fractured Earth. The characters embark on a journey to set things right that causes them to cross a number of different "realms", each one with its rules and dangers, where the very things they bring with them or travel on (not to mention their own physical appearance) can change drastically - sometimes with quite funny or downright weird results. For some reason, I didn't expect the straight-up fantasy/historical angle to be so prevalent, but the story as a whole was enthralling and kept me going, and I'm sure those readers who are more into fantasy and history than me will be delighted. [...]

August 15, 2017

A.W. Hill & Nathanael Hill: "The Switch" (ARC Review)

Title: The Switch [on Amazon: the link will be live on Aug. 29 | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: A.W. Hill & Nathanael Hill [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Multiverse
Year: 2017
Age: 12+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Rich, impassioned tale where science (real and potential) meets philosophy, adventure, danger, friendship and a touch of romance. Characters with authentic voices who get under your skin.
Cons: Might require a re-read in order to grasp all the concepts. Some of the alternate realities are not accounted for.
Will appeal to: Those who like to rack their brains. Those who are in for a great adventure with a number of twists (well...switches 😉) and a lot of soul.

Blurb: Jacobus is a fifteen year-old who believes - as many fifteen year-olds do - that his life could use improvement. School is a numbing routine, and his parents’ marriage seems to be imploding before his eyes. Lured by his best friend into a strange little house containing nothing but empty rooms and an oversized circuit breaker, he’ll discover that reality comes in a plural form, and that our choices create a continuous web of branching worlds, any of which is as ‘real’ as another. A solo odyssey becomes a duo, a trio, and then a quartet, as Jacobus befriends other interdimensional travelers along the way. THE SWITCH is the story of their journey home. The question is: if they get there, will it be the same place they left behind? (Goodreads 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. It's just that they have so many (sometimes underrated) gems under their belt.

RARE FIND

As a reader, multiverse is one of the genres I'm most interested in. But it's so rare to find a book that - though still leaving you with questions - plays it right and at least tries to explain the gist of it, all while having you ride along with a great cast of characters. The Switch does just that. It relies on many theories - some of them I understand are scientific material - and they are great to read, if not all easy to grasp or always making total sense...but at its core, this book is a celebration of human curiousity and courage, genuine friendship, and a reminder that choices always bear a weight, no matter how many universes you visit. I would be tempted to say The Switch is also one of those books that close the gap between YA and MG - it's clean but not artfully so, some of its characters are slightly younger than your average YA, and it's the kind of adventure that plays like a videogame, with each "level" getting increasingly complicated. On the other hand, some of the concepts this story is built on and around are - as I said - not easy to grasp. I'll say that this one can be enjoyed by younger kids, but will be better savoured by teens and even adults...like me 😉. [...]

August 11, 2017

Book Blitz: "I Stop Somewhere" by T.E. Carter (with Excerpt)


  Welcome to the I Stop Somewhere book blitz!
 
Today is my stop for the book blitz regarding I Stop Somewhere by T.E. Carter. This book blitz is organized by Chapter by Chapter, and it runs from 7 till 11 August. I Stop Somewhere will be released on 2/27/18 from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan in the US and on 5 April 2018 from Simon & Schuster in the UK. For those who need to get their bearings, this novel is described as "The Lovely Bones meets All the Rage". After the page break, you'll find all the book vitals, plus an excerpt and a giveaway! But first let me reiterate a small detail...I never do promo posts unless it's a book/author I'm familiar with, or a book I want to read. This one made my TBR list, so without further ado, and with thanks to Chapter by Chapter, here goes...

July 28, 2017

Author Interview: Fanni Sütő

Londemonium mock cover
Hello my darlings! 
Today I'm sitting with short-story author and aspiring novelist  Fanni Sütő, whom I've recently met on Twitter via a common passion for Doctor Who, and more specifically, David Tennant 😀 (you know me and David, right? But I digress....). During this interview, you'll see that the DW reference is actually integral to Fanni's approach to writing, since the worlds she creates are often (if loosely) inspired by the show, and populated by characters who slightly resemble a few Doctor Who cast members. And no, before you shake your head, I'm NOT talking about fan fiction here. I'm talking about inspiration and atmosphere. I will redirect you to some of Fanni's writing in a few paragraphs, but before I do that - and before the actual interview takes place - let's have a look at one of her works-in-progress...

Another mock cover
Novel vitals by the author: Londemonium is an urban fantasy, set in a world where Hell is a multicultural, global enterprise, sprawling in its own dimension like an infernal version of London.
Gregor is a German computer programmer whose girlfriend, Irene gets abducted by a young demon during their London trip. The ever calm and rational Gregor embarks on a fantastical journey to recover Irene from Hell. His story is a version of the Orpheus myth with a twist.
Molly, the other main protagonist, is a feisty Irish biologist whose research partner gets spirited away. She also finds a passage to underworld just to discover her secret heritage as one of the descendants of the Sidhe, the Irish fairy folk.
Aiko is an English-Japanese girl who comes to live with her drunkard father because it’s still a better option than staying under the same roof as her mother’s new boyfriend. She sees visions of a mysterious woman in white.
Raphael is an immigrant angel. He arrived from Heaven and works hard as a police intern to get accepted. His task is to round up a dangerous journalist who threatens to expose the secrets of Hell.
Londemonium is about how the lives of these four characters intermingle. Gregor and Molly end up in a flat share with Demi, the demon who got their friends. Aiko meets Rei, the majestic fox demon who helps her deal with her rage. The same Rei is Raphael’s superior who tries to help him get his naturalisation.
For the story’s aesthetic, feel free to check out my Pinterest board and Spotify playlist.


Fanni Süto

Dream cast for Londemonium

July 23, 2017

Edward Aubry: "Static Mayhem" (ARC Review)

Title: Static Mayhem [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Mayhem Wave (2nd of 5 books)
Author: Edward Aubry [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Year: 2017
Age: 14+ (note: Book 1 was marketed as a YA/NA crossover. This one sounds more adult to me - especially because it lacks Dorothy's POV - but like the first installment, I would say that it covers all the spectrum from teen to adult).
Stars: 4/5
Pros: As in Book 1, quirky and audacious blend of post-apocalypse, technology and magic. Characters who are easy to empathise with.
Cons: The blend I mentioned might not work for everyone - and it's even more audacious here than in the first installment. Some of the many twists may sound confusing. A relationship from Book 1 threatens to take a strange and unsettling turn.
WARNING! There's talk of sex and a few F-bombs.
Will appeal to: Those who are looking for a fresh approach to post-apocalypse.

Blurb: A year after the world was thrown into magical chaos, Harrison Cody takes part in an expedition to learn the cause. What his team finds is an unfathomable enemy, who intends to finish what was started and wipe out every remaining survivor. Harrison is the key to stopping it, but doing so will come with an unbelievable sacrifice, one he might not be willing to make. (Goodreads)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I have been talking to the author on a few occasions since reviewing his previous titles, Unhappenings and Prelude to Mayhem - which I also rated 4 stars. Moreover, 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.
Note: an earlier version of Static Mayhem was released back in 2010. If you are curious about the whole story (which is also inspiring for every struggling writer out there who despairs of ever being published), you can read my interview with the author.

RAISING THE STAKES

The first installment in this series, Prelude to Mayhem, was a quirky post-apocalyptic novel full of unknown, often ghastly dangers lurking around, but I can see now that the title was indeed appropriate - that was only the start of a nightmare. In your typical post-catastrophe scenario, the main focus (often the only one) is survival and the rebuilding of a new world, while trying to make sense of the shift and adjusting (or not) to its rules (or lack thereof). In Static Mayhem, our characters not only explore a broken and upside-down world, but try to find a way to save what's left of it AND even to bring back what they can (if the can) of the old reality. All in an environment where magic and technology are mutually exclusive, except for a single instance. It's imaginative, though it probably requires more suspension of disbelief than your average fantasy or sci-fi novel, precisely because the two worlds are coexistent - if opposite - here. I'm usually not a great fan of fantasy creatures, but for some reason, Glimmer - the last pixie - and even a couple of famous mythical creatures whose names I won't spoil seem at home in this series. I think it's seeing them through Harrison's eyes that makes all the difference - he's sympathetic, warm-hearted and open-minded...among other good things 😉. [...]