lundi 31 mars 2014

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by MG Buehrlen

This is the way my story begins. Not with a bang but a whimper. Nothing more than a calm voice, a careful smile, and a pair of spectacles perched on the tip of a thin nose.

After a series of very precise visions that seem to take Alex Wayfare back into the past leaves her a social pariah in high school, she is sent by her parents to consult a psychiatrist. When her talks with that psychiatrist get back to a strange old man named Porter, though, Alex finds herself pulled into the world of Descenders and Transcenders, a world where reincarnation and access to Limbo allow her to travel back through her past lives. Soon realising that she is being pursued by a powerful man with the same abilities as her own, Alex must learn not only how to use her powers but also the truth about her own past lives...

Although I have read a number of YA books over the years, mainly the more popular and well known like The Hunger Games or more recently the fantastic Red Rising, I can't say that I am much of an expert on the form. So it is rare that this type of novel comes across my radar in a way that encourages me to pick up a book and read it. When I saw the blurb for The 57 Lives of... though, I was immediately hooked on the description of time travel through reincarnation and the possibilities offered by the concept of travel through past lives. And I am really glad that I was, because the story of Alex Wayfare is great!

After discovering that she is the latest reincarnation of a Transcender - able to travel back through her own past lives while remembering who she is - Alex Wayfare begins to work with her mentor, Porter, in order to thwart the evil machinations of Durham Gesh. So far so cliche, but where The 57 Lives of... excels is in the descriptions of the past as Alex travels back to Prohibition Chicago, the 1960s and the Wild West. Each version of Alex is very different and the way that Ms. Buerhlen allows some of these different incarnations to filter through to Alex both while she is inhabiting their bodies and once she is back in her "Base Life", was very clever indeed. It was nice to see Alex geek out in each different time period, and watch as she compares them either favorably or unfavorably to her Base Life.

Base Life is complex for Alex - she has a loving family, but the fact that her older sister is suffering from cancer puts a lot of tension into all of her relationships. Buerhlen does a great job of keeping all this realistic and gives us a nice glimpse into how the way she lives her life changes as she is able to apply her experiences to her 'mundane' problems. Her friendship with Jensen is an especially nice touch as she is forced to reevalute what she thinks about the 'popular' boy who may be a more interesting person than she expected.

Throughout, though, the keystone to Alex' voyages is her relationship with 'Blue', a boy who may be her actual soulmate. That is another soul who follows her through time, dying and being reincarnated along with her. Blue's appearances in each of the time periods she visits forms a central part of the mystery Alex is facing and the way that this is - partly - resolved works well.

Buerhlen also deals nicely with some of the trickier aspects of time travel - the dreaded paradox. Right from the first page, we know that the concept of alternate timelines is going to be dealt with, but the way this is resolved by the end was a nice twist to the idea from my point of view. Not hugely original, but enough so that I liked it.

Alex Wayfare's adventures end on a nice cliffhanger, with enough of the mysteries and relationships resolved while leaving the overall arc far from ended. Though not breaking any major new ground, this YA SF novel played around with some great ideas and takes the reader to some of my favourite time periods. I can't wait to see what else Buerhlen has in store and what other time periods we will be taken to (considering that according to Porter, Alex' previous lives stretch back to 5 centuries BC!). I gave The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare 4 glowing soulmarks out of 5.

Buy It For Kindle

From the Blogosphere:
A Fantastical Librarian
Bibliophilic Monologues
Of Spectacles and Books

From the Author's Mouth:
The Serpent's Quill

dimanche 30 mars 2014

Notes From the Internet Apocalypse by Wayne Gladstone

When the great crash happened it was nothing like we feared. There was no panic. No tears. Mostly just slammed fists and swearing. The Internet was down, and hitting refresh didn't work. "Ctrl, alt, delete" was also useless. No one had Internet. Anywhere.

In Notes From The Internet Apocalypse, the net has stopped working. As an entire generation of Twitterites, Facebook afficianados, Chatroulette zombies and redditers descend into the street to find some way of recreating the online experience in the real world, three unlikely heroes join together and set off on a quest to bring the wifi back...

Like anyone who has a blog or lives online, the thought of the Internet vanishing leaves me in a cold sweat! J A couple of days without connecting is difficult enough, but to have no more access whatsoever to all my favourite sites and the constant background noise of the Worldwide Web is a terrifying thought. One that Wayne Gladstone takes and runs with. When I saw the book on a rundown of sf and fantasy novels released this year, I was immediately taken in both by the clever cover and the great blurb. Unfortunately the book wasn’t as much of a touchdown than I had hoped.

And yet it started so well... As the book opens we are introduced to Gladstone the narrator who proceeds to tell us about this world a tiny jump, skip and hop away from our own, where overnight the internet has stopped working. In these early pages, the sheer inventiveness and clever humour that Mr Gladstone brings to creating his world carried me along. From Youtube zombies who force real cats to do trick after trick until they die, to twitter addicts who only speak in tweets, the bitingly dark humour works. While snorting at the outrageous extent people go to to recapture the online world offline, there is still a certain uneasiness as you wonder just how farfetched a lot of this really is.

Unfortunately, this inventiveness did not necessarily translate to either the plot or the characters. Gladstone, our narrator, takes a very long time to take on any kind of active role in what is happening, beyond stumbling around sex clubs looking for his friends. Those two friends are never clearly painted and it is difficult to tell exactly how real they are nor what their actual goals are in relation to Gladstone.

The book kept me going though, through the murky middle parts and towards what seemed to be building towards an interesting, even exciting end. This is where Mr Gladstone the writer lost me completely, though. Awash in a series of confusing events and cypher explanations, not at all helped by the detachment of the narrator who never quite connected emotionally (with me at least), I ended the book completely lost. I still have no idea what the ending was and what it was supposed to mean, nor how much of it was real and how much we are supposed to believe went on in Gladstone the narrator’s mind.

A fabulously inventine and ironic look at our world and just how we might react to the loss of what has become such an important part of our lives we can’t imagine living without it, Notes From the Internet Apocalypse failed to grab my attention in terms of character or plot and left me confused and irritated by the ending. I gave this 2.5 /b/tards out of 5.
From the Blogosphere:
From the Author's Mouth:

mercredi 26 mars 2014

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body. One Saturday in March, fog crept through the river valley and froze overnight. The morning sun crackled over a ghostly landscape across the road from my uncle’s general store, the burr oaks that leaned out over the banks of the North Fork River crystallized with a thick crust of hoarfrost. The tree nearest the road was dead, half-hollow, and it leaned farther than the rest, balanced at a precarious angle above the water. A trio of vultures roosted in the branches, according to Buddy Snell, a photographer for the Ozark County Record. Buddy snapped pictures of the tree, the stark contrast of black birds on white branches, for lack of anything better to print on the front page of the paper. It was eerie, he said. Haunting, almost. He moved closer, kneeling at the water’s edge to get a more interesting angle, and that was when he spied the long brown braid drifting in the shallows, barely visible among the stones. Then he saw Cheri’s head, snagged on a piece of driftwood: her freckled face, abbreviated nose, eyes spaced too wide to be pretty. Stuffed into the hollow of the tree were the rest of Cheri’s pieces, her skin etched with burns and amateur tattoos. Her flesh was unmarked when she disappeared, and I wondered if those new scars could explain what had happened to her, if they formed a cryptic map of the time she’d spent missing.

Two disappearances, a generation apart, linked together by one girl – sixteen-year old Lucy Dane. One was her mother, believed by many to be a witch, who just up and vanished one day when Lucy was a little girl. The other is a young slow-minded girl named Cheri who Lucy has befriended. Determined to figure out what happened to both of them, Lucy begins to uncover mysteries and secrets in the community of Henbane, some which she is not prepared to face...

The Weight of Blood came across my radar through a number of fellow bloggers – it has been mentioned and reviewed a lot recently, for very good reason! Compared in the blurb to Gillian Flynn, it is a very well-crafted mystery, but more than that it is a sharp-eyed commentary on life, family and the secrets we all carry around. After seeing the cover – which is fantastically evocative – and hearing all the good everyone was saying about it, I shot it to the top of my TBR list.

A key idea dealt with in The Weight of Blood is delivered towards the end of the book as Lucy talks to Ray the lawyer:

“You’ve got to be sure you can trust whomever you’re telling, that it won’t come back on you.”
“How can I be sure?” I asked.
“He smirked. “You can’t be, in Henbane.”

As Lucy investigates the disappearance of Cheri – and by extension that of her mother so many years earlier – we the reader realise just how true that last is. You can never be sure about anybody in Henbane. Neither can Lucy, which creates a lot of the tension in the book. Unsure who she can trust and who is telling her the truth, she finds herself delving into family secrets that will change her life forever.

Through a clever use of first and third-person narration, as well as a number of viewpoint characters which expands as the story progresses, Laura McHugh manages to weave a complex story of betrayal, murder and secrets through two timeframes. Overall, she pulls this off with brio, giving us the story of these characters a generation apart, teasing us with the past while she sets things up in the present, before providing the answer to a number of questions in a tense and breathless final few chapters.

The stakes for both Lucy and her mother grow as the story progresses. For Lucy, especially, she is forced to reimagine the family history she had always believed in, especially when it comes to her father and her uncle. The two brothers’ relationship is central to the book and Ms. McHugh does a great job of portraying them at different points in their lives while shedding light on just how far some people are willing to go for those they love.

Though few of the people we meet are necessarily likeable, nor the truths pleasant, it is impossible not to become enthralled and caught up in the town of Henbane and the secrets hidden there. Though the resolution of both mysteries do not hold many surprises, the revelations are handled deftly. More of a sweeping portrait than a true thriller, it was a great read that kept me hooked through to the end. I gave it 4 Old Scratch Caverns out of 5.
From the Blogosphere:
From the Author's Mouth:

mardi 25 mars 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Bucket List

Top Ten Things on My Book Bucket List
  1. Beat last years book reading challenge score of 284 books for the year. (Well on my way with 85 books read already in less than 3 months).
  2. Regularly update this blog. I’ve been remiss at doing that for the past few years so I really want to try and post reviews more often and not so sporadically.
  3. Read more literary and non-fiction.
  4. Participate more in the blogging community through memes (like this one, so yay! J ) and by leaving comments of favourite blogs.
  5. Reread Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Traders Trilogy and Tawny Man Trilogy in anticipation of this year’s release of Fool’s Assassin. Have already started on this one with Assassin’s Apprentice last month, so on track so far.
  6. Continue with my President’s Biography Read. I have set myself a goal of reading a biography of every US President from Washington to Obama before the 2016 election. This year, I’ve already read about James Garfield, Chester A Arthur, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. I have some longer books to read over the rest of the year – including an entire trilogy about Teddy Roosevelt – so will probably only read about McKinley and Roosevelt for 2014.
  7. Try and write a review of every book I read this year the day after I finish it (even if I just post it to Goodreads and not necessarily to the blog).
  8. Read more new releases so as to have read as many books as possible before the Goodreads Awards at the end of the year!
  9. Get at least one book request approved by a publisher on Netgalley. New to the whole netgalley thing, so I would feel that having at least one of my book requests approved would be a sign that I have managed to keep regular on the blog.
  10. Gain a couple more followers. I only have 3, so a couple more for the year would be cool.
What’s on YOUR bucket list?

Honour's Knight by Rachel Bach

"You said no?" the girl shrieked, crushing the letter in her fist. "You didn't even think you should ask me first?"
Following the events of Fortune’s Pawn, we find Devi Morris, the kick-ass mercenary who is the hero of the Paradox trilogy, recovering from a mysterious attack that has left her a fellow merc dead and some major holes in her own memory. As she struggles with her own issues (which include seeing things no one else can such as a black stain spreading across her hands whenever she gets angry), Devi tries to make sense of the people she is serving with and to close the gap in her memories.

Rachel Bach had been on my radar for a while through her alter-ego, Rachel Aaron and The Spirit Thief series. Although I have yet to actually read that fantasy series, I did read Ms. Aaron’s book on her writing process 2,000 to 10,000 and loved her voice as well as her great advice. So when I read on her blog that she had a new series coming out, that it was a self-contained trilogy to be released over a six-month period and that it was a space opera starring a mercenary... I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it!

I thoroughly enjoyed Fortune’s Pawn, which reads like a space opera revisited by an urban fantasy author. The collision of tropes worked a treat and when the story broke off on a HUGE cliffhanger, I couldn’t wait to get back to Devi’s weird, wonderful, complicated universe.

Honour’s Knight does not lose any of the momentum that Ms. Bach ended Fortune’s Pawn with. Instead, she picks up all of the story threads and launches them into orbit. I was a little worried that the entire book was going to be Devi trying to get her memories back, but thankfully that specific storythread was nicely wrapped up relatively quickly, allowing the book to explore a lot of interesting territory. We learn a lot about what is actually going on with Devi’s mysterious employer, the huge galaxy-wide threat he is facing and the lengths he is willing to go to fight off that threat, while putting Devi into a complicated moral conundrum – just how far is too far when it comes to sacrifying the few for the many?

Devi herself is put through the wringer in this one, from her complicated relationship with cook Rupert (a romance that is handled extremely well and very believably considering what each of them are willing and able to do the other as the story progresses without a pat solution at the end), to the shattering of her belief system as we get a glimpse at the deified royalty of Paradox mentioned in the last books. As all of this is going on, though, Devi continues to kick some serious ass, which is one of the great successes of this trilogy and a wonderful ‘steal’ from the urban fantasy genre: the depiction of a strong, powerful female character. Devi is not someone anyone should ever piss-off.

Alliances shift, surprises are sprung and things end with Devi and Rupert alone in the unknown, the book ending on another cliffhanger nicely setting up the third book, Heaven’s Queen, which is due in April. Honour’s Knight took everything that worked in the first book and shifted it into warp speed, continuing a fantastic space opera trilogy. I gave this 4 strange blue invisible bugs out of 5.
From the Blogosphere:
From the Author's Mouth:

samedi 22 mars 2014

The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham

Milo slipped in the darkness, falling to one knee. The stones of the beach cut his skin, and the blood darkened the oiled wool of his leggings. The old fisherman, Kirot his name was, paused and looked back at him, lifting his lantern and one white eyebrow in query. Are you coming, or staying here? To the north, the waves cracked with ice. To the south, the deep darkness of the village waited for their return. Milo forced himself to stand. A little more blood would do him no harm. He'd lost enough, God knew. Kirot nodded and turned back to the long, slow trudge along the shore.

Dragons slumber as a tyrant rises in Camnipol. Following the events of The King’s Blood, The Tyrant’s Law finds our four main characters – Marcus, Cithrin, Geder and Clara – pretty much where we left them. Marcus is accompanying Kit on his quest to kill a Goddess, Cithrin is apprenticed to the lady who runs the Medean Bank in Porte Oliva, Geder is planning his war under the guidance of the priest Basrahip, and Clara is trying to survive while looking for a chance at revenge against the man who had her husband killed. The Tyrant’s Law follows all four of these strands as they twine together through Geder’s war, notably his army’s assault on the city of Porte Oliva.

Daniel Abrahams hooked me with his four-book debut series, The Long Price Quartet, a cunning mixture of epic fantasy, with a generous helping of George R.R Martin’s character development, all set in a quasi-Asian world. When his new series, The Dagger and the Coin, was announced, I immediately set out to read the first book and have enjoyed each successive volume.

Abraham has managed to bring a fresh look to the epic fantasy genre, notably by paying more attention to the political and economic implications of his worlds, without losing sight of the sense of wonder and magic needed in any good epic fantasy. In The Tyrant’s Law, this continues, though at a slower pace since this is basically the middle volume of the five-volume series. As with many middle volumes, the story has gotten to a point where the characters are already set, so there are not as many surprises as in the first two volumes. However there are some unexpected twists, notably in the Marcus and Cithrin storylines. I enjoyed the way Abraham continues to make it difficult to decide whether to root for or against poor Geder, though by the end of this volume it seems clear where he stands. The other characters continue to be fully fledged and interesting – I especially enjoyed the Clara chapters in this novel, as her intriguing and spying get her to a place she was not expecting.

While suffering from the inevitable middle volume blues, The Tyrant’s Law is a self-assured, thrilling epic fantasy novel, full of moments of wonder, fantastic world building and great characters. The next volume, The Widow’s House, is slated for next year, with a breathtakingcover. Can’t wait!
Buy It For Kindle
Author's webpage

From the Blogosphere:
Fantasy Book Critic
A Dribble of Ink
The Wertzone

From the Author's Mouth:
Interview at Apex Magazine

dimanche 16 mars 2014

Influx by Daniel Suarez

"I'm gonna hunt you down like a rabid dog, Sloan." Albert Marrano clenched his teeth on an e-cigarette as he concentrated on a tiny screen.

As Influx begins, we are introduced to a young scientist who has just made a terrific discovery - a gravity mirror that can not only reverse but actually control gravity. On the cusp of this breakthrough, though, Jon Grady finds his lab attacked by a religious fanatic. A bomb is placed, he is tied up and a white light flashes...

What may seem like the end, though, turns out to be only the beginning as Grady is introduced to the world of the BTC - or Bureau of Technology Control - the secret agency to end ask secret agencies, charged with controlling the course of human innovation. Fusion generators, disintegration guns, gene manipulation, robotics, the cure for cancer, even immortality - they are all invented and utilised by the select few, who keep these technologies out of mankind's hands in order to 'protect' us.

I came across Influx on a blog list of upcominge novels a few months ago and was immediately attracted to the cover, as well as the quote on the front calling Daniel Suarez a “legitimate heir to Michael Crichton”. Although I’m not sure, based on this, that the quote is valid, I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of advanced technology, secret agencies, government conspiracies and chaos.

An obvious homage to the Count of Monte Cristo, Influx takes place over a few years of time, allowing the characters to learn and change without either of those actions seeming forced. Mr Suarez does a good job of creating rounded characters and even the villains are developed to a point where they do not seem like card-board cutouts or moustache-twirlers. One of the “villains” in particular has a really interesting character arc that takes her to some interesting places as she begins to question where her loyalties truly lie.

The stakes gradually get higher and higher and the dangers more and more real, allowing our hero Grady to rise to the occasion as he needs to. The advanced tech allows for some pretty impressive action scenes, especially towards the end. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but if you liked the physics-defying fights of Matrix or Inception, you will love what they do with Influx.

One place where I can definitely see the comparison to Michael Crichton is that it is impossible not to imagine Influx as a summer blockbuster movie. The book practically begs to be adapted and I for one would be queuing up for tickets to see it.

Although the epilogue was a little bit of a let-down for me – I would have preferred for it to delve a little bit more into the larger consequences of the climax rather than giving us a coda to the characters – overall the book really worked. More of a sci-fi adventure than a Michael Crichton-esque thriller, it was still a rollicking read that I really liked. I gave this 4 shattered gravity mirrors out of 5.

Buy It For Kindle
Author's webpage

From the Blogosphere:
Random Thoughts
As A Matter of Fancy
Kayla's Reads and Reviews

From the Author's Mouth:
Interview (and review) at Geek Dad

jeudi 13 mars 2014

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste


The captain and his wife were asleep in each other’s arms. She, new to the watery world, slept lightly; her husband, seasoned and driven to exhaustion the last two days and nights by the perils of a gale that shipped sea after sea over the bow of his heavily loaded vessel, had plunged into a slumber as profound as the now tranquil ocean beneath him. As his wife turned in her sleep, wrapping her arms loosely about his waist and resting her cheek against the warm flesh of his shoulder, in some half-conscious chamber of her dreaming brain she heard the ship’s clock strike six bells. The cook would be stirring, the night watch rubbing their eyes and turning their noses toward the forecastle, testing the air for the first scent of their morning coffee.

Told in a variety of ways and through a variety of voices, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste deals with the true story of the mysterious disappearance of an American merchant vessel in the 1870s, and how it affects a number of characters… including one Arthur Conan Doyle. Both using more traditional narratives interspersed with diary entries and newspaper cuttings, the novel takes us into the literary society of the nineteenth century, as well as into the world of spiritualists. Different characters bring different elements to the mystery, gradually ramping up the tension to an unforgettable climax aboard the Mary Celeste herself.

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste had me at ghost story and Arthur Conan Doyle to be honest, but it was not at all what I had been expecting. By turns a tragic love story, a journalistic investigation and a historical mystery, the novel transcended my expectations in more ways than one. Although some sections were more interesting than others, and some characters caught my attention to varying degrees, the novel itself kept me up reading to see how the intricate elements all fitted together.

As a ghost story, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste has some chilling moments, though they are not at all the focus of the novel (despite what the title might seem to indicate). At the same time, although the mystery of what happened to the Mary Celeste is central to the characters, it is not as central to the story nor to the denouement. Although you do get answers at the end, they might not be the answers you are expecting and they probably don’t deal with the questions you thought they would. No, what makes The Ghost of the Mary Celeste work is seeing the effect that the mystery has on the characters, especially the tragic Violet and Sir Conan Doyle himself. Weaving throughout his life at key moments, the Mary Celeste effects the writer moreso perhaps than many of the other characters, providing him with inspiration but also forcing him to face some difficult questions about his own convictions.

The ending is low-key but beautiful, a true love story for the ages that raises more questions than it answers. Of course, one key question is left up to your imagination, which may frustrate some. For me, though, it was a perfect grace note to the story that was never as much about the Mary Celeste as it tries to make us believe.

A complex puzzle box of mystery, love, tragedy, spiritualism and inspiration, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is a very good read. I for one look forward to reading some more of the author’s historical novels, including the well-known Mary Reilly. I give this 4 Giant Rats of Sumatra out of 5. 

From the Blogosphere:
The Lost Entwife
Reading the Past
Nomad Reader

From the Author’s Mouth:
Youtube Video