Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tattoo Atlas Review

Tattoo Atlas by Tim Floreen
I think if I read this book two or three times I’d get deeper insight every time, having only read it once, this is my impression.  A contemporary YA examination of empathy and the nature of mental illness.  The first chapter confused me because the narrator wasn’t present.  There were a couple of those chapters within the story I think they could have been let go to just roll with the first person POV which was so perfect for the raw emotion of this story.
The way Floreen writes the narrator is so perfect when I read it I felt those emotions.  Alex is such a beautiful character and the relationship between him and Tor, then Franklin is relatable.  You want Alex to have a happy ending.  You want everything to be ok in the end, but that’s not how the world works.  In this social and political climate that dose of realism, that pain heaped onto the back of this teenager, is needed to help us avoid complacency.
Introducing Franklin, he’s instantly identified as a sociopath and that label has such a stigma, anyone would assume a that person would be evil.  In this case, obviously, Floreen wrote it to be that way; however, I think in service to the mental health community, there should have been more of a divide, a finite diagnosis of Franklin’s sociopathic tendencies.  Feeding into assumptions and stigma doesn’t help anyone.
In the end, it comes down to the three boys: Alex, Franklin, and Tor.  And all they want is to survive each other and love freely.  The big question that Alex likes to ponder is: can evil be cured?  As I read I thought about this question quite often, but I can’t say I came up with any decent conclusions, so I’ll leave that for you guys to mull over.
Great contemporary by Tim Floreen!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Rule of Mirrors Review

The Rule of Mirrors by Caragh O’Brien is the second installment into the Vault of Dreamers series and much as the first book did takes an artistic science fiction leap into the mind (or in this case minds) of Rosie Sinclair.
At the end of the last book Rosie’s primary conscious personality split off and followed her memory of her little sister while the secondary or unconscious personality stayed in her body.  As a result, her secondary personality was able to develop independent of her.
O’Brien developed the “second Rosie” much as any writer would develop a new character, though there were similarities between her and “first Rosie”.  By the time I got about halfway through, I was reading two completely separate characters, but the growth was so subtle and so carefully done.
An interesting and exciting read.  I can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker by Kat Spears

The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker by Kat Spears could have easily fallen to the YA wayside, but for the shear emotion developed into Luke Grayson.  Because Spears had to emotionally break this character, the point of view is perfect.
In first person, the reader is Luke, becomes Luke, who becomes Grant in a sense.  Although this results in secondary and tertiary characters being underdeveloped, the potency that is the “Grant Parker” persona almost develops as a character in its own right.
Luke is an unassuming boy who likes indie and punk music, has a more or less apathetic attitude towards education, and could care less about sports.  Basically, the opposite of Grant Parker.  After the fight that lands Grant in a coma and Luke a potential murderer, Grant’s girlfriend, Penny, invites Luke in to fill the “Grant Parker” role.
The “Grant Parker” persona slowly eats away at Luke, destroying what little life he had in his father’s little town, destroying him.  It became a cancer growing more malignant until homecoming night when the persona actually manifested itself to Luke in a drunken hallucination.
The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker is not an after school special.  It’s not a flyaway contemporary YA novel or high school romance.  It’s just a story about a boy.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Enclave by Ann Aguirre Review

Enclave by Ann Aguirre is a post-apocalyptic novel, the first in the Razorland series.  This installment follows Deuce, a huntress from an underground society, as she is forced to find her way in the world above.  Her hunting partner Fade has followed her and together they search for peace in a dystopic world.
Enclave can easily be rounded out by examining the status of the “other”.  In this world, each society Deuce and Fade come into contact with has adapted in a different way.  By telling the story through Deuce, it allows a sense of innocence in the observations of the cultures they come into contact with.  It humanizes each society.
I love how Aguirre parallels Fade and Deuce’s relationship with the story by George Macdonald, The Day Boy and the Night Girl.  The way she’s structured Deuce’s story alongside Nycteris is beautiful and so perfect for how the character develops.
Looking forward to more.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Wall of Storms Review

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu is the second installment of The Dandelion Dynasty and it does not disappoint.  Liu continues to use his epic poetic style as he did with The Grace of Kings that so mirrors ancient mythology while also commenting on modern social issues and philosophy.  He made this book so applicable to current events it’s delightfully quotable.

Where The Grace of Kings was centered around a war, division, heroes, and tyrants, The Wall of Storms focused on unity, family, philosophy, and education.  Liu takes risks early on by not building on the wars that made The Grace of Kings.  Instead he uses a foundation of philosophy and social commentary.  Everything from women’s rights and social equality to education reform is addressed by characters throughout the story as motivations and bases for world building.  Liu developed a complex society based on the ideals of these philosophers and the interpretations of their words to the point that the story is almost completely dependent upon them.  Even The Grace of Kings would have major holes in its narrative if there was no Kon Fiji.  Being able to see and understand that thought process, those intellectual developments was brilliant and so well done.  With a book like this it would be so easy to overdo the intellectual aspects and bore the reader or not put enough of the intellectual aspects in and confuse the reader.  Liu found a perfect balance.

If I were an English teacher, I would use these books in my class.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer Review

The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer builds on a rebellion in a timeline where the U.S. loses the war of independence and the colonies are still ruled by The British Empire.  The main characters, Charlotte, Ashley, and Jack are leaders of a ragtag group of children hiding from the Empire until they are old enough to join the resistance themselves and be reunited with their parents on the front.
Cremer wrote this in third person limited POV choosing Charlotte as her voice.  This could not have been a better choice for Cremer.  Not only does it allow a strong female character to show her ability to take to the action, but when she goes undercover in the New York, it shows she can be feminine as well.
Something I found most interesting was the emphasis on the ancient Greek pantheon.  This seems to seep into every crevice of life within the resistance and the Empire whether they realize it or not.  It is based on an ancient Greek book of the dead that the inventor, Hacket Bromley was able to bring dead flesh back to life.  Knowledge is guarded by the priestesses of Athene.  It follows the characters everywhere, even in the way they dress.
It hits the ground running on page one and doesn’t stop.
There’s more adventure ahead for these rebels, and I can’t wait to see what’s next

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hell Bent By Devon Monk Review

Hell Bent by Devon Monk is a traditional urban fantasy told with a new narrative voice.  Devon Monk has made a name for herself in the urban fantasy genre with the Allie Beckstrom Series, but narrating as Shamus Flynn, she packs a whole new set of skills.
This is a narrative style I’ve seldom seen done well enough to work.  It’s something I call stream-of-consciousness narration.  Monk narrates in first person as Shamus Flynn, but doesn’t bother making him proper or even and often grammatically correct.  With a character like Flynn, this is a perfect narrative because that’s how he operates.  Off the cuff.  Outside the law.  No rules, no games.
Shamus Flynn is an unwilling wielder of Death magic and a Breaker.  With his partner Terric Conley he can Break magic now that dark and light have been brought together.  Terric is of course Flynn’s polar opposite and a wielder of Life magic.  The story opens with a generous helping of their relationship which also helps get the action going and some of the back story out of the way.
Enter Dessa Leeds.  Ex-government spy seeking vengeance for her brother’s death.  She knows Flynn can get her to the killer, but more than that, can make the bastard pay.  Flynn knows who the killer is and that Dessa knows more than she’s telling.
Between government experiment groups, crime syndicates, and just your everyday dust-up Flynn has a lot going on, and all he really wants to do is drink it all away.
Now this story comes after the Allie Beckstrom Series which I have not read but says enough about what the reader needs to know in the world to have it stand alone.  It’s rough and tumble classic urban fantasy, Monk of course has set up her own mythology, magic, and rules by which it works and then places these brilliantly developed characters into the chaotic mess of it.
I truly enjoyed it.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien Review

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien introduces a futuristic look at reality shows and the conspiracies behind them.  In a sort of Big Brother meets America’s Got Talent, The Forge Show follows the most talented young artists in the country and the more viewers they attract, the more ads they get, money for college, etc.  That’s the basic breakdown of this school setting reality show, but Rosie Sinclair was in it for the education.  She knew staying in her poor town living in a boxcar offered her no future.  The Forge School became her miracle.  Until it became her nightmare.
Rosie’s journey is very well defined.  She goes from artistic hopeful to accepted member of a clique by doing what she does best, directing.  I think that’s a brilliant use of talent by O’Brien the way she structured that character.  After that she she’s an academic and a lover, still her personality doesn’t change.  She knows there are cameras and by that point she also knows something else is going on, but she sees no point in being other than she is.  This is a brilliant message to girls from all walks in all situations.
I also love that O’Brien used a protagonist like Rosie to tell this story and uncover the secrets beneath Forge, because she had everything to lose by letting the truth out and she did it anyway.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

When We Collided review

When We Collided by Emery Lord is one of those lover’s knot stories that sneaks up on you.  Straight off, you know these two characters, Vivi and Jonah, were going to fall in love and thus change something about themselves.  But, until the end Lord keeps Vivi’s fa├žade up and running, focusing primarily on Jonah and his family.
There are times Vivi’s condition is hinted at and discussed but never in detail and never with Jonah.  That’s where the relationship fails.  That’s the ultimate breaking point for Vivi, I think.  She never told Jonah the truth until it was too late to matter.
I could spend all day breaking down every fine point in their relationship and what it meant or didn’t mean, but what it boils down to is the connection between them.  I call these types of romances lover’s knot stories because the author takes every detail about each lover and knots it together to make them not only individuals, but a single entity.  In Celtic tradition the lover’s knot has no beginning and no end, symbolizing an eternal love, it also cannot be untied, symbolizing an unbreakable love.
Lord uses modern language and spectacular knowledge of intimate relationships to bring this relationship to the forefront of the story, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention a few other characters as well.
Felix and his daughter Ellie show up in the story right when we find out about Vivi’s condition, Jonah still doesn’t know, but it emphasizes the loneliness they both feel even with each other.  Ellie stays close to Jonah after her reintroduction into his life because she knows his mom needs help.  After seeing her brother battle depression, she didn’t want anyone else she cared about to feel that pain.  Jonah’s mom is a constant in the story, you can always feel her in everything Jonah says or does, because everything he says or does is for his family, to keep his mom protected.
This was a remarkable work of fiction.  Having suffered through some of these things personally and seeing my friends suffer through them, I can say it’s one of the most honest portrayals of emotionally unstable relationships I’ve read.  Lord does an amazing job with her use of language, her spot on dialogue, and her subtleties.
Brilliantly done.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Borderline by Mishell Baker Review

Borderline by Mishell Baker is an artistic understanding of not only mental illness but the stigma associated with it.
Baker opens in first person POV inside the mind of a woman who had attempted suicide.  I love how she did this because it makes Millie more than a narrator or a patient or a character in the story.  She becomes vulnerable.  Human.
This helps provide a genuine contrast between the humans and the Fae.  It also allows a unique perspective of mental illness, suicide, and the stigma attached.  Since she wrote in first person, Baker was able to analyze not only Millie but those she comes into contact with through the lens of Millie’s Borderline Personality Disorder.  No narrator is perfect, every writer is unique.  But this is the first contemporary fantasy novel I’ve read that openly acknowledges and addresses a mental illness.
I applaud Baker on her blended style of contemporary fantasy and am truly grateful there is now fiction literature set in first person that steps boldly into the world of magic and the world of mental illness simultaneously.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ella Review

Ella- Cinders and Ash by Erik Schubach is the third book in the Urban Fairytales series and it’s in this installment things start to change for our many and varied heroines.
Schubach uses his personal narrative spiced with the characters’ wit and banter to make for compelling drama.  Two, well three, new characters are introduced in this book: Parker, who is the narrator, Ella, and Marie, who shares Ella’s body.  They cause trouble from page one and are quickly teamed up with the Red Hood and Gretta Snow to go in search of the fourth avatar, The Briar Rose.
Erik Schubach is putting a whole new twist on fairy tales.  Kick ass heroines with no need of a dashing prince, blessings that curse, and darkness that threatens the modern world.  Now the four avatars of the original fairytales have to come together to defeat the evil of the Black Crown and save humanity from werewolves.
Brilliantly rendered.  A knock-down, drag out page turner no reader could put down.  You will read this in one sitting.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Martian Review

The Martian by Andy Weir is the story of one man’s struggle to survive, that’s the punch for the book, that’s the tagline.  The book that I read gave me so much more than a cast away survival story.  This man, Mark Watney, beyond wanting to stay alive, he wanted to stay human, to not loose himself.
Weir took the knowledge that was so extreme and could have easily put readers off and had Mark explain it in his witty sarcastic logs.  It was fun to read Mark because you always know he’s going to say or do something crazy and that it’s probably going to work.
When I first started this book, I got a little nervous when I noticed it was written in logs by one man.  There would be no dialogue no character dynamic, none of those things that generally make an interesting narrative.  But then, Weir brought in NASA and the Ares 3 crew and it came together very nicely.
All in all this book combines solid science, classic wit, and human desire to make a riveting read.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Snow: The White Crow Review

Another Urban Fairytales book, another binge read.
Snow: The White Crow is the second in the series by Erik Schubach.  I am officially in love with this story and this author’s style.
For this installment, Schubach has once again chosen to write in 1st person POV, but he’s writing from a different character.  Instead of Daria and Maireni from Red Hood, he narrates with Gretta Snow.  It’s a style of serializing I haven’t seen before.  The story seems to follow a legend rather than a specific character.  This allows a first person POV to drop into whatever character is active within the legend in a given time.  It keeps the story moving and works very well for this narrative.
My other favorite thing about Schubach’s writing is that he writes lesbian romance that is fresh and somewhat innocent.  In Snow, the romance is more mature than it was in Red Hood, but it’s never gratuitous or erotic.  The love between the characters is a part of the story.  It’s something that actually propels the narrative.
I love reading these stories and will continue to do so as long as they keep getting written.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Red Hood: The Hunt Review

I picked up Red Hood: The Hunt thinking it would be a fun urban fantasy with a gay main character.  I could not put this book down.  Literally, I read it in one sitting.  Erik Schubach did an awesome job crafting Daria and Maireni the story around them and the love they fall into.  The most amazing thing about this to me, when I read it, I didn’t know it had been written by a man.
There was no eroticism in the love scenes.  Schubach left a purity there which was so refreshing and lets the reader focus on the story.  Plus the timeline of the love made sense.  I mean with werewolves at your gate, you’re hardly just going to run off with a strange woman.  Schubach is so smart with Daria’s character and incredibly brave, in my opinion, to write in first person.
The development is spot on, the characters are brilliant, and the legends and world building puts the reader in the story.
I’m hooked.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson

Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson is an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare; however, since I have not read the original Shakespeare in about 15 years I am going to review this as a stand-alone with no comparisons or analysis regarding the adaptation.
The relationship between the two groups of characters, the fathers and the children, is written broadly enough that the reader doesn’t get bogged down in characters but finite enough that each individual does stand out.  Once the main characters are introduced, the dynamic is immediately understood.  This makes the story easier to tell because there’s less exposition needed, so the narration is able to move a lot faster.

I thought the character of Shylock was a sort of manifestation of Strulovitch’s own insecurities, and to a point still do even though he did have a role in the narrative.  Shylock, for the most part, served as the Jew on Strulovitch’s shoulder, constantly trying to direct his actions.  The reason for Shylock’s interest in Strulovitch is the similarity between them, for Shylock also lost his daughter to gentiles.
For me, this became a lesson in keeping an open mind, learning from those around you, and knowing what love is.
Masterful work by Howard Jacobson truly enjoyable.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Grace of Kings Review

What can I say about The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu?  I’ve said this as I read it, but it certainly bears repeating, this is the best book I’ve read in a very long time.
Liu is a master of mythology putting his knowledge of eastern myth into this dynamic tome that could easily be compared to The Illiad.  In a world of western myth-based fantasy, Liu took a step farther and introduced a new world.  He builds Dara so gently and so fully the story becomes rich and addictive within the first fifty pages.
Something that really stood out to me about the style of the narrative was the way Liu balanced the Empire and the Rebellion storylines.  With the gods of Dara overseeing the conflict, it allows the reader a somewhat impartial look at the situation with the narrative never leaning one way or another.  It helps the reader to understand each side’s motives, their personal journey, and individual characters.
I’m excited to read The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu and really looking forward to more installments of The Dandelion Dynasty.  In a cycle of literary mediocrity, Liu stands out like no other.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Alora: The Wander-Jewel Review

Book one of the Alora series by Tamie Dearen is escapist fiction after my own heart.
There's no fantasy fan who doesn't want to step into the wardrobe and find Narnia or hop on the Hogwarts Express.
The beauty or being a writer is the ability to create a world for ourselves and that's what Dearen does in The Wander-Jewel.
She uses a mature approach and modern language in this 21st century escapist adventure, putting the Alora book solidly in the YA genre, but still makes it fantastic enough to let the reader build upon what she's written.
Tenavae is built on culture, on the people, so it's filled with different characters and clans.  Dearen has a strong dialogue style, very character focused so the reader can build a physical world around the amazingly developed characters with what's  provided by them.
It's an unusual and difficult style for a fantasy but it is incredibly well done.
I'm looking forward to book two and after that I hope to have a chat with Tamie Dearen posted here!

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Winter Girl Review

The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich is, in my experience, a singular thriller.
One of the things that instantly sets it apart from other thrillers of its kind is the POV.  Marinovich wrote in first person, but styled his writing so that despite the fact that it was past tense, the view was limited to the time at hand.  This is very difficult to do and well done in combination with the other factor that sets this novel apart.
Each chapter leads somewhere.  There was no predicting or guessing an outcome or even a next step.  The action was almost literally unfolding chapter-by-chapter.  This could be simultaneously brilliant and the kiss of death for a novel.  It can make the reader want to know more and not want to put the book down if done right and leave them satisfied at the end of the story.  Or.  It can make the reader feel cheated and get bored.  If they drop that book, they won’t want to pick it up again.
Matt Marinovich has mastered this style with The Winter Girl.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Bone Labyrinth Review

The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins is an action packed historical thriller from page one.
Rollins has a style and structure similar to Dan Brown, but at times too heavily fortified with the science and history which can take the reader out of the narrative somewhat (something that Michael Crichton was often prone to).  What really separates him from these and other writers of historical thrillers is the paramilitary aspect he brings in with Sigma.  With the Sigma team, there’s an action thriller element, and the story keeps moving and the reader stays glued to the pages.
Another very important distinction between Rollins and other thrillers I’ve read is his distinctive characters.  He’s got a lot of characters ultimately working toward the same goal, but each is an individual.  The reader cannot get confused between these personalities they are so well established within the first 100 pages that you will know later without a tag or a prompt who is doing or saying what.
This is my first exposure to Rollins, and I am thoroughly impressed.  I’ll have to read his other work now!