Review: Forsaken

Posted on May 6th, 2015 @ 21:50
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Forsaken (Shadow Cove Saga, #1)Forsaken by J.D. Barker

My rating:

Blurb:

When horror author Thad McAlister began his latest novel, a tale rooted in the witch trials of centuries past, the words flowed effortlessly. The story poured forth, filling page after page with the most frightening character ever to crawl from his imagination. It was his greatest work, one that would guarantee him a position among the legends of the craft.

But was it really fiction?

He inadvertently opened a door, one that would soon jeopardize the lives of his family.

She wants to come back.

At home, his wife struggles to keep their family alive. Secretly wondering if she caused it all…a deal she made long ago. A deal with the Forsaken.

Review:

(I got an ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I’m not too sure how to rate this novel.

Its plot managed to be “simple” enough without being boring, able to bring enough elements to keep readers entertained, as well as interesting twists, especially at the end. This isn’t something easy to achieve. The wink to Needful Things made me go “wait, what?” for a second, but it all made sense, and was in fact a nice addition, all things considered. (I am ashamed to say I haven’t even read Needful Things, not yet. I just now enough about it to get the cameo.)

There’s a lot of meta-ing in here, too: the writer whose inspiration gives life to horrors, yet you quickly realise that his inspiration itself didn’t come just out of nowhere. The literary agent whose greed translates into another kind of greed. The Journal of Clayton Stone, made of excerpts from Thad’s novel, also acting as a way to pepper the plot with more information. Said novel as a medium of carrying just about anything: a story, a curse, a legend… and with so many people about to read it, who’s to know how the paradigm will shift?

The short chapters also made for an easy read—I like short it when you can stop often, since I also often read in public transportation or during breaks. Although I didn’t often want to stop, because to regular shift between Thad, Rachael and Clayton kept me wanting to go on to see what would happen next.

And yet, I can’t explain why I wasn’t more thrilled. It’s the kind of book I should’ve devoured in two sleepless nights; I didn’t. I thought it’d scare me more, with its depiction of the house becoming a trap; it didn’t. I’d read ten or fifteen chapters, and then suddenly feel like stopping. I’m not sure why this happened. It may be because some elements weren’t shown enough to my liking (like Zeke’s role: I thought he deserved more screen time). The “followers” sort of popped out of nowhere, and the way they were led and organised was a little jumbly. And the characters felt somewhat one-dimensional: while Rachael’s and Ashley’s plea was almost tangible, with creepy descriptions of the minions and the dust invading everything, the people themselves seemed more like victims cast in their role than like “real” people with likes, dislikes, a before and an after… This may be why the horror part didn’t touch me so much.

Forsaken‘s still definitely worth a read for its pacing, its descriptions, and its twists.

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Review: Black Dog

Posted on May 4th, 2015 @ 21:14
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Black Dog: Hellhound ChroniclesBlack Dog: Hellhound Chronicles by Caitlin Kittredge

My rating:

Blurb:

Ava has spent the last hundred years as a hellhound, the indentured servant of a reaper who hunts errant souls and sends them to Hell. When a human necromancer convinces her to steal her reaper’s scythe, Ava incurs the wrath of the demon Lilith, her reaper’s boss.

As punishment for her transgression, Lilith orders Ava to track down the last soul in her reaper’s ledger… or die trying.

But after a hundred years of servitude, it’s time for payback. And Hell hath no fury like an avenging Ava…

Review:

(I got an ARC of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.)

Interesting setting, but ultimately the characters didn’t keep me invested enough in the story. I wasn’t sure at first why; in the end, I think it was because they were presented as badass, did have an etremely badass-y potential, yet didn’t make enough use of this potential.

The good thing was that it made them vulnerable, more human, not the kind of characters who win all the time and tear through their enemies like there’s no tomorrow. Ava had a painful past, was abused and betrayed, and this makes it quite ironical that she ended up as a hound, expected to show the loyalty that was never really shown to her when she was alive.

On the other hand, there were also several moments when they were too weak, didn’t see through their enemies’ ploys, ended up in dire situations because they hadn’t been careful enough (though they knew they should have been)… Here’s a Hellhound and a warlock who keep being on the wrong end of the stick, being the underdogs (pun intended), and it’s not something I had expected from them. Obstacles and trials? Sure… Only not with such similar endings (character gets into problems, gets beaten up, blacks out, wakes up in an unknown room with someone who may or may not be an enemy…). This was all the more annoying with Ava, who’s supposed to be close to a century old, and not just a budding Hellpuppy. Ava who keeps making wrong decision after wrong decision. You’d think she’d learn.  (Also, akward sex scene out of nowhere.)

The setting itself was OK, with elements that could easily be used and developed later again: Leo’s father and his thugs; what happened in Hell; whether Ava will be really free or not; the way boundaries aren’t so well-defined when it comes to demons and angels, as being a meanie isn’t limited to “the bad guys”… There’s potential here as well, including vampires and shifters— not the most original I’ve ever seen, but not the cheesiest either. And necromancers. Shall I state once again how partial I am to necromancy?

Good ideas in general. My main beef with the book were the characters, whom I mostly found unremarkable, when they should have been.

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Review: The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath

Posted on April 28th, 2015 @ 23:15
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The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and GoliathThe Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee

My rating:

Blurb:

1888. A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.

John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.
Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down…

Review:

(I got an ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

Hmmm. A hard one to rate. I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would. Maybe 3.5 stars / between “I liked it” and “I really liked it”?

The setting, characters and writing had a twisted fairy tale-like quality, rather close to what I’d expect from authors I love (like Neil Gaiman). Victorian England, for starters, with a dash of the Egyptian craze. An Egyptian princess whose soul may have travelled to another human vessel via a clock. A clockmaker who makes very specific implements using inhuman means. A group of young boys raised by the Lord of the Underworld, all ending up twisted in various ways. People fighting against death and aging, going against time, ready to whatever it takes to prolong their own lives. All this against the backdrop of the Ripper murders, which are given a different take her.

I liked that the story went in a roundabout way. As I usually say in such cases, it’s both a good and a bad thing. Good for readers like me who enjoy it when a novel doesn’t necessarily follow its characters chronologically, because it’s like a puzzle and it’s amusing (at first, it’s not so obvious why this or that character becomes the focus, but then those subplots gradually tie together). Bad, because if you don’t have a lot of time to focus on the story, it’s easy to feel lost after a while. After all, we aren’t always able to read a book in one or two sittings only… So, I enjoyed trying to piece things together, but I’ll also admit that it wasn’t very easy at times, as I’d somewhat lose my train of thoughts about the novel as soon as something else popped up.

Mr Lovehart was one strange, mad fellow. And the kind of persona that tends to grow on me: crazy, clearly evil in many ways, yet with a heroic bastard streak that went well with his killing antics. And eccentric clothes. Somehow, it just worked.

I also really liked the relationship between Mirror and Goliath, fierce protector as he was. Just like White and to a certain extent Walnut, he provided a strong, honest counterpoint against the depravity of other characters. I’m not so fond of the ending and of what it implied when it came to Mirror and Goliath, though, considering that she “grew up” pretty fast, but that nothing is said about her mental growth. Especially as she wrote her letter, it felt like she was still quite a child in her mind, and so it made things rather… weird, to say the least.

The same goes for Pomegranate’s story, that didn’t tie as well with the other characters’. Or maybe that was just me. Maybe I happened to read her chapters at a moment when I wasn’t focused enough. (See above.) And there were moments when I felt that the characters in general ween’t so well-defined, that they would’ve deserved more fleshing out.

I’d still recommend this novel to readers in search of whimsical settings and characters, with magical realism and enchanting prose.

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Review: dEaDINBURGH

Posted on April 25th, 2015 @ 09:26
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dEaDINBURGH: Vantage  (Din Eidyn Corpus #1)dEaDINBURGH: Vantage by Mark Wilson

My rating: 

Blurb:

Edinburgh, 1645: 
The bubonic plague rages. In a desperate attempt to quarantine the infected, the city leaders seal the residents of Mary King’s Close in their underground homes. 

2015: 
Mary King’s Close is reopened, unleashing a mutated plague upon the city residents. 
The UK government seals the entire city. Declaring it a dead zone they seal the survivors inside alongside the infected. dEaDINBURGH is declared a no man’s land, its residents left for dead and to the dead. 

2050: 
Joseph MacLeod, born onto the cobbles of the Royal Mile and stolen from the clutches of the infected is determined to escape the quarantined city. Under the guidance of former –marine Padre Jock, he leaves the confines of the city centre and hones his archery and free-running skills. 
Alys Shephard, born into an all-women farming community believes a cure lies in the south of the quarantined zone. The finest combatant in the dead city, Alys burns with anger. The anger of an abandoned child. 

Something much worse than the infected waits for them in the south, in the form of a religious cult led by a madman named Somna who collects gruesome trophies and worships the dead body of a former celebrity. Added to this, the enigmatic Bracha, a supreme sadistic survivalist with his own agenda stalks the teenagers.

Review:

Perhaps more a 3.5 than an actual 4. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this novel, and will very likely pick volume 2 at some point.

While the theme of zombies is nothing new and has been overdone, especially in the past couple of years, dEdINBURGH‘s approach on it is character-driven enough for me to care about Joey and Alys, and wonder about all the people left in the city. There were some quirky ones in there, Bracha not being the only one. (I kind of liked Bracha, with his golfer attire and posh accent. Completely mad, and utterly dangerous, in the way I liked reading about. I wonder what happened to make him this way?)

The city itself was another strong point for me. I admit I’m probably being partial here, for the mere reason that for once, I could relate to the setting (I live in Edinburgh). After so many books set in US cities, being able to picture every place clearly, to compare with what Edinburgh is right now, was delightful in its own, twisted way. Areas I go through every day to go to work, abandoned buses, the Princes Street Gardens converted into a community and devoted to keeping actual gardens, the way basement flats were included (there are so many here)… It definitely influenced my enjoyment of this book, and I’m not going to hide it; conversely, though, it means that other readers may not like it as much if relating to the setting was an important point for them. (I think the descriptions were good enough in general to help picturing the setting even if you’ve never been there.)

I was somewhat sceptical about a few things: a couple of fight scenes, how the protagonists were able to escape infection (shouldn’t it be too late as soon as you’ve been bitten?), some of the remnants of the former city–the plague spread 30 years prior to the beginning of the story, so should there still be ways of getting electricity or finding camping gear? On the other hand, the revelation at the end may also be an explanation: maybe those were actually left there with a purpose in mind (also, it’s small enough a city, and a lot of people died in the beginning, so it can’t be approached it with the usual “US setting with plenty of people left to loot stores” idea

I’m still balancing between 3 and 4 stars here, but for now, considering the genuine enjoyment it provided me with, and my undying love for Edinburgh that basically makes me squee every time the city’s involved, let’s round it up to 4.

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Review: The Girl Who Never Was

Posted on April 24th, 2015 @ 13:30
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The Girl Who Never WasThe Girl Who Never Was by Skylar Dorset

My rating: 

Blurb:

THE GIRL WHO NEVER WAS is the story of Selkie Stewart, who thinks she’s a totally normal teenager growing up in Boston. Sure, her father is in an insane asylum, her mother left her on his doorstep—literally—when she was a baby, and she’s being raised by two ancient aunts who spend their time hunting gnomes in their Beacon Hill townhouse. But other than that her life is totally normal! She’s got an adventurous best friend who’s always got her back and an unrequited crush on an older boy named Ben. Just like any other teenager, right?

When Selkie goes in search of the mother she’s never known, she gets more than she bargained for. It turns out that her mother is faerie royalty, which would make Selkie a faerie princess—except for the part where her father is an ogre, which makes her only half of anything. Even more confusing, there’s a prophecy that Selkie is going to destroy the tyrannical Seelie Court, which is why her mother actually wants to kill her. Selkie has been kept hidden all her life by her adoring aunts, with the help of a Salem wizard named Will. And Ben. Because the boy she thinks she’s in love with turns out to be a faerie whose enchantment has kept her alive, but also kept her in the dark about her own life.

Now, with enchantments dissolved and prophecies swinging into action, Selkie finds herself on a series of mad quests to save the people she’s always loved and a life she’s learning to love. But in a supernatural world of increasingly complex alliances and distressingly complicated deceptions, it’s so hard to know who to trust. Does her mother really wish to kill her? Would Will sacrifice her for the sake of the prophecy? And does Ben really love her or is it all an elaborate ruse? In order to survive, Selkie realizes that the key is learning—and accepting—who she really is.

Review:

(I received an ARC copy through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. Since it was an ARC, though, some things may be different in the published version of this book.)

I am sorely late in reading and reviewing this book. My mistake for not keeping track of when which review was due. Apologies to the publisher for this. Unfortunately, I have to admit I didn’t like this book, balancing between “it’s OK” and “this is getting long… are we there yet?”

It had plenty of ideas and themes that I normally would like. Fae, for starters, as well as wizards and ogres. A blue-and-orange-morality take on said fae, as well as a Seelie Court that is all but full of “nice fairies” (they’ll kill someone because they can, and when asked “why”, they’ll answer “why not?”). Boston as a stronghold for the supernaturals, built over the centuries through magic and enchantments. One of the characters has the power to travel between the human world and the fae lands. And so on.

On the other hand, I just couldn’t connect with the characters. Selkie reacted too often like a kid rather than as a 17-year-old girl, acting impetuously and making rash decisions, sometimes to the point of reaching Too Stupid To Live status. Her friend wasn’t so much better. Putting yourself in danger to save someone is a noble thing, even if it means willingly jumping into a trap, but Selkie did it with too little preparation; as a result, her attempt at rescue was pretty much… useless.

Conversely, her tantrums weren’t totally unjustified either, because of all the other characters’ tendency to never tell her anything, never explain, arguing that “it’s not yet time”… and we all know that the “let’s keep you in the dark in order to protect you” trope has a severe tendency to backfire about 99% of the time, all the more in YA novels, because the teenager will just jump into dangerous situations anyway—the only difference being they’ll lack important information that would help them. Moreover, keeping the character sheltered from knowledge for 50% of the story (at least) also means keeping the reader confused. While I managed to make sense of who was doing what at some point, let’s just say it was thanks to my ability to piece things together, not to the novel doling out information in a useful way.

The characters in general felt too flat. Her aunts weren’t indistinguishable from each other, and the Seelie queen could have been so much scarier, be so much more cruel… Instead, she didn’t look like much of a threat, despite her powers and her ability to use Names to weaken or even kill other fae. All in all, it should’ve been a desperate predicament for Selkie, considering what the wizard and her aunts told her, yet I never get a sense of a real threat coming from the Seelie fae. They did harmful things… just not to the extent I expected them to.

Not relating to the characters also meant I couldn’t connect with the romance. It was just there—too one-sided for a long time, before taking a sudden U-turn. I’m not a good audience for romance as a whole, and I know it’s difficult to find a love story that will touch me, but here, it was definitely a miss. I couldn’t bring myself to care about it, and the “stay with me because you love me” part made me roll my eyes.

I still liked the setting, though, both Tir na nOg and Boston/Parsymeon. It just wasn’t enough to keep me interested.

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