WHEN WE WERE ANIMALS by Joshua Gaylord – Review

When We Were Animals

When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord
Genre: Adult speculative fiction
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Release date: April 21 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 336

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: An allegorical story about one teen’s journey toward adulthood, and all the unusual challenges she and her friends must overcome.

And it makes me wonder if one day I might be able to rediscover fully the child version of myself, before things fouled themselves up, when I was a little girl with commendable manners, when my father and I were two against the world, when my striving for goodness was so natural it was like leaves falling from trees everywhere around me, when I believed sacredness was to be found in many small things like ladybugs and doll toes, when I didn’t have a murderous thought in my head, not one.

This isn’t the easiest of stories to review. There’s very little plot to talk about, for one thing. Joshua Gaylord has written a book of ideas and emotions, and in When We Were Animals he gets to the meat of what it feels like—literally—to go through puberty. It was especially poignant for me, because I happen to have a boy and a girl who are sixteen and fourteen, respectively. These are the ages when teens in Gaylord’s small town “breach,” or turn feral. During the three nights of the full moon each month (with thanks to Joss Whedon for instructing me that yes, in fact, the moon is full for three nights a month!), these teens suddenly feel the urge to run outside at night and tear off their clothes, run wild through the streets, fight and have sex with each other, and let their wild sides run completely out of control. This odd behavior lasts about a year, and then it’s gone forever. After which time, supposedly the teen has crossed the final threshold into adulthood.

The story is about a girl named Lumen, who is approaching her sixteenth birthday but who hasn’t breached yet (and fears she never will). Coincidentally, she hasn’t started her period either, so it was pretty clear that the two are connected. Lumen tells her story from two perspectives: as an adult woman looking back on her time during the breach, and her current life as a wife and mother and how the past has affected her. She’s a very interesting character, in the sense that she seems detached from most of the emotions that the other kids her age feel, probably because she’s telling her story from the distance of adulthood.

Lumen faces many of the same problems that any teen would face: being accepted by your peers, dealing with bullies and peer pressure, and having that feeling deep within yourself that something wants to break free, but not knowing how to deal with it. What Gaylord has done is taken all that teen angst and given it an outlet in the form of breaching, a completely acceptable rite of passage that every teen in town must go through. I loved the feral quality to these outings under the full moon, and while there isn’t anything supernatural to breaching—it seems as if the teens literally turn into animals, but they don’t—it felt dangerous and unpredictable.

Trigger warning: there are a few uncomfortable scenes that border on rape, although in one of the scenes the boy does change his mind and stop. But even those scenes weren’t as horrific as they could be. These teens know they’re out of control, and anything done during breaching is simply part of going through the process. In one scene, one of the more unlikable characters, a boy named Blackhat Roy, goes up to Lumen after she breaches for the first time and tells her, “Now you’re fair game.” It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what Roy is talking about.

My favorite relationship is the one between Lumen and her father. Because her mother died long ago, Lumen and her father have been alone for as long as she can remember. He loves her and trusts her to always do the right thing, and I felt bad for him when his perfectly behaved daughter was inevitably caught up in the breaching madness. It’s hard to read about a parent losing faith and trust in his child, and my heart broke for both of them.

Gaylord’s prose is delightful, and I honestly kept forgetting that a man had written this story! The voice of Lumen radiates femininity, and I’m so impressed by how well a male writer stepped up to the plate and convinced me that Lumen is indeed female, with all the emotions and desires that overtake teens at that age.

When We Were Animals cast a spell over me and made me think. It made me uncomfortable at times and sad at others. I know I’ll be looking at my own children with new eyes now that I’ve read this book, watching for signs of madness, which will hopefully never come. For those readers who enjoy unusual stories, this book is highly recommended.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote is taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.

When 2

UK edition from Ebury Press

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ROLLING IN THE DEEP by Mira Grant – Review

Rolling in the Deep

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
Dust jacket illustration by Julie Dillon
Genre: Adult horror novella
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Release date: April 7 2015
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Pages: 123

five stars

The nitty-gritty: A short but highly entertaining—not to mention terrifying—tale about the dangers of the deep.

I’m so happy I bought myself a copy of this beautiful little book from Subterranean Press. It’s a signed and numbered edition, and as far as I know, it’s the only edition available at the moment, other than the e-book. Whichever way you read it, it’s a spectacular story that accomplishes big things in a tiny little package.

I won’t give too much of the story away, because it is very short, but here’s the set-up. The Imagine Network has just commissioned a documentary on mermaids, and they’ve arranged to film aboard the cruise ship Atargatis. The plan is to take the ship out into deep water where little sea exploration has been done before, film the hired scientists doing their thing with water and chemical analysis, and have a troupe of professional mermaid “performers” standing by to add authenticity to the documentary. But as the crew and visitors drop anchor and start to explore the deep waters above the Mariana Trench, people on board start to go missing. It isn’t long before the excitement of filming turns into everybody’s worst nightmare.

For a short novella, Grant’s pacing is really good. She divides her story up into five chapters, and each one is prefaced by a blurb from an Imagine Network documentary from the year 2017, looking back on the disaster of the Atargatis and speculating on what happened. It gives the story a bit of foreshadowing and unsettles the reader. You know something bad happened—it’s explained on the first page that the entire crew was lost, but you don’t know exactly what happened until the end. Grant plants her clues carefully, spaced apart just enough to make the reader anxiously flip the pages.

The story is filled with humor as well. Grant pokes fun at the entertainment industry with lots of jokes about contract fulfillment and how documentaries are edited to create whatever story the director wants to tell, whether it’s true or not. The scientists and actors on board know that mermaids don’t really exist, and so they’ve hired a group of professional mermaids, women who wear specially made mermaid tales and perform at parties and other events. (And yes, I Googled this, and it’s a real thing!) The Blue Seas mermaids have been hired to “appear unexpectedly” on film. Obviously, the Imagine Network isn’t above a little innocent hoax or two.

Despite the short length of Rolling in the Deep, Grant digs fairly deep into her characters’ lives and desires. Yes, there is some stereotyping, especially with the nerdy scientist characters and Anne, the actress who will be hosting the documentary. But it made the story all the funnier for me, and I didn’t mind it at all.

I did love the women of the Blue Seas, who have hair colored in every shade of the rainbow and wear custom fit neoprene mermaid tails. The women love what they do, and they’re nearly jumping for joy at the opportunity to practice swimming in open waters. We get to spend just enough time with them to understand their true love of swimming as mermaids has nothing to do with acting. They understand exactly what they’ve been hired for, to pretend to be “real” mermaids, and it doesn’t stop them from having a great time—well, at least until things go terribly wrong. I really liked the idea that Grant puts two of her mermaids in wheelchairs, to show that even someone who isn’t able to walk on her own can have complete freedom of movement in the water.

When events on the Atargatis start to take a turn for the worse, things go south fast. Get ready for a good old-fashioned monster tale with plenty of blood and terror. Grant could have expanded this into a full-fledged novel if she’d wanted to, but I like it just the way it is: a short but nasty tale of “be careful what you wish for.” Trust me, after reading this story, you’ll never look at mermaids the same way again. This was my first time reading Mira Grant, but it’s certainly not going to be my last. Highly recommended.

rolling signed

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Backlist Burndown Review: GENERATION V by M.L. Brennan

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Welcome to my April Backlist Burndown review! Thanks to Lisa @ The Tenacious Reader, on the last Friday of each month we get to link up with other bloggers who are participating. The goal is to read a book from an author’s backlist that you’ve been meaning to read, but just haven’t been able to get to. I could honestly spend all my time reading backlist books, since I’m so behind, LOL! But trying for one a month is a good start.

This book is also part of my Women of Genre Fiction challenge, hosted by Worlds Without End.

This may not technically be considered a “backlist” book, but it is the first book in a series I haven’t started reading yet, not to mention it’s one I’ve had on my TBR pile for quite some time, so I decided this was a good excuse to finally read Generation V. I almost skipped it, though, because I’ve had a pretty tough April as far as blogging goes. I’ve been sick for almost two weeks, and then I lost an entire weekend due to my daughter’s choir competition out of town. So April’s been a big fail for me as far as getting review books read:-( And it took me A WEEK to read this book! Seriously. But in all fairness to myself, I have been very sick and tired and every time I try to read I start to fall asleep:-D

BUT I’m so glad I read it! What a fun start to a series I know I’ll keep up with.

Generation V

Generation V (Generation V #1) by M.L. Brennan
Genre: Adult urban fantasy
Publisher: Roc
Release date: May 2013
Source: Purchased paperback
Pages: 312

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A kick-ass, hysterically funny story with a unique vampire mythos and the best dialogue I’ve read all year!

“Keep one thing in mind, Fortitude,” she hissed, low and dangerous. “I’m not some were-critter. I’m not a woman who can turn into a fox when she feels like it. I’m a fox who can become a woman. Try to remember that.”

After reading many glowing reviews of Generation V, I knew I could not miss out on this series, and now I’m wondering why I waited so long! M.L. Brennan has some of the best and funniest dialogue I’ve come across, and that’s saying something, because I’ve read several books with some pretty amazing dialogue in the past few months, and I think I even mentioned in my reviews that they were the best dialogue I’ve ever read. (I think I need to compile a top ten list of books with awesome dialogue!). So far, Brennan wins this prize, hands down. It takes a lot to get me to laugh out loud, and I spend a great deal of time doing just that while reading this book.

Aside from the snappy dialogue, however, Brennan has created a very cool world of vampires with some ideas that I’ve never run across before. Some of her world building is a bit on the complicated side, so I did have a few moments of trying to picture exactly how vampire hosts are made and how babies are conceived. Even now I’m not sure I understand exactly how that works, but who the hell cares? This story was so much fun, from the self-deprecating voice of Fort, our main character, to the flirty and vivacious Suzume the fox woman, to the scary and complex relationships between Fort and the members of his family.

Fortitude Scott is a twenty-six year old vampire who hasn’t actually become a full-fledged vampire yet. He lives with a deadbeat roommate named Larry, who refuses to pay his half of the rent, and he works in a dead-end job in a coffee-house. His “girlfriend” Beth is cheating on him with Larry, and to make things even worse, his family is highly disappointed in him because he hasn’t yet evolved into a true vampire. Life is pretty bad for Fort, but things are about to get even worse, when the body of a young girl turns up nearby, and Fort connects her to a visiting vampire friend of his mother’s. When another girl goes missing, Fort decides it’s up to him to try to find her, before any of his vampire acquaintances can get their hands on her. With the help of his new bodyguard Suzume, a shape-shifter that can turn into a fox, Fort sets out to do some sleuthing of his own.

What I loved about this book is that the vampire mythos that Brennan has created is so different from everything else I’ve read—and believe me, I’ve read lots of vampire stories—and I appreciated how she brought something new to the table. These vampires are not immortal, and they are not “made” by being bitten by another vampire, but rather they are incubated inside a “host” and born in the usual way, except that they’re fed blood in the womb. Also, it takes some time before a vampire transitions into a full-fledged vamp. Even at twenty-six, Fort still hasn’t done that, so it was interesting to see this “half” vampire who really struggled with his life. It’s a far cry from the supremely powerful beings that we’re familiar with in other stories in the genre.

I would have liked more world-building, however, because as I mentioned before, some of the details were hard to get a firm grasp on. But I’m sure with at least three more books in the series, Brennan will have plenty of time to fill in the details.

I did love Fort, our main vamp character, even when he seemed like a loser who could barely hold a job or a girlfriend. Once he meets Suzume, though, I liked him even more, because some of that loser personality disappeared. Suzume is now one of my top favorite female characters in genre fiction. She’s a fox that can turn into a woman, and I loved the way she tormented Fort by flirting with him. Some of their most wonderful scenes together—aside from the funny banter—were the times when Suzume slipped back into her fox persona and curled up in Fort’s arms, just like a cat. It was confusing in a way, because you can see the sparks flying between the two when she’s in her human form, but I loved those sweet moments. Brennan definitely taunts us with a possible future romance between the two, but luckily she doesn’t cross over that line in this book.

The action scenes were well written and had plenty of blood and guts to appease the horror lovers out there, but despite some very graphic moments, I still came away from reading Generation V with a smile on my face. I honestly can’t wait to start the next book, Iron Night. If you haven’t started this series yet, and you’re a fan of humorous urban fantasy, then what are you waiting for? Get a copy and get cracking!

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Waiting on Wednesday [145] THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee

WOW 2014 copy

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a fun way to share upcoming books we’re excited about with other bloggers and readers. Let’s hear it for debut authors! This week I’m featuring:

This Monstrous Thing

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee. Releases in September 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books. I do love me a good Frankenstein re-telling, and this one fits the bill perfectly! And check out the creepy and atmospheric cover. Here’s the Goodreads description:

In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

goodreads-badge-add-plus

I love books about books. So the fact that this is a Frankenstein-inspired story and it references the book Frankenstein, just makes it more appealing.

What are you waiting on this week?

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Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough

loveanddeath

Welcome to my stop on The Game of Love and Death blog tour, hosted by Rock Star Book Tours! I’m very happy to bring you my review of this book, which I really loved. Keep reading to the end, because there is a tour-wide giveaway of FIVE COPIES of the book (U.S. only)! Not familiar with this book? Here’s a little more about it:

The Game of Love and DeathTitle: THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH
Author: 
Martha Brockenbrough
Pub. Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
Pages: 352
Formats: Hardcover, eBook

Antony and Cleopatra. Helen of Troy and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. And now . . . Henry and Flora.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured — a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget.

Find the book:  Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My review:

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A beautifully written story that does a great job incorporating racial and sexual diversity, with a touch of a fairytale to it.

It would simplify so much if he wanted Helen. But while her skin was pale and creamy, and her elegant collarbones were visible over the neckline of her dress, the sight only reminded him that she had a skeleton beneath her flesh. He wanted love, and when he looked at her, he could only think of death.

What if Love and Death were friends and had known each other for thousands of years? What if they decided to use humans in a game in order to entertain themselves? Martha Brockenbrough has imagined just that scenario in The Game of Love and Death, where Love and Death are able to take on any guise they want to—including a cat and a sparrow—in order to slip into their roles as directors in the game of life.

Love and Death select Flora and Henry as their next players when they are but wee babes in their cribs. Death selects Flora and Love selects Henry, and Death bets Love that the two won’t fall in love, or he’ll claim the life of his player, Flora. Love agrees, and when they turn seventeen, the game begins. Henry and Flora are thrust together in different ways over the course of several months, with Love and Death manipulating their chance meetings and actions. Love poses as the “mayor” of the homeless community known as Hooverville, while Death takes over the body of a woman named Helen who is sent to stay with Henry and his family in the hopes that they will marry, thus taking Henry out of the game.

But despite the conniving of the two entities, Henry and Flora discover that they have much in common, and soon Henry is making excuses to see Flora when she performs at her jazz club. Love is blossoming, but with so many obstacles in their path, one wonders exactly how this game will turn out. Brockenbrough keeps the readers guessing up until the very end and throws in a twist or two which makes the story exciting.

There are many things to love about this book. First of all, you should know that Flora is African-American and Henry is white, and because the story takes place in 1937, you know that right off the bat their relationship will be an uphill battle. Segregation is in full swing (the story’s location is Seattle) and these two are not even supposed to be seen talking to each other. The way the author handled this part of the story was so well done. Flora is the one who protests her growing affection for Henry, while Henry does everything in his power to keep running into Flora.

And despite their differences on the outside, these two have lots in common—they are both skilled musicians. Henry is a bass player who is forced to squash his love of music in order to work a “real” job at a newspaper, while Flora has inherited her father’s jazz club and sings on stage in addition to running the club. I loved the role that music played in this story, and I appreciated that even though both Henry and Flora are talented and fiercely dedicated to their music, they still have trouble accepting that sparks are starting to fly between them. When their music should be bringing them together, it ends up keeping them apart.

Brockenbrough gives us not one, but two gay characters, who added another juicy layer to the story. Henry’s best friend Ethan (he lives with Ethan’s family because he’s an orphan) hasn’t come out yet—it would destroy his strict and very traditional father—but he’s secretly in love with Henry. He finds solace with James Booth, the self-proclaimed mayor of Hooverville but keeps the relationship a secret. Meanwhile, Ethan’s cousin Helen comes to stay for a while (she has been cast out of her family because of an affair with another woman), ostensibly as a possible future wife for Henry, but the twist is that Helen is Death, and she weasels her way into their lives and tries to ruin everything.

Everything is deliciously and intricately connected together, and you can practically see the strings attached to all the players, as Love and Death maneuver them into place for a final showdown.

Lots of real historical moments that happened in 1937 make an appearance, like the burning of the Hindenburg and the crash of Amelia Earhart’s plane, as the author suggests Love and Death are responsible for all great moments like this.

This is not your typical “happily ever after” story. Lots of dark things happen to these characters. Just when you think things are going well for Henry and Flora, Death pulls the rug out from under them. Still, this story is a fascinating exploration of how the world turns, how people stand up for and love each other, no matter what the obstacles.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.

About the author:

MarthaMartha Brockenbrough (rhymes with broken toe) is the author of two books for adults and five books for young readers.

She’s the founder of National Grammar Day (every March 4), and she’s written game questions for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. The former editor of MSN.com, Martha has interviewed lots of celebrities, including the Jonas Brothers and Slash (his favorite dinosaur is the diplodocus). Her work has been published in a variety of places, including The New York Times. She also wrote an educational humor column for the online encyclopedia Encarta for nine years.

She lives in Seattle with her family. Her favorite kind of food is Indian, although Thai runs a close second. Besides writing, she likes board games, playing music with the family band, travel to places far and near, drinking lots of coffee, and working out really hard at the gym.

Find Martha: Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook |Pinterst | Tumblr | Goodreads

Follow the rest of the tour:

Week One:

4/20/2015- Alice Marvels– Interview

4/21/2015- Books, Bones & Buffy– Review

4/22/2015- A Glass Of Wine– Guest Post

4/23/2015- Jump Into Books– Review

4/24/2015- IceyBooks– Interview

Week Two:

4/27/2015- Fiction Freak– Review

4/28/2015- Nerdophiles– Guest Post

4/29/2015- The Starry-Eyed Revue– Review

4/30/2015- Seeing Double In Neverland– Interview

5/1/2015- Winterhaven Books– Review

And now for the giveaway! FIVE lucky U.S. winners will receive a finished copy of The Game of Love and Death! Simply enter the Rafflecopter below to enter:

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Over-Booked [23] – A Book Haul Post

Over booked banner

Welcome to Over-Booked, my twice-monthly book haul post. I’m linking up with Stacking the Shelves over at Tynga’s Reviews and The Sunday Post at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Check out their links and you can see other book hauls!

I’ve had another two-week period of a more-than-usual influx of new books, and I’m not complaining at all! I’m just worried about when I’ll be able to read them all, LOL:-D I have a great mix of review books, purchases and contest winnings, so let’s get started:

Physical review books:

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The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven, edited by Ellen Datlow. This arrived unexpectedly from one of my new fave publishers, Night Shade Books, and I’m so glad it did! I’m a big Ellen Datlow fan, and I’m looking forward to these stories. Thanks Night Shade!

The Memory Painter By Gwendolyn Womack. Another unexpected arrival from Picador, I have honestly never heard of this book until now, LOL! But it looks pretty good. Time permitting, I’ll give it a shot. Big thanks to Picador:-D

Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen. This is the new paperback release of the book, and I was very happy when a publicist from Thomas Dunne Books offered me a copy.

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. I’m part of the blog tour for this book, and my stop is this coming Tuesday. Stop back here to see what I thought about it, and enter a cool giveaway!

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So, a few months ago I signed up to be an Ace Roc Star, which is Ace & Roc’s new street team. I really thought I had a snowball’s chance in hell in getting in, but for some reason, they selected me. My first package just arrived this week, with an interesting mix of books. (Fellow blogger Lisa and I have been analyzing the contents in minute detail!) You can’t see it in this photo, but there’s a short excerpt from Jim Butcher’s upcoming The Aeronaut’s Windlass, which is weird because that’s an Orbit book. Hmmm. Nevertheless, I’m excited to be part of this team! So glad to have Lisa from Tenacious Reader and Jessica from Rabid Reads to dish with:-D Big thanks to Ace/Roc Books!

Digital review books:

Curses to HarperCollins and all their “Download Now” deliciousness that popped up this week!

I was pretty good and only chose four of them for review. Chuck Wendig’s latest from Harper Voyager also popped up, and I’m very happy to have been approved for Zeroes. And what can you say about Alice Hoffman? If you read this blog, you know I’m a huge Hoffman fan, and even though her latest doesn’t appear to have the usual magical realism elements, I’m still excited to read it.

Walk the Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. I haven’t read this author before, but I know lots of bloggers who love her. Can’t wait:-D

The Unquiet by Mikaela Everett. This parallel world story has been getting some good reviews.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. I was so excited to see this up on Edelweiss, I didn’t think twice before clicking the “download” button.

Zeroes by Chuck Wendig. Duh.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. Duh again.

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee. This Frankenstein retelling sounds perfect for me, I’m really looking forward to it.

Thank you to Greenwillow Books, HarperTeen, Harper Voyager, Simon & Schuster, and Katherine Tegen Books!

Won:

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So yeah, I won a bunch of stuff! It happens, I go a year without winning any giveaways, then suddenly, boom!

The Undying by Ethan Reid. Big thanks to Kristin at My Bookish Ways! I believe the second book in this series comes out soon. This looks like a bound galley, it’s pretty cool. Thanks Kristin!

Half Wild by Sally Green. I haven’t read book one yet, but it’s a series I’ve been dying to start, so this will give me a reason to find Half Bad. Big thanks to MaryAnn at Chapter by Chapter!

Touch by Claire North and Age of Iron by Angus Watson. Won from Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings. Thank you Anya! I got to choose two ARCs from her collection. I was THRILLED to see Touch listed, as it’s on my “must read soon” list. And I’ve heard really good things about Age of Iron.

Purchased:

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Some of my pre-orders that I’ve been waiting for came in, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant. This is a lovely little hard cover, only 128 pages, and I plan to knock it out next week in between review books.

Saga Volume One by Brian K. Vaughn. I’ve read so many great reviews of this graphic novel, so when I needed to bump up my Amazon order to get free shipping, this book went into the cart.

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer. Another highly anticipated pre-order, just look at all the swag Word Horde sent with the book! Includes a signed bookplate, sticker and bookmark!

And that’s a wrap! Excuse me while I crawl into my hole and read for the next, um, five years or so! Let me know if you’ve read any of these:-D

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A Different Kind of SF: EVENSONG by John Love – Review

evensong2

Evensong by John Love
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Release date: January 2015
Source: eARC from publisher
Pages: 352

 four stars

The nitty-gritty: An unexpectedly unique story with some very unusual relationships, and an emotional ending that completely took me by surprise.

He’d read somewhere that birds weren’t singing when daylight dimmed, they were screaming: screaming because they didn’t know the dark would ever end. Chaos seethed under every serene surface: the grassy slopes where small chitinous things ate or were eaten, the silver and white interiors of the New Anglicans, even the impeccable quiet control of Rafiq. He thought of the figure in Munch’s The Scream, clamping its hands to its head under a red streaky bacon-rasher sky while all the world screamed its underlying chaos.

You know when you start reading a book and you realize very quickly that this book is something different and special? Well, Evensong was one of those books for me. I should have known from the unusually beautiful book cover that my reading experience was going to turn out to be unique. It’s very hard to describe exactly why I felt this way, because my reactions to the characters and plot and writing weren’t always specific reasons that I can put in a book review. “I loved the characters.” And yet—I didn’t always love the characters. “I loved the setting.” And yet—the setting was foreign and made me feel off-kilter while I was reading. “I loved Love’s writing.” And yet. I did love it, but he also had some weird writing quirks that annoyed me a bit. But looking back on the book as a whole, I’m so glad I decided to read it, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Love’s next venture into fiction.

Here’s the gist of the story, although I am certainly doing it a disservice, because this synopsis barely scratches the surface. Anwar Abbas is one of the elite members of The Consultancy, or The Dead as they are also called.  Consultants are super enhanced humans whose bodies have been surgically altered to make them better, stronger, faster (Cue The Six Million Dollar Man theme!) Anwar and his fellow Consultants have been given physical and neurological enhancements that make them nearly indestructible and deadly killing machines (although their primary function is not to kill, but to disable). On the very first page of the story we’re given an example of this, as Anwar is systematically breaking his finger bones in order to practice suppressing his pain receptors and keeping all expression off his face. (I know, yikes! It might make you feel better to know that his bones immediately start to regenerate.)

Anwar’s boss has just asked him to take on a new assignment: acting as a bodyguard for the Archbishop of the New Anglican Church, an acerbic and dreadfully unappealing woman named Olivia del Sarto. Anwar takes the job, although he’s not too happy, since he feels it’s below his position. Soon he arrives in Brighton, England, the location of an upcoming UN resources summit, where Olivia will be speaking. It is at this summit that she believes someone will make an attempt on her life, which is why she’s requested a Consultant for protection.

But as Anwar tries to determine where the threat might be coming from, someone—or something—is killing Consultants. Are the two events tied together? As Anwar gets closer to Olivia, the mysteries keep piling up, as the summit looms ever closer. With the clock ticking down, Anwar must do everything he can to eliminate the threat to Olivia before the summit comes to an end.

Evensong is a dense and complex story, full of politics, religion, murder plots, sex and lots more. If you love thrillers and police procedurals, you’ll love this book. It’s not the sort of story you can breeze through, and you wouldn’t want to rush, because the language is the sort you’ll want to savor. He lovingly describes the architectural details of buildings (a Consultant named Levin is an architect in his “normal” life), as well as Olivia’s outlandish clothing (she wears velvet ball gowns as a general rule!) I did run across sections that seemed a bit too repetitive that could have benefited from a little more editing, but overall I enjoyed Love’s writing style.

One of the most interesting aspects of Evensong was the relationships between Anwar and Olivia. Olivia is a sex fiend with the most voracious sexual appetite I’ve ever seen on the printed page. She and Anwar are immediately attracted to each other, and within the first ten minutes of their first meeting, they’re going at it on the kitchen table. Both of them acknowledge that their “relationship” is purely physical, especially since Olivia really doesn’t like Anwar very much, and so these trysts become nothing more that feeding a hunger. Except. Later in the story, Olivia’s personality shifts slightly, and it becomes clear that she might be interested in more than just sex with Anwar. This dynamic was unexpected and created an emotional bond between the two that was very exciting.

I also loved the relationship between Anwar and Olivia’s bodyguard Gaetano. It’s another one of those “love hate” relationships, since Gaetano thinks Anwar is taking over his job. But the two are forced to work together and they eventually begin to (grudgingly) respect each other. Until they don’t, but that’s a part of the story I won’t go into, because of spoilers!

There are some truly scary bad guys in Evensong, the quiet and subtle type that you don’t see coming until it’s too late. These characters kept the tension high and my heart beating just a touch too quickly. Love is so good at creating suspense. From the moment Olivia and Anwar meet, to the summit itself, where you just know things are going to go bad, the author keeps you on your toes.

And then there’s the ending, in which something surprising is revealed—a twist, I guess—and the reader must go back and reevaluate everything she’s read up to that point. Not very many books make me cry at the end, but this was one of them. Love bludgeons the reader with some unexpected and raw emotions that make this story rise above your general science fiction fare. This was a remarkable reading experience, and I can’t wait to see what Love does next.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

Check out another cool Evensong cover (not sure if this is UK or not):

Evensong3

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Tough Traveling: Awesome Displays of Magic

tough-traveling

Tough Traveling is a weekly feature, created and hosted by Nathan at the Fantasy Review Barn, in which participants come up with a list of books that follow the fantasy tropes that can be found in Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to FantasylandEach week, Nathan picks a new subject. This week’s topic was a little harder for me than last week’s, but I think I came up with some good examples. In all of these books, magic practically jumps off the pages, begging to be noticed:

AWESOME DISPLAYS OF MAGIC: Sometimes magic can be subtle. Who wants that? Big explosions or acts of creation, death and destruction or acts of awe-inspiring wonder. If your world has magic then why not show it off?

U.S. cover, Tor Books

U.S. cover, Tor Books

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. Schwab’s latest is filled to the brim with awesome magic. In this insanely creative example of world-building, there are four different Londons: Red London, where magic is vibrant and used for good; White London where cruel rulers have made life dangerous and harsh; Grey London where magic has all but disappeared; and mysterious Black London that may or may not exist anymore. When the magic of Black London was about to lose control, Red London stepped in and magically sealed off the doors to Black London for good.

California BonesCalifornia Bones by Greg van Eekhout. There are lots of awesome, big magic in van Eekhout’s world, but one example is magician Gabriel’s special brand. Gabriel is a water mage, and he is powerful enough to control all the water in Los Angeles. He doesn’t lose control and do anything terrible to the city’s water supply, but the fact that he could is enough for me to include him on this list. From the canal systems that run through the city like freeways, to the pipes full of water that weave throughout houses and

City of StairsCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. This book is filled with big magical displays! When the Gods of the city Bulikov were killed by a powerful group of magic wielders, an event called The Blink occurred—an event that literally changed the city forever. Buildings were magically reconstructed and stairways that go nowhere suddenly appeared. And in another awesome display of magic, Shara inadvertently releases a powerful monster named Urav, who is set loose in the sea and begins to terrorize the city.

The Mirror EmpireThe Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. Here’s another example with a potentially awesome display of magic. In a world where people obtain their magic from the stars, the rising of the star Oma portents tragedy and world war. Oma hasn’t been seen in many years, and many people don’t believe it exists. But the presence of Omajistas, those who get their magic from the star Oma, are preparing for it to rise.

Two Serpants RiseTwo Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone. All of Gladstone’s books have great examples of magic gone crazy, but I thought I’d use this book to illustrate—once again—the potentially destructive kind of magic that needs to be stopped before it turns deadly. In this story, a powerful craftswoman named Malina Kekapania wishes to wake two powerful and deadly serpents, asleep deep in the ocean, who will destroy the world once they wake up.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some obvious examples, can you think of any good ones?

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Book Review Giveaway: Win a Book I Reviewed in March!

BRG March 2015

Welcome to my monthly Book Review Giveaway! I love sharing the wonderful books I read, and what’s better than giving one of them away? One winner will be randomly selected to win one of the following books (winner’s choice). This giveaway is international, provided The Book Depository ships to your country. Please keep in mind that I reserve the right to select the edition of the book you choose. That means it might be a hardcover, or it might be a paperback. It really depends on the price. Also, the cover might be different from the one displayed in this post.

Please congratulate last month’s winner!

Szelina B. chose A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

March was a really great reading month!  Here are the books you can choose from if you win. You can click on the titles to read my reviews:

dead boys

five stars

Dark Star by Oliver Langmead

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

four and a half

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Walters

four stars

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Duplicity by N.K. Traver

Unchained Memory by Donna S. Frelick

Vostok by Steve Alten

three and a half

Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia

Bloggers can grab the giveaway button and add it to your sidebar for extra points:

Books, Bones & Buffy

Ready to enter? Simply use the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck! 

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Interview with Stefan Mohamed, Author of BITTER SIXTEEN + Giveaway!

Author interview

Last week I reviewed the highly entertaining Bitter Sixteen, by UK author Stefan Mohamed, and today, Stefan has graciously agreed to visit the blog and answer some of my questions. Plus, Salt Publishing is offering two copies of the book (to UK residents only!), so if you’re eligible to enter, keep reading to the end of this post.

Please give a warm welcome to Stefan! Welcome to the blog, Stefan!

Hi! Thanks for having me!

How long have you been writing, and how did you get your start in publishing?

I’ve been writing since I was young – it’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. I first started writing stories in school, then when I was about seven I was given a creaky old Amstrad word processor and started using that to write stories at home. I’d always make huge plans for epic fantasy and science fiction trilogies, then write maybe half a (terrible) chapter, get bored and write something else. I’m a bit more disciplined now.

It took a while to get a foot in the door in publishing. I won the Sony Reader Award, part of the Dylan Thomas Prize, for an older draft of Bitter Sixteen back in 2010, not long after I graduated from my university creative writing course, and managed to get a literary agent off the back of that – he’s been utterly invaluable. I thought at the time that everything else – publishing deal, film rights, world domination etc – would fall into place immediately but it didn’t quite pan out like that. At this point, though, I think the extra time was a good thing. It’s allowed me to get the story in shape, write plenty of other things, and generally mature as a writer and as a person! And we’ve ended up with a very supportive, understanding and dynamic publisher in Salt.

Bitter Sixteen

One of my favorite characters in Bitter Sixteen is Daryl the talking dog. What made you decide to feature a talking dog in your story?

He seems to be the break-out star of the book, definitely! To be honest I can’t remember exactly where he came from – I’d love to say he just walked fully-formed into my brain, or that I saw a beagle and then watched Casablanca and a lightbulb went on over my head, but it’s getting on for ten years since I wrote the first draft and some of the creative decisions are buried in some neglected filing cabinet at the bottom of my brain. I was sixteen so I probably just thought it was cool! Actually, to be fair, I still often include things because I think they’ll be cool. You just have to be prepared to jettison cool stuff if it’s not working narratively, which is always painful.

In terms of the purpose Daryl serves in the story, as Stanly is a loner with few if any human friends, I think it makes sense for him to have someone to talk to at home, someone to sound off to. And I like that Daryl’s presence is both ultra weird and kind of normal – he’s obviously a totally fantastical, bizarre character, but in a way he keeps Stanly grounded in the real world, which is a contradiction I enjoy. It is odd that I would have chosen to make him a dog, though, ‘cos I’m definitely a cat person.

Ha ha! Well, I’m a dog person, so I adored Daryl:-D The word “Bitter” in the title seems to be an underlying theme in the story. Would you say some of Stanly’s experiences in school—being bullied, having a hard time making friends—come from personal experience?

There is an element of personal experience, yes. I didn’t have too much trouble making friends at school, luckily – I was not a cool, enigmatic loner, I desperately wanted people to like me! – but I did have lots of problems with bullying. School is a hard, cruel environment, especially for odd shy kids, outsiders. It’s a cliché to say that every day feels like a battle, but it really does – kids can be so awful to each other. And I suppose in a way Stanly represents how I would have liked to have dealt with things – he takes bullying in his stride, shrugs it off with a quip, then if necessary punches people. Whereas I tended to just keep my head down. There were a few times when I stuck my head up above the parapet and fought back, but I nearly always regretted it afterwards, for one reason or another.

Bitter Sixteen is full of pop culture references, and Stanly and Daryl both love genre movies and TV shows. What are some of your favorite things that you geek out over?

Well, Buffy obviously! All of Whedon’s stuff, actually – I think Angel is a hugely underrated series, as is Dollhouse. And Firefly obviously is a perfect little gem. Lots of other TV – Veronica Mars, Person of Interest, Community, Rick & Morty, Breaking Bad. I’m a big Star Wars geek too, and I’ve come back to Star Trek in recent years, having dismissed it as naff for a while when I was a teenager. I love Terry Pratchett’s books and was really sad when he passed away recently. Comics like Preacher, Saga, Ms. Marvel, Rat Queens. I’m also a massive music nerd.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I’m an absolute Joss Whedon fanatic as well:-D There are lots of superhero stories out there. How is Bitter Sixteen different from all the others, and what can readers expect from this story?

One of the main things I wanted to achieve with the story – and this is one of the reasons I wrote it as a novel, and not as a film script – was really getting into the psyche of someone discovering their superpowers, and exploring their effects and consequences with some psychological depth. I’m not saying that films or comics lack psychological depth, of course, but the kind of internal monologue that I work with in Bitter Sixteen is something that’s very unique to prose, I think. You can get really close to the character, get inside their thought processes. And while it is a hyper-real version of our reality, I wanted to explore the ramifications of discovering crazy stuff in a recognisable world, and play the fantastical elements and the mundanities of everyday life off one another. I find those juxtapositions really fun to play with.

It’s also very much written with fellow geeks in mind – but as with Spaced, another TV series I adore, the references are there for those who want to pick up on them but hopefully don’t detract from the story if you don’t!

You also don’t get many Welsh superheroes…

I understand you are working on (or have already written) two follow-up books to Bitter Sixteen. How exciting! Can you tell us a little about what’s in store for Stanly and Daryl and the gang?

Let’s just say things escalate quite dramatically! While there is an overarching story being told, each of the books is quite different in terms of tone and pacing. Bitter Sixteen is smaller scale, more personal, and very much a traditional origin story in many ways; I wanted a fairly self-contained narrative in which to set up Stanly, his world, his friends etc. The sequels expand the world, the threats, the consequences of the powers. Stanly will be pushed to his limits. Maybe beyond…

Since I’m a huge Buffy fan, and I know Stanly is too, I have to ask you this question. What is your favorite Buffy episode?

Tricky one! Very tricky. There are so many different types of Buffy episodes – brilliant comedy ones, heartbreakingly emotional ones, awesome action ones, weird conceptual ones. So it’s kind of hard to pick one that sums up the whole series. If I were going to do that I might pick Becoming Part 2, because it ticks all of the above boxes…

But actually I’m going to go for The Body. It’s not a fun episode by any means – in fact it’s probably one of the most harrowing pieces of television I’ve ever seen. But its impact, and the fact that there are hardly any supernatural elements to it, is a testament to the strength of the characters, the relationships that have been built up between that family of people, and between them and the audience. And ultimately I think that’s why people connect with Buffy so strongly, and why it’s still so adored now. Cool fighting, epic mythology and snappy dialogue are all great, but they’re no substitute for a set of characters you love like they’re your own family.

The_Body-004

And of course I’m going to chime in and say my favorite episode of Buffy is probably Conversations With Dead People. It’s simply brilliant! Please tell us three things about yourself that can’t be found on the internet.

I love carrots. I’m about the same height as James Marsters (i.e. not tall). And I once played the part of Bugsy Malone in a school production (I also played Romeo once, but – weirdly – that was after having written Bitter Sixteen).

Talking with you today has made me ravenous for a Buffy and Angel series-rewatch-binge! Thank you so much, Stefan!

Stefan MohamedSTEFAN MOHAMED is an author, poet and sometime journalist. He graduated from Kingston University in 2010 with a first class degree in creative writing and film studies, and later that year won the inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize for New Writers for BITTER SIXTEEN.

Stefan lives in Bristol, where he works as an editorial assistant, writing stories and performing poetry in his spare time.

Find Stefan: Twitter | Goodreads | Den of Geek

And now for the giveaway: Salt Publishing is kindly offering up two copies of Bitter Sixteen to anyone from the UK! I know this is an unusual demographic for a giveaway, at least for this blog, but the publisher is located in the UK, so it makes sense. So, UK readers, please enter below and spread the word!

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