A Creepy & Gothic Tale: THE BOY WHO DREW MONSTERS by Keith Donohue – Review + Giveaway

The Boy Who Drew 3D

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue
Genre: Adult Paranormal/Psychological
Publisher: Picador
Release date: October 7 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 272

Don’t forget to leave a comment, because I’m giving away a finished copy to one U.S. resident!

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A creepy, atmospheric tale that delves into the terrors of childhood and the regrets and disappointments of adulthood.

Believing himself invisible,  Jack Peter was surprised when they remembered to invite him to the table. He saw how they had changed. They were a team again, and he would have to see what he should do about that. The blush of red wine filled the room when his father uncorked the bottle. Piping hot, the spaghetti was no sooner set on the table than they were at it like a pair of wild beasts. They chomped at the bread, slurped at the sauce, and drained their glasses to the lees. They ate as though they had been starving, abandoning themselves to desire, as if the raw act of eating was somehow wicked when true wickedness was just outside the door.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I started this book, but it completely surprised me, in a good way. I had read Donohue’s first book, The Stolen Child, when it came out, and I remember really enjoying it. So I was looking forward to reading his latest. The story starts out creepy and the creepiness just keeps escalating. Donohue clearly loves exploring themes about childhood fears, real or imagined, and in this multi-POV story he gets right into the heads of Jack Peter and Nick, two ten-year-old friends who come face to face with the “monster under the bed.”

Tim and Holly Keenan and their son Jack Peter, or “Jip” as his father fondly calls him, live in their “dream house” in a small Maine coastal town, where Tim is a caretaker for the grand houses in the neighborhood, whose residents are spending winter in the city. But their home life is far from perfect. Jack Peter has Asperger’s and has recently developed agoraphobia, and he has not left his house—other than monthly visits to the psychiatrist—in three years. One morning when Holly goes to wake him up, she surprises him and he strikes her in the face. This sets off a chain of disturbing events that threaten to cripple the family, as well as their close friends who live nearby. One by one, each family member begins to see and hear strange things. But what is real and what isn’t?

There’s a gothic feel to The Boy Who Drew Monsters that I really loved: I could practically hear the crash of the waves on the rocks, and smell the sea salt in the air. Because the story takes place right before Christmas, snow plays a big part in the story (and here’s where you can tell I’m a California girl. I had no idea it could snow by the ocean!) The swirling chill of the snow added a menacing quality to the story, especially when a monster shows up and some of the characters take off into the snowy night to find it.

As you may have guessed from the title, Jack Peter likes to draw pictures of  monsters, and this odd pastime leads to much of the unsettling scenes in the book. One of Donohue’s talents is pacing the story so that the reader is only given small bits of creepiness at a time, but all those small moments eventually add up to some very real terror. I started reading this book the night my husband left on a trip for three days, and let me tell you, this is not the kind of book you want to read at night, in the dark, alone! I don’t scare that easily, but I found myself jumping at shadows and burrowing under the covers. Part of the genius of the story is that you’re never really sure whether the scary parts are real, or if they are simply manifestations of stressed out people.

I loved the tangled relationship between the Keenans and the Wellers. The story focuses mainly on six characters: Jack Peter and his parents, Holly and Tim; and Nick and his parents, Nell and Fred. The two families live near each other, and Nick is Jack Peter’s only friend. The boys grew up together, but a terrible accident at the beach three years before the story starts (they both nearly drowned) has put a strain on their relationship. Now Nick’s parents are making him stay with the Keenan family for a week while they go on a cruise to try to rekindle their marriage (yes, there’s some back story to the Weller’s relationship that will explain things).  Donohue does a great job of using multiple POV to flit in and out of each character’s head, so that the reader experiences the thoughts of each one. He also uses the classic fear of getting cut off from your loved ones to great effect, as he separates the characters from each other and makes them face their fears alone.

For me, the most interesting character of the bunch was Holly, a mother who must face the fact that she has a special needs child and that there is no escape from that reality. Holly and Tim are at odds with each other over Jack’s situation. Tim is convinced that Jack is “getting better” and will someday grow out of his Asperger’s tendencies. But Holly think he’s getting worse, and it’s driving her to the brink of sorrow. After Jack hits Holly, she rekindles her relationship with the Catholic church, mostly as a way to find answers. She befriends the local priest, as well as his “companion,” a woman named Miss Tiramaku who tells her all about the yurei (Japanese ghosts) who are haunting the town. Holly’s deteriorating mental state, and her journey back around to a sort of acceptance about Jack, was wonderfully done.

The story ends in a fantastic twist, one that I didn’t see coming, but which made me gasp out loud. If you’re looking for a book with a stealthy kind of terror, the sort that builds slowly until you’re about to crack from the tension, The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a must-read.

Big thanks to Picador for sending a review copy of the book! And thanks to the publisher, I have a finished hardcover to give away to one U.S. winner. (Sorry international peeps, but postage is too expensive.) To enter, simply leave a comment below and answer this question: Have you ever seen something eerie that was hard to explain? Giveaway ends December 5th, when one commentor will be randomly selected!

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Interview & Giveaway: CITY OF STAIRS Author Robert Jackson Bennett Speaks

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Author interview

This post is part of the Sci-Fi November event, which celebrates all things sci-fi, hosted by Rinn Reads and Oh, The Books! I’m thrilled to have Robert Jackson Bennett here today to answer some questions. You may know him as the author of American Elsewhere and the recent City of Stairs. I recently reviewed City of Stairs and was amazed by the intricate world-building and wonderful characters. I loved it so much, I want to give a copy away, so keep reading after the interview to enter to win a copy for yourself.

**I’ve also discovered that Robert has an AWESOME sense of humor, so please don’t leave without watching his video below, as well as clicking the link to his writing process. If you want a couple of laughs, trust me, you will not be disappointed:-)

Without further ado, please welcome Robert Jackson Bennett to the blog!

RJB

Books, Bones & Buffy: It’s been firmly established by bloggers and trade reviewers alike that your world building is one of the strongest elements of the book. What was your inspiration for some of these elements, like the Unmentionable Warehouse and the Blink?

Robert Jackson Bennett: I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a sudden change in reality. For example, as a kid I tried to imagine what would happen if someone just came into existence: no gradual development, no childhood, no background information on how gravity works or even what your body did or even that you had a body in the simplest of terms. How would one cope with that, this sudden physical manifestation in the world?

So to a certain extent, City of Stairs plays off of those same questions: how would a civilization deal with not only a sudden loss of critical infrastructure (try imagining what it would be like if one day we all woke up and all the fossil fuel oil in the world had turned into water), but also a total loss of history? This was what fascinated me to write the Blink.

I do recall that the Unmentionable Warehouse was inspired by the final scene in The Raiders of the Lost Ark. There was also an online game you could play once in the early days of the internet, where you opened boxes at Area 51 and found all these secret things the government had hidden away. It’s too good of a scenario not to write, this idea of bottled up fantastical items all wedged in together in a dark room.

City of Stairs

BB&B: I was thrilled to find so many strong female characters in City of Stairs, like Shara and Mulaghesh. Did you have real-life examples to draw inspiration from?

RJB: I read an essay once on Indira Gandhi back in college that was so fascinating it stuck in my head. I think some of it came out here. However, Indira Gandhi is an enormously controversial figure by a lot of common standards, and I would be hesitant to say any characters in the story draw from her directly.

Mostly I did it just because they were so fun to write. I realized the other night that Shara is basically Secret Agent Hermione Granger, in a way.

BB&B: I’ve heard talk about a sequel to City of Stairs. Can you tell us more about what’s next for Shara, Mulaghesh and Sigrud?

RJB: Sure. City of Blades features Mulaghesh being pulled out of retirement and sent to a far-flung, impoverished region that was once the domain of the goddess of war. There she’s joined by Sigrud and some of his family members as they try to track down a missing Ministry agent who seems to have discovered some incredibly important information about a game-changing new natural resource. As the two of them are soldiers and warriors in their own ways, they find a lot to be concerned about in the once-domain of war, and wonder if they can truly change and adjust to a more “civilized” world.

City of Stairs UK

BB&B: If you could use only one of the miracles in the world of City of Stairs, which one would you choose and why?

RJB: Probably Jukov’s Sheets, where they strip you naked and transport you to a distant tropical beach.

BB&B: Since we’re celebrating Sci-Fi Month, please tell us some of your all-time favorite science fiction and/or fantasy books.

I love Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell with a fierce passion. I also love anything Terry Pratchett, as well as anything David Mitchell.

BB&B: Tell us three things about yourself that can’t be found on your website.

  1. I enjoy smoking meats.

  2. My drink of choice is Wild Turkey 101 neat.

  3. I am from Louisiana but am allergic to seafood.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Robert! OK, folks, here’s the video I was talking about. Don’t think about it, just click the play button and watch:

About the author:

Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. His fifth novel, City of Stairs, is in stores now.

He lives in Austin with his wife and son. He can be found on Twitter at@robertjbennett.

You can see a short video of what Robert’s future writing plans are right here.

To find out more about Robert’s writing process, click here.

Find Robert on the interwebz:  Website | Twitter | Goodreads

If you haven’t had a chance to read City of Stairs, now’s your chance to win a copy! Giveaway is International, provided the Book Depository ships to your country. To enter, fill out the form below. One winner will be randomly selected on December 2nd. Good luck! (Also, please note my new policy regarding purchasing books from The Book Depository. I reserve the right to select which edition of the book I wish to give away, and I may or may not ask you which one you prefer. For example, you might receive either a paperback or a hardcover, depending on which one is available. I will most likely choose the cheapest option! Also, the book you receive may have a different cover from the cover I show on my blog post. The Book Depository often has both US and UK versions of books, and once again, I will usually choose the cheapest option. So, you’ll get the book, but the edition you receive could be a surprise!!)

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Waiting on Wednesday [126] – RADIANCE by Catherynne M. Valente

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WOW 2014 copy

Welcome to the Sci-Fi November version of Waiting on Wednesday! Sci-Fi November is hosted by Oh, The Books! and Rinn Reads, and Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine. This month I’m highlighting upcoming science fiction titles that I’m dying to read, and today’s pick is:

Radiance

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente. Releases from Tor Books in August 2015. I’ve read a few short stories by Valente, and loved them. Now I’m looking forward to her newest science fiction novel for adults! Here’s what Goodreads says:

The first adult novel in more than three years from the bestselling author of the Fairyland books.

Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood—and solar system—very different from our own, from the phenomenal talent behind the New York Times bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor, Severin will never return.

Aesthetically recalling A Trip to the Moon and House of Leaves, and told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.

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Oh. My. God. Doesn’t that sound amazing? I will be first in line to read this one! Let me know what you’re waiting on:-D

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Tammy’s Top Ten Favorite Sci-Fi Books – BEFORE I Started Blogging

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Top Ten Sci Fi

I own copies of all these books, but I can’t believe I found them all!

Welcome to Sci-Fi November, hosted by Oh, The Books! and Rinn Reads! A couple of weeks ago, I gave you my Top Ten Sci-Fi Books Written by Women – Since I Started Blogging, and today I’m listing my Top Ten Sci-Fi books before I began blogging. Most of the books on this list aren’t your typical science fiction classics, and those of you who are die-hard fans of SF will probably wonder why so many big name SF authors are missing. But I was never one to follow the crowd and read the popular books, as you might be able to tell. In any case, I love each one of these and I recommend them without hesitation. (This list is in no particular order.)

Evolution’s Shore by Ian McDonald. (1995) This was the first McDonald book I read, and it’s definitely my favorite. I don’t remember very many of the details, because it’s probably been almost twenty years since I’ve read it, but this would be one of the first on my list to re-read, I remember it being THAT good.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. (1968) Most people have seen the movie this book is based on (Blade Runner) but haven’t read the book. It’s really a heartbreaking story, and one of my favorite PKD books.

Vurt by Jeff Noon. (1993) I discovered Jeff Noon during a trip to London in 1994, and immediately fell in love with his drug-fueled storytelling. Vurt and it’s follow-up, Pollen, are still two of my all-time favorite books. If you haven’t read them, PLEASE make time to do so.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons. (1989) This book, you guys. THIS BOOK. Please read it, I beg you. The story is told in the style of The Canterbury Tales, and it brilliantly sets the scene for the second book in the series, which is:

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. (1990) Here’s where the story really gets going, and it was even better than Hyperion. Two more books followed this one, but I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. (1996) This was a very difficult book to read. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it. It’s a terribly sad, but beautifully written story of first contact with an alien race. Russell wrote a sequel called Children of God, but I don’t think I was ready to go back into her world, so I never read it.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. (1990) You’ve seen the movie, but have you read the book? The book was amazingly readable, with fantastic pacing and lots of terrifying moments.  Definitely worth a read, especially if you haven’t seen the movie in a while.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. (1985) Say what you will about the controversial Mr. Card, but this book was the bomb, and it was also the first book I remember reading that had an amazing twist at the end.

The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman. (1989) Before the Wizard of Oz retelling Wicked came along, Ryman wrote a little book called Was, which also told a twisted sort of Wizard of Oz tale. But The Child Garden was the first Ryman I read, and I nearly didn’t finish it. It’s terribly sad and beautiful (I’m sensing a trend of “sad” and “beautiful” stories on this list…) and depressing, but I was so glad that I made it to the end. Well worth the pain.

Emergence by David R. Palmer. (1984) This book is long out of print, unfortunately. I bought my copy at a used bookstore, probably eighteen or so years ago, after a good friend told me I HAD to read it. He wasn’t wrong. You can still find used copies (I just checked on Amazon, and someone is selling a paperback for over $400!), but it’s a shame it isn’t readily available. It’s a post apocalyptic story about a scary smart little girl and her psychic parrot.

So there you go. Wow, writing this post has made me so nostalgic! I want to re-read each one…Have you read any of these? Which (older) science fiction books would you put on your top ten list?

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A Tortured Superhero: THE HEART DOES NOT GROW BACK by Fred Venturini – Review

The Heart 3D

The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini
Genre: Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy
Publisher: Picador
Release date: November 4 2014
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 320

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: Violent, dark, and unexpected, a story about saving the people you love, without destroying yourself in the process.

I took the gun out, a familiar .38 purchased at our local Super Wal-Mart. At first, I kept it under the middle couch cushion and didn’t bring it out for weeks at a time. I’ve since warmed up to the prospect of holding it, watching the light die in the matte finish of the barrel. When you fondle a gun, it starts out cool and warms up, getting friendly in your hands. Hold one long enough and pretty soon, the urge to shoot something takes on a life of its own.

When you see the word “superhero” in a book blurb, you form a certain idea of what kind of story you will be reading. In this case, my expectations turned out to be completely wrong. Venturini has written a different kind of superhero story that surprised me, shocked me, and made me laugh. This story is dark, folks. And I mean dark. Venturini isn’t afraid of pushing people’s buttons, and there are several “trigger issues” in The Heart Does Not Grow Back that will definitely offend certain readers. So fair warning, there is a very disturbing rape scene, as well as numerous acts of bullying that go way beyond your typical school yard variety.

In addition to that violence, there are some upsetting scenes where Dale, who is afflicted (or blessed, depending on your opinion) with the ability to regenerate his limbs and organs, does various things to his body in the name of curiosity, or perhaps science. In other words, squeamish readers may want to stay away from this one.

So you may be asking, Tammy, why did you give this book four-and-a-half stars? The truth is, I really enjoyed the story, and I don’t mind the dark side of fiction at all, so despite a few “ick” moments, it completely pulled me in. Dale is the narrator, and his voice is part of the reason I loved this book. His story begins when he’s in sixth grade, a target for school bullies even then, and gradually he shakes off the role of victim and finds himself in a unique situation: he has a special ability, but he needs to decide whether to use that ability to help others, or to help himself.

Dale is in sixth grade when a boy named Mack saves him from a violent boy named Clint. Dale and Mack become fast friends, and it’s Mack that introduces Dale to two girls who become integral parts of this story, twins Regina and Raeanna. Dale falls for Regina, but one fateful night, after arranging to meet her at a party, Dale’s life changes forever. After a violent encounter with Clint, three of Dale’s fingers are shot off, and he winds up in the hospital.

Dale later wakes up and discovers that his fingers have grown back. This startling occurrence propels him to find someone who can help with a scheme to make some quick cash. Several years later, Raeanna has ended up in her own hell, married to an abusive man name Harold, and Dale spends most of the book looking for a way to pry her out of Harold’s clutches.

But Mack comes back into the picture with a better idea of how Dale should use his gift, and Dale is torn between doing the right thing, or saving Raeanna.

The author does a great job of making Dale a tortured character, much like many other superhero archetypes. He’s the sort of guy who has never really fit in, but his newfound ability changes all that, and forces him into the spotlight. But Dale’s real motivation is a girl, and like so many other superheroes that came before him, he’s bound and determined to sacrifice everything to keep her safe. The real tragedy of Dale’s “power” is that he can never use it to escape the bullies in his life. There are some poignant moments when he wonders if he wouldn’t be better off dead, and it was disturbing to be in his head as he planned out different methods of suicide.

Venturini’s writing is edgy and sharp, and I found so many quotable passages that it was hard to choose just one. Despite the fact that his characters are not the most likable—there are just way too many victims here—there was an underlying sense of hope, and even the ending gives us a glimmer of the happiness that Dale has been looking for. Dale may be wrestling with his conscience over what he should be doing with his superpowers, but he ultimately makes the right decision.

Venturini uses science to plausibly explain Dale’s powers of regeneration—he compares Dale’s ability to the way a salamander can grow its tail back. That’s one reason this book falls under the “science fiction” category for me, because I found myself thinking “Why shouldn’t limb and organ regeneration be possible??”

In the end, it was the tangled and complicated relationships between the characters—Mack and Dale, Dale and Raeanna, Dale and Harold—that kept the story humming along for me. Each character needs to be saved from something, but not all of them want to be saved. But that doesn’t stop Dale, an unlikely superhero, from trying.

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

Find the book:

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This review is part of Sci-Fi November, hosted by Oh, The Books! and Rinn Reads!

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Take Two! Blog Tour + Giveaway: ENDSINGER by Jay Kristoff

And so, after my terrible experience and dramatic expulsion from WordPress.com, which happened on the very day my blog tour post for Endsinger was to go live, I’ve decided to repost my review, start the giveaway over again, and join in the celebration of this AWESOME trilogy! For those of you who missed it the first time (which was probably most of you), here it is again:

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This is the day I’ve been waiting for…my stop on the Endsinger Blog Tour! I’m so excited and humbled to be part of Jay’s tour, especially since Endsinger is the last book in his amazing Japanese steampunk series AAAHHHHHHH!! You can check out the other bloggers on the tour here, read my review below, and enter to win an ARC of Endsinger at the end of this post (U.S. only this time, folks).

Endsinger 3D

Endsinger (The Lotus War #3) by Jay Kristoff
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release date: November 25 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 432

five stars

The nitty-gritty: A huge finish to a big, beautiful, and tragic series.

The city was dressed funeral black, boardwalk littered with the skeletons of gutted sky-ships. Spot fires still smoldered in Downside, filling the already choking air with smoke. Her people wore soot-stained clothes and bewildered expressions. Soldiers walked her cobbles, heads hung in shame. A mother wandered black riverbanks, her eyes as empty as the charred wicker stroller she pushed before her.

I find this review nearly impossible to write, having just finished Endsinger last night. My emotions are still pretty raw, like a bad knee scrape from falling on rocky asphalt. There are still little bits of sharp rock lodged under my skin; the wound is bloody and seeping. Just looking at the scrape causes me to wince in pain. In short, I want to lay my head down on my desk, weep for a while, then take a very long nap.

I’ve been a loyal reader of Jay’s series right from the beginning, so I was very happy to be asked to join the Endsinger tour. The first two books combined lots of emotional moments with all the bloody action, but they didn’t come close to the emotional experience of reading Endsinger. I knew going in things were going to get rough. Jay even said so. So I was ready for death, pain and disappointment. But things didn’t always go the way I was expecting, and rather than try to guess how everything is going to end,  I recommend that you set all your expectations aside and simply enjoy the story.

No spoilers ahead, folks, but here’s what you need to know about The Lotus War series: It’s set in an alternate Japanese-like future and shares many of the same elements as feudal Japan, complete with samurai-ish warriors, where honor and loyalty reign and punishments are harsh. But in this world, the earth has been destroyed by a terrible enterprise: the growth and harvesting of the blood lotus, a poisonous plant that is used to make fuel for the machines that run this world, but whose smoke is slowly killing the people who breath it. Yukiko is a young girl who has spent most of her life under the black and dismal skies of Shima, and who is about to be thrust into a war between those who wish to be free of the treacherous rulers, and those who want nothing more than to keep the people of Shima enslaved.

Some readers may not care for Kristoff’s writing style, which I like to compare to a Wagnerian opera. Everything in Yukiko’s world is big and sad and terrible and wonderful, and  reading these books isn’t so much reading words on the page as being immersed in the language and the emotions. Every action is fraught with meaning and emotion and consequences, and for some this might be too much. For me, it meant I could barely tear my eyes away.

Kristoff describes the horrors of war so well that I felt as if I were living each moment with the characters. It literally became hard to breathe at some points, because I could clearly imagine the smoke and stink from the chi refineries that make the air barely breathable. Yes, the story is violent, but the violence fit the story that Kristoff is telling, and even if it was too much for me at times, it certainly wasn’t out of line with what a feudal society would be like.

Some of my favorite characters in this series are the arashitora, the griffin-like creatures who befriend Yukiko. In the first book, Yukiko becomes steadfast friends with Buruu, an arashitora who has been exiled from his family. And in Endsinger, we get to meet even more of these creatures, including a female named Kaiah who bonds with Yukiko’s friend Hana. The bonds between arashitora and humans were quite special, since both Yukiko and Hana have the “kenning,” the ability to hear the thoughts of animals and communicate telepathically with them. Jay’s sometimes over-the-top prose brings the friendship between Buruu and Yukiko to life, and made me write this note as I was reading the book: “Buruu and Yukiko: the greatest love story ever told!”

I fell in love with some new characters this time around. Yoshi is Hana’s brother, and he suffered a terrible loss in Kinslayer. Now he’s bent on vengeance, and while he’s a very angry character, Yoshi also has a soft side, not to mention he becomes a hero in a very startling way.

And Kin! What can I say about him? He’s one of the most tragic characters in the story (and believe me, just about every character has something tragic about him) but he never loses sight of what he believes in. I’ve loved Kin from the beginning, and even though he went through some tough times in this last book, he remained a favorite character of mine through the entire series.

And Michi. Delicate but deadly, Michi is a whirlwind of a girl who is one of the best fighters in the story. She decides to write down the history of the Lotus War so that future generations will know what happened.

And so many more. Endsinger has so many characters, but luckily Kristoff repeats what he did in Kinslayer: he adds a sort of “where are they now?” character list at the beginning of the book that was very helpful.

And now for some favorite quotes:

Michi: “A wolf without a head is just a rug.”

Michi: “And you said a bottle of ink couldn’t win a war!”

Buruu: “TIME ENOUGH FOR TEARS WHEN THE WAR IS WON.”

I won’t give anything away, but you can tell from my opening paragraph that there are a lot of emotional moments in Endsinger.  Characters betray each other. They fall in love. They forge life-long friendships. They grow up. They die. They mourn. And they move on. The ending made me cry, but it made me smile as well. All in all, a perfect way to close a very special series.

Big thanks to Thomas Dunne Books for supplying a review copy! All quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.

Read my reviews of Stormdancer and Kinslayer.

About the author:

Jay Kristoff cropJAY KRISTOFF grew up in the most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. Being the holder of an arts degree, he has no education to speak of.  He is six feet seven inches and has approximately 13,520 days to live. He lives in Melbourne with his wife and the world’s laziest Jack Russell Terrier.

Find Jay: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Find Endsinger: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | IndieBound | Goodreads

And now for the giveaway: (1) U.S. winner will receive an ARC of Endsinger! Fill out the form below to enter. Giveaway ends on November 30th. Good luck!

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Blog, Interrupted – Or How I Got Kicked Off WordPress.com and Ended Up on WordPress.org

Some of you may have noticed that this blog was shut down for almost a week, and I must say that it’s been somewhat, err, stressful. Here is the chain of events that has brought me to WordPress.org:

1. Last Friday, I breezily logged into my dashboard, thinking of all the posts I needed to start working on for Sci-Fi November, and to my surprise and dismay, saw THIS:

Your site has been suspended from WordPress.com for violating the Terms of Service. If you believe your site was suspended in error, please contact us as soon as possible and we will review your suspension. (To learn more about what is and is not allowed, please see section 2 of our terms and our types of blogs page.)

To say I was shocked is an understatement. I was horrified! I immediately clicked on the link to see what Terms of Service they thought I had violated, and I ran across this:

Blogs that violate our advertising policy or fall into one of the following categories are not allowed on WordPress.com:

  • Book tour blogs: Blogs that consist of pre-written publicity material, as opposed to original book reviews, for the purpose of promoting books and driving traffic to other promotional and giveaway sites.

I realized I had posted not one but two blog tour posts that very week. Was that the reason I was suspended? (I may never know, because WordPress is refusing to answer any of my inquires.) But wait—it says “Blogs that consist of pre-written publicity material, as opposed to original book reviews.” Neither one of my posts (for Endsinger and The Shotgun Arcana) consisted of any “pre-written publicity material,” unless you count the author bio info that was given to me by the publisher. My review was 100% original, as are all my reviews.

2. I immediately clicked on the contact form link so that I could get some more information, all the while hyperventilating but thinking to myself, “This must be a mistake! I’m no criminal! I’m certainly not a ‘Book tour blog'”! I told WordPress this, and anxiously waited for a response, thinking there must be hundreds of “Happiness Engineers” (yep, that’s what WordPress calls their crew) standing by, ready to shoot me back a response explaining the whole debacle.

And I waited. And waited some more. *crickets*

Several hours later, I received this response:

We are sorry for the inconvenience, but you agreed to the Terms of Service when you signed up. Specifically: “the Content is not spam, and does not contain unwanted commercial content designed to drive traffic to third-party sites.”

Although WordPress.com welcomes sites that post original book reviews, blogs which repost promotional materials from professional book tour companies are prohibited on our network.

If you wish to continue to use WordPress software for your site, you might consider a self-hosted WordPress installation. You can export your content via Tools -> Export in your dashboard.

What they told me, in a nutshell, is that my only option was to move my blog to a self-hosted site. According to this email, they were not even going to consider reinstating my blog on WordPress.com.

3. I did some research and found out I had two options in order to switch over to a self-hosted blog: 1: Download the XML file (which contains your entire blog, or at least most of it) and use this file to migrate to WordPress.org myself, after choosing a hosting site and signing up with them. Or 2: Pay WordPress $129 to do the migration for me. I chose Option #1, because, hey, I was mad at WordPress and didn’t want to pay them anything! Except…I tried to download the file, but it wouldn’t work.

 4. I sent another email, explaining that the file wouldn’t download, and I received a response that more or less said, hey, we’re sorry, we’ll send a request to our developers to generate the file. And by the way, we can’t tell you how long that will take, so you’re stuck in limbo until we decide to get back to you! (And BTW, I never did get another response from that particular “Community Guardian.” Oh yes, apparently some WordPress folks are called Community Guardians! I can’t tell you how safe I feel…)

5. Gritting my teeth, I decided to pay the $129 and get the hell off WordPress.com. I was seriously missing blogging, plus I had set a pretty intense schedule for myself in November and I wanted to get back to it. You know, it’s amazing how quickly things start to happen when you pay for something. After purchasing the transfer option, I received an email about ten minutes later from a lovely woman who continued to answer all my crazy questions and transferred my blog over relatively smoothly. (Although I am working out a few glitches.)

Now, I’m not trying to bash WordPress.com. I had a really wonderful three-and-a-half years on that site, with very few issues. But I was very disappointed in the way they handle suspensions, and while I sort of I understand why they don’t have to give you a warning or even explain themselves, I never did get my questions answered, and I doubt I ever will.

I’m writing this post mostly as a warning for you bloggers out there who have free WordPress-hosted blogs. Go back and check out their Terms of Service and make sure you aren’t in violation, particularly if you have ever been part of a blog tour or “book blast.” Even though I feel I didn’t violate any of their terms, I was completely locked out of my dashboard and had very limited choices for how to resolve the problem. I suppose I could have dug in my heels and waited for them to send me my XML file, or waited for a better response about why they suspended me. But the bottom line for me was, I just wanted to start blogging again.

gnome

Hello, I am your Community Guardian!

What did I learn from all this?

  • I really love to blog, and I really love the blogging community. I felt SO out of touch last week. Not only was I upset about my blog, but I had no one to talk to about it. Until I remembered, yes, I have blog friends I can tweet to and email, and they all made me feel better. Thank you, you know who you are:-D
  • I am a very impatient person. I was not willing to wait God knows how long for WordPress to figure out how to let me download my XML file. I was so impatient that I willingly paid the enemy to transfer my site over!
  • Having a self-hosted blog isn’t FREE, but paying for it will be worth it in the long run. I’m obviously still learning the ropes, and any advice is appreciated. I’m excited that I’ll be able to embed Rafflecopters and other java script code in my posts.

So, let’s talk: do you have a free WordPress blog? Are you worried about being suspended, or has this ever happened to you? Any tips for running a self-hosted blog?

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This is a Test, Folks

Lots has happened in the last week with BB&B, but I think I’m up and running again. I have a post coming out soon explaining my recent experience of being suspended from WordPress.com, but in the meantime I’m checking to see if I can post something new. So, just a test, nothing more!

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Waiting on Wednesday [125] – ECHO 8 by Sharon Lynn Fisher

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WOW 2014 copy

Welcome to the Sci-Fi November version of Waiting on Wednesday! Sci-Fi November is hosted by Oh, The Books! and Rinn Reads, and Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine. This month I’m highlighting upcoming science fiction titles that I’m dying to read. This week my pick is by an author that definitely needs more attention:

Echo 8

Echo 8 by Sharon Lynn Fisher. Releases in February 2015 from Tor Books. I’ve loved both of Sharon’s previous books, Ghost Planet and The Ophelia Prophecy, and I can’t wait for this one! Here’s what Goodreads says:

Three lives. Two worlds. One chance to save them all.

As a parapsychologist working for Seattle Psi, Tess has devoted her life to studying psychic phenomena. But when doppelgangers begin appearing from a parallel world that’s been struck by an asteroid, nothing in her training will help her survive what’s to come.

After dislocating to Seattle Psi from the other Earth, Jake is confined by a special task force for study. But when he drains life energy from Tess, almost killing her, it causes a ripple effect across two worlds — and creates a bond neither of them expected.

Ross is an FBI agent ordered to protect Tess while she studies Jake. His assignment is not random — he and Tess have a history, and a connection the Bureau hopes to use to its own advantage. By the time Ross realizes his mission could be compromised, it’s already too late — he’ll have to choose between his love for Tess and his duty to protect the people of his own Earth.

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This sounds like fun, doesn’t it? I’m always up for parallel world stories, so we’ll see what Sharon does with it. Let me know what you’re waiting on this week!

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So Many Tears… ENDSINGER by Jay Kristoff – Blog Tour, Review + Giveaway!

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This is the day I’ve been waiting for…my stop on the Endsinger Blog Tour! I’m so excited and humbled to be part of Jay’s tour, especially since Endsinger is the last book in his amazing Japanese steampunk series AAAHHHHHHH!! You can check out the other bloggers on the tour here, read my review below, and enter to win an ARC of Endsinger at the end of this post (U.S. only this time, folks).

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Endsinger (The Lotus War #3) by Jay Kristoff
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release date: November 25 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 432

five stars

The nitty-gritty: A huge finish to a big, beautiful, and tragic series.

The city was dressed funeral black, boardwalk littered with the skeletons of gutted sky-ships. Spot fires still smoldered in Downside, filling the already choking air with smoke. Her people wore soot-stained clothes and bewildered expressions. Soldiers walked her cobbles, heads hung in shame. A mother wandered black riverbanks, her eyes as empty as the charred wicker stroller she pushed before her.

I find this review nearly impossible to write, having just finished Endsinger last night. My emotions are still pretty raw, like a bad knee scrape from falling on rocky asphalt. There are still little bits of sharp rock lodged under my skin; the wound is bloody and seeping. Just looking at the scrape causes me to wince in pain. In short, I want to lay my head down on my desk, weep for a while, then take a very long nap.

I’ve been a loyal reader of Jay’s series right from the beginning, so I was very happy to be asked to join the Endsinger tour. The first two books combined lots of emotional moments with all the bloody action, but they didn’t come close to the emotional experience of reading Endsinger. I knew going in things were going to get rough. Jay even said so. So I was ready for death, pain and disappointment. But things didn’t always go the way I was expecting, and rather than try to guess how everything is going to end,  I recommend that you set all your expectations aside and simply enjoy the story.

No spoilers ahead, folks, but here’s what you need to know about The Lotus War series: It’s set in an alternate Japanese-like future and shares many of the same elements as feudal Japan, complete with samurai-ish warriors, where honor and loyalty reign and punishments are harsh. But in this world, the earth has been destroyed by a terrible enterprise: the growth and harvesting of the blood lotus, a poisonous plant that is used to make fuel for the machines that run this world, but whose smoke is slowly killing the people who breath it. Yukiko is a young girl who has spent most of her life under the black and dismal skies of Shima, and who is about to be thrust into a war between those who wish to be free of the treacherous rulers, and those who want nothing more than to keep the people of Shima enslaved.

Some readers may not care for Kristoff’s writing style, which I like to compare to a Wagnerian opera. Everything in Yukiko’s world is big and sad and terrible and wonderful, and  reading these books isn’t so much reading words on the page as being immersed in the language and the emotions. Every action is fraught with meaning and emotion and consequences, and for some this might be too much. For me, it meant I could barely tear my eyes away.

Kristoff describes the horrors of war so well that I felt as if I were living each moment with the characters. It literally became hard to breathe at some points, because I could clearly imagine the smoke and stink from the chi refineries that make the air barely breathable. Yes, the story is violent, but the violence fit the story that Kristoff is telling, and even if it was too much for me at times, it certainly wasn’t out of line with what a feudal society would be like.

Some of my favorite characters in this series are the arashitora, the griffin-like creatures who befriend Yukiko. In the first book, Yukiko becomes steadfast friends with Buruu, an arashitora who has been exiled from his family. And in Endsinger, we get to meet even more of these creatures, including a female named Kaiah who bonds with Yukiko’s friend Hana. The bonds between arashitora and humans were quite special, since both Yukiko and Hana have the “kenning,” the ability to hear the thoughts of animals and communicate telepathically with them. Jay’s sometimes over-the-top prose brings the friendship between Buruu and Yukiko to life, and made me write this note as I was reading the book: “Buruu and Yukiko: the greatest love story ever told!”

I fell in love with some new characters this time around. Yoshi is Hana’s brother, and he suffered a terrible loss in Kinslayer. Now he’s bent on vengeance, and while he’s a very angry character, Yoshi also has a soft side, not to mention he becomes a hero in a very startling way.

And Kin! What can I say about him? He’s one of the most tragic characters in the story (and believe me, just about every character has something tragic about him) but he never loses sight of what he believes in. I’ve loved Kin from the beginning, and even though he went through some tough times in this last book, he remained a favorite character of mine through the entire series.

And Michi. Delicate but deadly, Michi is a whirlwind of a girl who is one of the best fighters in the story. She decides to write down the history of the Lotus War so that future generations will know what happened.

And so many more. Endsinger has so many characters, but luckily Kristoff repeats what he did in Kinslayer: he adds a sort of “where are they now?” character list at the beginning of the book that was very helpful.

And now for some favorite quotes:

Michi: “A wolf without a head is just a rug.”

Michi: “And you said a bottle of ink couldn’t win a war!”

Buruu: “TIME ENOUGH FOR TEARS WHEN THE WAR IS WON.”

I won’t give anything away, but you can tell from my opening paragraph that there are a lot of emotional moments in Endsinger.  Characters betray each other. They fall in love. They forge life-long friendships. They grow up. They die. They mourn. And they move on. The ending made me cry, but it made me smile as well. All in all, a perfect way to close a very special series.

Big thanks to Thomas Dunne Books for supplying a review copy! All quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.

Read my reviews of Stormdancer and Kinslayer.

About the author:

Jay Kristoff cropJAY KRISTOFF grew up in the most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. Being the holder of an arts degree, he has no education to speak of.  He is six feet seven inches and has approximately 13,520 days to live. He lives in Melbourne with his wife and the world’s laziest Jack Russell Terrier.

Find Jay: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Find Endsinger: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | IndieBound | Goodreads

And now for the giveaway: (1) U.S. winner will receive an ARC of Endsinger! Fill out the form below to enter. Giveaway ends on November 21st. Good luck!

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