Category Archives: Reviews

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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Filed under 4 stars, Backlist Burndown, Reviews

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

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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:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rock star

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Filed under 4 stars, Blog Tours, Giveaways, Reviews

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

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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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Filed under 4 stars, Reviews

THRONE OF DARKNESS by Douglas Nicholas – Review

Throne of Darkness

Throne of Darkness (Something Red #3) by Douglas Nicholas
Genre: Adult historical fantasy
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Release date: March 31 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Pages: 352

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A beautifully written story, full of historical ambiance, just a touch of magic, and characters who you will want to call friends.

“At the doors, I was saying, even through all the wood of the doors and the further wood that had been nailed on, we could hear the whuff of creatures sniffing at the joins, and horrendous scratching at the planks, like the dogs of Hell, and laughing and tittering, very high, and growling, very low. I cannot think what they must look like, but the sound was the sound of Satan and his vassals.”

I adored Nicholas’ first book in this series, Something Red, and I had every intention of reading book two, The Wicked. But as things sometimes go in blogland, my review pile was too much for me and I had to let some things slip through the cracks. The Wicked was one such book that I just couldn’t get to, but I was determined to read the third book in the series anyway, Throne of Darkness. And I needn’t have worried too much about skipping around. Throne of Darkness is a fully formed story, and even though the characters are the same in all three books, and there is an over-arching storyline, I quite easily slipped back into Douglas Nicholas’ world. Nicholas is a careful and detailed storyteller who does not always rely on violent action scenes and a frenetically-paced story to entertain his readers. Rather, he is more of what I would call a “quiet” writer, taking his time to describe the sights and smells of the world he has created and to carefully build up his characters, so that the reader finishes the story having gotten to know some precious friends whom they can’t wait to meet again.

He does this all in a lilting speech that recalls the medieval time period in which his story takes place, and so the reader is immersed in the music and language and dangers of the time. The year is 1215 and takes place in England, during the reign of King John Lackland. Molly and her traveling troupe of friends are on the run, mostly because Molly has “the touch” and can sense the intangible and cure illness with homemade potions, and because of her skills she is afraid of being branded a witch. She has trained her granddaughter Nemain (pronounced “Nevan”) in the craft, and together they can both heal, as well as kick some serious ass, since Molly has also taught Nemain to fight. With Molly’s lover Jack and Nemain’s husband Hob, the group keeps to themselves as much as possible, traveling from town to town and posing as musicians in order to earn their bread.

But something evil has come to England, and at the request of a priest named Monsignor da Panzano, they have been tasked with finding and killing a dangerous band of lupi mannari, or were-hyenas. In return, da Panzano vows to someday arrange for Molly to return to her home in Ireland. They agree to the perilous task and very soon locate an evil sorcerer named Yattuy, who has the power to control the hyenas. Now Molly must use all her skills and bravery in order to rid York of these evil creatures.

I love the characters in this series! Molly is an unusual protagonist, because she is middle-aged and has a grown granddaughter. But she’s extremely strong and in tune with the universe, and pulls off some unbelievably cool feats in this story. (I won’t tell you my favorite, because it comes at the end, and it’s how Molly ends up conquering the hyenas.) Nicholas adds a wonderful message of sisterhood to his books, since Molly and Nemain are connected to something in the universe that the men will never be part of. Most of Molly’s character development takes place in Something Red, so by this time the author assumes you’re familiar with her character. For that reason I do recommend reading Something Red first, although it definitely isn’t necessary in order to understand this story.

I also loved Hob and his relationship with the animals that travel with the group. Milo the ox is completely devoted to Hob and follows him everywhere, even saving him at one point in the story. They also have a jackass named Mavourneen an a horse named Tapaigh, and I so enjoyed the way they took time to care for and talk to their animals.

History fans will love all the detail that Nicholas adds to the story. I’ll admit I had to look up several unfamiliar words, like “caltrop,” which is a spiked metal ball that ruffians throw in the path of people they wish to rob or kill (horrible, right??). There was a lively section where Molly and the gang are hired as musicians to perform for King John, and those scenes had the feel of a Renaissance Faire to them that I thoroughly enjoyed.

But don’t let the quieter, innocent scenes fool you. There is an underlying terror to Throne of Darkness, and Nicholas doesn’t flinch from describing some horrifying moments between the ravenous hyena-men and their victims. I truly feared for the characters’ lives more than once, especially since I was so fond of them. A couple of things near the end—one of Molly’s visions, as well as a surprise announcement from Nemain—leave some dangling threads for Nicholas to pick up in the next book (and I did hear there will be a book #4).

History, horror, magic and even moments of tenderness, Throne of Darkness is chock full of good stuff. Highly recommended!

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.

Find the book:

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Filed under 4 stars, Reviews

Thrilling & Full of Heart: THE REBIRTHS OF TAO by Wesley Chu – Review

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 The Rebirths of Tao (Tao #3) by Wesley Chu
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Release date: April 7 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 512

five stars

The nitty-gritty: A perfectly paced, action-packed ending to a top-notch series, with characters you won’t want to say goodbye to.

I will not say I told you so.

“About spending the money or buying that game?”

Both. I mean, you already had the previous version of that game. Is it that much different?

“It had new decals to download.”

You, somehow, have the greatest potential of all my hosts, and are one of the dumbest, all the same time.

“Gee, thanks for the confidence booster.”

On the contrary, it is brave stupid people who change the world. The smart ones are usually too smart to even try.

There’s nothing better than a favorite series ending on a high note, and I’m happy to report that The Rebirths of Tao has accomplished just that. For those of you who have started reading the Tao books, you are in for a treat. And for those of you who haven’t, well now you have a great excuse to binge read the whole thing at once! I enjoyed the hell out of this book, from the first page to the last. All my favorite characters from the first two books are back—Roen, Tao, and Jill—and they are joined by some new characters that I absolutely loved. In The Lives of Tao, Chu is developing his unique world, and so a lot of time is spent on introducing the reader to the Prophus and the Genjix and exactly why and how the Quasing (aliens) came to Earth. But now in the third book, with the details of the world-building well established, he spends more time on characterization.

By the time you get to the third book in a series, it’s very hard to avoid spoilers, so instead of laying out the story for you, I’m going to focus on talking about the things I love most, especially the characters, since they are the main reason I want you all to GO OUT AND READ THIS SERIES! Let’s just say the stakes are higher than ever this time around, with the war between the Genjix and the Prophus about to spill over and affect the survival of the human race. That’s right, people, humans are in terrible danger, so you can imagine how intense the action is in this story. Chu’s pacing, just like it was in the other two books, is nearly flawless. I don’t know if I’ve ever said that in a review before, but I’ll say it again. Chu’s pacing is PERFECT. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. And even though I would describe the story as fast-paced, it never felt as if he were rushing his story.

Chu has created quite the tangled web of political intrigue and the consequences of what happens when an alien race is set on taking over a planet. Not only are the two factions of Quasing fighting—the Prophus want to live in harmony with humans, and the Genjix want to wipe out the entire human race—but humans are now aware that the Quasing are living among them, and so a government organization called the Interpol Extraterrestrial Task Force (or IXTF as they call themselves) has formed to find those people who are Quasing hosts and round them up. Add in some complex interpersonal relationships between the characters and you have one juicy story.

By far the best parts of this book for me were the interactions between characters. I’ve already mentioned how much I love Chu’s pacing, but even more than that, I adore his dialog. Wesley Chu needs to be writing screen plays, because I think he’d be really good at it. (But keep writing books too, Wesley!) My favorite new character this time around was a guy named Marco, who has a history with Roen (and not a good one!). He and Roen are reluctantly thrown together on a mission, and the resulting scenes with the two of them are priceless. It’s a screamingly funny buddy story that only gets funnier as it goes along. My favorite scene between the two of them has to be when they are forced to share a bed one night, and Roen wakes up with Marco hugging him. OMG I nearly peed my pants!

One of the more interesting relationships was the one between Cameron and a Genjix host named Alex. Alex is an Adonis vessel (and you need to read the other books to understand what that is) who is supposedly defecting, and so she comes to the Tan’s place for safety. Because Cameron and Alex are the same age, it’s inevitable that a romance will start to develop between them, but I loved that it’s a sort of Romeo and Juliet scenario, since the Genjix and the Prophus are mortal enemies. But don’t expect smooth sailing for these two…luckily Chu gives us a twist to keep us on our toes!

But still, my favorite relationship is the one between Tao and his host. In the first two books, we had wonderful interactions between Tao and Roen. But after Roen lost Tao at the end of book two, Cameron is now Tao’s host, and their relationship is almost like a father and son. Tao drives Cameron to constantly train and prepare for battle, but he is still a teenaged boy, and he’s very good at tuning Tao out when he’s trying to spend time with Alex.

And Roen, without Tao in his head all the time, is something quite different in this book. He’s often uncertain of what he should be doing, after years of Tao guiding his every move. Now he must think for himself, even if his decisions are not always the right ones. I loved that Roen still *hears* Tao’s voice in his head. He knows him so well that he can imagine exactly what Tao might say in certain situations. Roen is quite sad that Tao is no longer with him, and it was poignant and sad and added another great layer to the story.

I could go on and on, but I’d rather you spend your time reading this series than reading my review, LOL! Start at the beginning, and I guarantee you’ll be hooked. Wesley Chu recently announced that Angry Robot has bought a new stand-alone trilogy set in Tao’s world, and the first book called The Rise of Io will be published next spring. Great news for his fans, old and new.

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

Read my review of The Lives of Tao

Read my review of The Deaths of Tao

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Filed under 5 stars, Reviews

A Superhero and his Dog: BITTER SIXTEEN by Stefan Mohamed – Review

Bitter Sixteen

 Bitter Sixteen by Stefan Mohamed
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Publisher: Salt Publishing
Release date: April 15 2015
Source: Finished copy from publisher
Pages: 352

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A unique take on the superhero story with a funny cast of characters and one talking dog.

If coming into London had felt like being swallowed, heading down into its hot, stale-smelling bowels, a maze of clanking echoes and indistinct announcements over crackly tannoys, was like the final stage of digestion. I’d been on the Underground once when I was little, but I’d forgotten how strange it was, and how many people there were. How many people there were everywhere. Daryl and I stuck close together, and I distracted myself by thinking about zombies and wondering if I looked cool wandering around with an electric guitar.

Superhero stories have been a mixed bag for me, so even though I was excited to read Bitter Sixteen, which won the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2010 in the category for unpublished writers, I was also a little leery, knowing that I’ve been disappointed in the past. But I needn’t have worried. Bitter Sixteen was an engaging, funny and heartwarming coming of age story that took tried-and-true tropes in new directions. Mohamed’s Stanly at first seems familiar: a geeky teen with few friends who is constantly bullied in school, discovers on his sixteenth birthday that he can levitate and move objects with only his mind. But Stanly has to work hard to figure out how to use his powers, which don’t come easily. Add in the bestest side-kick ever—a talking beagle named Daryl—and you have a winning combination for a story.

When Stanly (and yes, that’s “Stanly” without the “e”) discovers that he can suddenly float, he is at first terrified but later delighted by this sudden turn of events. With the snarky advice of his talking dog Daryl, Stanly begins sneaking out of his house at night to practice levitating, and later full-out flying. He also has the power of telekinesis and can hurl balls at the heads of the mean boys at school and even throw punches without moving a muscle.

Stanly’s school life isn’t going well until a couple of things happen. First, he learns how to defend himself with his powers. And second, he’s given the part of Romeo in the school play and finally finds a place where he fits in. But an attack during open night of Romeo and Juliet forces Stanly to use his powers in front of the audience, and he realizes his cover is blown. He races off to London with Daryl in tow, to stay with his cousin Eddie, a nervous sort who might also have his own powers. In London, Stanly is happy for the first time in his life: he is surrounded by people who understand him—Eddie and his friends Sharon and Connor who have powers as well—and he’s determined to help people in need. Because that’s what superheroes do, right? But a rash of child abductions brings the dangers of the city to light. Stanly and his friends must track down an urban legend named Smiley Joe before any more children go missing.

My favorite part of the story was definitely the relationship between Stanly and Daryl. Mohamed never gives us insight as to why Daryl can talk (he can also put DVDs in the DVD player, use a remote control, and drink beer!) but honestly, I didn’t really care. Daryl loves to watch movies, can recite all the lines from Fight Club by heart and worships Humphry Bogart. He also swears a blue streak and has a sarcastic comeback for just about everything Stanly says. In short, I adored him, and I fervently wish my own dog Otis will start talking to me one day:-)

I also loved all the pop culture references. At one point, Daryl interviews for a job in a comic book store, and the owner asks him which episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is his favorite. The story is brimming with cool references like that, and I was in geek heaven.

Typical in YA stories, there is a romance brewing between Stanly and a girl named Kloe who plays Juliet in the school play. This part of the story was just OK for me. I didn’t think Kloe was that interesting of a character, since she wasn’t around much. Mohamed seems to be a genius at developing his male characters, but his female characters could use some work, in my opinion.

The British and Welsh slang tripped me up occasionally. Clearly this book has not been edited for an American audience, but that’s OK. Salt Publishing is a UK publisher and there’s absolutely no reason for them to do so. What matters here is the story, and after a while, my brain started to understand the rhythm of the unfamiliar words, if not the exact meanings, and they simply became an integral part of the reading experience.

Bitter Sixteen was going to be a four-star book for me, but a couple of things pushed the rating up. At some point in the story, the funny banter drops away and Mohamed gets into the raw emotions that flare up between the characters. For example, what starts as an amusing buddy relationship between Stanly and Daryl turns into something much more sobering, after Daryl makes a confession to Stanly late in the story.

A wonderfully unexpected twist near the end, having to do with a little girl who Stanly saves from Smiley Joe, gave me chills. It also gives the author plenty of fodder for the next book in the series, which I am dying to read! Stefan Mohamed’s name may not be known on my side of the pond, but it should be. He’s a young writer with so much talent, and I hope you’ll consider picking up this book.

Big thanks to Salt Publishing for supplying a review copy!

Stop by next Wednesday April 15th, when I’ll be interviewing Stefan, and giving away copies of Bitter Sixteen!

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Blog Tour Review + Guest Post + Giveaway! VOSTOK by Steve Alten

iRead Book Tour Logo Medium

Welcome to my stop on the Vostok Blog Tour, presented by iRead Book Tours! There are all kinds of awesome in this post: my review, the book trailer, a short guest post from the author, and an International giveaway of the book (keep reading to the end for the giveaway). I’m very grateful to iRead Book Tours for supplying a copy of the book.

About the book:

Vostok

Vostok (The Loch #2) by Steve Alten
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Rebel Press
Release date:  Available now
Source: Finished book from publisher
Pages: 386

East Antarctica: The coldest, most desolate location on Earth. Two-and-a-half miles below the ice cap is Vostok, a six thousand square mile liquid lake, over a thousand feet deep, left untouched for more than 15 million years. Now, marine biologist Zachary Wallace and two other scientists aboard a submersible tethered to a laser will journey 13,000 feet beneath the ice into this unexplored realm to discover Mesozoic life forms long believed extinct and an object of immense power responsible for the evolution of modern man.

In this sequel to The Loch and prequel to the upcoming Meg 5: Nightstalkers, New York Times best-selling author Steve Alten offers readers a crossover novel that combines characters from two of his most popular series.

My review:

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A thrill ride of a story from start to finish, but it might be just too much for one book.

I decided to join the blog tour for Vostok rather reluctantly, since I don’t read indie books any more. But I’m so glad that I got to experience this story, because it’s certainly given me a lot to think about! If you enjoyed The Martian by Andy Weir, then you will most likely enjoy this book too, although the stories are completely different. Like The Martian, Steve Alten dumps his characters in a very dangerous and secluded location and forces them to use their wits to escape. But while the premise of Weir’s book can be summed up in one sentence, Vostok is a rather more complex plot that went in directions I would not have guessed in a million years! Bottom line? Alten is a very solid and seasoned writer with loads of imagination and has gone to great lengths to do research for this very science-heavy plot. BUT if I were an editor at a traditional publishing house, I would have separated this story into two different books. (And that could be one reason Alten chose the self-publishing route: he didn’t want to compromise his story.)

It’s hard to even summarize Vostok for you, but I’m going to give it a shot. Zachary Wallace is a Scottish marine biologist who famously “discovered” exactly what kind of creature the Loch Ness Monster was. He lives with his wife and son in a small town near the Loch, where the tourist trade isn’t doing so well, now that Nessie’s mystery has been solved. One day, he’s approached by some visiting scientists who are doing research in Antarctica, trying to determine if life exists in the chilly waters of Lake Vostok, a huge body of water that is covered by a thick layer of ice. Zach reluctantly agrees to join the expedition, mostly due to the temptingly large sum of money he’s offered, but also because his marriage to his fiery wife Brandy is shaky at the moment, and time away from each other might be just what the doctor ordered.

Upon arriving in the frigid and dangerous conditions of Antarctica, Zach and fellow scientists Dr. Ming Liao and Captain Ben Hintzmann prepare to be submerged into Lake Vostok via a torpedo-shaped submersible. Their harrowing journey through miles of ice and into the waters of the lake is only the beginning of this crazy adventure, where Zach will come into contact with some deep-sea creatures that shouldn’t even be alive. But then Zach discovers that Ming and Ben have another agenda, and he realizes that not only is his own life in danger, but so are the lives of everyone he knows.

The first half of the book was fantastic. We’re introduced to Zach and his family, a bunch of very colorful Scots. Alten gives a little background into the events that came before Vostok, when Zach became famous for debunking the Loch Ness Monster. (And you can read all about that story in The Loch, which is technically the first book in this series, but you do not need to read it first in order to enjoy Vostok.) Money is tight for the Wallace family when Dr. Liao comes calling with her lucrative offer for Zach to join the exploration of Lake Vostok in Antarctica. When they arrive, Alten immediately dumps the three explorers into the lake, and right away the reader is swept up in the amazing life forms they find below. There’s plenty of action and danger, too, as the three are threatened by one gargantuan creature after another. I literally was on the edge of my seat as Zach and his friends begin to realize that not only are they in danger from the jaws and teeth of the giant crocodiles and whales that want to eat them, but because they are so far under the ice, getting out of the lake alive is a nearly impossible feat.

Lake Vostok

Depiction of Lake Vostok, courtesy of www.buzzle.com.

But about halfway through the story, a different plot emerges, and suddenly the focus shifts from prehistoric life forms to a glowing light under the lake, and before you know it, Zach is suddenly involved in a conspiracy theory that involves alien technology, time travel and the metaphysical possibilities of parallel lives. On its own, this section of the story would have been a fascinating read—and don’t get me wrong, I was highly entertained by this part, and it gave me a lot to think about. It also made my head spin at times, because the scientific concepts were so dense at times. I won’t go into details about this section, because I don’t want to spoil the story, but I did feel as if I’d been jarringly ripped out of the original story and now had to run to catch up with the new one.

I mostly went along with the plot, although at times I questioned some of the most basic ideas. For example, the weather conditions in Antarctica and especially under the lake are extremely harsh and unlivable. It’s almost as if they are going into outer space to explore another planet. And yet, none of the characters go through any kind of evaluation to see if they’re physically and mentally fit for the experience! Zach has no training in plunging through miles of ice and exploring the depths of a lake where man has never been before, and yet he’s thrown into a submersible and basically told “good luck!” Not only that, but he and his crew members learn how to drive and maneuver the submersible in no time at all!

The one element that does tie everything together is Lake Vostok, and you’ll see what I mean when you read it. Alten has crafted quite the tale, and I’m so glad I had the chance to read this book. If you love biology and learning about little-known life forms, and you enjoy an exciting story that will make you think about your place in the world, then Vostok is a must-read.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

Find the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Author Guest Post

In 2005, I released my eighth novel, The LOCH, a thriller about one man’s quest to resolve the mystery at Loch Ness. In writing the sequel, I wanted to preserve the main characters and take them to another mysterious lake.

Truth, it seems, really is stranger than fiction.

Lake Vostok is a subglacial liquid lake located 13,000 feet beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. It’s very big – over a hundred and sixty miles long and fifty miles wide, with depths surpassing eleven hundred feet. It actually possesses two islands and a magnetic anomaly that is off the charts. Vostok has remained untouched for 15 million years.

Quite the place to set a thriller!

VOSTOK the novel centers around an expedition to submerge into these unexplored waters using a three man torpedo-shaped submersible tethered to a laser. What will they discover? Read the book and find out.

Getting the science right is very important to me. To enable my characters to access Vostok, I contact Bill Stone of Stone Aerospace, the company that is designing a drone to access the frozen seas on the Jupiter moon, Europa. Bill was incredibly helpful, enabling the Vostok journey to be feasible.

For readers craving monsters – Vostok has them. For sci-fi fans seeking answers regarding humanity’s beginning and end – got that too. Enjoy!

–Steve Alten

About the author:

Steve AltenSteve Alten is the New York Times and International bestselling author of fourteen novels, including the MEG series about Carcharodon Megalodon, the 70-foot, 100,000 pound prehistoric cousin of the Great White shark and Domain trilogy, a series about the Mayan Calendar’s 2012 doomsday prophecy. His work has been published in over 30 countries and is being used in thousands of middle and high school curriculum as part of Adopt-An-Author, a free teen reading program, which he founded with teachers back in 1999.

Find Steve: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Watch the book trailer!

And now for the giveaway! You guys, you have an AWESOME chance of winning a copy of Vostok! The publisher is kindly giving away FIFTY COPIES, and it’s open internationally! Simply fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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A World of Darkness: DARK STAR by Oliver Langmead – Review

 

dark star

Dark Star by Oliver Langmead
Genre: Adult science fiction noir, in verse!
Publisher: Unsung Stories
Release date: March 30 2015
Source: e-book from publisher
Pages: 224

five stars

The nitty-gritty: An unexpectedly gorgeous story in verse, where darkness and light collide in a gritty, noir future.

Feeling around in the dark with my hands,
I find the edge and swing my tired legs out
Over the ocean, think about its size,
How big it’s meant to be, how small I am.
I can hear it rushing around the pier,
Our dark planet’s unpredictable tides
Eroding the edges of our city,
Slowly turning Vox back into debris.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, when Unsung Stories asked me to review Dark Star. I hadn’t been that impressed with the last book of theirs I read (The Beauty), and so it was with some reluctance that I agreed to read it. But let me tell you, sometimes it pays to read books that you’re unsure of, because that’s how hidden gems are discovered. Anyone out there who appreciates beautiful writing and dark (both literally and figuratively) and strange settings will love this book. Dark Star has a bit of the feeling of Blade Runner (the movie, not the book) to it: atmospheric and strange, with an underlying feeling of unease. You know something is terribly wrong as you begin to read, but it takes some time before the danger is revealed.

Langmead is simply a brilliant writer, and in today’s world of social media, I can’t find the guy anywhere on the internet! He’s not on Twitter, he doesn’t have a website, and I find myself frustrated by this. I’m used to using Twitter as a fast way to communicate with authors when I love their books—and I think many bloggers feel the same way—and so for this book review, I feel as if I am screaming into the void: “Oliver Langmead, where are you? I adored Dark Star!” (And from what I gather from a few scattered interviews and web photos, Oliver is a youngster, one of the Millenials who have grown up with social media, and therefore my brain tells me he should be on Twitter, LOL!)

Anyway, on to the story…Virgil Yorke is a jaded detective with a penchant for whiskey and a barely controlled drug addiction, living in the dark city of Vox on a planet that revolves around a black sun. When an unusual body is discovered—a young girl named Vivian who appears to be filled with liquid light—Virgil is thrust into the seedy underbelly of Vox, as he tries to discover what happened to Vivian. But then one of Vox’s three Hearts—the city’s main sources of light—is stolen, and Virgil suddenly has two mysteries to solve. Are Vivian’s death and the stolen Heart connected? As officials try to discourage Virgil from investigating the murder, he is compelled to uncover the truth, no matter how dangerous the task. With his partner Dante by his side, Virgil will face the darkest corners of the city in his quest for understanding.

Aside from the writing, one of the best things about Dark Star is the world Langmead has created, a world where light is more precious than gold, where only the rich have access to fire. At one point, Virgil mentions that he’s never seen a real candle, which tells you how scarce they are. Vox’s only power source comes from the city’s three “Hearts,” powerful and little-understood balls of energy that turn out to be extremely volatile. Most of the light in Vox, what little there is of it, comes from electrical bulbs, flashlights, and occasionally, a drug called Prometheus, which is shot into the veins like heroin, and turns the blood into liquid light. Many people worship the god of light, Phos, and even most cigarettes are electric versions of the real thing. In one poignant scene, Virgil comes upon a group of people in a church, standing around a broken bulb. He asks what they are doing, and one man answers, “We’re a simple folk out here, Sir. We mourn the loss of our best filament.”

I also loved the fact that most people can only read a form of Braille (although it’s not called that), because light is so precious it can’t be wasted on reading. Virgil runs into an actual printed library in one scene, and is amazed that people used to be able to read printed words!

Langmead excels at bringing his characters to life. With only a few strokes of his brush, he describes Virgil’s partner Dante:

Dante drives the borrowed squad car direct.
He’s an accident of flesh and blunt bones
Shaped human, ugly and mostly scowling,
Made bitter by the job and the city.

All the characters have some sort of darkness inside them, which is a lovely echo of the world of Vox. Virgil in particular has had a rough life, having nearly died by hanging (a story that is told in pieces at the end of each chapter). One might think his addiction to Prometheus is his way of filling his world with light, since it causes the body to glow when it’s injected into the veins. (How cool is that??) A mysterious woman named Rachel keeps popping up randomly throughout the story, first at the University where Virgil begins his investigation of Vivian’s death, and later in various parts of the city. Virgil is attracted to her, and it’s almost as if his mind is conjuring her image. I never really understood her role in the story, although I’m quite certain the author put her there for a reason.

The ending was a bit confusing to me, for some reason. It may be that because it’s written in verse and not prose, some of the action was glossed over in favor of an emphasis on the atmospheric writing and descriptions of the world. Some crazy scenes near the end ventured into metaphysical territory, and honestly, I was a little lost by the explanation of what the Hearts do and how they are connected to the city.

But you can tell from my rating that this really didn’t matter. I loved Dark Star and I am anxious to read more from the talented Oliver Langmead. I would be very surprised if this book doesn’t show up on some awards lists next year!

Big thanks to Unsung Stories for supplying a review copy.

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A Thoughtful Apocalypse: WE ALL LOOKED UP by Tommy Wallach – Review

 

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
Genre: Young adult contemporary/apocalyptic
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release date: March 24 2015
Source: e-ARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Pages: 384

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A beautifully written but uneven story about a group of high school seniors who contemplate life and death as an asteroid hurtles towards Earth.

Eliza liked Kevin, more than he liked himself, at any rate. She wanted to tell him that high school was a little like a play in which everybody got cast prematurely, and he’d ended up with a pretty crappy role. If he could just survive until college, he’d get to try out for a new play, one with plenty of good parts for people like him.

People talked about their days being numbered, but really, everything was numbered. Every movie you watched was the last time you’d watch that movie, or the second-to-last time, or the third-to-last. Every kiss was one kiss closer to your last kiss.

After seeing this intriguing cover last year, I added We All Looked Up to my most anticipated YA reads of 2015. And honestly, this cover is perfect for the story. If you’re expecting a high-stakes apocalyptic tale of impending doom—an asteroid is on course to hit Earth in a matter of weeks—you won’t find it here. This is more of a contemplative story about a group of somewhat messed up high schoolers trying to figure out whether they’re wasting their lives or not. I imagine the kids on this cover seeing the asteroid and saying, “Wow, look. An asteroid. Cool.” This story is all about the characters and their relationships to each other, and the asteroid—nicknamed “Ardor”—is merely background noise, a puzzling and mildly interesting thing that may or may not change their lives forever.

The story revolves around four high school seniors who live in Seattle. Peter is a star athlete and a golden boy who seems to have it all. Eliza seeks escape from the realities of her terminally ill father and a bad reputation at school with heavy drinking and sex. Andy is a struggling musician who is hanging out with the wrong crowd. And Anita is a Princeton-bound senior with a secret desire to be a singer. When a strange blue star in the sky is identified as asteroid ARDR-1388, the news is grim: it looks like it’s on a collision course with Earth, and scientists can even pinpoint the date it might hit.

Faced with the possibility of impending death, the four begin to reevaluate their lives in different ways. Peter wonders if being a football star is all there is to life. Andy and Anita decide to hold an End of the World Party where they plan to perform one of Andy’s original songs. And Eliza, an accomplished photographer, starts to document the sudden chaos around the city caused by the news of Ardor, and starts a blog called Apocalypse Already, which goes viral almost overnight. As Ardor draws nearer, the story culminates in the party of the century, as the characters realize that no matter what happens, their lives will never be the same.

One of my favorite parts of We All Looked Up was Wallach’s writing. He knows how to depict teenagers in a very honest way. When Andy learns about Ardor, his first reaction is to vow to have sex with the completely off-limits Eliza before he dies. Many of the characters seem to turn to alcohol, drugs or sex in order to deal with their fears, but luckily not all of them. Peter in particular suddenly wants to volunteer his time, helping at a restaurant called Friendly Forks that helps rehabilitate drug addicts and alcoholics.

Anita was my favorite character and the one with the most depth. When Ardor appears, she decides life’s too short to do what her parents want her to do—go to Princeton—and so she runs away from home and holes up with Andy. I felt so sorry for poor Anita, who has an amazing musical gift, and yet her parents refuse to acknowledge it. They were my least favorite characters, and I found their attitude about African-Americans very odd, especially since they are African-American. Anita’s father sees Peter as perfect dating material for Anita:

He looked the part too—tall, attractive, and as white as the day was long (not that her parents were self-hating or anything, just that they associated white values with material success, while they seemed to suspect most black kids of being, at worst, drug dealers and, at best, freeloading bohemians.)

I cheered when Anita climbed out her window one night and never came back!

I loved the way Wallach wove the characters’ stories together. Little by little, they begin to interact with each other more and more, until all their lives are entangled in one way or another.

A few things didn’t work for me, however. A slow middle section turned very depressing, as the characters begin to think about death. It seemed at times all they did was sit around and wonder about whether these might be their last days or not, instead of trying to use those last moments wisely. (But then again, these are kids we’re talking about. Using time wisely isn’t really their strong suit!)

I was also startled by the oddly violent turn the story takes near the end, violence that felt out of character with the rest of the book. Society starts to collapse after the news of the asteroid is announced, and it felt like Wallach took the easy way out and used a tried-and-true apocalypse scenario where people devolve into criminals, and police brutality and murder fill the streets of Seattle.

After some shocking scenes, the author brings his story back around to what it should have been all along: a meditative look at how people make choices when those choices may soon be taken away from them. The ending was exactly as I envisioned it would be, and if it weren’t for the violence at the end, this might have been a five-star book for me. Even with my reservations, I did love this story! Highly recommended.

On a side note, Tommy Wallach is also a musician and he’s written an album to go along with the book, which I find very cool. Check out his website for more information.

WALU album

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy! Quotes above were taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.

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A Mind-Bending Adventure: DUPLICITY by N.K. Traver – Review

Duplicity

Duplicity by N.K. Traver
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release date:  March 17 2015
Genre: Young adult science fiction
Source: Finished copy from publisher
Pages: 256

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A mind-bending, The Matrix-like story that teens, especially boys, are going to love.

I knew Duplicity was about a teen computer hacker, but I didn’t realize it was going to enter the mind-bending territory of The Matrix. This book surprised me, in a good way, and even if the details of Brandon’s journeys back and forth through the mirror world didn’t always make sense, I had a blast reading about them. Duplicity also had an awesome gender-bending feel to it with one of the characters, and I’ll talk more about that later. Overall, Traver’s story was fast-paced and funny, and had the unexpected bonus of some well-developed characters and relationships.

Brandon is a high-school senior with a bad boy persona (tattoos and piercings galore) and a highly developed skill as a computer hacker. He spends his days avoiding his workaholic parents who barely have time for him, and instead hacks into secure accounts and steals credit card numbers, which he sells in order to fund his fetish for fast cars. But one day, Brandon sees his reflection in a mirror doing things it’s not supposed to be doing. Little by little, his reflection—which he names “Obran” or Other Brandon—begins to physically change his appearance. Obran removes his piercings one by one and even manages to rid him of his tattoos, all the while filling Brandon’s closet with unfamiliar preppy clothes.

As if this weren’t weird enough, one day Brandon blanks out and wakes up in a prison cell-like room, where a voice informs him that he has been incarcerated for computer hacking, and must serve out a twenty-year sentence as part of something called Project Duplicity. A computer entity named JENA now controls his every waking—and sleeping—moments, forcing him to work on computer codes. Brandon knows that Obran, his lookalike, has taken over his real life, and he’s desperate to get home. It will take all his computer hacking skills to break out of his prison and switch places with his computer generated double, before Obran ruins his life.

Duplicity is a fairly short novel with non-stop action, and I found myself lost in the story and loving the voice of Brandon. I loved the idea of Brandon, a skilled hacker, being integrated into a computer system himself, much like the ideas in The Matrix. The difference here is that every mirrored surface is a way to see into the parallel world, and even a doorway to get in if you’re smart enough. “Mind-bending” doesn’t even begin to describe what’s going on here. Between Brandon having to understand that he doesn’t have a physical body anymore, to controlling what his avatar looks like, Duplicity definitely kept me guessing!

My favorite parts of the story were those that take place between Brandon and his only friend inside Duplicity, a boy named Seb, who teaches him the ropes about how to survive his new life. Little by little, Seb and Brandon hatch a plan to escape Duplicity for good, but not before they learn how to trust one another. Seb comes across as a possibly gay character, who calls Brandon “Kathy” and “honey” and seems to be hitting on him. But Seb is the most nuanced and layered of all of Traver’s characters, and there’s much more to him than first meets the eye.

Traver uses the virtual reality idea to its fullest by dropping Brandon and Seb into computer games and forcing them to survive things like ravenous zombies. I did love these scenes, which really didn’t move the plot forward at all, but were fun to read and gave us more hilarious dialog between Seb and Brandon. Even though the back-and-forth between the mirrors sometimes made my head hurt, I eventually just learned to roll with it, even if I didn’t always understand the mechanics.

In the “outside” world, Brandon has a sort-of girlfriend named Emma (“sort-of” because they are fighting when the story begins), and when Obran takes over his body, Emma seems to like the change he’s made from bad boy to upstanding preppy student. Of all the characters, I thought Emma was the weakest, simply because she never felt three-dimensional to me. She seems to exist solely for the purpose of giving Brandon a reason to get back his body, but I never really felt that he cared for her at all, at least until the end. Indeed, one of the points the author is making is that Brandon needs a kick in the pants to move beyond his self-centered life style, and having to spend time in Duplicity certainly turns him into a better person by the end of the book.

Brandon’s parents felt a bit “cookie-cutter” to me as well. They come across as the typical absentee parents that often appear in young adult fiction, working so many hours that they’re rarely present to interfere with the teen characters. When Brandon’s mother finally shows some concern for him, she’s convinced he’s doing drugs, which didn’t endear her to me at all. Because any teen with tattoos and piercings is doing drugs, right?

Aside from this, however, I really did enjoy Duplicity, and I’m especially happy that it will have a strong appeal for male readers, because we need more books like that, in my opinion!

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy!

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