Category Archives: Reviews

A Magical Journey Through Londons: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V. E. Schwab – Review

 

 A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab
Genre: Adult fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: February 24 2015
Source: Finished book from publisher
Pages: 400

Note: With this review, I’ve decided to change my rating system from a five-star system to a ten-point system. It gives me more flexibility for the subtle nuances I find in books, and also gives me a reason to justify why I would normally give this book five stars, when I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Vicious.

The nitty-gritty: A unique world (or should I say worlds), a fascinating magic system, and characters I want to follow from world to world, and beyond.

“The bones are the same in every world,” he said, gesturing to the city, “but the rest of it will be different. As different as this world is from yours.” He pointed across the river, and toward the center of London. “Where we’re going, the castle is there. Athos and Astrid will be there, too. Once we cross through, stay close. Do not leave my side. It is night here, which means it is night in White London, too, and the city is full of shadows.” Kell looked at Lila. “You can still change your mind.”

Lila straightened and tugged up the collar of her coat. She smiled. “Not a chance.”

Schwab’s second novel for adults gave me everything I loved from Vicious (which to this day remains one of my all-time favorite books) and brought new wonders to the table as well. That being said, I subconsciously compared it to Vicious as I was reading, and I ended up enjoying A Darker Shade of Magic slightly less, which is to say I still loved it immensely! Because “slightly less” than perfect is still pretty damn good. I’ll get to my reasons for this later in the review, but first I want to assure you that this book is everything you hope it will be, if you are a V.E. Schwab fan like I am. Schwab’s imagination is endless, and even though the idea of creating doorways to other worlds has been done before, many times, she puts such an original spin on it that I was mesmerized.

One thing that Schwab does so well is that she knows how to construct a story. I’m not privy to her personal writing process, but I’m almost certain that she must do lots of outlining, either as a written outline or a visual one, because each element of the story is so perfectly placed. It’s something that only seasoned writers can pull off, and it’s hard to do. But she makes it seem easy, the way everything comes together, each element finding its place in the story. Her storylines are complex and intricate, but she manages to juggle each piece, seemingly effortlessly.

The story goes like this: Kell is an Antari, one of only two magicians in the world that has the ability to travel among the three different Londons: Red London is Kell’s home, a wondrous world where magic enhances lives and joy and beauty are everywhere; Grey London where magic is scarce and people live a hardscrabble existence, doing what they can to survive; and White London, a land of terror where bloodthirsty rulers wear the crown and punish anyone who uses magic. There is also a fourth London, Black London, that used to exist but doesn’t anymore, after the people who lived there let magic get so out of control that it destroyed them. Kell’s official job is to travel from London to London, through magical doors that only he knows about, and deliver messages between the rulers.

But Kell also has a secret business on the side, smuggling magic from Red London to Grey London in exchange for artifacts, which he collects and hides, since it’s illegal to transfer objects from one London to the next. One day he unwittingly takes a highly dangerous stone back to Red London and sets off a chain of events that will leave all the Londons in peril. He reluctantly accepts help from Lila, a thief from Grey London who only wants to escape her miserable life and go on an adventure. Both characters get more than they bargained for, and it will take all their wits to survive.

As usual, Schwab creates unforgettable characters that you’ll fall in love with. Kell is a man of mystery, one of the last of his kind. He’s an extremely powerful magician, and yet he yearns for a normal life with a loving family—which he mostly has, as he has been “adopted” by the royal court in Red London, and is as close to his “brother” Rhy that you can possibly get without being related by blood. He wears a most marvelous coat that can be turned inside out numerous times to become many different coats.

Lila is also a wonderful character (and she’s making an appearance in my Top Ten Tuesday tomorrow!), a scrappy, skinny fighter of a girl who lives by her wits and is hell on wheels with a weapon. She has big dreams and will do anything to break out of her miserable life. When she meets Kell—and I love the way they meet!—she begins to see what her life could be like. I also love that she doesn’t let a man stand in the way of what she wants. When Lila and Kell are together, their dialog practically crackles and sparks, it’s so good.

Rhy is the prince of Red London, and I adored him as well, although I wanted more of him in this story. He’s the opposite of Kell, and yet their bond was so special. And Holland! Oh how I felt for him, even though he’s evil, I just wanted to give him a hug!

Schwab’s Londons are glorious creations, similar to each other yet completely different. In Red London a river called the Isle runs through the city, a red river that is the city’s source of magic. But in Grey London it’s called the Thames, and in White London it’s something else entirely. Likewise, a tavern sits in the exact same spot in each London, even though each has a different name and appearance. All of this is described in Schwab’s lyrical writing, which has the rhythm of music about it that makes me want to read passages of the text aloud.

Where the story faltered a bit for me was the ending, which was not at all what I was expecting. (Nor should it be! Clearly Schwab did her job well by not going where readers expected her to go.) Because this is the first in a trilogy, I wanted to have something to carry me forward to the next book, some mystery that remained unsolved to puzzle over while book two is being written. And while she does give us small mysteries, like where Kell came from before he was part of the Royal Court of Red London, and why Lila has an artificial eye, the story mostly wraps up very cleanly with no cliffhangers whatsoever. I know many readers will be rejoicing over this fact, and I must say I’m usually relieved not to come face to face with a cliffhanger, but this time I predicted a certain ending that never came to pass, and I was just slightly disappointed.

And yet—the ending was actually perfect the way it was. Schwab concludes her story on a lovely beat that made me smile, and I am happy that I will get to meet these characters again very soon.

Final rating: 9/10

Cover Love: I love both the US and the UK covers! They both use the bold red, white and black color scheme that the story is base on. If I had to pick a favorite, I think I’d pick the UK cover, simply because it’s so graphically appealing. Which cover is your favorite?

Big thanks to Tor Books for supplying a review copy! 

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Filed under Rating: 9/10, Reviews

The Beauty. The Horror. THE DAMNED by Andrew Pyper – Review

The Damned

The Damned by Andrew Pyper
Genre: Adult horror
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release date: February 10 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Pages: 304

 four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A top-notch horror story with depth and emotion, beautifully written, with enough chills to keep me on edge.

Sometimes there is a scent that precedes her appearances, less borne on the air than held tight against my face, an invisible, smothering cloth. And soaked in this cloth an odor that carries a feeling with it, particular as the past. It’s the same sugary, teenaged-girl perfume that clouded the rec room parties and school gym dances of our youth, combined with something foul, something gone wrong. A neglected wound spritzed with Love’s Baby Soft.

This was my first Andrew Pyper book, but it certainly won’t be my last! The Damned is a fresh take on ghost stories and life after death, and at times it reminded me of both The Lovely Bones and What Dreams May Come, although it’s completely different from either of those books. Pyper has come up with one chilling and terrifying ghost named Ash, who hitches a ride back from hell to terrorize her family. This story scared the pants off me, and if you love the kind of atmospheric horror that creeps up on you slowly, rather than the bloody slasher variety, then you will love this book.

Danny Orchard is a semi-famous author who wrote a book about his experience in “heaven” when he briefly died in a house fire but was resuscitated soon after. But unfortunately, Danny didn’t come back alone. He brought back his twin sister Ashleigh, who died in the fire with him. Ash was a disturbed girl in life, and she’s even worse as a ghost. Danny’s grown up now and has met a wonderful woman named Willa that he wants to get to know better. But Ash is determined to keep Danny from ever finding happiness, because she’s convinced he shouldn’t be alive. If  Danny wants to start a new life, he’s going to have to figure out a way to get rid of Ash for good.

That’s a very brief synopsis of a rather complex story, but I didn’t want to get into too much detail, because you’re going to want to experience each surprise for yourself. Danny narrates the story and flits back and forth through time, gradually revealing what’s happening. I love this method of storytelling, which may frustrate some readers, but it works so well for a story like this with so many mysteries to unravel. Danny tells us of his near-death experience in the fire, but he later admits that it wasn’t the only time he died and went someplace else. Little by little, the reader comes to understand what a terrible and lonely life Danny is living, all because he is being haunted by his psychopath of a dead sister who will go to any lengths to keep him from any kind of lasting relationship.

The best part of the story for me was Pyper’s atmospheric descriptions of Detroit, a city that nearly becomes a character itself. After reading The Damned, I’m convinced that the best city in the world to set a horror story in has got to be Detroit (side note: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes is set there as well). I’ve never been there, and after reading this book I’m not sure I ever want to go there. Not only do we get to experience Detroit as it is today, with its seedy, rundown neighborhoods and abandoned car factories, but Danny’s various trips to the afterlife take place in a Detroit that is a scarier and more twisted version of the real place. I don’t think I’ve ever run across a story that pulls off this kind of “duality” as well as this one.

If you’re going to write a proper horror story, then you need to have some tormented characters who suffer at the hands of an evil entity, and Pyper gives us plenty of torment in this book. It seems Danny can never live a life of happiness, because each time he starts to get close to someone, sister Ash comes along and ruins things for him. And when I say “ruins,” I mean she injures or kills the new person in Danny’s life. So he has resigned himself to a lonely existence, rather than cause harm to someone he loves.

That is until he meets Willa at a support group for people who have had near-death experiences, called “Afterlifers.” Willa is an outspoken woman with a ten-year-old son named Eddie, who has her own terrifying death experience to deal with, but she and Danny recognize something in each other, and despite his fear of Ash screwing things up, the two begin dating. I loved their relationship, mostly because Willa is such a strong woman and doesn’t scare easily. She sticks with Danny even after she sees proof of Ash’s evil. I also loved Danny’s growing relationship with Eddie, who is wise beyond his age and even saves Danny’s life at one point.

And Ash. I can barely talk about her without getting goosebumps! She is the epitome of evil, a girl who is popular and beautiful on the outside, but has a twisted mind and is able to manipulate people to do the unthinkable.

If you’ve ever given any thought to what happens when we die (and who hasn’t?), I’m afraid The Damned will not offer any comfort to you, because even those souls who are “good” end up in places that aren’t necessarily considered heaven. Pyper doesn’t actually use the words “heaven” and “hell” to describe the afterworld, but readers will understand what he’s talking about without them. In this version of the afterlife, heaven and hell are inexorably entwined, and  Danny, who is intimately familiar with both life and death, can easily navigate this strange territory.

The only misstep for me, and really I can hardly call it that, was an odd shift at about the half-way point of the story, when Danny decides to investigate Ash’s death, convinced that someone murdered her. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of a murder mystery, and although the horror elements were still present, the tone of the story at that point felt different. As it turns out, Danny uncovers even more horrors surrounding his sister, and this section ultimately made the story stronger.

Pyper throws in lots of small details—like Danny’s mother’s Omega watch that he brings back from the afterlife—that give this story so much depth. A final showdown (you know there had to be one!) between Danny and Ash takes place in a location that is not only poignant but somehow brings the realms of the living and the dead together. The Damned is a perfect book for fans of horror stories, but it will resonate with many types of readers, and therefore I recommend it to everyone!

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

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Full of Pulpy Goodness: THE LOST LEVEL by Brian Keene – Review

The Lost Level 2

 

The Lost Level by Brian Keene
Genre: Adult Pulp Fantasy
Publisher: Apex Book Company
Release date: January 2015
Source: eBook from publisher
Pages: 186

four stars

The nitty-gritty: An outrageous, pulpy, bloody, dimension-hopping story that by turns made me laugh and cringe, and had me running to Google more than once.

I turned my attention back to the cliff. The slope had been hidden by thick vegetation, but now that I stood on its edge, I could see a deep, narrow valley below us. But the gorge wasn’t what caught my attention. What did were the two opponents who were fighting on the valley floor. I had seen many bizarre things since coming to the Lost Level, but it was at that moment that the full otherworldly strangeness of my situation hit me full fold. Below us, engaged in a fierce battle, were a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a giant robot.

So. Much. Fun! I had a blast reading The Lost Level, which as the author states in his Acknowledgements is an homage to the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard (among others). Keene takes every crazy idea and pulp fiction trope he can think of and crams it into less than 200 pages, and the result is a very crowded but completely entertaining story. Keene’s idea of a dimension in space called the Lost Level, where all the “lost” things of the universe wind up, gives him free rein to do just about anything, and he takes full advantage of that idea.

Aaron Pace is the narrator of the story, a man who fancies himself a practitioner of the occult and has figured out a ritual that opens doorways into other dimensions. One day, peeking through one such doorway, he spies a lush and tropical vista that beckons him to cross over. But once there, he looks back, only to find that the doorway has vanished. Aaron is now trapped in the Lost Level, the one world where no traveler can ever leave.

As he wanders through the fascinating but increasingly dangerous land, he manages to rescue a beautiful woman named Kasheena and her Wookie-like companion Bloop from a deadly race of snake people. Together they set out towards Kasheena’s home, where the wiseman of her village might be able to help Aaron get home again. But they will have to face many obstacles before they reach their destination. . .

The Lost Level, for all its non-stop action and fight scenes, gets off to a slow start, mostly because our narrator Aaron is alone almost up to the 25% mark. He’s writing down his story in a journal he finds on an abandoned school bus, as he introduces us to how he came to be here and what wonders he’s seen so far. The fact that there isn’t any dialog to move the story forward worried me a bit, but once he runs into Kasheena and Bloop things really get going, and the story moves at high velocity all the way to the end.

Like I said before, Keene adds everything but the kitchen sink to his story, including dinosaurs, killer grass, aliens, robots, giant killer slugs, and tiny birds that can clean the flesh off a body in seconds flat. He uses the mystique of the Bermuda Triangle to explain some of the odd things that pop up in the Lost Level, and I was curious enough a couple of times to actually hit up Google to see if octophants and Xerum 525 (red mercury) were actual things. (They are!)

If you’re going to read this book—and you really should!—you will need to put your feminist side in a box and lock it up tight, because in order to enjoy this story you have to remember that Keene is playing with tropes, especially when it comes to the female role in the pulp stories of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Take the lovely Kasheena, for example. Seeing her for the first time causes Aaron to become “awestruck” by her beauty. And it’s not only her “luxuriant chestnut and auburn colored hair” and “bronzed skin” that cause this reaction. Kasheena, you see, is completely naked when Aaron meets her, and remains so for the rest of the book, except for a tiny loincloth! If I hadn’t been laughing so hard at the notion of a gorgeous naked female running around fighting robots and dinosaurs, I would have been horrified. Luckily, I recognized what Keene was trying to accomplish, and I enjoyed Kasheena despite her unfortunate nudity.

The author has great fun with over-the-top violence, and he managed to gross me out more than once. Unfortunately, Aaron’s voice is rather dry and matter-of-fact, and so all the hacking off of heads and stabbing through eyeballs with swords felt a bit dry and unemotional. But Keene certainly knows how to keep a story moving, and our intrepid explorers are faced with one impossible situation after another, with barely time off for Aaron and Kasheena to stop and have sex (which they do a lot).

I can’t leave out one of my favorite characters, Bloop, who is a hairy, dog-like creature that walks upright and can only mutter the word “Bloop!” He reminded me of Chewbacca, since he turned out to be a loyal friend to Aaron and Kasheena, as well as a vicious killer when he needed to be.

A mysterious underground world is alluded to, but never explained, and I hope the author decides to write about it in a sequel. I also thought the story ended very abruptly, but luckily, Brian Keene explains in his Afterword that he is planning a multi-volume series, which makes me very happy. The Lost Level may not be great literature, but it was everything I expected and more, and I can’t wait to go back.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy!

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An Ending is a New Beginning: COVENANT’S END by Ari Marmell – Review

Covenant's End

Covenant’s End (Widdershins Adventures #4) by Ari Marmell
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Publisher: Pyr Books
Release date: February 3 2015
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 250

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A bittersweet ending to a much-loved series.

“Of all the plans you’ve ever hatched,” Igraine growled, peering around the shadowy street corner at their startlingly well-lit destination, “this one is inarguably one of the most Widdershins.

“Oh. Well, thank you!”

“That wasn’t a compliment!”

“You think not?” Shins sniffed. “Shows what you know. Nobody plans the way I do!”

“Now that, I agree with.”

You might be asking this question: “Tammy, why did you decide to read Covenant’s End when you haven’t read the first three books??” That’s a great question, and I wish I had a good answer! However, despite the fact that I have not read the previous books in the series, I had a damn fine time with this one, and it only served to whet my appetite for Widdershins’ earlier adventures. Marmell has created one hell of a character with Widdershins. I simply adored her, and I’ve added her to my “all-time favorite characters list.”

The story wasn’t all smooth sailing, because obviously I’ve missed out on some important world building—like the story of how Shins and Olgun came to be together—but it wasn’t that difficult to read between the lines and at least understand enough to keep the story flowing. Several of the relationships between characters aren’t explained at all (and why should they be?), but Marmell is such a good writer that even during those moments I was able to grasp most of what was going on.

For those of you who are new to the series, Widdershins (“Shins” for short) has a god named Olgun living inside her head. They communicate telepathically and supposedly no one knows about Olgun (Although I’m not quite clear about that. I think some people might know.) Olgun is able to enhance Shins’ physical abilities and more or less turn her into a superhero of sorts, by allowing her jump extra high or cling to the sides of tall buildings. Together they really kick butt, but they do it with a unique sense of humor, which is one of the reasons I loved them so much.

When Covenant’s End begins, Shins and Olgun are returning to Shins’ home town of Davillon, after the events at the end of Lost Covenant. Shins’ friends are mad at her for leaving them—she’s been gone almost a year—and she’s going to have to work hard to get back on their good side. But Davillon needs her now, more than ever. Shins’ enemy Lisette has also returned to Davillon, this time with some very intimidating supernatural powers under her belt. Lisette is primed to take over the city, and she’s got some very scary and nasty creatures to help her in that quest. Shins has her work cut out for her, trying to defeat Lisette and keep the city from fracturing even more than it already has.

As I mentioned before, Shins is quite the character. She has her own brand of swearing, which I found charming. She says things like, “Holy horsebubbles!” and “Oh, for pastry’s sake!” and “Oh, goose muffins!” I’m not sure if this was for the sake of the younger audience who these books are intended for, but whatever the reason behind it, it was just one more thing I loved about Shins.

Even though I missed the way these relationships developed during the first three books, it was very clear that these characters have strong feelings for each other. Shins’ best friend Robin, who has been gravely injured by Lisette, is still hurting from Shins’ disappearance and has replaced Shin with a girl named Faustine. There was a bit of unrequited love going on between Shins and Robin, which broke my heart. I’m sure the first three books add lots of character development that will make this relationship even more poignant.

Other relationships, like the one between Shins and Renard, gave me a glimpse of something special, but there wasn’t enough of them together in this book to really satisfy my curiosity. All of the characters, though, are brought to vivid life with Marmell’s dazzling dialog and witty sense of humor. Shins and Olgun steal the show, however, with their constant banter and teasing. It’s hard to imagine how an author could pull off such a feat as writing great dialog between two people when one of them doesn’t even speak! But he manages to do just that, and I found myself laughing out loud many times during this story.

Near the end, Shins and Olgun are forced to make a terrible decision that will affect both of them, which is where the “bittersweet” part of the story comes in. I loved the way Marmell incorporates the religious beliefs of this society into what ultimately happens between the two characters. I’m looking forward to going back and catching up on the world-building I missed, because I know these scenes will make much more sense to me.

I didn’t talk much about the plot of Covenant’s End, but I figure if you haven’t started this series yet, you’ll thank me later for not spoiling the story. And by the way, if you are an adult reader and you’re shaking your head because these are young adult books, I can safely tell you that this is one of those rare series that works well for any age group.

So take it from me, someone who apparently likes to do things backwards, pick up a copy of Thief’s Covenant (Book #1) if you haven’t started this series yet, and get ready for a rollicking good time.

Big thanks to Pyr Books for supplying a review copy! Quote above was taken from a review copy and may differ in the final version of the book.

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Filed under 4 stars, Reviews

There’s a Fruit Bat in my Pompadour: GET IN TROUBLE: STORIES by Kelly Link – Review

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link
Genre: Adult short story collection (magic realism)
Publisher: Random House
Release date: February 10 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Pages: 352

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A collection of quirky and whimsical short stories, dreamy and magical as only Kelly Link can do.

You know sometimes when you have a dream, and when you wake up you try to remember that dream and piece it together so that it makes sense? Well, reading a Kelly Link story is just like that. Link’s stories often feel like fractured dreams. You want to dive back in and experience the dream again, but the waking world isn’t going to let you. Her stories are populated by impossible things: girls who float two feet off the ground; ghost boyfriends who live in a coffin box and only come to life when you flip the switch; people with two shadows. Her sentences are magical and brilliant and sometimes hysterically funny. She drops you in the middle of a story and you have to scramble to catch up. Her mind is blindingly quick, one thought quickly following on the heels of the last. You have to pay attention or you might get lost.

But like dreams, I find it best to just go along with Link’s crazy and sometimes ludicrous ideas. I didn’t love all the stories in Get In Trouble, but the stories I did love, I loved fiercely. Some of them are more accessible than others, but all of them showcase Link’s talent and singular imagination. Here are the five stories from this collection of eight (**see my note below) that I thought were the best of the bunch:

The Summer People 5/5 stars

One of my favorites, The Summer People is the story of a girl who has inherited the job of caring for an unseen group of fae who live in an old house down the lane. Intertwined with descriptions of the mechanical toys Fran has collected over the years, toys that the summer people made for her, and the odd but magical goings-on in their house, is a melancholy tale of a girl who is trying to escape her life of duty to these mysterious and magical creatures. As the words on the stairs remind Fran every time she visits the summer people, BE BOLD BE BOLD BUT NOT TOO BOLD.

Secret Identity 5/5 stars

I loved the risky idea of a fifteen-year-old girl who falls in love with a thirty-four-year-old man in an online chat room. Billie takes a trip to New York after arranging a meeting with Paul Zell, the man she meets online. But when she arrives, Paul Zell isn’t there. As Billie anxiously waits for Paul to show up, she navigates a strange and quirky crowd of dentists and superheroes who are attending two conventions in the hotel. I loved this story for its ludicrous ideas (the juxtaposition of dentists and superheroes sharing space together! Superheroes are real and they’re having a convention!), as well as the tender and fragile emotions of a teen who is in love for the first time. Here’s a taste of Link’s writing:

Billie climbs, slowly and carefully, up a laddery stool and lays her poor head down on the dusty, funereal slab. (It’s actually a pastry station, the dust is flour, but Billie is mentally in a bad place.) Paul Zell, Paul Zell. She stares at the tiled wall. Bille’s heart has a crack in it. Her head is made of radiation. The Starbucks espresso she forced down has burnt a thousand pinprick holes in Billie’s wretched stomach.

The New Boyfriend 5/5 stars

If I had to pick my very favorite story in this collection, I guess it would have to be this one. Immy’s friend Ainslie gets a Ghost Boyfriend for her birthday, and Immy is insanely jealous. In this story, “Boyfriends” are android-like, life-size dolls that are programmed to fall in love with their owner. Immy falls hard for Mint, Ainslie’s new Boyfriend, and she devises a poorly thought out scheme to steal him from Ainslie. Once again, Link gets to the heart of the angsty life of a teenager in love, and the consequences of acting on that love.

Two Houses 4/5 stars

I know I’ve read this somewhere before, but even after Googling I couldn’t find any information on previous printings of this story. So frustrating! (**see note below). In any case, Two Houses is an odd and fractured tale of a group of people on a space ship, heading towards a new planet, perhaps. The ship, whose name is Maureen, is able to change the scenery of the ship’s interior to anything the girls can dream up. This story in particular had a strong dream-like quality to it, which made it difficult to tell what was real and what wasn’t. A sense of loss and sadness pervades this tale, but it’s so subtly done that the emotional impact comes out of nowhere.

Light 4/5 stars

Their four shadows fell across her double bed, sticky and wilted as if from lovemaking that hadn’t even begun.

Lindsey is a girl with two shadows, and her twin brother Alan was born from one of them. If that idea doesn’t want to make you grab this collection and devour it, then perhaps you aren’t the intended target audience for Kelly Link. But if you’re intrigued, take heed and add this book to your TBR pile immediately! In Light, Link has created a world full of “pocket universes,” places you can jump to for a vacation, or even to live. Light has a sense of wonder that reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, and in fact there was a strong Oz reference at the end.

Kelly Link’s sentences alone are reasons to read Get In Trouble. Here are some of my favorites:

Then she went outside and sat on her patio and watched the iguanas eat the flowers off her hibiscus. It was six a.m. and already quite warm.

If you can’t be honest with your best friend’s Vampire Boyfriend, who can you be honest with?

I had an inadequately sedated fruit bat caged up in my pompadour.

Link’s stories made me feel melancholy and sad, yet oddly hopeful. Their weirdness kept me off-balance, and even if I didn’t “get” each one, I loved the overall feeling of whimsy, magic, and endless possibilities that these stories invoke.

**Note: Although every professional review I’ve read of Get In Trouble states that there are nine stories in this collection, my digital ARC only had eight. Perhaps the publisher added a ninth one after producing the ARC? Also, I would have loved a copyright page that stated if and where these stories were published prior to this collection. Many of them had an oddly familiar feel to them, and I’m quite sure I’ve read some of them before. No doubt the finished book will include both of these.

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

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When Worlds Collide: ECHO 8 by Sharon Lynn Fisher – Review

Echo 8 by Sharon Lynn Fisher
Genre: Adult science fiction romance
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: February 3 2015
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 288

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A fascinating story about parallel worlds and doppelgangers, some exciting action, and of course, romance!

I’ve had the pleasure of reading all three of Sharon’s books, and each time she manages to give us readers something different.  Sharon writes an interesting mash-up of science fiction and romance, which I rarely see done these days, and her latest stand-along Echo 8 is no exception. While I have to admit this isn’t my favorite of her books (The Ophelia Prophecy gets that honor!), I did have fun reading Echo 8, which is a mind-bending story about alternate realities and parallel worlds.

Tess is a parapsychologist at the Seattle Psi Training Institute who studies “Echoes,” people who seem to have appeared suddenly from an alternate Earth. These nearly transparent beings usually die soon after they appear, but Tess has discovered that they are able to survive and grow stronger if they can steal energy from a human being. Unfortunately, humans have died during this process, and so Echoes are considered dangerous and are locked up for study. Tess is currently studying Echo 8, a man named Jake who claims to have committed suicide in his world, an event that may have triggered his transfer to our Earth. Tess willingly engages in a transfer with Jake, giving him her energy while touching him, because she is determined to save him.

But the process nearly incapacitates her, and so she is assigned a body-guard of sorts, an FBI agent named Ross who fiercely tries to keep her away from Jake. When Tess discovers a government plot to use Echoes as assassins, she knows that she can’t let Jake be subjected to such a fate, and so she breaks him out of the Institute. What follows is an exciting chase through both worlds, as Tess, Jake and Ross try to make sense of the strange parallel Earths and how they relate to each other.

For those of us who have trouble understanding the concepts of alternate realities, Sharon gives some scientific argument about why they might be possible, although I have to say some of those explanations went way over my head, LOL! In cases like this, where the science is beyond me (hey, I am mostly a right-brain person!), I don’t find it too difficult to trust the author and simply enjoy the story. Although I found the beginning a bit slow, while the author catches us up on who the Echoes are and the relationships between the three main characters, the action takes off when Tess discovers that she can jump over to the other Earth.

I loved the idea of “Echoes” and thought of them as vampires, in a way, draining energy from a person instead of blood. Things get really complicated, however, when the characters begin to meet their doppelgangers from the alternate Earth, which is basically what Echoes are. But just because a person has a double from another reality, doesn’t mean that Echo is anything like him or her! Take Ross’s Echo, for example. Ross is a sometimes gruff yet caring person, but his Echo (named Mac) was a cruel man whose only goal is to use the energy from humans to survive.

One of my favorite parts of the story was the Seattle setting, in particular an old abandoned ferry called the Kalakala, where several very creepy and atmospheric scenes took place. I just had to Google it, and discovered to my delight that the Kalakala actually exists:

Kalakala

In Echo 8, the Kalakala is a dark and dank place where Tess and Jake make some terrifying discoveries.

I did have a couple of issues with the book, mostly with the romantic aspects of the story. Now don’t get me wrong—I love a good love triangle now and then, and Sharon gives us a whopper of one in this book. Tess and Ross are attracted to each other, even though they don’t seem to like each other much. And when Jake comes along, Tess seems torn between the two men, although I couldn’t understand her attraction to Jake. The author does give us a couple of hot sex scenes between Ross and Tess, but the two got together so quickly that it felt a bit jarring. (Although one of the funniest scenes takes place during sex—but you’ll just have to read the book to find out what that is!)

I also wasn’t crazy about Tess’s character. I do love the fact that she’s the type of person who has strong beliefs and will do almost anything to further her knowledge of the Echoes. But she also tends to jump headlong into danger without thinking first. Her fierce determination to save Jake pisses off Ross to no end, and because Ross is hired to protect her, he is always berating her for being so headstrong. Ross had a couple of disturbingly sexist moments (at one point he says to Tess, “You need handlers, Tess. Deal with it.”) which gave the romance an almost “old fashioned” feel.

But I liked Ross for the most part. He and Tess have interacted before, although I was a little sketchy about those details. I’ll admit I pictured Ross in my head as Agent Booth (David Boreanaz!) from Bones.

Romance aside, what you will get from Echo 8 is a twisty plot, some very scary moments, and a lot to think about. Are parallel worlds real? How would you react if you ran into your own double? And how far would you go to follow through on your beliefs? Entertaining and full of tension, Echo 8 was a blast!

Big thanks to Tor Books for the review copy!

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Tough to Read, Hard to Put Down: ATLANTA BURNS by Chuck Wendig – Review

Atlanta burns

 

Atlanta Burns (Atlanta Burns #1 & 2) by Chuck Wendig
Genre: YA Crime/Mystery
Publisher: Skyscape
Release date: January 27 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 381

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A tough read full of unhappy people, but with a glimmer of hope at the end.

“Maybe next time? I’ll bring my shotgun. It’s got a taste for the blood of monstrous men.”

“You can’t go like this forever. At some point you gotta be a normal girl.”

“If you say so.”

Chuck Wendig never fails to make me feel something, which is one of the most important things a writer can do for his readers. So when I picked up Atlanta Burns, I was expecting a gritty, action-packed story of a girl who solves crimes (OK, so I latched on to the blurb that compares it to Veronica Mars), because it’s Chuck Wendig, who does gritty really well. But I was not expecting this book at all. I would have to say Atlanta Burns got me more worked up emotionally than I’ve ever been while reading a book. I nearly didn’t finish it. When I got to the end of chapter thirty-three, my first reaction was to beat my Kindle to death and swear off Chuck Wendig for good. Because he had just broken my heart.

But after turning out the light and trying to go to sleep (and not being able to), I decided I might as well finish the story. I mean, there were only a few chapters left. And boy am I glad I did. I can’t tell you what made me change my mind about the book, because I don’t want to spoil the story. But let’s just say that glimmer of hope I mentioned up there? The door cracked open just a bit and let the light through—a murky and dim light, but light nonetheless. I finished this book wanting very badly to read the next installment.

Atlanta is a high school girl who lives in near poverty with her mother, a woman who can barely take care of herself, let alone her daughter. One day after school she inadvertently rescues a boy named Shane who is being bullied by a couple of schoolyard thugs. Before long, Atlanta is drawn into the hopeless lives of other students who are being bullied for being gay, Venezuelan, poor, etc. With her trusty shotgun and a generous supply of Adderall from her drug dealer friend Guy, Atlanta sets out to save as many lives as she can.

But when she is asked to investigate why dogs are disappearing from an affluent neighborhood, Atlanta finds herself in the middle of a dog fighting ring. Everything’s going to hell, fast, but Atlanta’s made a promise to try to shut down the Farm, and she isn’t one to give up easily.

The story takes some hot topic issues, mixes them together, and gives us a bleak and violent world, where bullying and hate crimes are the norm. Wendig comes right out and lays his issues on the table, and he doesn’t ever flinch. In case you’re wondering what the big trigger was for me, I’ll tell you, because if you’re a dog lover like me, you deserve a warning. Part of the book deals with Atlanta trying to shut down a dog fighting ring, and if there’s anything that will make me stop reading a book, it’s cruelty to animals. I knew this part was coming, but I wanted to see if I could get through it. And I did, mostly. Wendig shows us the grim realities of this terrible sport without going overboard. One of the best parts of this story is a dog called Whitey, and I’ll just leave it at that.

I’m going to tell you something you might not want to hear: none of the characters in Atlanta Burns are particularly likable. (Well, except for Atlanta’s English teacher Mrs. Lewis, who didn’t get enough page-time, in my opinion.) Otherwise, this story is populated by the following nasty and unlovable people: drug dealers; bullies; dog killers; dog thieves; teens who drink; teens who do drugs; Neo-Nazis; unfit mothers; corrupt law enforcement; and one Atlanta Burns, a teen who has recently “spent time away” because she shot the balls off her mother’s boyfriend (he was sexually abusing her). Atlanta has some serious baggage, not the least of which is her absentee mother who is in worse shape than she is. Until she meets a couple of nerdy kids who need her help—Chris, a gay teen, and Shane, a Venezuelan boy—both who have been mercilessly bullied. And I’m not talking call-you-a-faggot or stuff-dog-shit-in-your-locker bullying. This shit goes way beyond that, into the territory of physical pain.

But despite the unlikable-ness of Atlanta in the beginning of the book, she did grow on me, and I have to admit by the end I was completely in her corner. Wendig has a way of making you believe that all this could happen to one girl, in one small town. I don’t know how it happened, but I went from hating Atlanta Burns to loving it. Wendig pushed me into a pit of despair and made me claw my way out, then he showed me a glimpse of a beautiful sunset. Not bad for a book that I almost didn’t finish.

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

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Magic in the Bones: PACIFIC FIRE by Greg van Eekhout – Review

Pacific Fire (Daniel Blackland #2) by Greg van Eekhout
Genre: Adult urban fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: January 27 2015
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 336

five stars

The nitty-gritty: A worthy follow-up to California Bones, Pacific Fire is infused with even more magic and danger and humor.

“How’s your stealth osteomancy?” she asked.

The same sint holo that concealed objects in his bone-lined box was in his cells. A skilled osteomancer like Daniel could summon it and make himself vanish, or least make himself hard to spot.

“Not great,” he said.

“How impenetrable are you?”

“You mean like to bullets and things?”

“Yeah.”

“I am utterly penetrable,” Sam admitted.

“How about offensive magic? Kraken energy, fire breathing?”

“Not so much.”

Em shined her light on him, as if searching for some defect. “You are the Hierarch’s golem, aren’t you?”

“I don’t live up to my potential.”

If that quote made you chuckle, then you are going to love Greg van Eekhout’s series. This is the second book, and therefore this review will contain some unavoidable spoilers for the first book, California Bones. Proceed with caution if you are worried about such things!

I love so many things about this series! van Eekhout’s magical system is one of my favorites, and while there is a certain “ick” factor to osteomancy—it requires you to eat the flesh and bones of powerful magicians and magical creatures, thus absorbing the magic into your own body and making you more powerful—I’ve never read anything quite like it. Add to that the utterly original setting, characters that are full of human flaws and desires, and perfectly timed humor, and you have a *magical* combination.

Second books in series often fall into that murky “middle book” territory, but I didn’t feel that way about Pacific Fire. For one thing, we have a new character named Sam who completely stole the thunder from Daniel, the main character from California Bones. I dearly loved Sam, and I wanted the book to keep going so I could keep reading about Sam and his friend Em and their adventures.

The author takes a risk (in my opinion) by setting this story ten years after the conclusion of Pacific Fire. Daniel has left Los Angeles and is on the run after killing and eating the heart of the Hierarch, the most powerful osteomancer in California. With him is Sam, a golem created from the Hierarch who has all the power of his “father,” even though that power hasn’t yet surfaced. Daniel has sworn to protect Sam from the evil osteomancers of Los Angeles who would do anything to get their hands on him.

When the story begins, Daniel and Sam are living in a trailer on the edge of the Salton Sea, when Daniel’s friend Gabriel comes to warn them that Daniel’s uncle Otis, along with a couple of other shady and power-hungry osteomancers, are hatching a diabolical plan to bring to life a Firedrake dragon, a magical creature that has been extinct for a long time. Daniel knows he must stop the project, and so he begins to make plans to infiltrate Catalina Island, Otis’ stronghold where he plans to bring the dragon to life. But it won’t be easy, because everyone is looking for Daniel and Sam, and there are only so many places to hide. Plus, resurrecting a Firedrake? Now that takes a hella lot of magic, but if anyone can figure it out, it’s Otis.

Pacific Fire is steeped in magic, which practically oozes from the pages. Greg van Eekhout has turned Southern California into his own personal magical playground, and he gleefully shows us how wonderful that playground is. From the crazy idea of his watery canals that take the place of L.A. freeways, to unexpected creatures that roam the hills of Catalina Island, each familiar Southern California location is turned on its head and given new life. In van Eekhout’s world, Gabriel is the head of the Department of Water and Power, and is a powerful water mage who controls the water of Los Angeles. Not only can he monitor traffic on the canals and adjust it as necessary, but he draws his power from the water and knows everything that happens in the city.

As I mentioned before, I loved the character of Sam. At first it was hard to picture what he looked like, as he’s a golem and has been created from the DNA of the Hierarch, which I suppose is a lot like cloning. But he appears human, and in fact he’s a teenaged boy in this story, with all the inherent quirks of any normal teen. For one thing, he’s girl-crazy, and he tends to fall in love with every girl he meets. He has incredibly powerful magic deep inside him, but for some reason he’s unable to draw from it. When we first meet Sam, Daniel is trying to teach him how to use his magic so he’ll be ready to defend himself when the bad guys come calling—and don’t worry, they will! But poor Sam, he just wants to be a normal kid and live in a proper house and go to school, where he’s sure to meet girls.

On his journey to help Daniel stop the dreaded Firedrake project, Sam meets another golem named Em who joins up with him. Em is the sort of girl who looks normal on the outside, but inside she’s more like a ninja with mad fighting skills. She and Sam were adorable together, and even though I wouldn’t call their relationship romantic, you could see the potential was there.

My only complaint is that the book felt a bit on the short side. There was one scene in particular that takes place on a submarine (yes, you read that correctly!) that could have been so much more developed. Sam and Em wind up on a submarine and head to Catalina Island (and I won’t tell you how they wind up on it!), but the scene literally cuts from the moment they board to the moment they arrive on the island. I so wanted to find out what took place on the submarine trip!

But I’m still giving this book five stars, so obviously it didn’t bother me too much. The ending, oh how I wish I could tell you how Pacific Fire ends!! I didn’t know whether to scream or cry at the end, but I can tell you I am even more excited about reading book #3, Dragon Coast, which luckily comes out later this year.

California BonesFor urban fantasy fans, this series should be on your “must read” list. Laugh out loud funny and full of tense action and danger, Pacific Fire is highly recommended.

Big thanks to Tor Books for supplying a review copy! The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book. Check back here tomorrow for my interview with Greg, and you can enter to win a copy of Pacific Fire!

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Filed under 5 stars, Reviews

Unique & Thought Provoking: THE GHOSTS OF HEAVEN by Marcus Sedgwick – Review

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
Genre: Unable to categorize!
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release date: January 6 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 336

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A quartet of interlinked stories set in different time periods, joined together by the recurring theme of the spiral. A complex story that requires some thought and patience, with a big payoff.

How arrogant is man, Bowman has sometimes wondered, to think he can know everything about the universe while stuck to the surface of a tiny planet in a remote region of the galaxy? Yes, great things have been learned, but not everything. There is always the unknown. No matter how high you climb on the spiral staircase, there is always another turn of the stair, out of view, and that’s where the unknown lies.

The Ghosts of Heaven was one of those books that completely surprised me. I had seen lots of mixed reviews on Goodreads, and I mean mixed, folks! And so I was curious to read it for myself. This is my second Marcus Sedgwick book, and while I enjoyed the last one (She is Not Invisible), I absolutely loved The Ghosts of Heaven. Not everyone will “get” this book, and it’s not a page turner or a plot-heavy story. I’ll admit it took me until the middle to finally see where it was going, and how everything would eventually tie together. The Ghosts of Heaven will make you think about big concepts, like our place in the universe and how everything is connected. It’s a philosophical piece that asks some tantalizing questions about our existence, and it does so by traveling through time and space. It requires a patient reader, and if you are that person, I guarantee you will love this book.

The story is divided into four “quarters,” and each one has its own set of characters and takes place during a different period in time. In his introduction, Sedgwick explains that the quarters can be read in any order, and the story will still make sense. Being the slightly OCD person that I am, I started at the beginning and proceeded in the normal way, reading the stories in order. I found this to work extremely well, and I urge you to do the same. The last story, in my opinion, is the linchpin of the bunch, and brings together elements from the previous three stories. All four revolved around the theme of spirals, and the way they appear in nature and art, over and over again. Briefly, here is a breakdown of the four stories:

Whispers in the Dark. This story in verse describes an ancient tribe of people who use cave art to communicate and “do magic.” A young girl hopes that she will be chosen to be “the one who will go to the caves” and make the magic on the cave walls, magic that will ensure successful hunting. The girl is chosen, but not for the reason she wants. As she travels through the forest, she notices the beautiful spirals found in nature, like a snail’s shell and the tender leaves of a fern. This is a harrowing story full of danger and explores the beginnings of written communication.

The Witch in the Water. A minister comes to a small town and sets out to wreak havoc on the innocent people who live there. A young girl, who makes medicines from the plants in the forest, is accused of witchcraft after the visiting minister convinces the townspeople that she is evil. This was an unsettling story with slowly mounting tension, as one by one, the villagers start to believe that she is a witch.

The Easiest Room in Hell. This was my second favorite tale, and it’s told through journal entries by a man named Doctor James, who has just come to work at the Orient Point Lunatic Asylum. There he meets an inmate named Charles Dexter, a man who appears sane on the outside, but is actually irrationally terrified of anything spiral-shaped, including the massive spiral staircase at the center of the asylum. James bonds with Dexter and is convinced he can help him recover, but the evil Doctor Phillips has other ideas. Sedgwick’s asylum is surrounded by the sea, which gives this story a Gothic feel. He uses foreshadowing to great effect, and the format reminded me of Dracula. This was a sad and chilling tale, and Sedgwick cleverly drops in clues from the previous two stories.

The Song of Destiny. Definitely my favorite, the last story jumps to the future, as a spaceship of five hundred sleeping people hurtles toward a planet called New Earth, a journey that will take one hundred years. Keir Bowman is a “sentinel” on the ship, one of ten people who are tasked with waking up every ten years to make sure all is in order. This was the scariest of the bunch, as we soon discover a terrifying mystery that Bowman must solve during his waking hours.

Each story feels completely different from the others; and yet somehow, it all makes sense when you’re finished reading. Over and over, Sedgwick uses the spiral as a way to unite the characters together, and ultimately, as a way to explain life itself:

“You can never make it back to where you began, you can only ever climb another turn of the spiral stair. Forever.”

I do have one complaint—or rather it’s something I’m puzzled by—and that is I don’t understand why this book is being marketed as young adult (according to Amazon, it’s for ages 12 and up). Most of the characters are adults, and the thoughtfully complex themes seem more suited for adult readers. I’ve been running across more and more “young adult” books that seem to be mislabeled, and I’d love to find out the reasoning behind some of these marketing decisions. I think by being labeled “young adult” The Ghosts of Heaven will miss out on a more appreciative audience.

This is a special book, something unique that won’t appeal to every reader. But for those who enjoy puzzles and coincidences, this is a beautifully written story that will give you chills as you read the last lines.

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

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Want to win a copy of The Ghosts of Heaven? Check back in February for my Book Review Giveaway!

 

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Blog Tour: TUNNEL VISION by Susan Adrian – Review

Welcome to my stop on the Tunnel Vision Blog Tour! First, here’s what this book is about:

Tunnel Vision

Jake Lukin just turned 18. He’s decent at tennis and Halo, and waiting to hear on his app to Stanford. But he’s also being followed by a creep with a gun, and there’s a DARPA agent waiting in his bedroom. His secret is blown.

When Jake holds a personal object, like a pet rock or a ring, he has the ability to “tunnel” into the owner. He can sense where they are, like a human GPS, and can see, hear, and feel what they do. It’s an ability the government would do anything to possess: a perfect surveillance unit who could locate fugitives, spies, or terrorists with a single touch.

Jake promised his dad he’d never tell anyone about his ability. But his dad died two years ago, and Jake slipped. If he doesn’t agree to help the government, his mother and sister may be in danger. Suddenly he’s juggling high school, tennis tryouts, flirting with Rachel Watkins, and work as a government asset, complete with 24-hour bodyguards.

Forced to lie to his friends and family, and then to choose whether to give up everything for their safety, Jake hopes the good he’s doing—finding kidnap victims and hostages, and tracking down terrorists—is worth it. But he starts to suspect the good guys may not be so good after all. With Rachel’s help, Jake has to try to escape both good guys and bad guys and find a way to live his own life instead of tunneling through others.

four stars

The nitty-gritty: An addictive and exciting story with lots of mysteries to solve, government conspiracies, and just a touch of romance.

We’re in the parking lot of a park. There are trees everywhere: cottonwoods, aspens, oaks, all in full green leaf, the grass bright. The air is hot and still. It smells like summer.

The last time I was outside, it was the dead of winter. I breathe, deep.

This. Oh God, this. I can’t go underground again.

I didn’t know much about this story before I read it. In fact, this was one of those books where I completely forgot to read the blurb first, so for that reason the plot surprised and delighted me. Tunnel Vision isn’t without its faults, however. This story requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief, and that was my main stumbling block as I was reading it. However, Jake’s voice and the imaginative idea of “tunneling” kept me flipping pages as fast as I could. For a young adult novel, the protagonist is older than normal, so keep that in mind if you are a teen reader or someone who recommends books to teens. Jake is eighteen, a senior in high school, and is about to go off to college. His language is salty to say the least, so if F-bombs aren’t your thing, this might not be the right story for you.

However, I love that this story will most likely appeal to male readers in particular, and as a parent of a teen boy who is a very reluctant and picky reader, more stories like Tunnel Vision are sorely needed. Jake is a happy but driven senior whose biggest challenges are trying hard to get into Stanford and finding the courage to talk to Rachel, the girl he has a crush on. Jake has an unusual ability to clearly see the exact location of anyone in the world, as long as he is holding a personal object of that person in his hand. He calls his ability “tunneling,” and he’s kept it mostly a secret for his entire life.

But one night at a party, Jake gets drunk and unintentionally reveals his talent to everyone in the room. Unbeknownst to him, one of the girls at the party is a spy, and before long, Jake notices an odd car that seems to be following him. Soon after, he finds himself a virtual prisoner at a secret underground facility called DARPA, where he is put through a variety of tests to see how far his ability can go. The mysterious Dr. Liesel Miller and Eric Proctor convince Jake that he is “doing good” by using his tunneling ability to locate missing persons, hostages, and even suspected terrorists.

But it isn’t long before Jake realizes everyone is lying to him, and he sets out to discover the truth about DARPA’s real intentions. What follows is a thrilling adventure story full of intrigue and danger, and at the heart of it all, a boy’s search to get back the life he’s lost.

Adrian’s idea of tunneling isn’t necessarily original, but she’s taken the idea of holding an object and psychically gleaning information from it and flipped it on its ass. Just think about the things you could do with this ability, both good and bad. At first, Jake feels good about helping hostage victims or finding lost children, but he’s also made to tunnel into people like terrorists or children being forced to make bombs. The thought is that the outcome of being able to locate these people is a good thing, as his captors continue to remind him. I loved the double-edge sword that is Jake’s tunneling ability. He constantly struggles throughout the story about whether he’s doing the right thing, and luckily there is never a clear answer to his dilemma.

One of my favorite characters was Jake’s sister Myka, a super-smart twelve-year-old who goes to a special school for genius kids. Since their father died two years ago in a plane crash, Jake and Myka have become extremely close, and Jake has a special connection with her that relates to his tunneling. I loved Myka’s endearing combination of spunk and vulnerability. She loves her family above all else and is fiercely loyal to them. I also adored Jake’s Russian grandpa who he calls “Dedushka.” He’s got some secrets of his own and is one of the few people Jake can trust. I’m dying to tell you more about him, but I don’t want to spoil the story!

There’s a romance between Jake and a girl at school named Rachel, but it’s almost more of an afterthought. Rachel’s character wasn’t developed enough for my tastes, and she’s more or less relegated to the stereotypical “girl friend” role. Honestly, I would have loved the story even if she hadn’t been part of it.

My “suspension of disbelief” issue lies in the overly dramatic reactions of the DARPA characters, who treat Jake as if he is the country’s biggest secret asset, and they will do anything to keep him under their control. I get that his tunneling ability could be potentially dangerous if he were to get nabbed by the wrong people. But when the guns and handcuffs came out, I had a hard time believing such things would happen to an eighteen-year-old. Another thing that sort of bothered me was that through Jake, we get to peek into the minds of the people he’s seeing, but we’re never told anything else about them. Why is a woman handcuffed to a chair and being threatened with a knife? And whatever happened to her after that? We’re merely observers for a brief moment, and I wanted more information on these mysterious people.

But don’t let this deter you from reading Tunnel Vision. Some of my reactions to the dramatic parts of the book could be age-related, but for teen readers, this book is one hell of a ride. Adrian knows how to combine action and excitement with a wonderfully genuine family dynamic, all in one page-turner of a story.

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.

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About the author:

susan adrianSusan Adrian is a 4th-generation Californian who somehow stumbled into living in Montana. As a child she danced in a ballet company and read plays dramatically to blackberry bushes. Later she got a degree in English from the University of California Davis and worked in the fields of exotic pet-sitting, clothes-schlepping, and bookstore management. She’s settled in, mostly, as a scientific editor. When she’s not hanging out with her husband and daughter, she keeps busy researching spy stuff, learning Russian, traveling, and writing more books. Tunnel Vision is her first novel.

Find Susan:  Author Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr |Blog

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