RSS

Book Review: My Chemical Mountain

Sometime last year, I read a little known YA novel called My Chemical Mountain. To be honest, the title caught my attention because of its similarity to the band name My Chemical Romance. I wasn’t quite sold given the blurb below, but I loved the cover so thought I’d give it a try anyway.

mountain

Rocked by his father’s recent death and his mother’s sudden compulsion to overeat, Jason lashes out by breaking into the abandoned mills and factories that plague his run-down town. Always by his side are his two best friends, Charlie, a fearless thrill junkie, and Cornpup, a geek inventor whose back is covered with cysts. The boys rage against the noxious pollution that suffocates their town and despise those responsible for it; at the same time, they embrace the danger of their industrial wasteland and boast about living on the edge. 

   Then on a night the boys vandalize one of the mills,  Jason makes a costly mistake–and unwittingly becomes a catalyst for change. In a town like his, change should be a good thing. There’s only one problem: change is what Jason fears most of all.

While I have read many disaster-apocalypse novels and a good few dystopians, this was first foray into ‘ecopunk,’ in that the book explores the consequences of pollution, corporate indifference and the effects of industrial waste on the environment. This story has stuck with me not least of all because of the grim, gritty, dark world the story is set in. This is neither a true post-apocalyptic nor a real dystopian story, but rather portrays the reality for many existing industrial towns right now. This is a very scary reality indeed, albeit exaggerated for the sake of fiction, and in many ways reminded me of the Chernobyl disaster and how the surrounding area was and is still affected by radiation today. Oh how I’d love to read a novel set in that vicinity!

What I truly loved about this story, and found so refreshing, was the all-boy main cast when having a strong, female lead is usually prerequisite for any YA novel. Along with the all-male cast, the emphasis in this novel is most certainly on male friendship instead of romance, which is also rare in YA. While I did appreciate this different approach, I must admit that at times this book felt more MG than YA because it was lacking certain tropes I’ve come to expect from YA. I think this novel might appeal more to younger readers, especially boys around the 10-13 age, but can be enjoyed by adults as well. Not that who the target audience should be really matters given how engaging these characters are. There was something so charming about Charlie’s reckless confidence, something endearing about Cornpup’s righteousness and something just undeniably lovable about Jason’s compassion – these are all characters I’ll definitely have a hard time forgetting. While the plot is rather straight forward without many twists or turns, I found the boys’ struggle against their toxic environment and the corporations that govern their lives totally compelling and alarming.

If you’re looking for a short, sci-fi light read with a refreshing focus on boys, friendship and the power one individual can have against a tyrant, then I strongly recommend this book! My Chemical Mountain gets 4/5 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , , ,

Book Review: Unwrapped Sky

My first love will forever be epic fantasy. I grew up devouring books by Tolkien, Terry Brooks and Ursula K. Le Guin, and although I don’t read that much adult fantasy any more, when I do, I usually find myself utterly entranced by the likes of Elizabeth Bear and Martha Wells. It had been a while since I’d read a really good high fantasy novel though when I spotted Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson. I immediately added it to my to-be-read list and promptly forgot all about it until several months later when I bumped into the author at a convention in Finland and then again in London.

unwrapped

I actually met the Aussie author at two separate cons over the summer of 2014, and was rather delighted to discover that he too was an expat living and writing in Finland! After having met him in person and getting to hang out with him on a panel, I couldn’t wait to dive into his book.

Given the Goodreads description, I started reading Unwrapped Sky with certain expectations: 1) Minotaurs 2) epic fantasy. This book didn’t quite meet my expectations on point 1 and thoroughly exceeded them on point 2.

This is not a book about minotaurs. Minotaurs are part of the world, but they’re not quite the major presence I anticipated and that left me a little disappointed, to be honest. Also, I guess sex with a minotaur isn’t technically bestiality, but it still kinda creeped me out. I really wish we’d been given more of a chance to get to know these creatures, but the minotaurs are quickly relegated to minor subplot – at least in book 1.

Onto point 2. This book is epic fantasy and then some. The world is a rich tapestry of magic, technology and steampunk elements. This is where the book truly deserves 5 stars. The settings are original and vivid to the point where I could smell Caeli-Amur and hear the sounds of the market-place. I loved the blend of technology and more typical fantasy elements, although I can see how this book that straddles the science-fantasy genre might leave science fiction fans wanting more tech and fantasy fans annoyed by the very presence of tech. The only comparison I can draw is perhaps Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy in terms of the tech + fantastic/magic themes.

Onto the characters. I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the three separate POVs and seemingly disconnected story threads but of course, the author weaves these three narratives together, and in the end I wanted to spend more time with each character, characters who were all morally ambiguous. There are no clear cut heroes here, so if you’re expecting to find a Jamie Fraser, Richard Cypher or similar love interest-come-swashbuckling hero, you might want to look elsewhere for a book boyfriend. What this book does deliver is complex characters – male and female – foregoing many of the usual fantasy tropes while avoiding a lot of the medievalish mindset, especially regarding women’s rights, which I found particularly refreshing given the slew of fantasy novels that retreat to the middle ages.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to future installments in this genre-defying series, but it wasn’t quite a five star read for me. Unwrapped Sky scores 4/5 ink splats.

4 inksplats

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

TV Review: Constantine

Comic book adaptations are all the rage at the moment. Just look at all the films from the Marvel universe! Being a bit of a comic geek myself, I’m certainly not complaining about the numerous and often awesome adaptations gracing the small and silver screen, but some are certainly better than others.

constantine-102653

There were two shows I was extremely excited for this autumn, one being Gotham and the other being NBC’s Constantine. I didn’t hate the 2005 film starring Keanu Reeves like so many fans of the comic books did. No, the film wasn’t perfect, but it did capture the spirit of the Hellblazer anti-hero in a way that left me feeling somewhat satisfied. Also, Tilda Swinton, but I digress. Point is, after that incarnation of John Constantine, I was excited to see a blond, Welsh actor take the lead role in the series version of the story, which seemed to promise a more traditional and true-to-source rendition.

The Hellblazer comics – which I discovered via Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman – are super dark, gritty and unapologetic, starring the ever so snarky, cynical and somewhat unlikable Constantine. Given the superficial aesthetics the show seemed to be getting right with the blond, British hero, I thought they’d be on track to deliver an equally accurate story world complete with all the ghastliness of the source material. However, I had my reservations when I discovered that NBC would not be portraying Constantine as bisexual. This was a big red flag. If the studio was prepared to alter this trait (and do I even want to know why they felt having a bisexual protagonist wasn’t okay for television?), what else might they be planning to change.

Episode one did not blow me away. If anything, it irritated the living daylights out of me because once again we were treated to the ‘my name is…’ voice over that needs to die a sudden and eternal death. Not only this, but Matt Ryan who takes on the titular role, didn’t seem settled in the shoes of his character, not sure whether to play this detective dark and brooding ala Keanu or go for a more tongue-in-cheek jaded antihero type. Consequently, his portrayal is a bit of a mess as it jaunts between the two a little erratically, throwing off the tone of the show. Does it want to pull the comedy card and follow in the footsteps of paranormal shows like Supernatural or Buffy, or does it want to be Gotham and go for the throat? The writers can’t seem to make up their minds.

Episode two was worse in that it set the stage for an episodic series structure I was not expecting. I don’t want another monster-a-week type show. Even Supernatural moved away from that in favour of larger, longer story ARCs and with the likes of Gotham and Game of Thrones now on screen as proof that a show doesn’t have to follow the episodic formula to gain viewership, I’m a little disappointed with Constantine. Also, I wanted this series to be jet-black, not a grimy shade of grey, and I’m getting a sort of off-white. Splashes of fake blood do not a series dark make! Perhaps this is simply my own fault for expecting something different from what the show has so far delivered.

Episode three was actually a bit better and enjoyed this week’s offering a lot more than either of the previous episodes. Hooray, no voice over! This immediately gained the show some extra points. It’s also in episode three that we first encounter Midnite and learn a little more of John’s musical history – something sadly lacking in the 2005 film version. That said, I’m still not clear on why this show is set in America other than to perhaps give the US audience that sense of security that comes with familiar settings, but I honestly think it would’ve been a far more atmospheric and interesting show if they’d stuck with the London setting.

Three episodes in and Constantine reminds me a whole lot of Supernatural without the awesomeness of the Winchesters. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine and crew traipse about the US hunting down nasty outbreaks of magic/demons/monsters/sorcery etc. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine has a complicated relationship with an angel. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine has a tubby bearded guy as his research guru who usually holds down the fort in their home full of strange artifacts. Unlike Sam and Dean, Constantine does not provide anywhere near the same amount of eye-candy or sex appeal. Unlike Sam and Dean, Constantine lacks a significant other with whom to trade barbs and witty banter and consequently much of the humour falls flat. I think Matt Ryan is trying his best, but he’s all alone behind the camera and isn’t quite able to carry the story on his narrow shoulders, especially given that he appears to be a character with nothing to lose, thus there’s a distinct lack of conflict and lack of stakes for this guy. So every bit of magic he performs shaves off a few days of his life, meh, he doesn’t seem to care so why should we? Also, any attempts at the silliness and parody Supernatural has got down to a fine art, merely induces eye-rolls in Constantine.

In short, Constantine did not live up to my expectations and certainly doesn’t deliver the kind of story or personality I wanted considering the source material. In the wake of an epic show like Supernatural that’s now in its tenth season, Constantine just doesn’t feel fresh and has yet to offer anything new to the paranormal/urban fantasy genre. Honestly, I’ve seen it all and done better on Supernatural. My constant thought while watching Constantine is ‘if only Sam and Dean were here to help,’ so… I will give Constantine a few more episodes to find its feet, but I am so far underwhelmed and strongly recommend watching Supernatural instead if you’re in need of werebeasties and pentagrams. Constantine gets 2/5 ink splats, saved by this third installment and my hope that it will continue to improve.

2 inksplats

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , , ,

Book Review: Books 1-3 of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Book series. Be they duologies, trilogies, or the seemingly never-ending story cycles that hit double figures, some people love them – I do not. I am not a fan of book series in general, but I will tolerate an exceptional trilogy such as the Celtic Crusade books by Stephen Lawhead or the Wanderer’s trilogy by Caiseal Mor. I have attempted several longer running series such as Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth books but gave up after reading only three. Even series by some of my favourite writers have been casualties of my lack of patience: Frank Herbert, Juliet Marillier, Lawhead (with his Pendragon series), Gemmel and Terry Brooks. It takes an especially rare and special type of story to keep me enthralled beyond book 3, and Maggie Stiefvater’s books have done that and more.

*beware, there be minor spoilers ahead*

raven1

When I first picked up The Raven Boys I was extremely nervous. I read somewhere that the book was 1 of a planned 5-book series, but I figured I’d read book 1 and move on as I usually do with series. I should’ve known better. I adored Stiefvater’s stand-alone novel The Scorpio Races and found The Raven Boys just as mesmerizing, engaging and delightful, so by the time I turned the last page I knew having to wait a year for book 2 was going to be a peculiar kind of agony I had never experienced before.

Not only is Stiefvater’s writing poetic and ‘voicey’ weaving snide humour into both dialogue and narrative, but her world is whimsical, soaked in magical realism and utterly engrossing while her characters are complex, endearing and totally relatable. This story stars three living boys – Gansey, Adam and Ronan – one dead boy – Noah – and a girl who sort of sits between the worlds whose name is Blue. Set in a Virginia town described as redneck and hick by the characters, this unlikely group of friends are brought together by Gansey’s search for a legendary Welsh king allegedly buried somewhere in town. This search for Glendower brings Gansey crashing into Blue’s world of mysticism and magic.

I absolutely loved The Raven Boys. It is a book that defies categorisation, equal parts fantasy and urban fantasy, magical realism and contemporary YA. Don’t be put off by the YA tag. Although the main characters are teenagers, there is very little school drama and teen angst in this book as the third person narrative switches between multiple characters including several adults in the book who are just as important as the teens to the story. I waited a year and finally managed to get my hands on book 2…

raven2

Book 2 is all about my favourite character, the truculent Ronan Lynch, who has one of the most amazing and terrifying superpowers I’ve come across, as well as a pet raven called Chainsaw. I adored this book even more than book 1, which I didn’t think was possible. We were taken deeper into the magical side of Henrietta, met new and intriguing characters, and got to know the five teens a little better with a few pleasant surprises along the way. I was delighted when certain developments in the story hinted at the inclusion of an LGBT character. Stiefvater also has a knack for ending things on serious cliffhangers and this novel was no exception. I thought I would expire with need for book 3. Finally, book 3 arrived and I read it just this past week. Here it is…

raven3As the title implies, this book focuses on Blue’s story and her character’s journey as she navigates the rocky relationships with the boys she has grown to love (not in a weird love pentagon kind of way, although there is a smattering of romance between Blue and a certain boy) as they find themselves delving deeper into the magical world on the periphery of their town, and it certainly isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. The magical element here is wonderfully vague. There are no clear rules, no spell-books dictating rituals or werebeasties killed by stakes or silver bullets. All the magical encounters are something entirely new making the series fresh and fierce in a genre prone to cliche. This series seems determined to break convention, the plot twisting and turning along the meandering pathways of the magical setting. Book 3 was everything I hoped it would be and, despite my usual abandonment of series round about here, I found myself absolutely ecstatic that there were two more books to come. Sadly, it seems I was grossly misinformed and rather devastated when I discovered that this series is, in fact, a quadrology which means only one more book and then it’s over! Nooooo! I have never ever wanted more books in a series, but I do with this one. In fact, I want an entire spin-off series starring Ronan Lynch, that’s how good these books are.

If you’re a fan of epic or urban fantasy and fancy trying something a little different, or if you are a fan of magical realism with a little more magic than realism, then I strongly recommend this series. Of course, I don’t know how it ends yet, but I trust Stiefvater to wrap up her story as beautifully and whimsically as she started it. If I were to have any criticism of this series it’s that some of the hints at possible diversity could be explored a little less ambiguously. I don’t know if the author is afraid to categorically state that a certain character is gay or black for fear of losing readers (really? In this era? I doubt it!) or if she’s deliberately trying to be vague about these things because in terms of the story, they don’t really matter and aren’t a big deal to the characters themselves. I’m not sure, but I do hope the reason is not the former.

Now my year-long wait for the fourth and final book in this series commences and I am equal parts excited and anguished that I will only get to spend another 400 pages with these characters who have stolen their way into my heart. Each book scores 5/5 ink-splats from me.


5 inksplats

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 4, 2014 in Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

Days of the Dead Blog Tour – Guest Post: Gail Z Martin

Hey everyone, Dave here! :-)

DaysofDead_Banner_V1-300x104

It’s that time of the year again – Gail Z Martin, author of many novels -including those that make the Chronicles of the NecromancerThe Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Fallen Kings CycleDeadly Curiosities and plenty of short stories- is preparing us all for a massive 2015 by taking over the blogosphere with guest-posts, giveaways, excerpts and much more!

So, let’s welcome Gail once again, with a guest post exploring characters… ;-)

0061-eWomenNetwork

What Characters Do Between Books By Gail Z. Martin

Have you ever wondered what characters do on their days off?

What I mean is, do you ever think about what characters might be doing between books, when the author isn’t looking?

Those of us who live with multiple casts of characters in our heads think about strange things like this. Often, we are faced with characters who might be ready to mutiny on a moment’s notice if they thought it would get them a new book contract or a series of short stories.

Really, it’s not easy being in character limbo. And to tell the truth, that’s not how I think of my characters in between the tales I tell.

For example, my Chronicles of the Necromancer series is on hiatus as I write the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. I have six more books I plan to write in the world of the Winter Kingdoms, but there is a natural seventeen-year break in the action in the books, and it was a good resting place for me to go off and do some other projects for a while.

That doesn’t mean the characters are resting on their laurels.

In my mind’s eye, I can tune in and see what my characters are up to while they wait for their next book. In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, King Martris Drayke and his queen, Kiara of Isencroft are busy chasing two young boys, one with special magical needs, while rebuilding two kingdoms—Margolan and Isencroft—torn by war, famine, plague, and invasion.

Meanwhile, Lord Jonmarc Vahanian and his wife, Carina, are busy with twin girls, and Jonmarc must juggle the demands of his role as Lord of Dark Haven against his responsibilities as Champion to Queen Berwyn and her consort, Gethin of Eastmark. In Dhasson, newly-crowned King Jair struggles to lead his kingdom after the death of his father while grieving the loss of his wife and trying to raise a son who is both the rightful heir to the crown and the next shaman-chief of the nomadic Sworn.

Those are just a few of the characters readers got to know in the series, but as I go through the list, I can tell you how the others are doing, what their recent triumphs and trials have been, and what’s next for them.

From a storytelling perspective, these character-years aren’t important to chronicle because they fall between the big events. They’re the normal time, the breath between the storms. Yet for the characters themselves, the time is filled with personally momentous occasions as children grow, kingdoms rebuild, communities knit back together. The business of waging peace isn’t as exciting as conducting war, but it is demanding and busy, just the same. And even my characters know in their hearts that the good times must also come to an end someday…

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here:

www.AscendantKingdoms.com

Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from The Sworn, Book One in my Fallen Kings Cycle here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/books/the-fallen-kings-cycle/the-sworn/the-sworn-chapter-one/

And a bonus excerpt from Ice Forged, Book One in my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/books/the-ascendant-kingdoms-saga/ice-forged/an-excerpt-from-ice-forged-book-one-in-the-ascendant-kingdoms-saga/

And a second bonus excerpt from Raider’s Curse, the first of my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures short stories here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-jonmarc-vahanian-adventures/raiders-curse/excerpt-from-raiders-curse/

***

I’ve never regretted letting Gail take over the blog, and this post is a prime example why- always interesting and illuminating! Don’t forget to check out the full list of celebrations as listed on Gail’s official site; there is a massive amount of things going on! :-)

Many thanks to Gail for writing this excellent guest post, and for coordinating this post along with Gemma at Orbit – I’m definitely looking forward to the next Days of the Dead, as I’m sure you are!

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

P.S. You wanna see something EPIC? Follow this link. ;-)

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 29, 2014 in Book Tour, Guest Post, Spotlight

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

TV Show Review: Gotham

gotham

A few months ago when I first saw the trailer for this series, my heart skipped a beat and butterflies created hurricanes in my belly and all other palpable feelings of excitement ran amok through my synpases. It looked dark and gritty – as it should – it looked slick and sexy, and best of all, we were going to get the origin stories of not one, but many of the Gotham city heroes and villains. I was particularly thrilled by the prospect of the latter, which is not something you often see in these sorts of comic book adaptations. With the exception of Marvel’s Loki, I can’t really think of too many films/shows where they’ve given significant motivation and character development to the bad guys. (Please let me know if you have) Gotham promised to do all this and more.

Finally, the Fall TV season started and I couldn’t wait for Gotham to air. I watched the pilot fresh out of a White Collar addiction – by addiction I mean, I watched all five seasons in three weeks and then proceeded to start rewatching it because I was that hooked and did not want to watch anything else except more White Collar and Gotham was the first series I’d attempted since my love affair with Neal Caffrey, just so you understand my state of mind. That said, the two shows couldn’t be more different so I don’t think my opinion would be coloured or clouded by the debonair conman.

The pilot of Gotham started out great. Beautiful cinematography, a really cool retro vibe to the city, gritty and dark as anticipated, this was going well. Then things went awry and the pilot rolled to a close leaving me feeling disappointed. Perhaps it was simply a case of having too high expectations for a show that could never have lived up to the hype, perhaps it was a lack of White Collar snide humour, but I wasn’t convinced Gotham was all that.

Problem 1) Predictability. I was kind of hoping for a new approach here since it’s all about the origins of the characters, but it didn’t feel fresh at all.

Problem 2) Fish. I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen Jada Pinkett Smith act in anything, but her acting in this drove me crazy. I’m not sure quite what it was, but her performance felt forced, almost to the point of pastiche – intentional or not, I couldn’t say.

Problem 3) I did not relate to Gordon. Felt nothing for him. Couldn’t care less what happened to him and he’s meant to be the leading hero of the show. At the end of the pilot, I was most enthralled by Selina Kyle, finding her alluring and delightfully feline I’ll admit in a somewhat sexy kind of way.

My conclusion? Gotham had put style before substance, and while it pleased the eyes, it wasn’t really satisfying my inner comic geek in the ways I wanted it to, in the ways that Arrow and The Flash have. But it was only one episode so I gave it another go, especially because I was really interested in young Catwoman.

Now I knew Catwoman would be young in this show, but I did not expect her to be thirteen. THIRTEEN!? Are you freaking kidding me!? See photo below.

selina

I’ll be honest, that made me feel weird. Maybe I’m projecting my previous knowledge of Catwoman ala Halle Berry style onto this kid, but it makes me a little uncomfortable that there’s a certain amount of sexualisation happening to a 13-year-old.

That aside, and despite my previous disappointment, I have to say the second episode got better. The third got way better and now I’m officially hooked, tuning in for my weekly dose of all things Arkham. However, my initial problems with the series haven’t been assuaged. I’m still not a fan of Fish, and I’m still struggling to feel much of anything for Gordon. Right now, I’m watching for Penguin and that in itself is perhaps proof of Gotham’s genius because the writers have made me feel the most connected to and the most sympathy for – perverse as it is – a major villain!

As the plot thickens and we start heading ever closer to Arkham Asylum, I find myself increasingly engrossed by this series and strongly recommend it for fellow comic geeks and fans of shows that are as much eye candy as they are story substance. Gotham scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me, but that rating may increase as the show progresses. I hope so. There’s so much to love here!

3.5 inksplats

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 28, 2014 in Guest Reviews, Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

Short Film Spotlight: Merv – Directed by Matt Inns

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. :-)

Please take a look at this great post-apocalyptic SF short film – Matt Inns got in contact and asked me if I would help to get the word out about it, and after watching and enjoying it I knew I had to. :-)

Great, eh? A fun soundtrack that perfectly fits the tale – great acting, especially when the actors are still wearing their masks, plus a great set and some cool filming all combine to make this a fun, memorable short film. :-)

Looking forward to more  from Matt!

Be EPIC!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 27, 2014 in Short Film, Spotlight

 

Tags: , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,557 other followers