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Book Review: Article Three

I was extremely lucky to be gifted an English version of this originally Swedish dystopian YA novel from the author herself for unbiased review. I spent my Christmas holiday reading this book and enjoyed it immensely!

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Trust will get you killed – and trust will keep you alive

In a world where the System governs everything, Ava’s a rebel – one who can control other people’s thoughts with her mind. As part of a resistance movement preparing for war, this is a useful skill.

Levi stopped believing in the struggle for freedom when it snatched his parents from him. Now he’s just trying to live a quiet life and control the voices that threaten his sanity.

One night Levi’s sister is arrested. To free her, he has to break old promises and get involved with people he swore he’d never associate with. Ava’s ordered to help him and, together, they leave on a rescue mission. She says he has to trust the rebels. But should they?

First of all, I tend to have a hate and hate-some-more relationship with translations, especially translations from languages I’m somewhat familiar with. While my Swedish definitely isn’t good enough to allow me to read this novel in its original form, I feel I know just enough of the language to be thoroughly irritated when I sense it going wrong. This book, however, was translated very well! There are a few instances of incorrect word use or slightly clunky syntax, but it was never enough to annoy me. And this book gets huge bonus points for being a self-published translation as well! I have read some truly atrocious Big House translations! Okay, but let’s get to the story…

This is a YA dystopian and starts off feeling comfortingly familiar with several identifiable tropes that have made this sub-genre of sci-fi so immensely popular. What made it so different and refreshing is that Lund presents us with a trio of main characters made up of strong, independent young women, and a physically weak, not particularly good-looking guy who freely admits that he isn’t all that smart either. Levi is the antithesis of every brave, buff, and (supposedly) intelligent hero of YA fiction. Forget Roar or Four or Gale – Levi is none of those things and yet, it’s his faults and ineptitude that make him so endearing, not only to the readers but to the women in his team.

Another refreshing aspect to this story was the Scandinavian setting. Without giving too much away, I can say that this book starts off somewhere in what might be the remnants of Germany and takes the trio on a several thousand-kilometre journey north through Denmark, past some well-known sites, to a snowy Sweden where they even get to interact with Sami reindeer herders! Being a resident of the north myself, it was pretty awesome getting to read a YA dystopian novel set in this part of the world.

And finally, the touch of near-supernatural that comes into the story in the form of ‘faculties’ some people possess – that is, explicable talents such as a form of mind reading – makes this a little different again from the way dystopian books usually play out, and another layer to already well-developed characters.

For a first book in a trilogy, the pacing is great and the resolution was satisfying while leaving plenty more story to be told in the sequels. But herein also lies my only gripe. While I know this is a series and Lund is very much going for a slow-burn approach to revealing the characters and their motivations, I did feel like I wanted to get to know the trio all much better as individuals. There are brief moments of flashbacks explaining their behaviour or thoughts but I wanted so much more! I also have to note that the ‘accent’ with which the one character speaks is really distracting and I wish it hadn’t been written into all their dialogue. So two gripes then – both fairly minor things.

Overall, this book is a refreshing take on the dystopian genre, a great first installment in a promising trilogy, and definitely a book I’d recommend to readers who are looking for something fresh in their YA sci-fi.

4/5 ink splats from me!

4 inksplats

~Suzanne~

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2017 in Reviews

 

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How to Twist Tropes for Fun and Profit by Delilah S. Dawson

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I didn’t get psychic powers the day I got my period, which really disappointed me. Stephen King’s Carrie was the first book that made me realize there was a really slim possibility that when one became a woman, one could also become a pyrotechnic mutant capable of exacting revenge. That was one of the first tropes I remember seeing twisted in a story, and I found it very satisfying. Instead of menstruation causing panic and fear, it could trigger empowerment—and someone was actually talking about it instead of acting like it was some shameful secret. That’s why I covered the trope of First Period Panic in the Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling from Apex Book Company, although my protagonist’s new powers further twist the trope in a different direction from Carrie.

The goal of Upside Down was to bring together a wide variety of writers working in fiction and nonfiction and let them twist the tropes that we see so frequently—or discuss and define the tropes. For many of us, it was a delight to take an annoying literary conceit that usually makes us roll our eyes– a chainmaille bikini, really? And turn that on its head. After writing their story, each author was asked to explain their trope and why they chose it, which further enhances the reading experience. It’s almost like reading secrets. It’s got great stories on the Damsel in Distress, Yellow Peril, The Chosen One, The Super Soldier, The Black Man Dies First, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Blind People are Magic, and so many more, often written by people who have experienced these tropes first hand.

I love twisting tropes in my books, and here’s how I make sure the story is about more than just a single twist.

  1. Decide on a trope to twist, usually in a fit of anger. Wake of Vultures, for example, is based on watching Lonesome Dove and being annoyed that women in the Wild West could only be portrayed as whores, martyrs, or lunatics, and also that people of color had very little power during that time of history.

  2. Craft a protagonist who embodies the twist and will be uniquely challenged by the world. In Wake of Vultures, that’s Nettie Lonesome, a mixed race girl raised as a slave who longs to be a cowboy.

  3. Create a rich world that offers tons of possibilities while uniquely challenging the protagonist. I wanted Nettie Lonesome to be more than just a regular cowboy, so I turned mid-1800s Texas into Durango, an alt version of our own history that’s full of monsters. Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, harpies. Taking it a step further, I looked at the Texas Rangers and their spotted past and turned them into a monster hunting outfit … that sometimes performs atroticities in the name of what they consider public safety. And then I made Nettie become a monster-hunting Ranger. So … instant conflict.

  4. Begin the book just before the moment when everything changes so that we see where the protagonist begins and go with them on their journey. Wake of Vultures starts when Nettie is awakened from her nest of rags and goes outside at midnight to find … well, the beginning of her story.

  5. Find places in the plot where the protagonist will fail, nearly fail, or make stupid mistakes. I was also sick of women in stories being simpering and polite, so I made Nettie rough, rude, and violent, which gets her in plenty of trouble.

  6. At any point where you must make a decision, don’t go with what’s expected. Part of twisting tropes is to delight the reader by doing something new. There was one point where Nettie was feeling sick, and instead of having her be super tough, I decided she would be the victim of a troublesome digestion. She threw up on a coyote … who was actually a person. They had lots of arguments, from then on.

  7. Discover new tropes to twist along the way. In Wake of Vultures, a shapeshifter named Coyote Dan shows up to help Nettie and seems like he might be playing into the “Magical Negro/Native” trope, but he busts up that trope pretty fast.

  8. Remember that every character is the hero of their own story. Each character needs motivation, a reason to be near the protagonist or to push them away. The villain needs to have good reasons for what they’re doing. Ultimate Evil is just another crappy trope. Real people are ambiguous, not all good or all evil. The bad guys Nettie fights are never just in it for the hand-wringing Dr. Evil of it all.

  9. Have fun with it. Part of the joy of twisting tropes is to explore new ground. Everybody else went down the trope path, but you’re forging a new trail. If you get bored writing it, the reader will get bored reading it. So spice is up. When in doubt, throw in some sex or violence, I always say. Nettie agrees on both counts.

For more ideas on how to twist tropes, pick up a copy of Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. Believe me: You’ll find plenty to love. And plenty of blood, at least in my story.

delilahauthorpicDelilah S. Dawson is the author of the Blud series, the Hit series, Servants of the Storm, Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon and Scorched, and Wake of Vultures and the Shadow series, written as Lila Bowen. Her first comic, Ladycastle, is out in January with BOOM! Studios. She teaches writing online at LitReactor.com and lives with her family in the north Georgia mountains. Find her online at www.whimsydark.com.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2016 in Guest Post

 

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Eye of the Storm by Frank Cavallo

Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Frank Cavallo’s new novel EYE OF THE STORM…
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On a research mission in one of the most remote regions of the world, former Navy SEAL Eric Slade and Dr. Anna Fayne are caught in a mysterious storm. Catapulted through a rift in space-time, they are marooned on a lost world. 

Struggling to survive and desperate to find a way home, they must confront the dangers of this savage land—a dark wizard and his army of undead—a warrior queen and her horde of fierce Neanderthals that stands against him—and a legendary treasure with the power to open the gateway between worlds, or to destroy them all: the Eye of the Storm.

Excerpt:

Kerr watched the horror unfold beside Azreth.

Down from their perch among the jagged stones and hills, the approach to Storm Crag Pass had been transformed into a black inferno. Shrieks echoed through the skies, as the lightning wraiths struck down warriors and raptors of dark flame soared through the ruined heavens. The beasts climbed in killer sorties, their fiery wings scorching everything in their path. Scalding talons skewered men, carrying them through the air as they died, burned alive and then cast aside like carrion.

True fires stoked by the wreckage of chariots and war machines painted the sky in livid hues of gold and orange. Columns of smoke churned up from the fighting; black plumes on the helms of war gods. Across the burning plain, men encased in shells of hot iron, half-mad from the heat, slashed and tore at each other in a blind frenzy.

It was a death feast. Bodies ravaged by all manner of calamity lay strewn upon the rocky terrain; charred remains that were unrecognizable for the twisted grotesquerie of flesh melted into metal.

Everywhere across the battle-plain the Hordes of Tulkoras fell back. Split into pockets, some were surrounded by the black knights of Tvath, who moved without fear of the dark flames that ravaged the steppe-warriors. Penned in like animals, the trapped hordes-men were slaughtered without quarter.

“The day is lost,” Azreth muttered. “Tarquin has bested my summoning.”

Kerr scoffed at the mystic. He was about to do more, when he saw a figure scrambling up the hill toward them. In a moment he realized it was Slade.

The former SEAL was covered in blood and soot. His chest was heaving as he rushed up from the lower reaches, struggling to make it to the heights of the pass.

Kerr grabbed a jug of water and limped to meet him, leaving his cane behind. When the two met neither said a word. Kerr handed the water to Slade. The warrior took it, nodded and drank every drop.

By the time he’d finished, Azreth had made his way down the hill to join them.

“What happened?” he demanded. “Where is the Queen you swore to protect?”

Slade scowled at the holy man. Instead of an answer, he smashed the clay jug on the rocks at Azreth’s feet.

“We got separated,” he said. “Black smoke. Black knights. Black fire. You can’t see a goddamn thing down there. One minute she was beside me, the next…”

Azreth shook his staff in anger, pointing it at Slade like a school teacher.

“The Queen must not be lost, despite this disaster she has wrought,” he said.

“This is your doing,” Slade said. “If anyone is to blame for this it’s you.”

“I did my part,” Azreth answered. “If only you had…”

Slade didn’t wait for the shaman’s reply. He turned back to Kerr.

“What do we have left to work with here in camp?” he asked.

“Very little, I’m afraid. The reserves have all been called into the fight,” the leper said. “There is nothing but a rearguard.”

“How many men?” Slade asked.

“A hundred, at most,” he said. “And that’s counting the couriers and their lizard-wing mounts.”

“Lizard-wings?” Slade asked, recalling the high flying dinosaurs he’d once witnessed by chopper. “You’re talking about pterosaurs?”

“That may be a word my father did not know,” Kerr answered. “We keep them behind the lines, in a separate camp. How does that help us?”

“You can ride them, can’t you?” Slade asked.

“If you need to, but they’re only for relaying messages.”

“Not anymore they aren’t,” Slade said.

“You’ve never ridden one before,” Kerr replied. “It is not easy.”

“Then I’ll have to be a fast learner,” he answered.

Kerr shook his head. He looked out toward the battle, and then turned his back.

“There isn’t enough time,” he replied. “Tarquin has already won. We cannot prevail. Honorable surrender is now our only option. I’m sure his terms will be fair.”

Azreth scoffed. Slade moved in closer to Kerr, grabbing him by the arm.

“You have a problem with me…fine,” he said. “But this is isn’t about winning. It’s about saving her. Which one do you care about more, hating me or helping Threya?”

Kerr looked at him for long, quiet moment, then back out toward the chaos. Finally, he nodded. Slade shook him by the arm.

“Let’s get to those winged lizards,” he said.

#

Khurghe was back on the high ground overlooking the fading battle, Threya beside him again.

“So it comes to an end,” he said.

A messenger came upon them in a rush, dashing up the hill.

My Queen, if you are to withdraw it must be done now. The wizard-king presses the attack,” he warned. “We’re almost overwhelmed.”

Khurghe looked to his queen, who tightened the buckles on her armor.

There will be no retreat,” she said. “Already our best thanes have fallen. I will fall with them.”

My Queen,” he protested. “If we stay, the whole army will be destroyed. At least call down the rearguard so we might have a chance to escape.”

No. It ends here,” Khurghe said. “I will ride out with you. You will not…”

Khurghe did not notice that the messenger no longer paid him any mind.

It was only when Threya called out that he looked up. What he saw stunned him, and left him unable to utter even a word. The scream of a pterosaur peeled across the burning plain. A giant aerial lizard skimmed the rocks from the east, its forty-foot wingspan carried upon the wind. Upon its back, an azure-cloaked rider held a long-bow, launching a hail of arrows upon the Etruscans as his mount swooped through the smoke and flames.

A second winged war-lizard charged against the tide alongside him. Another warrior rode forth upon it, carrying a red-stained scimitar. The shield-less thane was garbed in the armor of a Tulkoras horde. It was Slade. Kerr rode beside him, Azreth seated behind.

The lizard-riders dove down toward the trapped Queen. Flying in a single-line formation, they split the Etruscan ranks, opening a clearing in front of Threya and Khurghe. Hacking and chopping from the back of his pterosaur, Slade led the charge, carving a bloody swath through the wall of black iron, warrior after warrior brought down by his scimitar.

The screeching, enormous aerial reptiles cleared the ground a hundred feet in front of Threya, as the surprised Tvath knights fell back. They broke to either side, yielding a space at least half as wide between their divided lines.

Then, Slade pulled up on his mount, rearing in mid air. He banked hard to the right. Behind him, Kerr and Azreth cut in the other direction. The shrieking lizards circled, leaving the shattered Etruscans behind them as they curled back toward the Queen. One hoplite remained behind, and he charged toward Threya, whose back was against a boulder. Khurghe, seeing an opening, dropped his shield and ran for the safety of Storm Crag, disappearing into the smoke.

Slade brought his lizard down in a dive-bomber fashion, hurtling toward the single remaining Etruscan. When he was within reach, he pulled up, again rearing the animal as it spread its wings like giant sails, braking its momentum.

The knight turned, just in time to see Slade’s sword cut in an arc, splitting the shield of the Tvath thane, cleaving his chest and his throat in one strike. Pale flesh and bone splinters spat outward.

Kerr and Azreth brought their reptiles down beside Slade’s. The beasts folded up their wings as they landed on all fours, where they stood as tall as three men. Looking down from his great mount, the former SEAL sheathed his sword, reaching his hand out toward Threya.

Need a lift?” he said.

About the Author:

cavallo-head-shot-1Horror and dark fantasy author Frank Cavallo’s work has appeared in magazines such as Another Realm, Ray Gun Revival, Every Day Fiction, Lost Souls and the Warhammer e-zine Hammer and Bolter. 
His latest novel, Eye of the Storm, was released in August 2016 by Ravenswood Publishing.

In Eye of the Storm, I try to bring back some of the elements that I like from old time pulp fiction,” says Frank. “It is a throwback to old school adventure stories, combining the pacing and the feel of those classic tales with some newer elements that are not all that common to typical fantasy fiction.”

Frank’s previously published works include The Lucifer Messiah, The Hand of Osiris, and the Gotrek & Felix novella Into the Valley of Death. He is currently working on a new novel, The Rites of Azathoth, with Necro Publications, due out in February 2017.

Frank was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in Communications in 1994 and he earned a JD from the Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 2001. He currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio, where he has been a criminal defense attorney for fifteen years.

Readers can connect with Frank on Facebook, Twitter, and GoodreadsTo learn more, go to http://www.frankcavallo.com/

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2016 in Spotlight

 

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Guest Post: Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka

Today I’d like to welcome Erica L. Satifka to the blog, chatting about her new release STAY CRAZY, which releases August 16 from Apex Publications.

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After a breakdown at college landed Emmeline Kalberg in a mental hospital, she’s struggling to get her life on track. She’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’scrazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chick nuggets, she’s sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. Well … pretty sure.

An evil entity is taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. Escodex needs Em’s help to save his dimension and to keep hers from collapsing. But Em isn’t certain she wants to help Escodex. She has other things to worry about, like staying off the Savertown USA bowling team, busting her sister’s chops about her new found religion, and getting out of Clear Falls, PA.

When her coworkers start mysteriously dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. Now she must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans Escodex conveys to her though the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. It’s enough to make anyone StayCrazy.

Behind the Scenes of STAY CRAZY by Erica L. Satifka

I came up with the story of Stay Crazy while working at a certain small town big-box store that I’d rather not name, but just think of the most obvious American possibility. And while the aliens and interdimensional beings that infest the fictionalized big-box store of Savertown USA are pure speculation, essentially everything else about the store arises from real life. 

Stay Crazy revolves around Em, a young woman with paranoid schizophrenia who goes to work at Savertown USA but gets more than she bargained for when paranormal beings start speaking to her. Because she also experiences voices and delusions unconnected to the store, she’s unsure whether these happenings are even real. The book takes place in Clear Falls, Pennsylvania, a fictional small town whose dying economy revolves around Savertown USA and other service industries. Em hates both the store and the town, but feels herself trapped, unable to return to college due to her illness. When the alien being starts killing off workers, she must join forces with a voice from another dimension to keep this universe from destruction.

My time working at the Store That Shall Not Be Named wasn’t nearly as eventful as that! Like Em, I worked in the frozen food section. The job was monotonous, involving the opening of large pallets of merchandise and the placing of said items on the shelves. Every day started with a corporate jingle, which I’m proud to say I never participated in. Just like at Savertown USA, the store manager read the stock report for the day and congratulated the workers, as if (to paraphrase Em), the work effort of a bunch of small-town rubes would impact the stock price. And as in the book, there’s intense rivalry between the workers in the grocery side of the store and the ones in general merchandise. (The feeling, both in the book and in reality, is that GM workers are a bunch of slackers.)

While Stay Crazy has a lot of important stuff to say about neurodiversity, it’s also intended to be something of a critique of capitalism. Whereas a town like Clear Falls may have supported dozens of small businesses once upon a time, the advent of Savertown USA with its unbeatable low prices directly caused the downtown stores to shutter. Local businesses gave way to one single megacorporation that funneled its profits not to members of the community, but to stockholders that wouldn’t even be able to find Clear Falls on a map. The workers, especially Em’s supervisor Judy Nguyen, realize on some level that the store is evil even if they can’t see the same monsters Em does. But what can they do? There’s nowhere else to work. This is a common situation in real life small towns.

Working at Store X was dreary and dehumanizing, but I’m glad I did it, and not just because Stay Crazy wouldn’t exist without that experience. Before I worked there I was political, but not really political. Over my six months with the store, I saw first-hand what happens when unions crumble and profit reigns over all. While I did escape from the store and the town, my hatred of big-box stores remained. I hope that readers of Stay Crazy who didn’t grow up in small towns can recognize the authenticity of Clear Falls and have empathy toward people caught like cogs in the corporate machine.

About the Author
Erica L. Satifka is a writer and/or friendly artificial construct, forged in a heady mix of iced coffee and sarcasm. She enjoys rainy days, questioning reality, ignoring her to-do list, and adding to her collection of tattoos. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Shimmer, Lightspeed, andIntergalactic Medicine Show. Originally from Pittsburgh, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Rob and an indeterminate number of cats. Stay Crazy is her first novel.
Twitter: @ericasatifka
~Suzanne~
 
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Posted by on August 2, 2016 in Guest Post

 

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Book Review: African Monsters

As part of my goal this year to read more African authors, I was delighted to accept an offer from the editor to review this anthology, especially when it features a story by our very own Dave!

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Speculative fiction, art and graphic stories from African authors, based on African folklore, myths and legends about monsters. African Monsters is the second in a coffee table book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world.

 

I always find it really tricky to give a star rating to an anthology of stories by different authors. Some stories I absolutely adored and thought were excellent, others I didn’t really care for. One of the highlights for me in this anthology was the short story by Nnedi Okorafur. Having only read Lagoon by Okorafur, I was looking forward to reading something else by the author and her story ‘On the Road’ definitely didn’t disappoint.

Dave-Brendon de Burgh’s story was another high point in the anthology – a story which gave a twisted, were-beastie spin to what felt like an excerpt from a Harry Dresden novel. This story in particular felt like it had the potential to spawn an entire novel and if it did *hint hint Dave* I would totally be reading that!

‘A Whisper in the Reeds’ by Nerine Dorman was another favourite for me featuring beautiful writing and delicate relationships between well-developed characters. Whenever I feel cheated by the length of the story and yearn for more, I know it was a good short story and that is exactly how I felt with these words by Dorman!

I also need to mention the art and illustrations scattered throughout. As you can see by the cover, the artwork in this book is spectacular and I particularly enjoyed the graphic stories included in this anthology. It’s the first time I’ve encountered ‘wordless’ stories in an anthology this way, adding yet another unique aspect to what is already a fabulously diverse read.

While I didn’t love every story in this collection, I can still strongly recommend this anthology if you’re looking to diversify your reading, particularly if you’d like to sample a selection of scary tales by African authors. This anthology scores 4/5 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

~Suzanne~

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2016 in Reviews

 

Book Review: Awakenings

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Cal MacDonnell is a happily married New York City cop with a loving family. Seth Raincrest is a washed-up photographer who has alienated even his closest friends. The two have nothing in common—except that they both suffer from retrograde amnesia. It’s as if they just appeared out of thin air thirteen years ago, and nothing has been able to restore their memories. Now their forgotten past has caught up to them with a vengeance.

Cal’s and Seth’s lives are turned upside down as they are stalked by otherworldly beings who know about the men’s past lives. But these creatures aren’t here to help; they’re intent on killing anyone who gets in their way. In the balance hangs the life of a child who might someday restore a broken empire to peace and prosperity. With no clue why they’re being hunted, Cal and Seth must accept the aid of a strange and beautiful woman who has promised to unlock their secrets. The two must stay alive long enough to protect their loved ones, recover their true selves—and save two worlds from tyranny and destruction.

Every time I read an urban fantasy novel – which isn’t often – I remember why I’m not a huge fan of the genre. I had slightly different expectations of this book, in that I anticipated the story to start in our world and move into the fantasy realm and thus be more epic than urban fantasy. This is not the case at all, with the narrative staying firmly rooted in the real world with the briefest of forays via memory of Aandor. I think this book will appeal more to readers who are fans of books like The Dresden Files or even Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles than lovers of epic fantasy.

This book has a very odd voice in that the exposition often tends toward verbose, almost purple prose in a style that teeters toward being over-written. This makes the book rather descriptive and eloquent at times, which doesn’t seem to gel with the cast of gritty characters including a no-nonsense cop and porn-photographer-cum-frat-boy. The prose style would’ve been better suited to en epic fantasy in fact, but just didn’t quite work in what reads more like a noir novel with a dash of magic thrown into the mix.

I love rich world-building and I’m willing to overlook story issues in fantasy if the world-building is stellar. Awakenings teases with the world-building, mentioning the history and politics, the demographics and societal structure in the other world. Because the action takes place in the contemporary US though, there isn’t time to fully explore Aandor and I found this frustrating and it made it somewhat tricky to really get to grips with the stakes for that world without better understanding how it all worked. There are a lot of hints at the medieval nature of the world and the racial/ethnic disputes happening in the background – all fascinating stuff we never see enough of on the page.

As far as the story goes, I found the beginning a little slow to get off the ground with a lot of changing POVs that I found tricky to keep track. There were also a lot of characters with similar names – and quite a few names starting with C – which confused me at the start. The middle really picks up! Unlike so many books that suffer from a muddy middle, the middle here is where all the interesting action and intrigue lies. It was a real page turner and I struggled to put the book down, but then things started slowing down toward the end. I guess it was possibly a symptom of the author knowing he wouldn’t be able to fit all the story he needed to tell in one book, but not wanting to make the first installment too short, so there were a few scenes toward the end that I found dragged a little, especially with certain POV characters I just didn’t really care about much at all.

Overall, I don’t think this book really knows what it wants to be and so vacillates between detective noir, urban fantasy, YA contemporary, epic fantasy, and mystery. Consequently, there were many chapters I loved and then there were several I didn’t really care for at all because it felt like they didn’t really belong and could’ve been part of an entirely different book. The ending will also undoubtedly leave some readers frustrated and feeling cheated. I went into this book knowing it was the first in a series so the ending didn’t surprise me but if you prefer books even in a series to have a sense of closure at the end of book 1, this one might not be for you.

Interesting story, some interesting feminist views and portrayals of women, fascinating secondary world, some lovely language, but overall it didn’t quite come together for me in the way I needed it to to really love this book. Awakenings gets 3.5/5 splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

Review by Suzanne.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author for a fair and honest review.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Ex Machina

Ages ago I saw the trailer for this ‘indie’ film – directed by The Beach writer Alex Garland – featuring relatively unknown actors and a really interesting looking plot. Then I completely forgot about it until I was bored over the holidays and accidentally stumbled across it thanks to the suggested watch-list on IMDB. So I watched it and I was not disappointed.

ex machina

I love films about artificial intelligence. All the various forms and manifestations and imaginings these types of stories come up with never cease to amaze me, and lately, possibly bore me, because so many of these stories fall into trope-ish territory and become extremely predictable while trying to be thought-provoking.

Ex Machina starts out feeling familiar but strange, playing with the ‘mad scientist’ theme while giving us a ‘normal dude’ to champion through all the indie-film weirdness. Then comes the main body of the plot, which starts to feel even more familiar and predictable, and I endured with a multitude of sighs thinking I knew exactly where the story was going. Without ruining a rather unexpected and pretty interesting ending, suffice it to say, I did not see that coming and found the twist rather refreshing and genuinely thought provoking about how our humanity could be used against us by more subtle and insidious machines. Honestly, I felt a lot more freaked out by some of the ideas presented in this film than I have with any other AI story.

There was a lot to like about this movie, but I think Garland (writer and director of this movie) still played it safe in presenting male human characters creating and becoming entranced by a beautiful, sexy, sensual female android. There was literal objectification of women going on in this movie and not in a snarky, feminist-undertone kind of way. The entire premise actually relied on the tired idea of an average man being beguiled by a beautiful woman, a femme fatale even. I think it would’ve been fascinating to explore the same story idea with the genders reversed.

That said, this movie still made me think long after the credits rolled and I really enjoyed Alicia Vikander as the android Ava. Ex Machina gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: The Martian

Back in March, I reviewed this book knowing I would eventually end up seeing the film, which I did!

The_Martian_film_poster

It’s a proven fact that any book-to-movie adaptation is going to divide an audience into those you think it was done well to the point of being fantastic and possibly better than the text, and those who think it was done badly to the point of being a travesty against the written word itself. It’s rare that someone who has enjoyed a book – loved it even – will take the middle ground with the film adaptation. Strangely, I find myself feeling about the movie quite the same way I felt about the book, which is that it’s helluva entertaining, but lacks gravitas, and thus I’m in that liminal middle-ground regarding this adaptation.

The Martian is Ridley Scott in high-gear, not quite Gladiator gear given a few peculiar editing sequences (more noticeable if you’ve read the book) and no breathtaking Hans Zimmer score to accompany it (I honestly could’ve even remember the music in the movie – composed by Harry Gregson-Williams who can certainly compose some awesome scores!). I actually went to the cinema to watch this with my husband who has read the book too and a few other friends, none of whom had read the book – so opinions after the credits rolled were going to be interesting, and I suspected, divisive.

So…

I enjoyed the film. It was funny, managing to capture quite a bit of Mark Watney’s humor while maintaining its PG rating, and Matt Damon did a good job of showing a more emotional-psychological aspect of the character. I still wanted more however. The tone of the film was kept light and breezey, at times even lighter than the book, playing up the absurdity of his situation rather than the serious life-or-death nature of Watney’s every action and decision. Consequently, the movie – like the book – was highly entertaining, but was a little disappointing because it seemed to make his journey appear a lot easier than in the book. What made the book exceptional was how it showed Watney’s thought processes and his step by step ‘applying the scientific method’ approach to everything he did. In the movie, much of his space-MacGyvering is whittled down to Eureka moments that never really show just how intelligent, adaptive, and resourceful the character is in the book. Those who have read the book will undoubtedly be disappointed that certain key parts of the narrative and some particularly nasty mishaps on Mars are left out of the film altogether. Because a lot of the method gets skimmed over, if addressed at all, there are certain things that simply are in the film without any explanation – such as the ‘balloon’ on the rover. This frustrated my friends who hadn’t read the book because they felt like they had missed something, and this frustrated me who had read the book because it was clear the movie-makers had missed something! That said, the scenery is spectacular and at no point did I ever not believe I was actually on Mars. For that reason alone, I am extremely thankful I went to see this on the big screen.

The verdict on this film is much like the verdict on the book: entertaining, engrossing while watching, humorous and good press for NASA and science in general, but not a story that will leave me thinking, pondering existential questions, or haunted by the plight of this lonely astronaut – all things I believe this story should and could’ve done without losing any of its cool sci-fi-ness. Still, this scores 4/5 ink splats.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Crimson Peak

I don’t think I have ever been this excited to see a ‘horror’ movie before and man was it a disappointment.

*WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD*

crimson

Judging by the trailer, this film was going to be a campy, Gothic horror-fest complete with a haunted house on the bleak British moors and buckets of faux-blood. Actually, I was most excited for this film because it didn’t look all that terrifying (I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror) but looked more Gothic and grotesque, which I adore! So, off to the cinema I went.

Firstly, I remember now why I stopped going to the cinema and would rather wait for films to come out on DVD/streaming-sites. The inconsiderate asses behind me talked non-stop and even took photos of their popcorn (I just can’t even!!) with flash during the freaking movie!! My irritation at the selfish imbeciles behind me no doubt eroded some of the pleasure I might’ve derived from the film.

That said, it took almost an hour’s worth of two-hour run time to even get to the titular Crimson Peak! I thought the entire film was set in this rotting estate replete with bleeding walls, but nope, first we had to endure a bunch of back-story and long-winded set-up. By the time we got to the blood-soaked house, I was almost bored despite the charming good-looks and distinguished awesomeness that is Tom Hiddleston when he plays aristocratic British characters.

Now the house itself was spectacular and well-worth the wait, but what I thought was blood from the trailer was in fact red clay and iron ore leaching into the ground and turning it red – somewhat anti-climactic. And the horror of the house, combined with the appropriately unexpected frights courtesy of ghosts so grotesque they were more humorous than frightening, was pretty much all this film had going for it. I expected a lot from the story. I expected the house to be more, I actually expected it to be sentient. I expected the siblings to have a lot more going on in their past than an almost justified murder of a cruel mother and illicit love affair. Siblings falling in love is no longer as shocking as it used to be. Blame the Lannisters maybe, but this revelation wasn’t a revelation at all and the sort-of love scene between Tom and Lucille was barely a love scene at all, so the whole thing just fell flat for me. The only part of this story that horrified me was that Lucille murdered their mother at 14 when the mother found out her children were lovers. When Lucille was 14, her brother was 12. And they were lovers. People, THAT’S the true horror story!

Despite the underwhelming plot and predictability of the scares, the acting was on point for this penny dreadful-esque story and the cinematography was spectacular. Seriously, I would watch this film again (the second half) just to ogle the scenery and that delightfully dilapidated house.

Perhaps I went into this with my expectations far too high. I may or may not have confused Guillermo del Toro with Terry Gilliam, and when you go into a film thinking Brazil and Tideland only to be met with the guy who did Pacific Rim, well, it was my own fault really. That said, it was still reasonably enjoyable, although I don’t think this will give horror fans the frights they want, and won’t be nearly sinister enough to satisfy Gothic fiction lovers. Basically, Crimson Peak is little more than a flirtation with the macabre that’ll keep yours eyes entertained while you chew on popcorn. A disappointing 2.5/5 ink splats for this.

2.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

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Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

I heard a lot of buzz about this book, particularly noted for its diversity and fresh setting. I couldn’t wait to read it, but when I did, I was left a little shocked to be honest.

*Spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned!*

ember

Laia is a slave.

Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

This book is YA, meaning it’s technically for teen readers about teen characters doing teenish things and dealing with teenish issues even in fantastical settings. And it was with that understanding that I cracked open the spine on this novel.

While I did thoroughly enjoy the Spartacus TV series (back when Andy Whitfield was the lead) and can generally handle the violence and brutality in shows like Game of Thrones, I was absolutely not prepared for the brutality of one of the very first scenes in this book. Remember this novel is aimed at teen readers… and yet, in one of the opening scenes introducing readers to Elias and his life at Blackcliff (much like the ludus in Spartacus only for kids as young as 5) a ten-year-old boy is publicly flogged to death by a commanding officer. I struggled with this scene. Even more so because the vast majority of the characters in the story seem so unaffected by the brutal abuse (actually, it goes beyond abuse really) of a child. A child! I should’ve known from this opening scene that the rest of the book would continue in a similar vein.

This book is brutal! The CO of this elite warrior school is an unapologetic sadist delighting in the continuous and brutal torture of slaves and Martials (the upper echelon attending the warrior school), even tormenting her own son! The brutality visited upon Laia is unspeakable and had me cringing for the majority of the book. If this were a movie, it would have to be R-rated for violence. But it gets worse, because the physical damage done by a sadist isn’t nearly as bad as the psychological torment Elias endures as part of the trope-ish three trials he is meant to pass in the hopes of becoming Emperor. The violence and brutality kicks up yet another gear to the point where I actually felt queasy reading some scenes and had to put the book down. I was so overwhelmed by the brutality, which often felt unnecessary and senseless, that when the few tender moments did happen, I was so relieved, I felt myself falling in love with these characters for the most minor of niceties.

Aside from the brutality – which I really shudder to think is considered okay for inclusion in a book aimed at young readers – the plot is complex and kept me intrigued. The main characters you couldn’t help but feel for given their circumstances and heinous mistreatment. I loved Elias and Laia although I could’ve done without all the convoluted love-quadrangling going on.

The biggest issue I had with this book was the constant threat of sexual violence against the girls in the story and the numerous near-rape scenes. Had there been at least one threat of sexual violence toward a boy (completely realistic) it would’ve perhaps felt more balanced, but as it stands, it seemed to be a stereotypical ‘boy taking what he thinks he can get without consequences from the weak and frightened girl’. Even the strongest female character in the book wasn’t immune to rape threats and that infuriated me! Why is rape always used!?

Had this book being marketed as adult or even new adult, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more or at least handled it a little better because I would’ve known to expect a different level of violence. There are several books with big cross-over appeal being marketed toward a more adult audience, books like Six of Crows and A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I think An Ember in the Ashes should’ve been marketed similarly. I was left emotionally damaged after reading this book and had nightmarish images of dead children playing in my mind for days after I turned the last page. Even as an adult book, I think this story will upset some readers with the amount of violence leveled at children. Did I mention a five-year-old little girl gets deliberately blinded with a hot poker as retribution for something an adult slave did? Yeah. Nauseating.

So, good plot, good characters, good prose if not very descriptive, and an interesting world with a slightly Arabic or Middle Eastern flavor featuring a cast of PoC characters, but it wasn’t quite as diverse as I was hoping. I kept waiting for an LGBT+ character to make an appearance but sadly, they never did. I find it really difficult to rate this book. I was intrigued, I kept turning pages – when I wasn’t battling nausea – and I did sort of enjoy it, but the brutality was simply too much for me. This gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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