RSS

Tag Archives: Books

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.

stay crazy

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~
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 2, 2016 in Guest Post

 

Tags: , ,

Book Review: The Girl at Midnight

While this title has been languishing on my TBR pile for a while, it was still a bit of an impulse grab at the library because I saw it sitting looking pretty on the shelf and just had to take it home with me.

TGaM

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

This book has been compared a lot to the beloved Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I read the first book in that series and can see where readers may find similarities. In both books we have a pretty sassy heroine who flits about the world through magical doorways. There are mythical creatures in both series – demons and angels in Laini Taylor’s books, anthropomorphic dragons (Drakharin) and birds (Avicen) in Grey’s. To be honest, that’s where the similarities ended for me. I don’t understand why some reviewers see The Girl at Midnight as a ‘rip-off’ of Taylor’s series. It’s really not, and, to be honest, I strongly preferred The Girl at Midnight – Although Taylor wins hands down when it comes to exquisite writing, world-building, and description.

The Girl at Midnight is a little be Neverwhere-ish in that there is a hidden world operating in tandem with the human world, a world divided into the scale-adorned Drakharin and feathered Avicen. These two are, of course, at odds with each other and a human girl – our protagonist Echo – gets caught up in the middle of all the action as she goes in search of the mythical Firebird. At the mention of the Firebird, I was hoping for a stronger tie-in with Slavic folk-lore and was disappointed when the Firebird in this story seemed completely disconnected from the traditional mythology. Not that it isn’t cool in its own right in terms of the story world, but it’s a lot more Phoenix than fiery peacock from Russian fairytale.

It’s a little tricky to talk much more about this story without spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say, there was a twist, but I saw it coming from about halfway through the book. That said, it was still fun to see how the characters coped with the revelation even if it didn’t elicit quite the OMG reaction in the reader as I think the author intended.

The true strength of this novel lies in its characters, and not just the protagonist. Actually, Echo is possibly the least interesting of the lot. This book has multiple POVs, switching between various characters sometimes erratically. At first, I found this irritating because I was struggling to connect with Echo. In the end, I’m glad the author chose to give the reader personal time in the other characters’ heads because they were a fascinating bunch. I strongly preferred the chapters from the dragons’ perspective. Caius and Dorian all but stole the show, Dorian in particular who seemed to suffer the most internal conflict which made him the most interesting character even if he was relegated to the periphery. His interactions with the Avicen were some of the best scenes – particularly the snappy dialogue between Dorian and peacock-ish Avicen named Jasper. I could easily have spent the entire book in their POVs, following their story rather than Echo’s. This is both a positive and negative, I guess, because the story was meant to be Echo’s but there was so much going on with the side characters that I sometimes resented returning to Echo when I found other characters more compelling. I was particularly pleased to see the LGBT characters getting so much page time and even POV chapters of their own. Hooray for a diverse YA fantasy read!

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book and appreciated the fact that the romance element took a backseat to the plot. I also really enjoyed the exploration of supporting characters even if the switching POV chapters sometimes felt disruptive. I think there could’ve been more nuanced world-building, but this is only book 1 so perhaps more details are coming in book 2. While I don’t find myself too emotionally invested in the protagonist, I am absolutely enthralled by the supporting characters and hope that book 2 continues to follow all the story threads presented in book 1. Ultimately, this was a fun urban fantasy read and scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 23, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , , ,

Book Review: The Phantom Cabinet

Once again, I find myself writing a horror review when horror really isn’t my preferred genre. I didn’t quite realize how horrific this book was though, going into it, otherwise I might’ve reconsidered. Incidentally, I’m really glad I did read this one!

*For the sake of full disclosure, please note I received a review copy from the author of this title. This has in no way affected, influenced or otherwise coloured my perception of said book though*

phantom cabinet

WHEN HEAVEN AND HELL DON’T EXIST…WHAT DOES? Space Shuttle Conundrum collides with empty atmosphere, passing from known reality into the realm beyond life. At the same time, a dead newborn is resurrected amidst a hospital-wide poltergeist infestation. What connects these ghastly occurrences, and how can the fate of humanity rest on a single boy’s shoulders? As the haunted Douglas Stanton spends his adolescence an outcast—his only friend the ghost of a long lost astronaut—a porcelain-masked entity lurks in the shadows, planning Douglas’ demise. Because Douglas is the key… the key to the door… the door between what we know and what we fear. And when the key is turned…realities will come crashing together. Step into The Phantom Cabinet…

What made me want to read this novel was that cover! It instantly reminded me of Faceless from Spirited Away, while the shiny moth-man eyes called to mind the bunny from Donnie Darko, and lastly, that text is just so retro, the cover seemed to promise a bizarre and intriguing read. The Phantom Cabinet was certainly both bizarre and intriguing.

Imagine if the film Event Horizon (which gave me nightmares for weeks!) met The Ocean at the End of the Lane in a dark alley one night and their tryst produced a literary love child. The offspring of that union would be this book, a bizarro novel that serves up gruesome horror with a liberal splatter of pitch black humour. The opening scene, reminiscent of Event Horizon, had me simultaneously chuckling and cringing. In fact, the humour in this book only hightlights the horror, making the truly bleak moments all the more soul shattering. That, or I have a seriously warped sense of humour.

Okay, but what is this book about?

Our protagonist is Douglas Stanton who, like Cole Sear, can see dead people in all their gory detail. Douglas is haunted but unlike Cole ‘I see dead people’ Sear, he is also a conduit, allowing restless spirits to pass through from the afterlife, termed in this novel The Phantom Cabinet – which may or may not be a sly reference to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari wherein the big bad manipulated an innocent to commit atrocities. Something similar happens to Douglas as the third person narrative tells his story – via disembodied ghost voice – starting from his miserable birth and following Douglas into adulthood. In this way, the novel is a twisted coming of age story, dealing with middle school issues such as playground bullying and learning to talk to the opposite sex, to teen problems like underage drinking and doing more than just talking to the opposite sex. Of course, while all this relatively normal stuff is happening, a lot of increasingly abnormal stuff is happening too, leading the reader inexorably closer to the novel’s fated ending. I won’t spoil anything for potential readers, but I will say that there was really only one way this story could end. While somewhat predictable, it was a satisfying conclusion to this strange, sometimes poignant, often hilarious, always horrifying tale.

As far as the horror goes, things get pretty gruesome and Thompson certainly doesn’t shy away from detail. (Consider yourself warned!) The writing is quite magnificent with some turns of phrase that made me take a moment to simply appreciate the syntax. I’m not talking overly purple prose here, but rather a frank yet creative way of setting the scene and describing characters.

This book was heading for a fine five ink splats given its unique and enthralling plot, and fabulous writing, but there was one thing about the writing that bugged me. Now I know how boys can talk to one another and that teasing and ragging can be taken to exquisite new heights when it comes to name-calling and playground denigration. While I’m all for authenticity in voice and authenticity in character, the number of times femininity was used derogatorily – like a boy telling another boy not to be such a girl or such a bitch – became annoying after a while. I don’t think this was the author’s attempt to sneak in some kind of misogynistic agenda, but I did notice these references and they irked me. Even more likely to offend, however, were the multiple uses of the word ‘faggot.’ Now again, I’m all for authenticity, so if this word had been used by a specific character because that character was an asshole – or genuinely wanted to call people a bundle of twigs – I’d understand, but this word was used a little too liberally for my sensibilities. Perhaps it’s just a part of the book’s greater irreverence, but I know it might offend some readers.

I didn’t expect to enjoy The Phantom Cabinet as much as I did. This book was a pleasant surprise and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys bizarro fiction or to readers of horror who are looking for something a little different. It gets 4 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

Book Review: Fledgling

I’m a little ashamed to admit that this is the first novel I’ve read by Octavia Butler. I had heard very good things about this writer and had been meaning to read her work for ages. Finally I have…

*Minor spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned*

Fledgling

Fledgling, Octavia Butler’s new novel after a seven year break, is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly inhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted–and still wants–to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.

As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of vampires, so I thought I’d kick off my foray into Butler with her vampire novel. I’ll admit I expected a little Rice-ish flair and a lot more vampiric romanticism than this book delivered. Once I got over my expectations for the novel and started reading the book for what it was, I found it extremely enjoyable and thought-provoking.

The book uses an old trick allowing the main character, Shori, to introduce the reader to Butler’s vampire world. Shori has amnesia and can remember nothing about her life as ‘Ina’ – Butler’s word for vampire. Using this memory-lapse device, the book gets away with a fair amount of exposition and info-dumping because it is actually relevant to the character and not only inserted for the reader’s benefit. This, while fascinating, did make for some slow reading at times. This book is not plot driven but rather a character study as Shori discovers her past and who she is now minus her memories. The story examines the idea that we are the sum of our experiences and what might happen when we can no longer remember those experiences, who do we become and who are we to those who remember us from before?

As the cover shows, Shori isn’t white and the story examines issues of race and racism through the lens of the vampire mindset, which made for some interesting discussions among the ethnically diverse characters, human and Ina alike. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story was the structure of Ina society and the symbiotic relationship the vampires form with humans, and how various vampire families feel about their necessary relationship with humans. This was the main theme of the book, the juxtaposition of otherness with humanness and what it meant for those like Shori caught somewhere in between the two extremes.

What I absolutely adored about this book was the exploration of sexuality and polyamory both within Ina society, and between Ina and human. The relationships in this story are complicated and challenge certain sexual norms. For example, within Ina culture, matings are arranged by families where bands of brothers will mate with groups of sisters. Mates share each other within this familial union and children are raised as the children of all the sisters and brothers regardless of who actually fathered or birthed the child in question. I found this arrangement fascinating especially considering that Ina would continue sexual relationships with their symbionts (specific humans chosen as companions and for nourishment) at the same time. Of course, being Ina means viewing the world a little differently and responding differently to emotions which, while still identifiable as human, are quite different from human experience. While this book explores sexuality, the view of gender remains extremely binary, with Ina society split into male and female groups except when mating is involved. How such a society would handle or accept an intersex or trans individual never came up for discussion.

Despite being about vampires, this book is not the normal paranormal fare and quite quickly establishes itself as more of a political-come-legal drama with occasional blood-drinking. This latter aspect of the book was a little disturbing at times because Shori, despite being 53 years old, is considered a child by Ina standards and is described as looking no more than ten years old by human standards. And yet, this little girl seduces and has sex with various human adults. While considered normal by the Ina community, this did make me uncomfortable especially when the adult humans react sexually around her. I tried to forget Shori was physically ten and let myself imagine an older teenager instead. Again, this is an example of how Ina and human practices differ, but it was a little difficult to read.

Because of Shori’s amnesia and her Ina-ness, I found it quite difficult to relate to Shori and become truly emotionally invested in the character who was distanced from herself and thus from the reader too. What kept me turning pages wasn’t so much my love of or concern for the character but rather my fascination with the vampires on a more intellectual level. Their history, their politics, their social structures, their law – all very interesting even if it didn’t require much emotional engagement. Consequently, while I did enjoy this book I doubt I’ll ever reread it the way I have other vampire novels like Brite’s Lost Souls. This vampire novel didn’t offer much in the way of Gothic romanticism, but was an entertaining read none-the-less. It gets 4 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , ,

Book review: Sea of Shadows

It’s been a while since I’ve read an epic fantasy novel, YA or not. This week’s review is of Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong and marks my first foray into a work by this prolific author. Not knowing Armstrong or any other works, I think probably helped me approach Sea of Shadows without any preconceptions or expectations.

armstrong

 

In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.

Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court–one that will alter the balance of their world forever.

So this blurb just about gives away the entire story. Really. No spoiler warning required because it’s all in the blurb.

I enjoyed Sea of Shadows, although I often found myself wondering why. Most of the book is spent partly with Ashyn as she bumbles through the wastes with her thief turned protector confronting monsters, and partly with Moria as she bumbles through the wastes with her obdurate guard turned friend confronting different monsters. At times, I just wanted the girls to get to court, because that’s where the secret and intrigue awaits, but it’s literally only in the last couple of chapters that the girls make it to court. Granted the ‘secret’ – aka plot twist – is pretty clever and does throw quite the curveball, but the book ends where the blurb does and left me feeling cheated and rather disappointed. I knew this was a trilogy, but I did expect more story and less traipsing through the wastes in the first installment.

Why did I like it then? The characters, or more specifically, the character interactions. The girls are superbly teemed up with boys who act often as foils and sometimes as mirrors. Ronan is a thief who challenges Ashyn’s rather black and white perspective on the world. He’s also been around the block, which makes for some funny and blush-worthy banter between him and the ever so innocent girl. Moria is the antithesis of her sister: brash, opinionated, argumentative and far more open if no less experienced in the ways of the world. Her guard is an equally opinionated warrior, and their scathing repartee (which of course develops from animosity into affection) makes for entertaining reading. I read this book for the characters and I will probably return to finish this trilogy because I have come to care deeply about this foursome.

The weak point in this book is the world-building. We have a forest of restless souls, which come back as the walking undead called shadow stalkers, and these shadow stalkers are only kept at bay by warriors of the North. If it sounds familiar, I guess that’s because GRR Martin called dibs on anything undead strolling around the North. The world also seems to be somewhat influenced by Asian culture with character names like Kitsune and Tatsu and a scene that hinted at the use of chopsticks rather than knives and forks. I really liked the Asian aspects but they seemed few and far between, with the girls – the main heroines – being described as pale, red-headed northerners. There are other characters, however, with darker skin and ’tilted’ eyes. The description of the architecture also seemed odd to me – going from pretty standard Castle Black-like villages to something that called to mind the white-washed abodes of Greece and then perhaps something resembling the Forbidden City. I’m all for a non-Western, non-European fantasy, but this felt like it couldn’t quite make up it’s mind about whether the influences were Western or Eastern. Perhaps the rest of the series will flesh out the world-building a bit more. I hope so, although I’m not sure that will save it from feeling a little derivative.

Come to think of it though, can any epic fantasy these days survive being compared to Martin or Tolkien? Some of the most cliched elements of fantasy are the reasons I love the genre!

Sea of Shadows is a highly enjoyable YA fantasy read with characters you can really care about even if the plot isn’t terribly exciting in this first book. I’m definitely going to read book 2 so Sea of Shadows scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Book Review: Annihilation

To be honest I might never have picked up this were it not for the science fiction book club I belong to via Meetup. I had never heard of Jeff VanderMeer and didn’t know a thing about this book before I started reading, and that was probably a good thing.

annihilation

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

That is a very long blurb for a book that’s barely over 200 pages. Also, that last paragraph makes the story sound way more thriller-esque than it actually is. And that cover is just awful!

When I started reading this book, I assumed it had been published in the 1960s or 70s – that cover doesn’t help much either. The style was reminiscent of that era, in that the narration was exclusively ‘tell’ with absolutely no ‘show.’ The reason for this is that the story is actually one long journal entry written by the biologist. This just didn’t work for me. I felt nothing for the characters and found the main character – who describes herself as detached and emotionally withdrawn – impossible to relate to. Consequently, I didn’t care at all what happened to her or the rest of the team. What kept me turning the pages was the premise – there’s not really a plot – and wanting to know what Area X was and how it had come to be.

Despite only being 200 pages, this book felt long especially since there isn’t really much plot, more like a character meandering, trying to understand both the external landscape and her own internal one. This was where the story became more interesting for me and to a large extent, I felt that the story was an allegory: the biologist wasn’t researching an alien landscape so much as trying to understand herself and why her marriage had fallen apart, coming to terms with aspects of a troubled childhood etc. As a metaphor, the story is layered and nuanced, but the last chapter seems to undermine this idea when the biologist has a sudden revelation about what Area X is and how it might’ve come to be. I think the story would’ve been much better with a less literal interpretation.

I enjoyed this book for its unashamed weirdness and am still curious about what Area X really is and what’s happening in the background regarding the institute that keeps sending in these research expeditions. I do think, however, that this would’ve worked so much better as a longer short story. Despite being a short novel, it just meandered too much and became repetitive although never quite boring, just a little tedious. Had I known the writer was a Nebula winner and Hugo nominee, and that this book was published in 2014, I might’ve had higher expectations and been a little less impressed. Since I only discovered that after the fact though, I’m not going to let it affect my rating of the novel.

If you enjoy report-style science fiction that ventures into the absurd then you will probably like this book very much. While I’m not in a hurry to read more in this series, I am definitely keen to read other works by this author. It gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 3, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , ,

Book Review: Sing Me Your Scars

Firstly, an enormous THANK YOU to Apex Publications for giving me the ARC of this title and letting me have the privilege of reviewing what is a most outstanding short story collection from an author I think every speculative fiction fan should have on their radar.

sing

Sometimes a thread pulled through the flesh is all that holds you together. Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you’re real. When pain becomes art and a quarter is buried deep within in you, all you want is to be seen, to have value, to be loved. But love can be fragile, folded into an origami elephant while you disappear, carried on the musical notes that build a bridge, or woven into an illusion so real, so perfect that you can fool yourself for a little while. Paper crumples, bridges fall, and illusions come to an end. Then you must pick up the pieces, stitch yourself back together, and shed your fear, because that is when you find out what you are truly made of and lift your voice, that is when you Sing Me Your Scars.

In her first collection of short fiction, Damien Angelica Walters weaves her lyrical voice through suffering and sorrow, teasing out the truth and discovering hope.

It’s rare that a blurb truly does a book justice and this one definitely does, capturing the essence of this collection in as poetic a way as the stories themselves are written.

Sing Me Your Scars is a collection of speculative short stories – from two page flash fiction to longer, more substantial pieces. While every story is its own, they all share common themes.The one that stood out the most for me is that of abuse and the painful journey victims must endure in order to overcome the damage inflicted upon, to take ownership of their lives and regain lost agency. There were several stories dealing with abuse, but each was rendered in such a unique way that the recurring theme never got stale. Walters explores the various forms of suffering and how this affects different people through poetic prose and vivid imagery, at once alarming and exquisite. I will, however, say that this collection tends more toward the horror genre and is probably not for the squeamish, or for those who may be triggered by reading about the trauma associated with abuse.

One of the biggest problems I usually have when reading short story collections, is being irritated that the story I’m enjoying ends too soon. I often experience a sort of literary whiplash reading anthologies and collections because I feel catapulted from one story to the next without being able to truly connect to the characters or settings. I never experienced this in Sing Me Your Scars. While there were definitely many stories I would happily read as novels, the continuity of style provides seamless transitions between stories which focus more on character and imagery than setting and plot. That’s one of the reasons I loved this book so much. I felt immersed in the story world from cover to cover despite the constant change of characters, countries and even eras. I was also delighted to see the inclusion of LGBT+ characters in this collection.

There are two writers I hold in extremely high regard and am happy to call my favourites: Poppy Z Brite and Neil Gaiman. I have read and loved short story collections by both these authors and I would happily shelve Sing Me Your Scars right alongside Wormwood and Fragile Things. Like Brite, Walters brings beauty to the grotesque with devastatingly exquisite images of both the brutal and macabre. This is a skill I envy as an author and am definitely going to be rereading passages from Sing Me Your Scars as I have reread passages from Lost Souls and Wormwood. Like Gaiman, Walters weaves subtle magic through her stories, sometimes tantalizing with a mere mention of the bizarre while the story remains firmly rooted in the real. Other times, Walters creates a lush fantasy world in which the reader becomes quickly immersed despite the limited word count of these stories. I am in awe of this author’s ability to achieve so much in so few words.

Until I read this collection, my favourite short story was, of course, one by Gaiman (‘Cold Colors’ from Smoke & Mirrors), but Girl, with Coin by Walters absolutely blew me away and left me reeling for days (I still can’t stop thinking about this story!). Of all the brilliant, beautiful and powerful stories in this collection, Girl, with Coin had an immediate and lasting impact, and this story has just become a new favourite – I loved it even more than works by Brite! – tied with Cold Colors and ear-marked as a story to which I plan to return time and again.

If you enjoy your speculative fiction dark and introspective, exquisite and chilling, beautiful and bloody, then this is the collection for you. I cannot recommend it enough. 5/5 glorious ink splats for this amazing book!

5 inksplats

If you’d like to find out more about the author, please head over to my blog to read an interview with Damien Angelica Walters about Sing Me Your Scars and her forthcoming novel, Paper Tigers.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , ,

Book Review: Dreams and Shadows

This weekend, I finished reading C. Robert Cargill’s urban fantasy novel, Dreams and Shadows. I’d had my eye on this book for a while when Amazon kindly informed me it was on special and all resistance crumbled. Being a sucker for books about Grimm-ish faeries, I dived into this novel immediately and loved almost everything about it. Almost. And what I didn’t like is deeply troubling…

*Minor spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned*

dreams

A brilliantly crafted modern tale from acclaimed film critic and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill—part Neil Gaiman, part Guillermo Del Toro, part William S. Burroughs—that charts the lives of two boys from their star-crossed childhood in the realm of magic and mystery to their anguished adulthoods

There is another world than our own—one no closer than a kiss and one no further than our nightmares—where all the stuff of which dreams are made is real and magic is just a step away. But once you see that world, you will never be the same.

Dreams and Shadows takes us beyond this veil. Once bold explorers and youthful denizens of this magical realm, Ewan is now an Austin musician who just met his dream girl, and Colby, meanwhile, cannot escape the consequences of an innocent wish. But while Ewan and Colby left the Limestone Kingdom as children, it has never forgotten them. And in a world where angels relax on rooftops, whiskey-swilling genies argue metaphysics with foul-mouthed wizards, and monsters in the shadows feed on fear, you can never outrun your fate.

Dreams and Shadows is a stunning and evocative debut about the magic and monsters in our world and in our self.

Honestly, what sold me on this book was the comparison to Gaiman, Del Toro and Burroughs. I adore Gaiman, have been highly entertained by Burroughs’ writing and found Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth absolutely terrifying (let’s forget about that Pacific Rim incident for the moment). So, Cargill was clearly a genius of epic proportions and I had high expectations for this novel. I wanted the imagination and subtle wit of Gaiman, the nihilistic, wry perspective of Burroughs and the terrifyingly absurd from Del Toro to be crammed within these pages. Not much to live up to then.

Although this book features three pre-pubescent children as the main characters for almost exactly 50% of the story (according to my Kindle), from the very first chapter it is abundantly clear this is not a book for children! The first half of the book introduces us to the faerie world anyone who is familiar with mythology or urban fantasy will recognize, and has a decidedly Gaiman-esque feel to it. I loved the first half of the book, seeing the faerie kingdom through the eyes of children and being introduced to a myriad characters. What is done well here is the mash-up of cultures. The were-beasties in this novel don’t all venture forth from Celtic mythology, but include German folkloric nasties, non-denominational angels, a djinn and even Coyote, the trickster god from Native American culture. That they all end up residing in the woods surrounding Austin, Texas also adds a Gaiman-like quality to the story, and one can’t help but think of American Gods. But Cargill establishes his own style rather quickly with witty metaphors and slick prose that at once conjures the whimsy of fairy-dom and the grittiness of the human world so typical of urban fantasies.

What I found particularly refreshing about this story is that the main characters are all young boys and the story seems poised on being more about the relationship dynamics between three guys than about a love interest. This is certainly no Darkfever or Black Dagger Brotherhood type urban fantasy. The story kept me enthralled despite a good deal of violence being dished out toward children – something I’m usually quite sensitive about – but Cargill managed not to cross the line there. At almost exactly 50% after our three protagonists (or two protagonists and one antagonist if you like) have survived the trials set before them as part of the plot, the book turns the clock ahead so that our three MCs are now twenty-somethings: one is a wannabe rockstar, the other a sort of pseudo hipster, and the third a particularly nasty type of faerie.

In this second part of the book, now that the characters are adults, the story kicks up a notch followed shortly by a lot of whiskey and four-letter words. It almost felt like the story had something to prove, trying to establish itself as one of those bleak, gritty urban fantasy novels rather than the quirky Ocean at the End of the Lane-American Gods hybrid it had so far been. That said, the plot still had me in its clutches and what the three boys did in relative innocence in childhood come back to bite them in the ass – sometimes literally – and so we have the ‘never outrun your fate’ part from the blurb being activated in a torrent of blood. Seriously, the second half of this book is violent and bloody and Cargill spares the reader no description. It was almost too much for me and I can take quite a lot of gut-spilling.

This novel kept me highly entertained, if not enthralled, throughout both halves and the ending was satisfying while still leaving room for the sequel, I did, however, have a couple of problems with this book.

Firstly, as an author myself, I absolutely understand that the view held by characters do not necessarily reflect views held by the author. A racist character doesn’t mean the author is racist for writing said character etc. However, the number of homophobic slurs in the second half of the book coming from all directions and leveled at multiple characters made me feel quite uncomfortable. If one character is a bigot, fine. If the story is set in a community where homophobia abounds, fine. But this was not that kind of story and I found the frequent insinuation that being gay was something to be ashamed of and being used as an insult highly problematic. This got me thinking about the book as a whole and it is completely hetero. I’m not looking for every book I read to embrace diversity and shower LGBT+ rainbows upon the characters, but anything non-hetero seemed conspicuous by its absence. That not a single faerie or human in the rather large cast had even considered the possibility of a romantic moment with the same sex struck me as odd, if not altogether unlikely. While one could argue that succubi by definition pray exclusively on men, and that many of these creatures are traditionally straight because, well, tradition I’d say fine but… this is fiction and the 21st Century. Couldn’t the human bartender at the local club then perhaps be gay or lesbian? Tokenism sure, but at least something! The hetero climate coupled with the gay slurs gave me pause, making me look at the role women played in this book and it isn’t good.

Of the few prominent female characters we have, the women are all assigned stereotypical gender roles, none operating outside of those assigned spheres. For example, we have several mother figures (almost all despicable), the most prominent of which becomes a vile and vengeful woman because of what happens to the men in her life. We also have various seductress types who never venture much beyond their role to entice and entrap hapless males. Even the one more powerful female who seems to have a little more agency is described as being cruel and preoccupied by youth and beauty. The only female main character we do get plays the innocent virgin to the point where she doesn’t even know what she is and that she’s actually going to eventually sex her ‘one true love’ to death and won’t be able to help herself. Barf!

Of the ass-kicking, swashbuckling characters in the story who stand up for what they believe in, fight for what they think is right, and seem to have any agency at all – not a single one is female. So now we have an all hetero cast, gay slurs and a story lacking even the faintest wisp of feminism – this is not good, especially because, for the most part, I actually really enjoyed this novel! Am I so entrenched in the patriarchal way of thinking that I didn’t even notice the problems in the narrative until well past the 50% mark? Scary.

In summation, this book provides interesting and clever world-building through some delightful prose, introduces a cast of fascinating characters and takes the reader on a bloody whirl-wind of a ride. If you can look past the misogynistic, homophobic undertones of the work (perhaps unintentional from the author? I really don’t know) then you might enjoy this grimm urban fantasy. However, I cannot, and what would’ve otherwise been a smash-hit read for me instead becomes one I am nervous to recommend.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 27, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

The Giver vs The Giver

giver book

The Giver is a highly influential work, which laid the foundation for modern YA dystopian literature, but – to be honest – I only picked up this novel after seeing the trailer for the film version. When I eventually got around to reading this sci-fi classic, I saw many parallels in world-building with some of the most popular current YA books (cough Divergent cough cough). My reaction to this rather short novel was a little mixed.

I found the book thought-provoking and highly engaging, but the ending left me completely dissatisfied. Bear in mind, however, I’ve only read book 1 of the quadrology so perhaps my many questions will be answered in the sequels. Still, the first book has a lot going for it especially when taken less literally and more allegorically as I think the story was perhaps intended. This is not hard sci-fi and many aspects of the world simply are. One has to suspend disbelief a fair amount, but that’s part of the beauty of the novel. Metaphors abound, and the poignancy and power of the story lies in peeling away those parable-like layers to uncover the simple truth at the core of the story.

Suffice it to say, given my expectations for the story after seeing the movie trailer, I was a little disappointed. Looking at the book and ignoring what I thought I glimpsed of the film, I enjoyed the book and can see why it has become such a beloved and seminal work in the genre.

giver

Fast forward eight months and I finally got around to seeing the movie. Had I known Taylor Swift was in it, I might have been less enthusiastic about the film, however, I can promise you that any Taylor Swiftness on posters and in promo is all a marketing ploy. She has a tiny – if important – role in the film and has very little screen time. The real star of the show is Brenton Thwaites as Jonas and he’s really quite lovely in his role as the compassionate and curious Receiver.

The Giver film is competing against franchises like The Hunger Games, Divergent and even The Maze Runner. In order to give The Giver more teen appeal and to capture The Hunger Games/Divergent audience, the movie tried to be a lot that the book was not. The movie – despite being adapted from the predecessor of the modern dystopian trend – feels a little too familiar and cliche because it tries a little too hard to fit in aesthetically and tonally with the other YA adaptations. I wish the film had foregone the shiny technology additions and stuck with the utilitarian world-building of the book. I can also understand why the film producers chose to up the age of the protagonists and up the angst as well, but I’m not sure it really added all that much to the overall story except making it feel like another teen movie when it should’ve been so much more than that.

Where the film did excel was in the cinematography and use of black&white and colour. This is described well in the book, but the visual medium of film really brought this to life. I do think they could’ve done even more with that, although I think they were trying to stay true to the book here. I was also hoping for more of an emotional impact from the memories in the film. Some of those memory sharing scenes in the book are brutal and really broke my heart for Jonas. It didn’t have quite the same impact for me in the film – perhaps because the character was older.

The ending of the book disappointed me but the film managed to deliver a very similar ending in a way that stayed true to the book while also providing a greater sense of closure. Where I think the book meandered into allegory, the movie developed the plot and made a more compelling story overall, even if some of the ‘science’ of how all this was possible is dubious at best.

A major highlight from the film for me was seeing the usually uber sexy and seductive Alexander Skarsgård playing a nurturing father figure who worked in the nursery with newborns while his wife – played by the petite Katie Holmes – was involved in politics. Seeing 6’4 Eric Northman – sorry, Alex Skarsgård – so tenderly caring for tiny babies really highlighted the gender dynamics and theme of equality in the book. It was a very clever casting choice.

So… The Giver as both book and film is thought provoking and definitely worth experiencing. I would say it is a must-read/must-see for anyone who is a fan of modern dystopian YA. I think both book and movie score equally for me. I give them 3.5/5 ink splats each.

3.5 inksplats

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 13, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , ,

Book Review: The Last Ancient

Since I haven’t had much time to read the past couple of weeks as I am currently in the process of immigrating from Finland to Sweden, I thought I’d post a past review about a book I didn’t expect to enjoy nearly as much as I did…

ancient

Around Nantucket Island, brutal crime scenes are peppered with ancient coins, found by the one man who can unlock their meaning. But what do the coins have to do with the crimes? Or the sudden disease epidemic? Even the creature? And who–or what–left them?

The answer leads reporter Simon Stephenson on a journey through ancient mythology, numismatics, and the occult. Not to mention his own past, which turns out to be even darker than he’d realized; his murdered father was a feared arms dealer, after all. Along the way, Simon battles panic attacks and a host of nasty characters — some natural, others less so — while his heiress fiancee goes bridezilla, and a gorgeous rival TV reporter conceals her own intentions.

I might never have picked up this novel had I not had the pleasure of meeting the author in person. I met Eliot Baker at FinnCon 2014 where I was first introduced to The Last Ancient during a reading session. After hearing only a few excerpts from this book, I knew I had to read it despite my reservations about the treasure-hunting pirate-type cover and the fact that I’m not usually a fan of thrillers or mysteries or crime novels – and this seemed like all three rolled into one with a dash of the fantastic. Nevertheless, I bought the book and started reading it on the train ride from from the con, and? I couldn’t put the bloody thing down!

I love mythology and this book delivers it in spades! The blurb actually doesn’t do this book justice, in my opinion – a trend I’m discovering :/ This book is a lot less mystery thriller than it is dark urban fantasy. Baker has effortlessly woven together contemporary politics, environmental issues and economics into a story about alchemy, replete with snippets from history and a good deal of philosophy – in short, The Last Ancient is the perfect cocktail for anyone who prefers their fantasy delivered on the barrel of an automatic assault rifle instead of a broad-sword.

This is not my usual sort of read – being adult and a little too urban fantasy when I tend to prefer young adult and fantasy of epic proportions – and yet, I was enthralled from the very first chapter. I have learned so much from this book, particularly about ancient coins and numismatics, not to mention shale oil technology!

Baker’s writing is great too, delivering stunning metaphor while not getting bogged down in description. The book is ambitious though and it tries to cram a lot into its pages. I think Baker pulled it off but I can imagine some readers might find the multi-genre mash-up a little too much. The plot moves at a serious clip and if I have any complaints it’s that the ending – while spectacular – seemed a tiny bit rushed, so that by the time I reached the last line I felt out of breath and still wanting more. But when an author leaves me wanting more, that’s a job well-done.

This book seriously surprised and impressed me. I cannot wait to read more by Eliot Baker. 5/5 ink splats for this one.

5 inksplats

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 9, 2014 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , , ,

 
LAUREGALIE

BOOK REVIEWS

C.T. Phipps

Author of horror, sci-fi, and superheroes.

M.D. Thalmann

M.D. Thalmann, a novelist and freelance journalist with an affinity for satire and science fiction, lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife, children, and ornery cats, reads too much and sleeps too little.

Greyhart Press

Publisher of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Thrillers

Joseph D'Lacey

My pen is my compass. I appear to have lost my pen.

This Is Horror

The Voice of Horror

reviewsm8

Book, comic and sometimes film reviews

The Talkative Writer

Musings by speculative fiction author Karen Miller

Cohesion Press

The Battle Has Just Begun

Indie Hero

Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller

Paws in the Porridge

'She is like a muse...who kicks people in the face.'

Matthew Sylvester

father, author, martial artist

meganelizabethmorales

MANNERS MAKETH MAN, LOST BOYS FAN & PERPETAUL CREATIVITY.

Shannon A Thompson

Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Author