RSS

Tag Archives: Books

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: , , , ,

Book Review: My Chemical Mountain

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

mountain

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

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

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

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

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

4 inksplats

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , , ,

Book Review: Unwrapped Sky

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

unwrapped

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 inksplats

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

The Painted Man – Peter V Brett

 

 

 

The Painted Man UK Edition Hard Cover

The Painted Man UK Edition Hard Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is with great pleasure that I announce the arrival of Peter V Brett onto the fantasy scene! I have just finished his novel, The Painted Man, Book One in the Demon Trilogy, and have no doubt that Brett’s talent, abounding in this book, will only grow with time.

 

The story, once you boil it down to its constituent parts, is quite simple: humankind live in fear of demons, collectively called Corelings, that rise from the earth as soon as the sun sets and return to the earth just before the sun rises; these demons come in many shapes and forms, and all are united in one purpose – the utter destruction of mankind. But the humans have weapons, of a sort, that can be brought to bare on the demons; known as wards, these are magical symbols which are painted or carved onto walls, doors, even windows, and they form a barrier through which the demons cannot break – well, sometimes they do, and when this happens, the surviving people of the Free Cities and hamlets are left to pick up the pieces, mourn their dead, and rebuild for the next attack.

 

But even though the premise of this novel is simple, it is also elegant and unique. Gone is the Evil Overlord who has built up armies to flense the lands of all life not under his iron rule, and gone is the typical use of magic – there are no incantations, songs, or flows wielded here. And it is not only Brett’s re-imagining of these fantasy staples that works so well, it is also his ability to completely subsume you in a world that seems utterly familiar, yet terrifying and exhilarating, too.

 

Brett takes us along with a pace that does not relent, showing us everything from the day-to-day beauty of family life – or its heartbreaking darker side – to walled cities of thousands that fear the coming of night as every small child does; Brett takes us into a society in which women have the highest and lowest ranks, in which men can be both utterly heartless naively innocent, and shows us a land fragmenting under the constant barrage of fear and mourning.

 

Hope arrives in the form of three very different but completely engaging characters; a boy who decides to stop reacting and act, a girl who is struggling to find a purpose for her life, and a half-handed orphan who decides once and for all to stop running.

 

Brett has given us characters with their own hopes and dreams, their own fears and simple joys; these characters leap off the page, and you’ll find yourself slipping into their skin easier than slipping into a bubble bath. As they progress throughout the novel, every action, thought and word seem completely normal and logical, and Brett’s ability to breathe such vivid life into his characters is one of his strongest abilities.

 

You will find yourself reading late into the evening, hoping beyond hope that the wards will hold, hoping that you will not be cored ­and that you will survive, and when you finish the novel, you may find yourself thinking that the wait for Book Two may be too long.

 

I am a fan. You will be too.

 

9/10.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2008 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

You need the world, and the world needs good people.