Across the Pond : Review of Shades of War

Anyone who knows me or who has read my review of Thief will already realise I am a big fan of Sarah-Jane Lehoux. I was therefore eagerly anticipating the release of her second novel, Shades of War, when it came out last year. Believe me, it wasn’t a disappointment.

Starting off in familiar territory, Sevy finds herself on a reluctant quest that leads her into the unexpected, meeting old friends and new enemies. Mind you, Sevy collects enemies like a stray dog collects fleas.

The plot snakes throughout the book ensnaring your imagination. Complex tales are told and the characters’ pasts are revealed through the layers of shed words. Prey and predator are taken on a sinuous journey culminating at a destination of pain intermingled with joy.

Shades of War is no less than a fabulous follow-up to Thief;  Masquerade, the third of the series, is due to be published later this year. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting Masquerade because I can confidently say thatthis world need more Sevy!

sarah-jane lehouxSarah-Jane Lehoux has always had a passion for storytelling. From grade school tales of cannibalistic ghosts, to teenaged conversations with God, to her latest fantasy adventures, she’s attempted to share her love of the quirky and unconventional with her readers.

Sarah-Jane currently resides in Ontario with her husband and horde of cats. With a degree in anthropology and a diploma in animal care, she is employed as a veterinary technician. In between wrestling with rottweilers and fending off fractious cats, she has continued to craft stories that will entertain and provoke. For more information, please visit www.sarah-janelehoux.com or follow @sarahjanelehoux on Twitter.

Across the Pond : Review of Thief

I originally wrote this a while ago but as the third book is out soon wanted to refresh everyone’s memories. Look for my review of the second book, Shades of War, tomorrow.

*Disclaimer. I know the author online but I bought my own copy of this book and she did not request a review

I was warned that the main character, Sevy, was a bitch – and she is – but she is that way for a reason, several in fact and though you may abhor her lack of morals and her mercurial temper you come to care for her in a strange, if slightly warped, way. Jarro is the swooningly handsome thief with a heart, oh dear that makes him sound terribly clichéd yet he has that pinch of spice that makes him much more. Then there’s Revik, a dark elf with fire-red eyes and the terror of the bogey-man trailing him through the dank, crime-ridden streets of Eloria.

Ms Lehoux’s style of writing is akin to a celtic knot; well designed lines of prose curving into a beautifully wrought tale taking you within itself and twining around the corners of your mind. I enjoyed the way her story unfolded through the eyes and minds of her characters as one by one you were told the tale through the differing perspectives of woman, man and dark elf. This literary device gave you glimpses of their backgrounds and insights into their personal lives, thoughts and feelings. You saw Eloria in its depravity and yet discovered there were slivers of hope and love lurking beneath the dross. You learned about the homelands and lore of the dark elves, shunned by humans as being below even the lowest guttersnipe in the city.

I don’t want to give away too much (well anything really) but suffice it to say that you are going to be horrified, surprised, saddened and left wanting more when the tale reaches its last page. Yet fear not, there are more delectable tales just peeking over the horizon.

Order the book (as pdf or dead tree version) at Mundania Press or through Amazon, Waterstones and other good outlets.

Check out Sarah-Jane Lehoux’s own website for more information.

Across the Pond : Review of "Botanica Blues"

I discovered a downside to the Kindle app on my Android the other day (well, I guess it applies to ebooks in general). I’d taken my tablet to finish this story while having a meal before a Blink 182 gig in Manchester. Great gig by the way, All-American Rejects were fab too.

Anyway, I settled down and continued reading … an event happened … the book ended.

The book ended! I wasn’t even thinking about considering the fact I was nearly at the end of the book. You see with a dead-tree you have this dead giveaway – you can *see* that there’s only a few pages left. With an ebook there’s no visual clue unless you obsessively check the little numbers that appear when you tap the screen.

I was like “what?” And then I was sad coz the book had ended.

So enough waffling let’s get back to the book, well short story I guess would be more accurate. Tristan sent me this to see if I’d like it and would care to review it on Troll in the Corner. I am always more than happy to try out new (to me) authors so I immediately said yes.

Botanica Blues can be described as many things – urban-fantasy, indie, sci-fi/horror, crime thriller – but when it comes down to it labels don’t really matter, it’s whether you enjoy a book or not. I enjoyed this (I wouldn’t post a review otherwise).

The blurb

Luis Quintana must uncover the horrible truth about his newest case as a consultant for the local police – a ritualistic mass murder. When his investigation involves a frightened santero and an old friend in an asylum, Quintana recognizes the lurking terror he escaped once before and subsequently fights to maintain his sanity.

A modern day Lovecraftian tale of terror.

It opens with a spilled drink & a text message and ends … yeah, you don’t think I’m that mean to tell you how it ends do you?  Suffice to say that Tristan’s evocative words provide your mind with images of city life, death and tell of a threat from somewhere people have never imagined.

There was only one little, teensy-weensy thing I had a problem with, and this might be because I’m from England so don’t come across it very often. I didn’t understand the few Spanish (?) phrases. OK, I could have looked them up in Lady Google but I’m lazy and I had no internet access where I was.

But that was the one, only and less than atom-sized beef I had – I really enjoyed discovering Tristan’s words and will be hunting out other words she wrote to add to my (rather long) ‘to-read’ list.

In short – Botanica Blues was readworthy, well-crafted, complex,  interesting and left me wanting to read more of Tristan’s words.

Here’s where you can sample  Botanica Blues (personally I’d just skip the sample and buy it).

tristan j tarwaterTristan J Tarwater is the author of The Valley of Ten Crescents series, as well as several other stories that hope to see the light of day. Born and raised in New York City she remembers reading a lot, visiting Museums and the Aquarium frequently and wanting to be a writer from a very early age. Her love of fantasy and sci-fi spills over into what she reads and watches in her free time as well as the collection of dice, books and small metal figurines that reside in her home. She currently lives in Central California with her Admin, Small Boss, a cat that knows it’s a multipass and Azrael.

Find more info and links to her work at Back That Elf Up

Look out for my interview with Tristan later this week.

Across the Pond: Review of "The Hoax"

Initially, I thought I had mistaken the genre; the story begins with a man, his resolve to conquer his drinking and his murder. A commonplace murder, except for the blood. However, as the tale unfolds you begin to sense that all is not commonplace, that there are far more intricacies lurking beneath the surface.

Family ties and blood are at the heart of this tale of control and heavenly creatures. Friends, strangers, priests, and the FBI come together to fight against the mind-controlled, the false messiah, and the hoax-master.

I love a story that leads you down winding arteries of narrative to an unexpected heart of the tale. This is one of those that I will read again (and probably again). It encompasses the crime, mystery, and fantasy genres successfully which, together with a well-crafted style of writing, makes this book a joy to read. I started this on Monday morning and finished it Monday evening. The only reason I didn’t read straight through was down to being a responsible mother with family responsibilities, which sometimes really sucks when you want to just read a book to the end. 🙂

adrienne jonesAdrienne Jones is a speculative fiction and award winning humour writer, and author of the books Brine and Gypsies Stole My Tequila. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

You can read further information and purchase The Hoax from Mundania Press.

Are You Ready Player One?

 

I’ve never played Second Life but I imagine the world of Oasis that Ernest Cline created in his debut novel Ready Player One is what the developers hoped their online world would become someday. Set in the year 2044 and the world is pretty much a shambles. Most people escape the reality of their lives by logging in to Oasis, a massive multiplayer online universe, created by James Halliday and Ogden Morrow that allows them to immerse themselves in traditional MMOs, become a character in their favorite movie, or just explore fantasy or science fiction settings in whatever way strikes their fancy. Gregarious Simulation Systems, the company who runs the Oasis, also allows schools, churches and employers to use the universe. The best part is that it’s mostly free to play, with options to buy up on gear and extras. People can literally have everything they need delivered to their homes and spend their entire waking life immersed in this online universe. It’s as close to a perfect life as any average person in this dreary future can hope to have.

 

And then James Halliday passes away leaving no heir to the billion dollar company and universe so many people rely on. At the point that Halliday dies, Ogden Morrow no longer has anything to do with the company. Instead of leaving GSS to simply become a stock holder owned company, or selling it off to the highest bidder, Halliday’s video will (sent to every person with an Oasis account) announces a contest for his estate. An “Easter Egg” hunt through the Oasis universe where three keys must be found to unlock three puzzles to be solved. Whoever does it first inherits Halliday’s entire estate and control of Oasis and GSS. People devote their lives to the contest. Egg Hunters become known as Gunters. Five years pass and no one has even found the first key. In addition to Gunters, the company Innovative Online Industries (IOI) also actively hunts using their employees in a loophole of the quest rules that they are using to try to win and gain control of GSS and Oasis for, you know, the usual Evil Corporate purposes. Enter the hero, Wade Wyatt, an 18 year old with not much to look forward to in life. He’s a dedicated Gunter who’s spent his free time learning every detail he can on Halliday—the games he played, the movies he loved, and everything about his life and history. Because Halliday was a child and teen in the 80’s, and because so many people are like Wade in his obsession with finding clues in the man’s past, the 80’s has once again become popular. But it’s that kind of obsession that will lead Wade and four other Gunters into a race to beat IOI to the holy grail that is Halliday’s treasure.

 

There are references to post 80’s MMOs and enough description of what has become of the world (the grand divide between the haves and the have not’s) that’s just enough to make you realize why everyone would rather spend their lives in a virtual world instead of the real one. But if you grew up in the 80’s, and especially if you were a geeky kid of the 80’s, this is a wild nostalgic ride. A reviewer on Goodreads called it “nostalgia porn”. It’s exactly that and so much more. There is something from nearly every facet of the 80’s that pops up in this book. Remember Zork? What about Ladyhawke? Or Dead Man’s Party? You will find a lot of descriptions of old console game systems like the original Atari and some of the first home computers like the Commodore 64, but you’ll also be treated to reminders of the movies and music that were popular in the 80’s. I found myself more than once reading a passage and smiling because I hadn’t thought of a particular song or movie in a while. This is also one of those books where you find yourself justifying all the time you’ve spent memorizing movie quotes, pop culture trivia and walk throughs of video games you love—it’s not a waste of time, SOMEDAY there could be a billion dollar contest that requires the exact combination of “useless” knowledge you have in order to win it. The book is an adventure I highly recommend you take. So, are you ready player one?

A Nun in an urban fantasy? Whatever next?

Family reunions suck.

What’s a woman to do when her dad’s the antichrist, her grandma’s the devil, the end of the world is at her doorstep, and she’s out to avenge the murders of her husband and kids?

Kill everything in her way.

Quarter-demon Peri Takata exists with but one goal in mind: annihilate everyone responsible for the death of her family. Then—her need for vengeance quelled—she plans to take her own life.

Her mission brings her to vampire Zara Lain, the only known survivor of the event that destroyed Peri’s family five years ago. Hunting down a secret society of those who don’t want to be found has its challenges, however, especially when forces are working to keep the antichrist’s daughter very much alive. The apocalypse is closing in and Peri may be playing a role in it whether she wants to or not.

And when a heart long-thought dead begins to beat again with love for another, she’s not so sure about anything anymore.

This is the third book in the series “Demons of Oblivion”, an urban fantasy involving demons, vampires, psychics, magic users, and, uh, a nun, with alternating main characters. Book one was Bloodlines (Zara), book two was Hunter (Ryann), book four, Exhumed (Zara), will be out in July. I will be interviewing Skyla sometime in the next week about her life, characters and cats. Watch this space.

Release date 21st Feb 2012

Welcome To The Empire State

Adam Christopher’s debut novel, Empire State, is billed as a mix of science fiction, noir and super heroes. It’s actually quite light in the super hero department and heavy on the noir elements. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The SciFi is limited to explaining how the Empire State, a dreary copy of Prohibition era Manhattan, exists in its pocket universe.  The pocket universe is, in a sense, another way to work with alternate history—so even when I try to branch out from my recent alternate history infatuation, I still end up reading it! The super heroes (or more appropriately, one super hero and one super villain) are the Skyguard and the Science Pirate and they’re introduced near the beginning of the book while in mid battle over the construction site of the Empire State Building. Their battle is what causes the creation of the pocket universe and once created, the story switches to the lives of those living in the Empire State.  In the Empire State it’s always Wartime and always raining. There is nothing outside of the Empire State, nothing except the Enemy. The book mainly follows Rad Bradley, a classic hard boiled, hard drinking, fedora wringing private investigator as he investigates what he thinks is a simple case of a missing woman. As with mysteries and noir, it’s never that simple though. The missing woman leads to murder, conspiracy and a threat to the very existence of the Empire State itself. It also leads back to the Skyguard and the Science Pirate. Suddenly Rad realizes that there are a lot of things about his world that don’t make sense and once you realize that there’s no going back for him.

Although it wasn’t as heavy in the super hero billing as I expected it to be, the novel was a great read. I’ve always been a big noir fan, so that might be why I didn’t mind the cut back on the super hero aspect. The book doesn’t quite fit into the noir mold either, the elements are all there (including the femme fatale) but the ending doesn’t quite mesh with traditional noir. It’s definitely a hard boiled mystery with science fiction elements. There’s even a little dieselpunk thrown in for good measure. What might make it a little hard to follow would be the jump between Manhattan and the Empire State, which involves distortion of time. The time distortion at first didn’t seem necessary to me and I wondered why go through all the trouble of introducing it, but as the end approached and I started thinking about all the people who had the various bits of information necessary to plot resolution, it started making more sense. This is one of those novels where you think you have things figured out and then Mr. Christopher throws a twist in there to let you know it’s not that easy to figure things out in the Empire State.

 

 If you’re looking for a good fun romp that mixes gangsters, super heroes and private eyes give Empire State a try. If you’re a writer who enjoys the setting of the Empire State you might want to check out the World Builder project. Or if you’re looking for a new game setting, Angry Robot has a handy FREE  RPG created by David “Doc Blue” Wendt.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

I love quirky and odd books so when I stumbled across the book trailer for the young adult novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs I knew I had found another to add to my list. This is Mr. Riggs’ debut novel and Quirk Books has already announced an unnamed sequel. It was also recently announced that Tim Burton will be directing the movie adaptation. After reading the book, I think Tim Burton is the only one who can do it justice.

The book centers on Jacob Portman, the 16 year old son of wealthy parents destined to be railroaded into working in his family’s drug store chain and living inFlorida. Jacob comes to view his life in terms of “Before” and “After”. The “Before” is what he sees as his normal boring life–unremarkable and already planned out for him. He’s your basic angsty, bored and self absorbed teen. On the surface Jacob sounds like an unsympathetic character, but his relationship with his paternal grandfather gives the reader enough of a hint that there is a caring human being (and salvageable character) under that exterior to keep you interested. Initially the only peculiar thing in the novel is the mystery of his Grandfather, Abe Portman. During Jacob’s childhood his grandfather regaled the boy with tales of his world travels, his time in the war (World War II) hunting “monsters” and sharing pictures of the children he’d lived with as a child. His parents had sent him fromPolandto a children’s home on a remote island called Cairnholm off the coast ofWales. It was fairly common, during WWII, for Jewish parents to send their children away fromEuropein an attempt to protect them from the Nazis. On the surface it seemed as though his grandfather had a remarkable life, but it was a life that a number of other people could also lay claim to. The old black and white photographs of the other children at the home were what set Grandpa Abe apart though. There was the levitating girl, the invisible boy, and other oddities that Jacob,as he grew older, came to see as doctored photos—photoshop before there was such a thing. And his Grandfather’s stories of the children’s abilities could only be the stuff of fantasy. Jacob accepted his grandfather as eccentric and possibly psychologically damaged from the horrors he’s seen as a child and as a soldier and went on with his life. The “After” part of his life comes from a life altering event and the words of his Grandfather: “Go to the island. Find the bird, find the loop.” Having no real idea what that means and why his Grandfather insists that Jacob will be safer on “the island”, Jacob sets out on an adventure that bends everything he knows about reality, it tests him and helps him discover who he really is. It also shows the reader that Jacob is a remarkable young man who’s willing to step up and accept his destiny.

I enjoyed this story immensely and was happy to find out there was already a planned sequel—with the ending left the way it was, I couldn’t imagine there wouldn’t be a sequel. Mr. Riggs’ inclusion of unusual photographs to help tell his story took an already engaging novel and cranked it up a notch. He found the photos through collectors—who were thankfully willing to share their found treasures. The characters are fleshed out and the little twists that occur are surprising, but also manage to feel necessary and help explain and keep everything in order. The book is marketed as a young adult fantasy novel, but adults will find an enjoyable read as well. Mr. Riggs explores an urban fantasy setting and mixes in the mysteries of growing up and finding yourself in a dysfunctional family. If you’re looking for something to escape your boring reality, I suggest a visit to Miss Peregrine’s.

 

The Circus Arrives Without Warning…

That first line of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern had me ready to read the story of Le Cirque des Reves and the menagerie of people who were part of it. This is the story of two men who have spent an untold number of years wagering each other on the proper way for magic to be studied and used. They don’t test each other directly, they challenge each other by proxy—with the use of a student they’ve selected and trained in their particular “school” of magic. Prospero the Enchanter, a flashy stage magician, has selected his daughter Celia Bowen for this particular challenge due to her innate abilities. Mr. A.H has opted to pluck a seemingly random young boy, Marco Alisdair, from an orphanage. The two are trained knowing they will one day face an opponent in a challenge of skill but are told precious little else about the challenge. The explanation of rules is that they can’t interfere with the work of their opponent and nothing else is given to them. The venue for the challenge is to be a unique circus–one that’s only open from dusk to dawn. What the two masterminds don’t account for is that their students not only set out to create their own rules, but that they would also fall in love.

I really enjoyed this book overall. However, there was a moment several chapters into my start that I was worried. Things were progressing slower than I expected, there were a lot of characters to introduce and establish and even the circus itself needed to be explained. Getting everything in place involved not just jumping between characters with each chapter, but also jumping back and forth in time. Introducing and altering chapters between Prospero/Celia and A.H./Marco worked well and there were some great “break” chapters that went in to the description of the circus, these breaks were presented as if the reader were themselves walking into the circus. But then a character named Bailey Clarke was introduced and there was enough focus on him over other “minor” characters that you knew he was going to play a major roll in things, it was just unclear for a little while how he fit in to things. I took a break from reading because I wasn’t sure if I liked how things were progressing. I really wanted to learn more about the circus itself and that’s ultimately what drew me back in to reading the book. I’m glad I did. Once the characters were established and the rebellion that Celia and Marco were engaging in was more apparent, things became very interesting.

Ms. Morgenstern has put a lot of detail and colorful characters into her black and white themed circus. Despite what I felt was a slow start, it was a well developed story and a wonderful read. And although she’s said there’s no planned series or sequel, she’s at least hinted that the circus might be revisited in some way at some time. Perhaps that return will arrive unannounced.

 

 

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