Backlist Burndown: The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

Backlist Burndown

As book bloggers, sometimes we get so caught up reading review titles and new releases that we end up missing out on a lot previously published books. As a result, one of my goals this year is to take more time to catch up with my backlist, especially in my personal reading pile. And it seems I’m not the only one. Backlist Burndown is a new meme started by Lisa of Tenacious Reader. Every last Friday of the month, she’ll be posting a review of a backlist book and is inviting anyone interested to do the same. Of course, you can also review backlist books any day you want, as often you want, but be sure to watch for her post at the end of the month to link up!

This month, I’m reviewing…

The Unnoticeables RD 1 selects AThe Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Paranormal

Series: Book 1 of The Vicious Circuit

Publisher: Tor (July 7, 2015)

Length: 288 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

What does a scraggly 1970s punk rocker in New York City have in common with a down-on-luck Hollywood stuntwoman in 2013? In this earthy mind-bending tale that spans time and geography, Robert Brockway takes readers on a strange, scary trip through the dark and twisted underbelly of the paranormal.

The Unnoticeables follows three different points of view. In 1977, Carey is a blithe young punk content with simply hanging out with his friends. But life suddenly gets weird. Disturbing rumors of “Tar Men” in the sewers are being whispered around the Manhattan punk scene, and then these strange kids with unnoticeable, forgettable features start cropping up all over the place. All he wants to do is drink and chase girls, but as the threat looms closer and his friends start disappearing or dying, Carey knows the only way to stop the madness is to bring the battle to the monsters.

Running in tandem with Carey’s storyline is another that takes place in 2013, which follows a struggling stuntwoman named Kaitlyn trying to make a name for herself in Los Angeles. One night at a Hollywood party, she meets a former teen heartthrob named Marco, who was her childhood celebrity crush back in the day when he was still the star of her favorite family sitcom. But when Kaitlyn finds herself alone with Marco in his car later that night, he turns into an inhuman creature and attacks her. Shaken, Kaitlyn barely escapes with her life, but then finds out that her best friend has gone missing after she was last seen at the same party.

The third point of view is much less defined. Interspersed throughout the novel are brief chapters from the perspective of an unidentified character, speaking about their own transformation. The purpose of these chapters will be unclear at first, but as events unfold this person will start providing a lot more context into what’s happening. Furthermore, as connections between Carey and Kaitlyn’s threads start to form, this mystery person will also help us understand and bridge the gap between the present and the past, showing how everything is related.

There’s a lot to love about The Unnoticeables. At first, it’s easy to mistake this one as quirky urban fantasy, with its portrayal of Carey and his group of burned out vagabond 70s punk pals, not to mention the bizarre, almost parodic picture of present day Hollywood through Kaitlyn’s eyes. But as the plot moves forward, the narrative ultimately slips into horror territory, becoming progressively darker and grimmer. The novel’s modest page count belies its heavier, more nihilistic themes and it is certainly not all sunshine and unicorns as more and more we are exposed to the increasingly graphic and gruesome violence in both Carey and Kaitlyn’s storylines.

And speaking of our protagonists, they were marvelous. I especially enjoyed Kaitlyn and her audacity and spirit. I loved her line about not having too many marketable skills, but hey, if you want to know how to jump out of a moving car going at fifty miles an hour, or need someone to fall down a flight of steps without breaking her neck, be sure to give her a call! Then there’s Carey, bringing a fascinating slice of the 70s youth subculture to life with his full-on Johnny Rotten-type persona. A novel starring a kickass stuntwoman and a punk rocker as its two protagonists? Nope, things don’t get much cooler than that.

Carey and Kaitlyn don’t know each other at the start of the book, but of course the best part was finding out how the two of them get together and team up. We alternate between his story and her story, going back and forth between 1977 and 2013, until they meet in Kaitlyn’s time. Carey, now much older, is a vagrant who collects cans in her neighborhood, but his own run-in with the Angels, Tar Men, and the Empty Ones more than thirty years ago makes him a formidable ally for Kaitlyn in her quest to save her friend. I had my doubts about the structure when I first started, but those were dashed as soon as the story picked up, and I saw what the author was trying to do. Let’s face it; so many things could have gone wrong with this format, with the potential to wreak absolute havoc on the story’s overall coherency and pacing, but I was surprised and impressed at how well it worked in the end, with Brockway nailing it without missing a beat.

I’m really looking forward to more of his writing. The Unnoticeables is a great start to a new series, and I’m very pleased that I got to read this just in time to dive into the sequel, The Empty Ones.

4-stars

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Book Review: Any Other Name by Emma Newman

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Any Other NameAny Other Name by Emma Newman

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of The Split Worlds

Publisher: Diversion Books (August 2, 2016)

Length: 344 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Any Other Name is the second book of Emma Newman’s The Split Worlds series, and things are certainly getting very interesting. I read this one as part of the SF/F Read Along group, and as you can imagine, the last month has been filled with much intense and spirited discussion over the characters’ outrageous actions and other unexpected surprises in the story.

While I’ll be keeping plot details to a minimum without going into anything beyond the publisher’s description to keep this review spoiler-free, bear in mind that this novel builds upon the events of the previous one and can’t really be read as a standalone. Back in Between Two Thorns, readers got to meet Catherine Papaver, a young woman who was living in double life in Mundanus while trying to escape the old-fashioned society of the Nether. Any Other Name sees Cathy back in her home world after being dragged back by her family, and against her wishes she is quickly married off to William of house Iris.

Will himself is also tasked with an impossible mission. His patron fae lord has demanded of him the Londinium throne, leaving the newly-wed couple no choice but to move to London’s mirror city in the Nether. Cathy reluctantly tries to integrate herself into their new social circles, while Will sets about finding allies to support his bid for dukedom. As much as he wants to be a good husband to Cathy though, certain desires and other dark temptations seek to draw him onto a different path. Meanwhile, Max the Arbiter continues to investigate the Agency in an attempt to uncover the mysterious circumstances behind the Bath Chapter incident, and Sam also seeks out magical help to figure out what’s wrong with his wife Leanne.

I liked this book, probably just as much, if not more, than its predecessor. While I’m not completely blown away by this series yet, I think we’re gradually getting there, with layers upon layers being built up in the story. In my review of the first book, I commented on the disjointedness of the plot as well as the imbalance the character POVs. Thankfully, these aspects are much improved in the sequel, even though there are still many threads that need to be addressed. I still think there’s way too much going on here all at once, but on the whole this book answered a lot of the questions I had after finishing Between Two Thorns, so I was pleased.

This sequel was a lot easier to read too, now that I have a better understanding of the world. The story was less hampered by the details, which allowed me to settle back and simply let myself be swept away by its events. I gained a deeper appreciation for this relationship between the realms of Exilium, Mundanus, and the in-between world of the Nether. Furthermore, groups like the Arbiters or the Agency who have the ability to affect more than one of these places add an intriguing dynamic to the situation. Max got his chance to play a bigger role again in this volume, allying with Cathy to investigate the dastardly Agency and even briefly teaming up with Sam to see what’s going on with Leanne. This latter plot development was perhaps my favorite part of the novel, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how thoroughly I’ve enjoyed this thread of mystery.

That said, certain aspects of this novel were…problematic. I remain torn on a couple of our main characters, since one moment they would be turning me off, but the next they could be redeeming themselves. I don’t often flip-flop so much on my feelings for characters, but I definitely sense a “soap opera” quality to some of their dramatics. Still, Cathy is actually a much stronger person in my eyes this time, thinking things through instead of just digging in her heels. Plus, she is starting to see beyond her own predicament, perhaps reaching out to help others as well. Sam steps up too, trying to do some good in his own bumbling way, and I found myself rooting for his cause. In contrast, Max shows us what it means to be literally soulless, having no qualms about resorting to unsavory means to get the information he needs. And Will…oh Will. Pretty much every other thing he did made me angry. It’s a good thing I’m keeping this review sans spoilers so I won’t have to go into details, or else we’d be here forever.

I will say this about The Split Worlds series, though: it’s incredibly addictive. I’m officially hooked, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next, especially after the way this book ended. I don’t know what Emma Newman has in store for us, but it’s clear none of her characters are going to come out of this clean and unscathed. Now onward to All Is Fair!

3-5stars

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More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Between Two Thorns (Book 1)

Book Review: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Disappearance at Devil's RockDisappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: William Morrow (June 21, 2016)

Length: 327 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reading Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, which promptly landed him on my “I must read more of this author!” list. So when I found out about his new book Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, I simply couldn’t resist checking it out.

Now that I’m finished reading though, I feel torn. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t think the book was bad, but I also definitely didn’t think it was as good as A Head Full of Ghosts, not even close. Yes, it’s entirely possible that my expectations were way too high going into this, but there were also some pacing problems and other issues I couldn’t ignore, not to mention I also didn’t enjoy the premise as much, which I’m sure played into my overall tepid feelings for this novel.

The book opens with a moment all parents dread. Elizabeth Sanderson, the story’s protagonist, receives a phone call in the middle of the night telling her that her thirteen-year-old son is missing. The caller is her son Tommy’s friend, Josh, who tells her that the two boys and another friend Luis have all been in the woods of Borderland State Park. The three of them had stolen some beer from their parents and had snuck out to do some drinking, Josh says, just hanging out at landmark nicknamed the Devil’s Rock, when Tommy suddenly ran into the trees. This was hours ago, and no one has seen him since.

The next few days are a nightmare for Elizabeth and her daughter Kate as they wait for news. The townspeople are searching the woods tirelessly, police have been called in to investigate, and the media is giving the case national attention. But still, no sign of Tommy. Stressed with worry and grief, Elizabeth starts to think she’s seeing things that aren’t there. That first night, she could have sworn she saw a shadow of Tommy visiting her as a ghost, but believing that also makes her feel terrible because she doesn’t want to give up hope her son is still alive. Then there are the mysterious pages from Tommy’s diary, inexplicably appearing in places for Elizabeth to find. The journal entries reveal a complicated young man who has become increasingly troubled by the loss of his father, Elizabeth’s ex-husband who abandoned his family years ago and died in a drunk-driving accident. Tommy also writes about his experiences in the days leading up to his disappearance, which sheds light on the testimonies of his friends Josh and Luis, indicating that the two boys might not be as forthcoming as they claim. Will these diary pages ultimately lead to the truth behind Tommy’s disappearance?

Like A Head Full of Ghosts, there’s an air of ambiguity that shrouds the story. Paul Tremblay gives just enough to blur the lines between the mundane and the paranormal, keeping readers wondering if there’s more than meets the eye. The book is like a puzzle, providing us with pieces of the narrative from Elizabeth, Kate, Josh, Luis, as well as Allison, the lead investigator on Tommy’s case. Then there are the diary entries from Tommy, words straight from the missing teen himself. Sometimes the different angles reveal answers, helping us fill in the gaps. At other times, they reveal inconsistencies, which is how we later find out some characters aren’t being as truthful as they claim.

I’m aware this style of storytelling usually relies on slower, more methodical pacing. Still, the plodding speed at which this book began was almost unbearable. At one point, I wondered how much of the boys’ shenanigans and their back-and-forth teenage jargon I would have to take before the story would finally get moving. After the initial report that Tommy is missing, the book slows to a crawl and doesn’t pick up again until later, and even then it’s a very gradual escalation without an immediate hook or much suspense.

As I said, I also didn’t enjoy the premise as much. A Head Full of Ghosts was definitely more my bag when it comes to horror, more so than Disappearance at Devil’s Rock which was less “horrific” in the traditional sense. I was unsettled by the story in that I sympathized with Elizabeth’s gut-wrenching sorrow of being a mom with a missing child, but if I was terrified at all, it was more at the idea that one day I’ll be a parent to teenagers, and it scares the hell out of me to read about the kinds of things kids can get up to these days. That left me neither here nor there with this book; it didn’t creep me out the way I would expect from a horror novel, but it was also too slow for me to see it as a true thriller.

That is why I think so much will depend on the kind of horror novel you prefer, and personally speaking this one just didn’t work as well for me—certainly not as well as A Head Full of Ghosts, which I found genuinely clever and creepy at the same time. I also thought that one was a much better book, in terms of writing and construction. Given my high hopes for Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, perhaps it was inevitable that I would be let down, but I suspect I’m in the minority on my feelings for this book. So if the premise sounds like something you’ll enjoy, I strongly urge you to give it a try.

3stars

Mogsy 2

Waiting on Wednesday 07/27/16

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“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Everfair by Nisi Shawl (September 6, 2016 by Tor)

This book has been on my radar for a while, but a fascinating conversation I had about it recently has put it squarely on my must-read list. Featuring alternate history, steampunk, and diverse characters, Everfair has everything to make it an intriguing, tantalizing read.

Everfair“Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.”

An Interview with Levi Black, Author of Red Right Hand

Levi BlackIn case you missed it, last week I reviewed the wonderfully dark and twisted Red Right Hand, a scintillating novel of Lovecraftian terror. Today I am beyond thrilled to bring you this interview with no other than the author himself, Levi Black! Levi was kind enough to stop by and talk about his book, his writing, the things that scares him, and so much more. His novel published by Tor Books is available in stores today. It is one wild nightmarish ride and I hope you’ll check it out! For now though, please enjoy our Q&A!

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Hi, Levi! Welcome to the BiblioSanctum, and thank you so much for joining us today.

Glad to be here. You’ve got a nice place. 

Congratulations on the release of your novel Red Right Hand! Can you kick us off by telling us what it’s about?

Red Right HandThank you. It’s about human endurance in the face of overwhelming evil. It’s about the ability of one person to overcome both their personal demons and the demons that howl in the outer abyss. It’s about 304 pages. It’s about elder gods and chaos and evil and knives, but mostly, it’s a love story.

I understand that the book was greatly inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. What motivated you to explore the Lovecraftian mythos? Why do you think writers (and readers) are drawn to the dark worlds of HPL?

I think Lovecraft was a man who had a unique outlook on horror. He had a lot of problems, things that today would have sent him into therapy, and these informed his concept of a loose pantheon of creatures so alien that aren’t even evil, per se, just evil from our perspective. The best thing he ever did was opening his creations up to be used and expanded upon by other writers. That has continued into today.

I liked the concept of Lovecraftian entities in an urban fantasy setting. RED RIGHT HAND is laden with horror, but at the end of the day it is an urban fantasy.

It’s a horror book masquerading as an urban fantasy.

Let’s talk about your protagonist Charlie Tristan Moore, a young woman who has gone through some terrible, traumatic experiences. What were some of challenges you faced when writing her character?

Well, Charlie was the reason to write this. She was at the forefront of everything when this was spinning in my brain. Her story is the why of RED RIGHT HAND.  She was a challenge though, because I have never been a 24 year old woman and I have never gone through the things she did. Unfortunately I have known far too many women who have and they were the reason I worked so hard to make Charlie authentic. I hope I did a good job for their sake.

What scares you? Do you find that you incorporate the things you fear into your writing?

I only fear two things.

Heights, which is pretty easy to overcome. I stay off high shit. Boom, problem solved.

My second, and more prevalent, fear is oblivion.

The scariest thought to me is that when we die we simply cease to exist. Poof, no more thoughts or experiences, nothing. I’d rather suffer a thousand hells than go to oblivion. Of course this fear is much harder to avoid. It’s pervasive and leads to a lot of: nanananananananananan fingers-in-ears-I’m-not-listening type reactions. I don’t know that it insinuated itself into this story, but it does show up in my writing sometimes.

What was your first introduction to the horror genre? What are your favorite horror films and books?

A book about the Frankenstein movie from Universal Studios that was in my elementary school library. Or horror comics. Or the John Saul books my mom left laying around for curious eyes to read too young. Or Saturday afternoon monster movie features on the local TV station.

Hell, it seems like horror has almost always been in my life in some form.

How do you like being a writer and being involved in the publishing industry?

Love it. I love being a writer. It’s very cool to be like: “I do write. Here’s my book.” and hand them a hardcover as nice as RED RIGHT HAND.

What are your other creative outlets besides writing? Do you have any hobbies you like to do in your spare time?

I am a tattoo artist and have been for two decades now. I also paint occasionally and do photography when I have time.  Hobbies are almost my whole life. I make my pursuit of entertainment into a lifestyle. Reading books and comic books, collecting toys, just about anything I do could be a hobby but is just part of my life.

Is there a sequel planned for Red Right Hand? And are there any other projects you’re working on right now or have planned for the near future, either writing or non-writing related, that you’d like to tell readers about?

There are two books slated to follow RED RIGHT HAND.  Book two is tentatively titled BLOODTHIRSTY GODS but may change. Book three is DEICIDE and that won’t change.

I have a comic book project with artist Neil Vokes from American Mythology comics that hits this fall called SHADOWS OVER WHITECHAPEL that I’m really proud of. It’s going to be awesome and hopefully will lead to more comic book work.

It’s been great talking with you, Levi! Can you please leave readers with three things that they may be surprised to learn about you?
  • I’m a terrible friend. Yes, I seem like I might not be, but I am. You can rely on me for the big things, the hard things, but the day to day….I just kind of suck at that.
  • I think Taylor Swift’s SHAKE IT OFF is a perfect video and song. It makes me happy every time I hear it.
  • Bunnies are my favorite animals. They are delicious.
Thank you so much again for dropping by! Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

Leviblackwrites.wordpress.com

Levi Black is the author of Red Right Hand (on sale July 26th from Tor Books). He lives in Metro Atlanta with his wife and an array of toys, books, records, and comics. He’s been weird his whole life and is almost as scary as he looks.

Week 4: All is Fair Read-Along

All Is Fair Banner

Our read-along of The Split Worlds series continues, and this month we’re diving into the third book All Is Fair! If you’re interested in joining this Read-Along, visit the SF/F Read-Along group for more information and to join the discussion.

With thanks to Coolcurry for the read-along banner!

All Is Fair

Caught in the insidious designs of powerful puppet-masters and playing a life-or-death game for control, Cathy and her comrades face their greatest challenge yet: changing the balance of power in the Split Worlds.

Now at the heart of the Londinium Court, deceit and murder track Will’s steps as he assumes his new role as Duke. Faced with threats to his throne and his life, the consequences of his bloody actions are already coming back to haunt him…

Meanwhile, Cathy, wrestling with the constraints of the Agency and Dame Iris, comes to terms with her new status in Fae-touched society and seeks others who feel just as restricted by its outdated social rules. As Max works with Cathy to uncover the horrors that underpin Fae-touched society, he bears witness as the final blow is struck against the last Sorcerers in Albion…

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schedule

Week 1: Monday 4th July, Chapters 1-6, hosted by Over The Effing Rainbow
Week 2: Monday 11th July, Chapters 7-14, hosted by Hisham El-Far
Week 3: Monday 18th July, Chapters 15-22, hosted by The Illustrated Page
Week 4: Monday 25th July, Chapters 23-End, hosted by x + 1

Questions

1. Apparently women can’t be Arbiters or Sorcerers. Is this another sign of Nether sexism, or do you think there may be other mysteries at play here? What do you think Rupert will do about it?

Mogsy: Somehow I am not surprised to find out that the Sorcerers and Arbiters also subscribe to some form of patriarchy. I suppose that makes Rupert a bit of a hypocrite, claiming to be so enlightened the progressive, but after all these centuries, do I see him doing anything to try to change the status quo? Ekstrand, for all his mental instability, at least has a woman in a high-ranking position on his staff. Speaking of which, when we got to the part where they revealed the real killer was a woman, I had this sudden moment of panic in which I thought Petra might have been the one behind everything. Thank goodness that didn’t turn out to be the case.

2. Were you surprised at Max’s choice? What about his deliberate reaching for his emotions? What do you think the future holds for him and the Gargoyle?

Mogsy: I think I’d known for a long time that Ekstrand’s days were numbered, so in light of that, I guess I wasn’t too surprised that Max and the gargoyle chose the way they did. I was probably more surprised at Max’s deliberate reaching for his emotions, since I didn’t know that was even possible for him to do. Regardless, that moment of catharsis was a long time coming. I had this thought that perhaps the two of them and Petra can join up with Rupert, and then Rupert can put his money where his mouth is and train Petra as a Sorcerer to head up Ekstrand’s old branch. Wishful thinking maybe, but how cool would that be?

3. Cathy has had sweeping success in beginning her rebellion. How do you think Londinium – and the Agency – and the Fae – will respond?

Mogsy: With extreme prejudice, in all senses of the term. Once Cathy brings these issues to the forefront, no longer will the rebellion be something whispered in backrooms and shadows; I think it will be all out war.

4. Will has finally become an ally. Do you think he’s strong enough to stick to it? Do his secrets make him vulnerable?

Mogsy: Will is weak. Just when I thought he’d finally come around, I watched his epic failure as he just stood by cowering and watched Margritte take the full brunt of his brother’s verbal and physical abuse. Sure, he tells Cathy she has his full support now, and then later proves it by rescuing Margritte. But what that means is I’ll trust him to be an ally…right up until things get hard.

As for his secrets, he still hasn’t come clean to Cathy about a lot of things (there was a moment where I thought he would, but he didn’t). They don’t have to make him vulnerable, but it’s obvious that the longer he keeps them, the worst it’ll be for him when they are finally revealed.

5. Sam assumes the mantle of Lord Iron – what do you think of his intentions to pick up Leanne’s mission as well? Do you think he will find his deeds tainted just as Amir’s were? What do you make of his reflection that he’s found a way to look at the past such that it’s nobody’s fault?

Mogsy: I wish Sam the best. He’s been using his newfound status for good so far, but I just hope this won’t be a slippery slope in which too much power leads to corruption (who knows if that’s what happened to his predecessor?) I think he has good intentions, but he really needs to temper this messiah complex of his where he feels he has to save everyone, or change the world in a day. Start at the beginning, Sam. Learn the ropes. One day, he may fulfill Leanne’s vision yet.

A BiblioSanctum Co-Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are  our own.

Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Crown (July 26, 2016)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

If nothing else, this novel gets high marks from me because of how unbelievably addictive it was. On a week night, with an early wake up time the next day, I was still reading with my heart pounding in my chest at 2am refusing to quit this puppy until I was finished. Even though I’ve known about the author’s Wayward Pines series years now, I’ve never read it nor have I watched the TV show based on it. But if those books are anything like Dark Matter, I just might have to go check them out now because Mr. Crouch has a new fan.

But first, how to describe Dark Matter? This is definitely one of those “the less you know going in, the better” kind of novels. It’s enough to say that I was hooked from the first page, and the story’s premise was both intriguing and a punch in the gut. Imagine yourself in protagonist Jason Dessen’s shoes. It’s family night. Jason’s heading out to see a friend, then to pick up some ice cream from the store for his wife and son. All of a sudden, a masked man comes out of nowhere, brandishing a gun and threatening to kill Jason unless he does exactly as he’s told. The abductor makes him take them to an isolated area, then knocks him out by injecting him with some kind of drug. The next thing Jason knows he’s waking up strapped to a gurney, in a sterile room, surrounded by people he’s never met. And it’s the weirdest thing, but all these strangers seem to have been expecting him.

Then Jason returns to his house and discovers everything about it is different. He was never married to his wife. They never had a son. He’s not a college professor, but an award winning physicist responsible for the biggest scientific breakthrough the world has ever known. Years ago, before he met his wife and became a dad, this was the life Jason always dreamed of, but now, alone in a world he doesn’t recognize, all he wants is his family back.

This story was both thrilling and terrifying. Its premise reminded me so much of a recurring nightmare I still have sometimes, in which find myself waking up in the crappy old apartment I had in college and learn that the last six or seven years never happened. The thought that my husband, my kids, my whole life since getting married could be all a dream is the most devastating feeling I could ever imagine, and I’m always filled with a breathless kind of relief when I wake up for real and get all my senses back. It’s probably no surprise then, that I felt an immediate connection to the main protagonist Jason Dessen. The opening scenario in this book really struck a chord with my deepest fears, and I found myself unable to tear my eyes away, wondering what might have happened to Jason, and hoping against hope that he will find the answers he seeks.

Of course, we eventually find out the truth. But since it’ll be difficult to discuss this book further without spoiling, I’m just going to describe my experience with the rest of the story in the broadest of terms. The pacing was great, and other than just a slight slowdown in the middle, Dark Matter was pretty much perfect in its execution. Even in his darkest moments, Jason was a protagonist I found I could root for, because Crouch made it easy for me to sympathize with the character’s desperation and anguish. The best part of the book was probably the last section, with its incredible mind-bending twist. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to call a book “unputdownable”, but in this case, I really can’t think of a better way to describe the ending. Not even the late hour or the unpleasant prospect of spending the next day as a sleep-deprived zombie could stop me from devouring the last few chapters.

It’s been a long time since a book has filled me so much excitement, or that amazing feeling of “Just one more page, just one more I swear…” This was simply fantastic. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, exhilarating read for the summer, look no further than Dark Matter, a flawless blend of science fiction, mystery, and thrilling suspense.

5stars

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Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch

Tiara’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Crown (July 26, 2016)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

It’s hard to describe Dark Matter without feeling like I’m giving away too much of the story because much of the enjoyment comes from walking into this story blind. Jason Dessen is an average man, living an average life with his wife and son. Part of him wonders what his life would’ve been like if he’d pursued scientific greatness rather than settling down and becoming a professor at a local college. Everyone has moments where they wonder what their life would’ve been like if they’d chosen a different path, but so few find their lives upended with a simple question that leads them through a harrowing journey that causes them to self-reflect as they try to regain what they love.

I don’t know what I expected when I went into this book, but it surely wasn’t that. It never ceases to amaze me when a book leaves me completely thrown by the story. This book wastes little time getting to the meat of the story. You’re introduced to Jason and his family. When Jason is confronted by the man in the mask, I told myself that I could see where this was headed, but it managed to go places that I didn’t really see coming. That turned it into such a thrilling journey. While I won’t say this had a ton of character development, the story still allows you to come to know these characters and care about their story.

As a huge sci-fi fan, I love when authors play with alternate universes. Science fiction can be daunting for some, especially as it starts to descend more into the science-y part. This story hinges on the scientific concept of Schrödinger’s cat, but it doesn’t require that you’re familiar with the concept to understand this story. This book can be enjoyed by the average person without much fear that the science portions will go over their heads. I think this book will give people more “down the rabbit hole” vibes than super science vibes because of all the turns that it takes. Just when you think you have this story all figured out, it spins you around again.

Another thing that I loved about this one is how much it made me think of Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, and I don’t mean that to be condescending to this novel. What I mean is Crouch presented this science-y story that centers around very human emotions such as love. I’m always impressed when writers remember such emotions and how they’d influence/complicate the scenarios presented even if you have the most logical people in the world starring in your story. This is part of what kept me into this story because Jason has an established life and I was dying to know how these events would change his average life. This story is about possibilities and the endless amounts of them that can exist in the universe and how one thing can change your whole world.

Like Mogsy, I haven’t read Wayward Pines even though I do have the books and keep promising myself that I will read the books soon. In fact, this is the first book I’ve read by Blake Crouch, and it was a wonderful, exciting journey that had me hanging on for dear life. If this is the kind of thrill that I can expect from his stories, I’ll definitely bump Wayward Pines closer to the top of my list.

4-5stars

Tiara

Book Review: Imprudence by Gail Carriger

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are our own.

ImprudenceImprudence by Gail Carriger

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk

Series: Book 2 of The Custard Protocol

Publisher: Orbit (July 19, 2016)

Length: 320 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Last year I picked up Prudence, the first book of a new series starring the daughter of Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Conall Maccon from Gail Carriger’s celebrated Parasol Protectorate novels. I never did get into Alexia’s series after I dipped my toes into Soulless and realized it was not to my tastes, but the story of Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama AKA “Rue” was entirely a different matter. My first outing with her and the crew of The Spotted Custard was an adventure of courage, comedy, and discovery which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected. And so, craving more of the same from this sequel, I dove into Imprudence with enthusiasm.

This book takes place in the aftermath of Rue’s return to London from India. The entire country is still reeling from knowledge she and her friends brought back from deep in the mysterious jungles, and our protagonist has even gotten a severe dressing-down from the Queen herself. Rue, however, is unperturbed, excited to finally reach her majority and to enjoy all the freedoms that will no doubt come with it.

What she doesn’t realize though, is how much her life is about to change. Lord Maccon, Rue’s werewolf father, has been in bad shape lately, much to his wife’s consternation. As the London pack prepares to elevate a new Alpha, Lady Maccon devises a plan to take her husband to Egypt where she hopes the God Breaker Plague would help him live out the rest of his life in peace. And it just so happens that Rue’s dirigible, The Spotted Custard, has recently been outfitted with secret technology developed by young mister Quesnel Lafoux that can help transport an ailing werewolf to his destination.

Imprudence was a highly enjoyable sequel, even though I didn’t like it as much as its predecessor. While Rue is still delightful, and the series is still wildly entertaining, I couldn’t help feeling that this book was a step or two away from some of the things that really worked for me in Prudence. For one, I loved that the first book was focused almost entirely on Rue, while limiting the appearances of the other major characters from Parasol Protectorate series. In contrast, a significant portion of Imprudence was used to continue the story of her biological parents. If you’re a fan of Carriger’s previous series, I’m sure this will be good news. As someone who is unfamiliar with it though, I sometimes found myself lost especially when characters would refer to people or events presumably from Parasol Protectorate, and I also felt that Rue was overshadowed by the drama involving Lord Maccon and Alexia in the first half of this book.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the first book was the light smattering of romance—just enough for me to feel the chemistry between Rue and Quesnel, but not so much that I found it distracting. On the other hand, the romance is a lot stronger in Imprudence. I like a good romantic subplot when it’s secondary to the central story, but in this case I felt it stole a little something away from the main adventure. Rue and Quesnel’s back and forth flirting was really cute, but it also made it so that the book was slower to take off, and the overall plot wasn’t as exciting as the first book.

Still, I would hardly say I was disappointed. All my favorite elements were still there, namely the preposterous humor and the main character’s unique brand of eccentricity which kept the story interesting. I love The Spotted Custard and all the people on board who have become Rue’s family, and I can’t get enough of her and her friends’ antics. I seriously adore Rue and her peppy personality, as well as the way she makes use of her metanatural abilities without letting others’ fears of her powers get her down. It was also great being able to travel to a new place with the crew, and I can’t wait to see where this series will take us next.

That said, you can definitely start The Custard Protocol books without having read the previous series, but I think fans of The Parasol Protectorate will appreciate this novel even more. Imprudence has many ties to those older stories and characters, which I was mostly unfamiliar with. I wish I’d known a bit more about Rue’s relationship with her parents, for example, or that I understood the story’s background a little better, like the history behind Egypt and the God Breaker Plague, etc. Still, even in spite of the missing gaps in my knowledge, I had a blast. I hope we’ll be getting plenty of books starring Rue for many more years to come.

3-5stars

Mogsy 2

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Prudence (Book 1)

YA Weekend: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

YA Weekend banner

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Paper and FirePaper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of The Great Library

Publisher: NAL (July 5, 2016)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I had a lot of books on my must-read list this year, but perhaps few were as highly anticipated as this follow-up to Ink and Bone, which was one of my favorite reads of 2015. Having learned from experience though, I approached Paper and Fire with realistic expectations despite the immense excitement of being able to visit the world of The Great Library again. The first book was just such a phenomenon for me, and I knew it would take a lot for the next installment to blow me away; hence I wasn’t surprise that I didn’t find Paper and Fire to be as good as Ink and Bone, but it was still nonetheless a fantastic sequel.

The story continues not long after we last saw Jess and his companions. As such, I highly recommend picking up the first book before checking out the sequel or reading my review, since the events of Paper and Fire are tied very closely to those in Ink and Bone. Jess has survived the brutal trials of being a Library postulant, and has since become assigned to the army. He and his friends are separated, and all of them are still individually grieving for the loss of one of their own. Jess also misses Morgan, the Obscurist girl he has come to care deeply for before she was apprehended and locked away in the Iron Tower—and he know he is partly to blame for her fate. Being a past runner for his family of book smugglers, Jess has long known the Great Library of Alexandria is not to be trusted, but he had never expected that its evils could run so deep.

And now, when faced with a chance to save one of their friends from the Library’s grasp, Jess, Glain, Dario, and Khalila are going to have to go against the great power of the Library Archivist and his legion of deadly automata. With the help of their former instructor Christopher Wolfe and the army captain Nic Santi, they devise a plan to infiltrate one of the Library’s darkest prisons, but can they manage to pull it off before the Archivist’s servants hunt them down and silence them?

It’s probably safe to say that Paper and Fire didn’t sweep me off my feet the same way Ink and Bone did, but I still had a great time with it. The first book had the advantage of introducing a brand new world to readers, and it’s always hard to beat that feeling when discovering everything for the first time when all you see is fresh and amazing. This sequel build upon the ideas that are already there, without expanding them much. It also had a much simpler plot when compared to the twisty, intricate storyline we got in Ink and Bone.

For one thing, much of the story in Paper and Fire can be boiled down to a rescue mission, but the characters spend a good amount of time hitting false starts and feeling around blindly for how to proceed. This book had a slight vibe of being hastily thrown together, with a lot of plot developments that seemed too convenient or went unexplained. I think part of this problem stems from the narrative limiting itself to Jess’s point-of-view, so we don’t get to see a lot of what happens “off-screen”. The Ephemera sections at the end of each chapter do show us some of what’s outside Jess’s sphere of influence, but I can’t help but feel this sequel might have been better served with at least one additional POV, like Morgan’s. She’s the first character to come to mind because plays a big role in the progression of this story, and yet so much of what she does is unclear, like how she manages to evade notice or capture when she secretly breaks out or communicates with Jess. Simply put, we just have to accept that all those events and others happened without us knowing the full details of why and how.

And speaking of Morgan and Jess, I was also never really on board with their romance, even when I was reading the first book. As characters go, I like them both very much, but they didn’t have the kind of chemistry I was looking for, and that weakness really came to the forefront in this book when they were separated for much of the time. Jess’s continued feelings for Morgan felt a bit forced, and in spite of the author’s efforts to rekindle that spark between them, I just couldn’t quite grasp it, probably because I never really felt there was any fire there in the first place.

These issues notwithstanding though, I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy this book or that it is a poor sequel—because I did and it isn’t. Still, I won’t deny there’s some of that magic from the first book missing here, so maybe this one is simply suffering from a mild case of second book slump. I do love the ideas in this series and it was great seeing more of them, and it appears Rachel Caine is setting up for even more to come with that cliffhanger ending. The last twenty pages were a whirlwind of activity—a bit too rushed in my opinion, but oh so effective when it comes to building anticipation for book three. I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment!

3-5stars

Mogsy 2

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Ink and Bone (Book 1)

Book Review: Red Right Hand by Levi Black

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Red Right HandRed Right Hand by Levi Black

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Tor (July 26, 2016)

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website

The themes and ideas of H.P. Lovecraft’s works have long since influenced the genres of dark fantasy and horror, as can be seen in Red Right Hand. Levi Black’s new novel adheres true to the Lovecraftian mythos by plunging his characters into deep dark scary places, making them confront the kind of terrors that mere human minds are not equipped to comprehend. This book is undeniably, unmistakably disturbing. And it was quite a ride.

Red Right Hand tells the story of a young woman named Charlotte Tristan Moore, who discovers there are monsters out there other than the human ones in her past. One night, Charlie returns home feeling unnerved by bad memories of the terrible thing that happened to her in high school, only to be attacked by three demonic skinhounds waiting in her apartment. A mysterious Man in Black with a red right hand sweeps in to save her, but it turns out he’s actually an elder god named Nyarlathotep. Charlie is a descendant of H.P. Lovecraft and magick is in her bloodline, he claims. To save the world, she must come with him to defeat two of his brethren who want to bring chaos and death onto this mortal plane.

Charlie doesn’t want to help the Man in Black, but she knows she has no choice. Not only has he named her his Acolyte and unlocked her magical sight to penetrate the veil between worlds, Nyarlathotep also holds Daniel, Charlie’s good friend, in his thrall. To protect Daniel and to keep chaos from being unleashed upon he world, Charlie is forced to do as the elder god commands and follow him into one nightmarish scenario after another.

It probably goes without saying, but Red Right Hand is a book with some frightening and triggering themes, and is not recommended for readers who would find these topics disturbing. While it may share some elements with urban fantasy, it’s really more of a straight-up horror than anything, featuring macabre scenes of blood, gore, and violence, etc. and leaning heavily on the use of graphic descriptions. The story will also explore the terrible thing in Charlie’s past. Even though the event is mostly alluded to in her memories, prospective readers should be aware that parts of this novel will touch upon the pain and trauma associated with sexual assault and abuse.

The narrative itself delivers a fast-paced, action-driven horror tale, full of the terrifyingly weird and supernatural elements inspired by the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. From elder gods to cosmicism, these themes are featured in the modern day setting of Red Right Hand, but it all still feels distinctively Lovecraftian even when written in the bold, stark tones of Levi Black’s writing style. What’s important is that this book does its job well, making good use of the idea that life as we know it is nothing more than an insignificant fragile veneer, underscoring Charlie’s helplessness and the real threat of losing her sanity in the face of Nyarlathotep and his kind.

Granted, neither the plot nor the main characters are particularly deep, and I also thought the visceral reactions to some of the darker, more twisted and stomach-churning scenes might have had the effect of emotionally distancing me from everything, including Charlie. There’s a small romantic subplot involving her and Daniel, for instance, which I didn’t feel much connection to. However, the story does move quickly, leaving me hanging on the edge of my seat to see what happens next. The first few chapters kick us off with barely any preamble, throwing us headfirst into this nightmarish journey with Charlie, Daniel, and the Man in Black. This snappy intro pretty much sets the pace for the rest of the novel, which proved in the end to be one super-fast, super-thrilling read.

I think whether or not you’ll enjoy this book will highly depend on your tastes for horror. The nature of the horror elements in Red Right Hand are rather more intense and in-your-face, as opposed to cold and creeping psychological dread. If what I’ve described here of Charlie’s journey sounds like something you might want to read, I encourage you to check it out for yourself—especially if you have an inclination towards fiction inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. This story will suck you in.

3-5stars

Mogsy 2

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