Book Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Genre: Horror, Fantasy

Series: Stand-alone

Publisher: William Morrow

Date of Publication: April 30, 2013

Author Information: Website | Twitter
 

I’ve always adored horror novels that incorporate paranormal elements or a touch of the fantastical, and considering my enjoyment for such types of books written by Stephen King, it’s a wonder to me why I waited so long to check out something by his son, an acclaimed author in his own right.

Why I thought this was a great book, reason the first: it succeeded in creeping me out. Honestly, why else would I pick up a horror novel? I mentioned before how much I appreciate having fantasy in my horror, because rather than dulling my fear by being “less realistic”, a story with supernatural aspect actually accentuates it. In NOS4A2, Joe Hill manages to balance the “world of reality” and the “world of imagination” perfectly, sometimes blurring the lines.

In this way, a tale about a predator named Charles Manx who snatches children from his vintage Rolls-Royce becomes even more frightening when you think about how in this world of mystical powers, secret places and hidden roads, anything can happen. Manx’s powers are even more disturbing, when you find out that his Wraith car has the ability to transport its riders beyond the veil to a place called Christmasland, which at first sounds like a wonderful place, except every moment a child spends there they lose more and more of themselves. Knowing that this villain uses his young victims’ love of Christmas against them makes this book even more chilling.

Which brings me to another reason why I found this book so effectively unsettling: the fact that this is, in a way, a story about the loss of childhood innocence. Like Manx, our protagonist Victoria McQueen also has a power, which she discovers at 8 years old, when a rickety old covered bridge appears whenever she rides her bike, always leading her to exactly what she’s looking for. Years later and seeking trouble as an angsty teenager, the bridge leads Vic to her first traumatic encounter with Charles Manx.

The events in Vic’s past will remain with her forever, but all powers also have their costs. As she grows into adulthood, her memories and power change her life, her personality, her relationships with the people close to her. Her struggles with these changes are a big part of why I felt drawn to her character, because it’s easy to sympathize with her desire to be a good person and do the right thing, even if it means facing her greatest fears and returning to the worst time of her life.

Joe Hill builds Vic up to be this fully-realized and well-defined character, so that her fears became my fears, what she cared about became what I cared about, and what she wanted became what I wanted, too. Indeed, it’s not just the thrills and suspense that got me into this novel, but also the factors involving Vic’s emotions and relationships with her parents, Lou, and her son.

It takes a very good storyteller to frighten their reader but to also move them, and in this way Joe Hill’s writing reminds me a lot of Stephen King’s work. This is one seriously talented family. While NOS4A2 may be the first book I’ve ever read by Joe Hill, it certainly won’t be the last.

 4 of 5 stars
 
“Frightening and suspenseful, with
well-defined characters”
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Wendy’s Book Haul: Blame it on Mogsy

*Somebody* who may or may not have already been named in the post title gushed about Stormdancer and happened to mention that it was available at BookCloseOuts. Of course I can’t just get one book from there – have to justify that shipping cost! BookCloseOuts kindly obliged by recommending Three Parts Dead, which I grabbed along with my favourite “parenting” book, NurtureShock.

But this (not) said person didn’t stop there! Promise of Blood is on sale for only $1.99, she tweeted, and Amazon, with its sly, seductive ways, guided my cursor to the one-click buy button. But wait! There’s more! Throne of Glass was a good price and you might as well get the sequel, Crown of Midnight, she said, and then there was all her gushing about the Riyria books, so I had to check out Theft of Swords...

Book Review: Skulk by Rosie Best

Skulk by Rosie Best 

Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy

Series: Book 1 (so far)

Publisher: Strange Chemistry

Expected Date of Publication: October 1, 2013

Author Information: Website | Twitter

My thanks go to Strange Chemistry for providing me a copy of Skulk in exchange for an honest review! Every once in a while I’ll delve into the Young Adult genre for my fantasy fix, and this is one of those books that makes me really glad I do.

The story opens with our protagonist and narrator Meg Banks busy sneaking out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night, carrying a backpack full of spray paint. 16-year-old student by day, graffiti artist by night, her plan is to head up to her school and adorn one of its walls with her work. That night, however, Meg is interrupted when she witnesses the final moments of a dying fox, and is shocked when the dead animal inexplicably reverts back into the shape of a man.

After that, nothing is the same again. Meg suddenly learns that the ability to shapeshift has passed on to her, and she is able to change into a fox at will. In addition, a mysterious blue gemstone has come into her possession. In her investigations to find out more about it, she discovers factions of other people like her all around London — the Rabble, the Horde, the Skulk, the Cluster and the Conspiracy – shapeshifters who all must come together to fight against an ancient threat.

The first thing that hit me about Skulk is that this is not your typical paranormal shapeshifter novel. Not only is the ability to shift into a fox a pretty wild idea, but there are also characters that can change into ravens, rats and even butterflies and spiders (not to mention, thanks to Rosie Best I was also learning all sorts of obsolete collective nouns for groups of animals).

But my favorite part about this book other than its unique premise was the voice of Meg. I admit, when I first learned from the opening pages that she was a rich girl who likes to do things like sneak out in the dead of night to deface her prestigious school’s property with graffiti, I thought she would be one of those annoying YA heroines with a chip on their shoulder and a spoiled attitude. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Struggling with her weight and uninterested in the same topics as her friends, in many ways Meg sees herself as an outcast. Along with the physical and emotional abuse she suffers at home from her overbearing politician mother, it wouldn’t have surprised me if Meg turned out to be a melodramatic and curmudgeon-y main character. Instead, she was the opposite. I truly didn’t expect to find her so down-to-earth and just so damn real and genuine. It was easy to love her.

Story-wise, I also thought Skulk was fantastic. Something interesting or life-altering seemed to be happening to Meg in every chapter. On the whole, with only the exception of a couple plot points I found confusing or forced, I found the book intensely captivating. Even the romance angle, which is an aspect I find overdone in a lot of YA novels, was very sweet and didn’t end up dominating or disrupting the overall flow of the story like a rude guest. Rosie Best found the perfect balance for this book, hitting the nail on the head for this and so much more. As such, Skulk is probably one of the best YA novels I’ve read this year. 

4 of 5 stars

Book Review: The Rift Walker by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith

The Rift Walker by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith

Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk

Series: Book 2 of Vampire Empire

Publisher: Pyr

Date of Publication: September 6, 2011

Author Information: Website

I don’t know what I was expecting when I first got into Vampire Empire, probably something light and fun given its vampire and steampunk concept. But I have to say though, this is shaping up to be quite an impressive series. Somewhere along the way, these books have gone beyond simply being candy for my mind, to the point now where I find myself emotionally invested in the story and its characters in particular.

After the events in The Greyfriar, Princess Adele finds herself back in the heart of the Equatorian Empire, trying to put off her dreaded marriage to Senator Clark of the American Republic. Unfortunately, her husband-to-be is eager to get on with sealing their vows so that the new human alliance can start waging war on the vampire clans of the north. His battle plans, however, involve committing atrocities Adele would have no part of.

Besides, her heart still belongs to mysterious swordsman and great vampire hunter known as the Greyfriar. While I would by no means categorize these books as pure “Romance”, the relationship between Adele and Greyfriar is still a strong element in this series, and I want to highlight it again because it was what struck me in the first book. Theirs is probably one of the most well-written and engaging love stories I’ve encountered in my reading, which I think is why the romance still manages to shine through here amidst all the action and adventure. There is just so much chemistry between these two characters.

To put it into perspective, take this one minor scene in which Adele puts on some inconspicuous clothes as a disguise and asks Greyfriar offhandedly how she looks. His response: “Strong. Determined.” THAT’S how Greyfriar always sees his beloved! And the world of significance behind his simple two-word answer is like the biggest turn on ever. In any book, the fact that two lovers can originate from vastly different backgrounds but still be able to stand together and treat each other as equals is a very important thing for me.

Quite honestly, despite the various action scenes in the first quarter or so of this book, I find I could not enjoy myself to the fullest until the the two of them were reunited. After that, I was happy and relieved, even if they did get themselves into more than a few harrowing situations, and as ever the vampire clans are a constant threat.

In these books, vampires are a whole separate species from humans, with their own civilizations and desires to expand and conquer. With the humans driven south, a lot of this series takes place in an area of the world not frequently seen in vampire fiction. The seat of Equatoria is in Alexandria, and with the displaced people from all nations and faiths coming together as one to defeat the vampires, I also loved the diversity in the cast of characters.

With secrets blown wide open, the war with the vampires raging on, and Adele and the Greyfriar’s future hanging in the balance, I have a feeling there’s a lot in store for me in the third book. Can’t wait to read the conclusion to this trilogy!

Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. Thanks, Pyr/Prometheus Books!

 4 of 5 stars
“Shaping up to be an impressive series”

Dragon Age: The World of Thedas

Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1

I’m a sucker for art books and it took all my will not to tell Labyrinth Books to shut up and take my money when I stopped at their row upon row of shelves at Fan Expo last weekend. My bank account wouldn’t have been happy, so I wisely opted to get only this, since it was far more than an art book dedicated to a game series that I love.

The World of Thedas is just what the title says it is. Think of it as a wiki on beautiful, beautiful crack. There definitely is artwork included. Every page is covered in it. But I’m all about the lore and there is no shortage of that here, from Andraste to Zazikel and everything in between, including fashion, politics, landscapes, magic, countries, timelines, religion and more.

Favourite characters do appear, with a brief comment on their relevance to a particular entry (e.g. Isabela is placed within the Rivain section, Morrigan is in the section on apostates), but the focus is on the world itself.

As a big fan of the Dragon Age series, this is a must have for me. It will keep me content while I patiently wait for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Patiently….

5 of 5 stars

Cover Lover: #DiversityinSFF


Today’s cover lover is inspired by the hashtag #DiversityinSFF.

In Conversations with Octavia Butler, my favourite author explains to her various interviewers that, when she began writing science fiction, the genre was dominated by 30 year old white male protagonists. Initially, she attempted to follow suit, but decided her work was crap. When she embraced a more diverse world and universe, an inspirational award winning author was born.

As a person of colour myself, I don’t actively hunt down books by PoC authors or featuring PoC characters, but it certainly makes me happy when I do find them. A new favourite  author, N.K. Jemisin inspired me to pick up and subsequently love love love her book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, largely thanks to this quote:

This [fantasy] genre is rooted in the epic — and the truth is that there are plenty of epics out there which feature people like me. […] So given all these myths, all these examinations of the possible…how can I not imagine more? How can I not envision an epic set somewhere other than medieval England, about someone other than an awkward white boy? How can I not use every building-block of my history and heritage and imagination when I make shit up?

But sometimes, all it takes is a cover to immediately attract my attention. I’m a sucker for a beautiful, vibrant, stunning cover and I most recently fell for the beautiful, vibrant, stunning ladies on the covers of these books.
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone is now high on my to-read list, and you may have already seen Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel a few times here at BiblioSanctum. Ascension’s diversity goes far beyond skin deep and impressed me so much that I had to interview author Jacqueline Koyanagi to learn more.

There is a growing number of books about and being told by diverse people. These are merely the two that recently caught my eye. Science fiction and fantasy, of all genres, give us the opportunity to step so far away from our prejudices, and I’m really glad to see authors (and now publishers) finally realizing that there is more to our world and beyond than stories about 30 year old white guys.

Book Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1 of Tao

Publisher: Angry Robot

Date of Publication: April 30, 2013

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Alien stories are always a fun ride, especially when 1) the aliens are unconventional, and 2) their relationship with humankind goes beyond the typical invade them/uplift them dichotomy. Alien stories are even more interesting when they’re mixed up in a spy thriller. That being said, the latter isn’t usually my cup of tea, but I have to appreciate The Lives of Tao for not taking itself too seriously and for being just quirky enough to win me over.

I’m also as fond of unconventional heroes as I am of unconventional aliens. A self-doubting, weak-willed, TV-dinner-munching and out-of-shape IT technician working at a dead end job probably isn’t someone who immediately comes to mind when you think of the ultimate secret agent. It definitely wasn’t what ancient alien life-form Tao had in mind either when he had to choose a new host after the untimely death of his last one, but it’s not like he had a choice. That’s how our hapless protagonist Roen Tan woke up one day hearing an alien’s voice in his head.

Two factions make up Tao’s species, the Quasings: the peace-loving Prophus and the savage Genjix. The two sides have been engaged in a covert war for centuries, with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. As a high-profile Prophus, Tao finds himself racing against time to whip Roen into shape and to train him in the subtle arts of espionage. His new host must become combat-ready and fast — before the Genjix can discover his identity and eliminate him.

An alien consciousness in a person’s head certainly isn’t a new idea, but like I said before, this book struck me as more unique and scores highly with me because of the complexity in the relationship between the aliens and humans. And that’s not all to it either; the internal conflicts between the Quasings themselves also gave this story a nice spin. Basically, stories about aliens that are out to invade earth and kill everyone are a dime a dozen. It’s nice to read one where the extraterrestrials (or at least a faction of them, anyway) are on our side for a change, and what you do know, aliens can disagree amongst themselves too when it comes to how to deal with us puny humans.

This was a really great book, filled with action and suspense as well as plenty of humor. However, beneath all that is also a very good message. Throughout the course of the novel, we see Roen grow from a loser with low self-esteem to a someone with confidence who’s no longer afraid to fight for what he wants. As unlikely as it sounds, this really is a Cinderella story, with its main character starting out dejected and miserable but ending up a much happier and healthier man. Tao taught Roen many things beyond gathering intelligence and martial arts, not the very least is the fact that complaining will get you nowhere. If you want something, you have to work for it — and getting off your butt is only the first step.

All in all, an entertaining science fiction thriller with a heavy dose of comedy, which almost makes this one feel like an…urban sci-fi? In any case, it’ll be like nothing you’ve read before. I’m looking forward to more by Wesley Chu, and definitely can’t wait until we catch up with Roen and Tao again.

Final verdict:
4 of 5 stars

Waiting On Wednesday 9/4/13

“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 

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson: September 24, 2013 (Delacorte Press)
I love Brandon Sanderson! Since the second book of The Stormlight Archive won’t be dropping until early next year, I’m just going to have to get my Sanderson fix with Steelheart. Finally, we’re in the month of September when this book will come out at the end of the month.
“Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics… nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.“

Wendy’s Pick

Ravine Volume 2 by Stjepan Sejic and Ron Marz: September 24, 2013 (Image Comics)

Stjepan Sejic’s beautiful art graces many Top Cow/Image titles, but it’s something else when he’s unleashed on his own creation. This new epic fantasy is a massive undertaking with a lot of potential that I plan to see through.

The balance of power in the kingdom of Palladia is threatened, as schemers plot to overthrow the rightful king. Amid this turmoil, a sorcerer named Stein Phais and a dragon rider named Lynn de Luctes are Wanderers, blessed with great power and destinies that can shape the fate of nations. How long will it be before they are drawn into the conflict?

Book Review: The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan

The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of The Riyria Chronicles

Publisher: Orbit

Expected Date of Publication: September 17, 2013

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The Riyria Revelations series may have wrapped up, but when it comes to this fantasy world and its characters, clearly there are still many stories to be told. Michael J. Sullivan fills in the details of the past first with The Crown Tower, and now with The Rose and the Thorn. Thanks to Orbit Books and NetGalley, I was able to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

While the first book told the origin story of the partnership between Royce and Hadrian, I thought this second one focused more on the birth of Riyria and the concept itself. Returning to Medford after a year of being on the road, the two thieves find that trouble has come upon Gwen Delancy, the woman who saved their lives after the harrowing events at the Crown Tower. The whole city is looking for one of Gwen’s girls, a young prostitute who may have unwittingly stumbled upon a conspiracy to kill the king of Melengar and his family.

To be honest, I think the fact I was going to enjoy this book was already a foregone conclusion; to me, the romance between Royce and Gwen is one of those fantasy fiction love stories for the ages, and I was giddy with the fact that we got a glimpse into how their relationship first sparked and blossomed. This book also served to provide back-stories for some of the supporting characters in The Riyria Revelations, and we got to see appearances from familiar faces such as Reuben Hilfred and Viscount Albert Winslow.

That said, while I thought the The Crown Tower could be read as a standalone without having much knowledge of the six books of The Riyria RevelationsThe Rose and the Thorn on the other hand might not be so easy to get into for newcomers to the world of Riyria, mostly due to the large number of characters and lore it introduces in the opening chapters. Still, it’s not such a big avalanche of information that it would be overwhelming; I still have no doubt that the book would be enjoyable to people who haven’t read the original series, but it’ll just be more to take in.

In general, though, readers who already know the names and the political climate in this period of the books involving the Church of Nyphron will probably have more reasons to find this book exciting. I for one loved it. From the description I thought I would be getting a lot more about Royce and Gwen, but even then I was not disappointed when I discovered their story was just a part of an overall bigger picture. So many past events that I’d been aware of from The Riyria Revelations have now been given a new life and significance.

In sum, this book basically gave me more than I bargained for, and in a good way. I generally love to read these kinds of “world-building” novels that add to an existing story or series, so really, both these The Riyria Chronicles books were right up my alley. I hope Michael J. Sullivan will be open to writing more in the future, even if they aren’t necessarily about Hadrian and Royce. As he’s shown with this book, even the supporting characters from his world of Riyria have interesting stories to tell.

4 of 5 stars

Book Review: The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 2 of Dire Earth Cycle

Publisher: Del Rey

Date of Publication: August 27, 2013 

Author Information: Website | Twitter

After hearing the praises my co-blogger Wendy had to sing about this book, I decided not to wait any longer and just had to see its awesomeness for myself. I’m so glad I did. At the same time, though, I’m also now hot and bothered over that crazy cliffhanger of an ending. Oh no, you did NOT just end there. I’m not kidding, I actually shouted that at the book, earning me a strange and slightly concerned look from my husband.

The story continues with mystery, action and good sci-fi thrills in this sequel to The Darwin Elevator, Jason M. Hough’s hit debut that came out earlier this summer. With the appearance of a second space elevator in Brazil, our protagonist Skyler and the brilliant Dr. Tania Sharma have set up a new colony at its base, using the movable alien towers around it to ward off the deadly subhuman plague. A sudden attack from a band of immune militants, however, halts progress and endangers the colonists. Cut off from contact, Skyler is left on his own to fight off the savage SUBs and to figure out a way take back the colony.

I have to say the second book of a trilogy is often tricky; a lot of times, they end up being labeled as “bridges” since the first book typically is an explosive introduction while the last book contains the grand finale, leaving little for the middle book to do than to tie the two together and ramp up to the conclusion. I’m happy to report this is not the case with The Exodus Towers. Personally, I find it even more gripping than the first book, with non-stop action that starts on page one and won’t let up.

At the same time, it also deftly manages to accomplish a prime goal of a second book — developing and evolving the main characters, establishing the world, and furthering the intrigue of the situation. In this story of survival in a land taken over by the wilderness and hordes of mindless, violent creatures, we get to experience this at both the personal level through the eyes of Skyler, as well as at a community level following the struggles of the colony.

In addition, new threats and new players are introduced to spice things up. The story is getting a little darker and more brutal, and in a time when humans should be banding together, everyone is instead even more unsure of whom to trust. The suspense is also building steadily, as more is gleaned about the mysterious alien Builders and their daunting technology. All in all, this book succeeded in revving up the momentum and raising the stakes. Can’t wait for the conclusion!

Note: Received eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, NetGalley and Del Rey!

 4 of 5 stars
“Stakes are raised with mystery, thrills,
and non-stop action”

Be sure to check out our other articles about The Dire Earth Cycle here on The BiblioSanctum, including an interview with author Jason M. Hough!