Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Alive by Stephanie Erickson

  They saw it all happen. The fear, the panic, the carnage. They saw it all...from up there.

  Alive is the third and final book in Stephanie Erickson's Dead Room trilogy, and I almost have to say that it is my favorite. It certainly has my favorite main Dead Room character, the no-nonsense, strong, independent Vega Fowell.
  When I read The Dead Room (book one), I knew Stephanie Erickson was going somewhere great with her story. Did I know it was going to be "stay up late and be overtired the next morning" great? No. But it was. In fact, it may even bump Unseen down to second place for me.
  I was warned by Stephanie herself that Alive is not a fan favorite. I went into it cautiously, fully prepared for something to sour it, but all I found was satisfaction. As a reader and reviewer, I was very happy with how Ms Erickson ended her trilogy.
  I haven't met an Erickson book I haven't liked. Each one is exciting, scary, and addicting. Although, I have to say...this trilogy takes the cake. It had me gripping its pages at 4:00 in the morning, fully aware that I was not going to get any sleep that night. How she packs so much action into so little pages, I will never know. When I read book two, The Dead World, I was pretty confident that it was going to be my favorite, even after reading Alive. But now, after some serious thought, Alive nudges it down a notch.
  Stephanie Erickson's books only get better.

Book                                ebook

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Dead World by Stephanie Erickson

  The Dead World, Stephanie Erickson's second book in The Dead Room trilogy, will haunt you to your very core.
  Without giving too much away, we began the series with book one, The Dead Room, and learned that what used to be civilization is now something out of our worst nightmares. Told during two different points in time, The Dead World teaches us what led to this turn of events, and what our main characters can possibly do to reverse it.
  If I thought The Dead Room was "good," The Dead World was even better. I finished the entire book in one sitting (4 1/2 hours to be exact). I could not stop reading. It may have been because I've been in a serious reading lull lately (because, of course, work gets in the way of precious binge-reading time), but I am willing to bet than anyone who picks up The Dead World will be sucked in to Ms Erickson's story immediately.
  I was so hooked, I even considered starting book three, Alive, at 4:30am. Who needs sleep when a story is this good?
  I am absolutely addicted to the Dead World. I have to know what's going to happen, so pardon me if I cut this review short to make room for more reading time later.
  Ms Erickson's books can only be compared to remarkable episodes of The Twilight Zone. When she sets up a story that is sure to captivate you until the very end, it would be an injustice to put it down.

Book                                 ebook

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bury Me by Dianna Dann

  Lenore Hawn is a hoarder. Surrounded by piles and piles of knick knacks, boxes, and garbage, Lenore is slowly building a tomb for herself. Hannah, a seventeen year-old neighbor of Lenore's, has agreed to help uncover piles of junk, in hopes of finding a box long lost in one of the over-stuffed bedrooms. Hannah is clueless as to what it is, and the last thing she wants to do is to be punished by having to sort through her older neighbor's extremely stuffed and dusty house. But she agrees.
  In the process of searching for this lost piece of Lenore's history, Hannah and Lenore begin to grow close...and begin to share stories. In Dianna Dann's Bury Me, Hannah and Lenore not only uncover years and years of accumulated junk, but also uncover each other's deep, dark secrets.
  Bury Me was a satisfying read. Dianna Dann still has a way to go before she contends with the big dogs, but her stories are always quite satisfying to read. Bury Me was meaningful, and deep (a common theme with Dianna Dann novels). As the story goes on, and Lenore and Hannah peel back the layers of each other's past, you find yourself becoming more and more emotionally invested in their histories.
  Bury Me packs a powerful punch. The intrigue of Lenore's story will keep you hooked and anxious for more, and the ending does not disappoint. Dianna Dann has successfully written another book that leaves a large impact on its readers.

Book                                ebook

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Year's Best Graphic Novels, Comics & Manga: From Blankets to Demo to Blacksad by Byron Preiss, Howard Zimmerman, and Neil Gaiman

  It seems as if I have become quite lucky with BookCrossing finds within the past few months, because lo and behold! I have found another. The book Gods were smiling down upon me on that snowy and slushy winter's day, when I ventured to the same park where I found my previous BookCrossing book, and stumbled across The Year's Best Graphic Novels, Comics & Manga: From Blankets to Demo to Blacksad.
  "Really?" I thought. "Another book about graphic novels and manga? Someone must really want me to expand my literary palate even more..." (Even though I clearly already admitted that I now like manga.)
  Even though I had already picked up a BookCrossing book from that spot, and from that BookCrossing member before, I figured the book would be better off being read and re-released into the wild, rather than it sitting in the cold, wet snow for another few days. I brought it home.
  When I picked up my first BookCrossing book, which happened to be manga, I was excited to go on an adventure into a genre of literature I had never experienced before. When I picked up my second BookCrossing book, I was less excited. I always imagined that I would read every BookCrossing book I found, because I felt that in some cosmic twist of fate, I was meant to pick it up and read whatever was left for me, but...a book summarizing comics and manga? Do people actually read these books, or are they just books left over from garage sales that eventually find themselves on secondhand shelves? Is this a coffee table book? I didn't think this book was actually readable.
  But every time I thought about moving on, re-releasing the book, and diving back into my Harry Potter reread (which, I'm ashamed to say, I have not finished yet), I felt guilty. How could I pick up this book and take it home just to have it sitting on my couch for two weeks before returning it to the wild?
  I had to read it. So I did. (It didn't hurt that one of the forewords was written by Neil Gaiman.)
  The forewords sold me, and it wasn't just because one was written by Neil Gaiman. In the forewords, these writers and comic-enthusiasts alike wrote about what comics and graphic novels meant to them when they were younger. How they aspired to write comics one day, to meet Stan Lee, and to collect and collect comics until their little geeky hearts were full to the brim with joy. These are feelings I have had for many things in my life, and I recognized their passion, like a zebra recognizing a similar black and white-striped pattern.
  I understood their passion, and I thought to myself, "I must find out what makes these dorks so passionate about word bubbles, cartoons, and flying super men in tights and capes."
  Since the "Year's Best" book was a decent variation of samples of different comics, graphic novels, and manga flavors to taste, it's easy for me to say that there were some stories I loved, some I found amusing, and some I would be satisfied to never see ever again in my life. For instance, Hsu and Chan? HIT. Any of the manga? Miss. Owly? Hit! Serenity Rose? Miss, miss, miss. Miss, to the point of me reading two pages, and skipping the rest. (And I never skip in books.) I also loved Family Reunion and Robot in the Rain. Yossel and Demo were incredibly dark (and creepy--especially Demo), but the artwork was exceptionally done. Some of these comics and graphic novels (I leave out the manga but none of them particularly tickled my fancy) were lacking in story, but were beautiful to gaze upon, and some were simple drawings with a story deep enough to bring you to tears. I found Secret Identity fun and easy to read, along with Blankets, Queen and Country, Ex Machina, and Sandman (bravo, Neil Gaiman).
  After I finished the book, I read the reviews of it on Goodreads, and was disappointed to see that many readers gave it low ratings due to the size of the samples per comic, graphic novel, and manga. (Each sample was a page to 5 or 6 pages long.) I definitely disagree. I feel that the sizes of the samples were more than satisfactory, because they gave the reader a chance to move on to something different without becoming bored.
  I won't credit myself more than I deserve, and say that I am an expert in this genre of books. I don't think I would even be able to tell the difference between a graphic novel and a comic, given the chance. But I will say this: My mind has been opened even more to this field, I now have some obvious favorites (and obvious un-favorites), and I look forward to reading more from these writers and artists.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Wizard's Forge by A.M. Justice

  Victoria of Ourtown is the heroine the world needs right now. Snatched from her peaceful life of becoming the youngest Logkeeper Ourtown has ever seen, Vic must survive the torment of being sold into slavery, learn to rebuild a life after losing her identity, grow the courage it takes to lead an army of men five times her size into battle, and fight against the half of her that feels pulled to return to her vindictive master... In A Wizard's Forge, Vic will face trials of life, magic, and death, and it's up to her, and her alone, to survive.
  When A.M. Justice told me that she had re-written her novel Blade of Amber (one of my favorite review requests), and asked if I could read it and give her my two cents, I was thrilled to hear that I would be revisiting one of my most favorite stories. Apprehensive, in fear that my favorite characters would be put in danger they didn't face in the original story, but thrilled nonetheless. Blade of Amber was such a wonderful book, I was beyond curious to see what A.M. Justice had done to A Wizard's Forge (the re-write) to make it different.
  As a reviewer, I read every review request like a review request, unless an author's writing is impressive enough to mask the real world around me, and fully submerge me into fiction. As I read A Wizard's Forge, I disappeared into its pages. I felt reconnected with the familiarity of a beloved story, but at the same time, I felt as if I was reading it for the first time. When I read Blade of Amber, I would keep track of minor imperfections in my head (which I can't help, because I have been asked to edit many books since I became a reviewer), and I would ask myself, "This book is amazing, but does it compare to books one would find in a bookstore?" Blade of Amber was one of the best review requests I had ever read, but in all honesty, it still had enough imperfections to be categorized only as a review request from an indie author. I say this with brutal honesty, because I have to make it known, the volume of improvement A.M. Justice has made with her book.
  In A Wizard's Forge, I found no imperfections. If I hadn't known that A.M. Justice was an indie author before I read this, I would have never guessed that she is not a Barnes and Noble bestseller. With her updates and new corrections that turn Blade of Amber into A Wizard's Forge, she has evolved from indie author into an up-and-coming author. I do not say this lightly, because if you ask me honestly, I will tell you that most of my review requests come from authors who all need some tips, tricks, and editing before they contend with the big dogs. I would have said the same for A.M. Justice if I was going solely based on her first draft of Vic's story.
  I write this long, drawn-out review in hope of making it clear to all, that A.M. Justice has improved her story on an impressive level. She is ready to be published professionally. She is ready to have her books on bestseller shelves around the world. I highly encourage her to pursue getting A Wizard's Forge published, because this book should not be overlooked.
  I gush a lot about books I love, I know I do, and I'm sure my reviews can come off like I'm crying wolf, but please believe me when I tell you that this is a good one. A really good one. I will happily back up Ms Justice if she decides to take her editing and publishing further, because I believe in this book. I believe in its success. I look forward to the day when I get to boast about my autographed rough draft of A Wizard's Forge, while the rest of the world is racing to the bookstore to find a copy of their own.

Book                                ebook

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Discovery of a BookCrossing Book/Sweet Rein Vol. 3 by Sakura Tsukuba

  Alright, I freely admit that this was my first crack at reading Manga.
  For some reason, when my friends discovered Manga and started delving into the interesting world of Japanese Animation, the fascination skipped over me. (As did High School Musical--sorry.) I went right from Goosebumps and American Girl books to Twilight and the Mortal Instruments. I don't say this insinuating that getting into Manga was a rite of passage that I missed, but in a way, it was, since I seemed to be the only young adult who didn't understand the fascination.
  That being said, years later, an opportunity presented itself (literally) for me to finally try my first copy of Manga.
  There is a wonderful little bookworm program called BookCrossing. Readers will find a book they love (or a book they want to read, a book they don't like so much, etc.) put a BookCrossing tag in it (with a code), and cast it off at a random public spot for someone to find, read, and drop off again so someone else may find it. As each person logs in that they found said book, readers come together and discuss (online) how they liked or disliked the book they found. It is incredibly neat. Ever since I discovered BookCrossing (around five or so years ago), I have been dying to find one myself. Finding one while I was living in Florida had slim chances, since the state is so big, and not many people (at the time) were casting out books. My one chance of finding one was to make a trip to Disney, and I really only ventured into Orlando for one thing--the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  I have a point to this blog post, I promise.
  Once I moved to New England, the chances of finding a BookCrossing book had become much higher, but I honestly had given up on finding one once I found out how difficult it would be to find one in Florida. I could have cast one out myself, but that took an effort, and I can be extremely lazy. (Yes, I admit it!)
  Fast-forward to living in New England. About a week ago, as I was doing a photo shoot for my business HerShelves Elves, I was wrapped in as many sweaters and jackets as possible, scouring a park, placing my elves in front of giant Christmas decorations for my Facebook page. As I walked to the center of the solid, icy, packed snow, I placed my elves on a bench covered in bows and wreaths. But something else was in my shot, wrapped in a plastic zipper bag.
  My very first BookCrossing book.
  With a fleeting glance, I noticed it was Manga, but I didn't care. I finally found one! I quickly took my pictures, and shivered as I ran back to my car. I knew I had to read it. I found this book for a reason. It had to be the book gods' way of telling me to expand my literary palate even more.
  So, with excited and giddy shaking hands (and a tad bit of trepidation), I started Sakura Tsukuba's Sweet Rein Vol. 3.
  I honestly didn't realize it was the last volume of the saga until I started reading about Kurumi (the Santa) and Kaito (her reindeer), and realized they were already well-acquainted with their readers. Nevertheless, I delved in anyway (against my inner OCD's shrieking will in the back of my head).
  It was difficult adjusting to the word bubbles and phraseology of the characters' dialogues, but surprisingly the order in which you read the word bubbles was extremely easy to understand. Right to left with the comic windows, just like reading Hebrew, but left to right because it's English. (It's much easier than it sounds.)
  Of course, with my mind being a tad more closed than I'd care to admit, I thought the way Kurumi, Kaito, and Sakura Tsukuba's reoccurring characters communicated with each other was a bit childish and silly, but, I admit, I gradually became amused with them.
  The book is told in four parts, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Some seasons I liked more than others (Summer and Winter), and I actually found myself picking a favorite character out of the bunch. In addition to those pleasant surprises, I was also shocked to find myself disappointed when the book ended suddenly. (The last few chapters, which I THOUGHT was another installment of Spring, was in fact a preview of another Tsukuba story.) I was so disappointed. Disappointed enough to casually look up Sakura Tsukuba on the internet...and, you know, just see how many Kurumi and Kaito books there were...and, you know, just check it out, just in case the story continued...
  Okay, FINE. I admit it. I became hooked. Horribly hooked. I want more of their story, I want the first few installments of the Sweet Rein books (because Vol. 3 is the LAST, apparently), and I want to casually stroll through the Manga sections of the bookstore (which I would never normally venture into unless it was attached to the YA section).
  I hate to sound a tad hippy dippy, but this fateful find of a BookCrossing book opened my eyes to a new universe of literature. Now that I've finished the book, I plan on dropping it off at a different park in the vicinity, and logging on to BookCrossing to thank the originator of the book for introducing me to Manga.

Book                                 ebook

Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Other Place by Darren Dash

  I was contacted by Darren Dash about a week ago to read his upcoming novel, An Other Place. Being such a huge fan of his, it was a surprise and an honor to receive an email from him, let alone hear that he wants me to review a book of his, before it's even released.
  Once the shock subsided, I was ready to sink my fangs- er- teeth into his new story.
  Newman Riplan is not who you would call a saint. He is successful at his work as a troubleshooter, well on his way to making his first million, but he is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. Easily hypnotized by the crook of sex, alcohol, and drugs' spindly finger, Newman is entirely out of it when his two friends send him on a plane to a mystery vacation.
  Little does Newman know, that on his way to his destination, he gets lost in An Other Place. Everything is wrong with this Other world. The currency is teeth, no glass is to be found anywhere in the city, and strange beasts run free with every corner you turn. No one there seems to know of anything relating to the world Newman has left, and he quickly realizes that he can never leave.
  I have never been so happy to be an outsider (looking in) so much in my life. Although I didn't care for Newman (at least at the beginning), I took comfort in the fact that I was not facing this nightmare of a journey on my own. I have been successfully terrified by Darren Dash's YA books (written in his alias, Darren Shan), but never to this extent. Darren Dash has opened a new artery of terror in An Other Place, and has let the adrenaline-laced blood flow into his readers.
  Several times this book made me shout, "What? WHAT?" I couldn't dig my heels into the ground far enough to slow this ride. I am not entirely sure if I can even categorize this book as a book I loved, as I have with his other books. Though, in all honesty, I know for a fact that this story will stick with me. As soon as I finished the last page, I felt as if I had been sucker-punched in the gut.
  "I liked it" or "I loved it" doesn't come close to summarizing the feelings I have for An Other World. I hated it, I wanted to leave Newman's head, I wanted to explore, I wanted to take a handful of Cheryl's sleeping pills, I wanted to tell Newman everything was going to be alright, I wanted to scream at him to run, I wanted to talk to the Alchemist, I wanted to stay, I wanted to flee, but most of all, I wanted to know more. I had to know how this city was born, and what Newman has to do to beat it.
  One thing you can say for Darren Dash's writing; he has you always wanting more.
  All in all, An Other Place is unlike any book I have ever read. It had hints of The Twilight Zone, Pines, and Station Eleven, but not quite. An Other Place was an entity of its own.
  So, Darren, I have one question for you: Where do you think you are? 

Book                               ebook