The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse – review

What happens when we die? 

This has been the third question on mankind’s FAQ list since the dawn of time (numbers one and two being: Is this edible? and Excuse me, would you care to breed?). 

I know what happens. Believe me, I’d rather not. But I do. 

There is a lighthouse, and it guides our souls along the narrow path to being reborn as humans. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, as my undead granddad and the Tibetan special mission monk in my kitchen have kindly told me, there’s a problem with the lighthouse. And if the world is to be saved, someone needs to fix it.  Which is where I come in: George Larson, eighteen years old. Who could possibly be better suited to save the world? 

Well, almost anyone. Especially as being a teenage guy is nothing at all about question three but all about questions one and two.  And really, that’s complicated enough as it is.

This is the first release from new publisher on the block Steam Press, by Swedish author, Fredrik Brounéus. Firmly set in the landscape of the South Island of New Zealand, it brings together fantasy elements with science fiction, and perhaps what some might consider horror elements – I mean, it has a zombie, though he only seems to be worried about his next coffee fix. Your brains are safe.

From the get-go, this book was making me smile. The main character, George, is very likable, and Brounéus has nailed the late teen, kiwi male perspective. He made for an amusing protagonist, and one that I could get behind. I wanted him to ‘win’ though I wasn’t sure what that might entail, being that there is a great deal of mystery surrounding what it is he’s meant to be doing.

I was drawn right into that mystery, and had to read on to find out what on earth was going on. Eventually all the clues, hints and suggestions become clear in a grand reveal that blew my mind. LOVE the concepts in this book, though I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to ruin it for you. If you like your humor mixed with some action, some mysticism, philosophy and science, then I think you might really enjoy this book. I adored the footnotes (a really nice change from reading footnotes in research articles!), the drawings and the easy to engage with style that this book is written in.

If you are keen to check it out, head over to Steam Press and read a sample!

Horizon – Aftertime #3

Cass Dollar is a survivor. She’s overcome the meltdown of civilization, humans turned mindless cannibals, and the many evils of man.

But from beneath the devastated California landscape emerges a tendril of hope. A mysterious traveler arrives at New Eden with knowledge of a passageway North—a final escape from the increasingly cunning Beaters. Clutching this dream, Cass and many others decamp and follow him into the unknown.

Journeying down valleys and over barren hills, Cass remains torn between two men. One—her beloved Smoke—is not so innocent as he once was. The other keeps a primal hold on her that feels like Fate itself. And beneath it all, Cass must confront the worst of what’s inside her—dark memories from when she was a Beater herself. But she, and all of the other survivors, will fight to the death for the promise of a new horizon….

This is the third installment in the Aftertime series, of which I read and reviewed the second novel, Rebirth, last year. I saw that it had come up on NetGalley and immediately requested a copy. The second book was really well written for the most part, even though I had some issues with it. In any event, I was eager to see what happened next.

Horizon is set several months after the end of Rebirth. I found this quite jarring, as I wanted to know what happened between the end of the second and beginning of the third books. I got over that soon enough though and found myself being caught up in the story.

I really enjoyed this novel. It blew my mind, punched me in the gut and ruined my ability to read other books for days. Nothing I’ve started since has stacking up with this one. It’s very well written, a fine balance between forwarding the story and also filling in some of the blanks that had been left in the previous two novels (well, I assume they were blanks from the information in the book as I haven’t read the first one yet!).

There is a whole range of new characters in New Eden, but once again this story is about Cass, who has fallen off the wagon and seems caught up in another round of quiet self-destruction. That is until the Beaters learn to swim and threaten to devour their little settlement, forcing everyone to abandon their once safe haven and try to find a new home.

The Beaters were pretty absent in Rebirth – it was less about them, and more about the Rebuilders – so in some senses this was my first real exposure to them. OMG. So good. I love zombies and these ones do not disappoint. I could feel the overall tension building throughout the novel and by the time I’d got less than halfway I had entered the ‘can’t-put-it-down’ zone.

Sophie Littlefield has done an amazing job on this novel. I love all the little plot points that were woven in, the way the characters are all so real and vital, so present in their lives. I loved it when Cass realized she needed to get sober, get herself straight, not for someone else, but for herself, and I LOVED the way the romance line resolved itself. I loved the way relationships changed, evolved, shattered, renewed.

This book had me in tears at the end. Even with three kids running around the house, interrupting me every other page. It’s a dark novel in places, an ‘on-the-edge-of-your-seat’ read at others, but the underlying strength of the characters, their ability to cling to hope in spite of such horrific circumstances is beautiful.

And that is what I was left with. A sense of hope.

So good.

I definitely recommend this book. I’m going to have to go back and read the first one now.

Darkness Falling – Peter Crowther

It was a typical all-American backwater – until the night the monsters came. When four employees of KMRT Radio investigate an unearthly light that cuts off communication with the outside world, they discover that something has taken the place of their friends and fellow townfolk, and imbued them with malign intentions. Little do they know, the phenomenon is not unique to the town of Jesman’s Bend…

Publisher: Angry Robot
Release Date: 27th Sep, 2011
Book One of the Forever Twilight series.

I wanted to love this novel. I really did. The cover made me giggle (in a good way – zombie type things with gloves and aviator glasses? HA!) and the blurb sounded interesting. Sadly,  it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, the writing was okay, the characters a true-blue motley crew, but the bulk of this book was about bringing the different groups of main characters together into one place and the real plot only starts when we get to the end of the novel. This is a pet peeve of mine at the moment – I really feel like all of a novel should contribute to the story the novel  is trying to tell, and this just doesn’t. It’s like four hundred pages of character and world exploration. Some of it’s really interesting, and exciting, but in the end, it doesn’t do anything other than gather everyone up and let the reader and characters in on some of whats going on.

Anyway, let me tell you some of the good things. I really did like some of the characters, and was creeped out by some of the others, which I’m pretty sure was the authors intent – why else would you put a serial killer or a lady who has the voices of her myriad of invisible children chatting to her almost constantly. They were certainly a unique bunch, and while I couldn’t relate to them all, I enjoyed the interactions between them, the interplay of secrets and suspicions. Contrary to the blurb above, the four characters mentioned are not the only main ones at all, in fact they don’t come into play until a good chunk of the book has already passed.

One of the negatives, for me, about the way each set was introduced is that each time you get their experiences of pre-flash, the flash of light and then afterwards. This can get quite repetitive and slowed the novel down for me. It was interesting the first time, but not so much each time further through the story. The author really does draw the characters well though, giving lots of history and detail to really build them up in your mind.

I also quite liked the bad guys – I know they are not going to appeal to everyone, but I found them genuinely creepy. Their slow movements, their strange behaviours and the quirk of having them all wearing aviator glasses and gloves added to their ick value, kind of making you wonder whether you should take them seriously, and then seeing what they can do, made them scarier than they might have otherwise been.

The novel reads almost like a script in some senses, and I think that a movie adaption would probably be quite riveting. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on, and I am curious enough about the characters and what might happen next to want to read the next book in the series and see how it pans out, but as a first book to a series? It wasn’t fabulous.

I’m going to be generous and give it 3 stars as I really am intrigued.

Rebirth – Sophie Littlefield

This is the second book in the Aftertime series, though I didn’t realize that before I started reading it.

Published by: Luna Books
Release Date: 19th July, 2011

 Civilization has fallen, leaving California an unforgiving, decimated place. But Cass Dollar beat terrible odds to get her missing daughter back—she and Ruthie will be happy. 

Yet with the first winter, Cass is reminded that happiness is fleeting in Aftertime. Ruthie retreats into silence. 
Flesh-eating Beaters still dominate the landscape. And Smoke, Cass’s lover and strength, departs on a quest for vengeance, one that may end him even if he returns. 

The survivalist community Cass has planted roots in is breaking apart, too. Its leader, Dor, implores Cass to help him recover his own lost daughter, taken by the totalitarian Rebuilders. And soon Cass finds herself thrust into the dark heart of an organization promising humanity’s rebirth—at all costs. 

Bound to two men blazing divergent paths across a savage land, Cass must overcome the darkness in her wounded heart, or lose those she loves forever.

Despite the fact that I hadn’t read the first novel in this series, it was really easy to get into the world. While past events were mentioned, I felt like there was enough information to go on, to understand everything that happened within this particular novel.

I really liked the setup. There are a fair few series around that are post zombie apocalypse, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that rather than this particular book being about the ‘Beaters’, it was about the people.

Cass Dollar is a hard woman. She’s probably not the girl you’d want to bring home to your mother, but she fights for what’s hers and is trying hard to make up for her past mistakes, most of which surround her little girl, Ruthie. I loved how flawed she was, and how her past habits played out in this novel. She uses everything she has to get what she wants, and while sometimes that makes for hard reading, it was true to the character.

There are really three main players in this book. Cass, Ruthie, and Dor. Everyone else is on the sidelines. Ruthie is a very silent character to begin with, but as the novel progresses she comes out of her shell a little and we can see that she’s not an ordinary girl anymore. Dor is enigmatic – every time I thought I had him pegged, he would show another side of himself.

I think I got halfway through before I realized that while the book is well written, not a whole lot had actually happened yet. The really gritty stuff only begins to happen once Dor and Cass reach the Rebuilder’s camp, and then the pace picks up as Dor and Cass attempt to save the ones they love, and escape.

So with that in mind, I would rate the second half of the book a 4, and the first, a 2. I’ve evened this out and given the whole book a score of 3. I think it’s well worth working your way through to the second half. The ending definitely made me want to pick up the third book to see what happens next, it was a real cliffhanger ending! I’m also interested to go back and read the first book. I have heard that the beaters are more of a real and present danger in Aftertime. While they are present in Rebirth, they seem like a very small threat.

Camera Obscura

I received this as an e-arc, via Netgalley. I didn’t realize it was part of a series, but it stands on it’s own really well – I didn’t feel lost at all!

Author: Lavie Tidhar
Publisher: Angry Robot
Published: May 3rd, 2011

CAN’T FIND A RATIONAL EXPLANATION TO A MYSTERY? CALL IN THE QUIET COUNCIL. The mysterious and glamorous Lady De Winter is one of their most valuable agents. A despicable murder inside a locked and bolted room on the Rue Morgue in Paris is just the start. This whirlwind adventure will take Milady to the highest and lowest parts of that great city – and cause her to question the very nature of reality itself.

It’s hard to give this book a clear genre. I think you’d have to call it steampunk, through there is so much else going on as well that it could be any number of other things: science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller.

I was drawn in by the blurb, and the cover, which I just adore. The opening scene is really intriguing, and I was really interested to see where it would go. We’re presented with a problematic crime scene, and intensely interesting character (Milady), and some some kind of clockwork bug companion (Grimm), as well as information about the world – but not a lot. The first time the lizard queen was mentioned I raised an eyebrow and wondered if I had read incorrectly.

But that is one of the good things about this novel – you are never given all the information. You are dragged along on this journey, learning things about the world, left in the dark about the details and history. And I liked that.

After the beginning, I thought it was just a murder mystery, waiting to be resolved. Over time, you find that this is not the case, in fact the mystery is much bigger, much deeper than you imagined. Some amazing world building has been done here, it draws from so many cultures and backgrounds, and lumps it all into the same novel. I loved the worldly feel this achieved, as if anyone, from anywhere, might crop up in the novel – ranging from actual historical figures, to invented ones.

The writing style was a little different, and took some adjusting to, but I enjoyed the story more as it went on – in fact, it’s not until a fair way into the book that I felt like I MUST read on. There are so many interesting characters, with interesting pasts, all converging  eventually into the main story line. Until you get to that point, it seems a little disjointed at times, but in my opinion, worth pushing on until you get to the good parts.

It’s a big story, breathtaking at times, truly an epic adventure, rich in details and keeping you on the edge of your seat once it gets going. I would give this book a 3.5 star rating, and I would definitely be interested in picking up another book from this author.

H is for Harte

Originally posted at just-cassie.com on February 11th, 2011

Disclaimer: I’ve known Anna for awhile now through the wonders of the internet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t give an honest review of her work 😉 I am pretty sure that even if I didn’t know her, I’d have wanted to read this collection of short stories. Zombies. ’nuff said.

My fourth read for the ABC Indie Reading Challenge was Anna’s recent release ‘Hungry For You’ which combines zombies and romance in various interesting, and original ways. From her site:

Love is horrible. It’s ruthless, messy, mind-altering, and raw. It takes no prisoners. It chews you up and spits you out and leaves you for dead. Love is, you could say, very much like a zombie.

In this haunting short story collection, anything is possible—a dying musician turns to tea for inspiration; a police sergeant struggles with a very unusual victim; a young wife is trapped in a house hiding unimaginable evil….

With Hungry For You, A.M. Harte explores the disturbing and delightful in an anthology that unearths the thin boundary between love and death.

There is a lot to like in this collection. It’s a nice length, each story can be devoured quickly, and then mulled over, she re-imagines zombies in many different ways, some of which I can’t say I’ve ever seen before. Which is saying something. Zombies have been done to death (‘scuse the pun), rehashed in so many ways, but often using the same old bits and bobs. You know – meteors, folks rising from the dead, brain eating, that kind of thing. I love that it explores some new angles, and blends two things you might not think to bring together as the focus point for a collection: love and zombies.

I actually wish I had this in paperback – and that’s the first time I’ve had that thought since my Kindle arrived. I think perhaps collections such as this are more fun in paper book form though, because you can easily flick through, jump from story to story, read it in any way you want to. I am still a newbie Kindle user, but it seems easiest just to read from start to finish on the thing, and not so easy to flick through a text.

This is a book I would like to flick through. I’d have an easier time picking my favourites if I could. There are a couple in there that really tickled my fancy, and when I figure out which ones they are (I’ll be reading it again, I have no doubt!), I’ll make sure I come back and post them. I think for now it’s enough to say that there are some really fantastic stories in there, and the ones that aren’t as fantastic are still good stories. A really entertaining read. I gave it 4/5 stars.

Next on my list is Heirs of Mars, by Joseph Robert Lewis. I’m about 1/4 of the way through and really enjoying it so far!