[BOOKTOUR] The Awakened – Sara Elizabeth Santana

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Zoey Valentine is concerned with two things: surviving the multitude of self-defense classes her dad makes her take and avoiding Ash Matthews.

Then the Z virus hits, wiping out a third of the population in a matter of weeks. If that weren’t frightening enough, the bodies of the victims disappear and suddenly reappear, awakened from their dead state.
Faster, smarter, working together to get the one thing they crave, human flesh.

The United States is in a panic and then the government decides the unthinkable: to bomb every major city overrun with the awakened.

Now Zoey is on the run, with her dad and Ash, desperate to find a place of safety amongst the ruined remains of the country.


0081ce_f0504e6999e74d0d830f8a11e8d785e4Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 3/5
Overall – 3/5

Review
Zoey is physically strong and seemingly well prepared for the end of the world. Between shooting lessons and a proficiency in almost every martial art on offer, she can certainly take care of herself.

Her bravery and powerful right hook can be a little too good to be true at times, especially with her tendency to hide her emotional vulnerability, but she does eventually open up as she warms to Ash and comes to terms with her losses along the way.

Whilst in places the plot was somewhat predictable, the awakened are a brilliant twist on the classic, slow zombies which usually haunt apocalypse books and movies. Distinguished by the blue tint to their skin, the awakened are intelligent, vicious, fast and light on their feet; surviving in this new world is a truly brutal affair.

I loved Zoey as a protagonist but felt that occasionally the author was trying a little bit too hard to mould her into a relatable character. She’s super into reading and makes a lot of references to popular novels and characters in the YA community. Sometimes these shoutouts felt a little shoe-horned in, to me, but I definitely think they will go down well with less cynical readers (I’m a grump, what can I say?).

I also have to go out on a limb here and say that I really did not like Ash. He does go through some serious character development throughout the story arc (thankfully), but until the effects of these changes are felt, he is utterly insufferable. I do maintain, however, that a good character doesn’t always have to be likeable, and Ash is the exact kind of smooth, flirtatious, persistent irritant that seems to make other YA readers go weak at the knees.

THE AWAKENED has some seriously steamy moments for a YA novel which took me by surprise. Sometimes sex in YA can produce very stilted, timid, ‘fade to black’ scenes that make it very obvious that the author didn’t feel confident or comfortable writing about it. In THE AWAKENED, these moments are pitched at the perfect level for an emergent audience and are well-written and handled appropriately across the board.

While this certainly wasn’t a major feature of the plot, it is so refreshing to read a YA novel where the 19 year old protagonist actually behaves like an adult. Even little things like Zoey wanting to brush her teeth on the road and having her period add together to make this a wholly more realistic (and therefore frightening) experience.

As a publishing student, the real triumph here is seeing how Ben’s (Benjaminoftomes) hard work has paid off. Setting up a micropublishing house is an amazing feat in itself, but he has also managed to take three books to publication since September with more in the pipeline for early 2016! I can’t wait to see how Oftomes Publishing grows and am certainly looking forward to reading more books from a publishing house which is so in tune with what the community really wants to read.

Overall, THE AWAKENED is fast-paced and exciting, with danger lurking on every road between Zoey’s New York brownstone and her mother’s farm in rural Nebraska. Facing more than her fair share of tragedy, Zoey has to learn how to hone her survival instincts as she slowly becomes aware of how and where these mysterious awakened came from.

I received THE AWAKENED in exchange for an honest review from Oftomes Publishing. My reviews always represent my own opinion. 

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[BOOKTOUR] Show Time – Phil Harvey

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Visit the SHOW TIME tour on BookBear!

Future viewing audiences have become totally desensitised to violence and entirely dependent on sensation to escape their boring workaday lives—an addiction nurtured by the media with graphic portrayals of war and crime and with so-called reality programming. Now, TV execs in pursuit of the only things they care about—higher ratings and bigger paychecks—have created the ultimate reality show: Seven people, each bearing the scars of his or her past, are deposited on an island in the middle of Lake Superior. Given some bare necessities and the promise of $400,000 each if they can endure, the three women and four men risk death by starvation or freezing as the Great Lakes winter approaches. The island is wired for sound, and flying drones provide the video feed, so everything the contestants do and say is broadcast worldwide. Their seven-month ordeal is entirely unscripted, they can’t ask for help or they forfeit the prize, and as far as the network is concerned—the fewer survivors the better.

AMAZON
APPLE
BARNES & NOBLE


Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
Setting – 4/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“‘People have to believe they’re living on the edge of a precipice,’ Heather said. ‘Otherwise they’re just living boring, ordinary, meaningless lives. That doesn’t work. Does it?’ Jimmy and Janice did not respond. ‘So we all conspire to escape, and violence is the key. Take away the violence and you won’t have real humans anymore. You’ll have another species.’ She paused and took a breath. ‘I want to be a member on this species as it is.'”

Review
14646032I loved the core idea behind this tense and dramatic dystopia, studying the effects of desensitisation, violence and boredom through an extreme lens. SHOW TIME explores what desperation truly means and questions human nature from all angles – as participants broken enough to desert themselves on an island for money and as spectators gladly watching them die for entertainment.

The tale is suspenseful and told with a blunt and detached voice. It reads as though we are the spectators of the reality TV show, dispassionately observing the daily struggle as summer turns to winter on Peshekee Island. The days, and the temperature, count down towards the end, interspersed with glimpses of the characters’ checkered pasts and the meddling of the TV producers.

Ambrose seems to be the reluctant leader of the group, coming up with plans that he hopes will keep them alive. All seven contestants have their reasons for taking on the ultimate challenge and each one has their own ideas on how to survive. Initially driven apart by clashing personalities, eventually necessity brings the team back together. It was interesting to explore the dynamics of the group amongst such a raw and harsh backdrop. The island is a cold and wild environment; no help, no relief, they either make it on their own or they die.

Posing some horrifying questions about our own society, SHOW TIME pushes readers to think about the way reality TV, the media and violence are catering to us on a daily basis. Mollified and controlled by the escapism these shows provide, this is one dystopia that doesn’t seem so impossible after all.

I received SHOW TIME from BookBear in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[BOOKTOUR] The Whisper King – Wil Radcliffe

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Visit THE WHISPER KING tour on BookBear!

There is a monster sleeping deep inside of you, and The Whisper King is coming to wake it up…and rip it out!

My name is David Kinder. And this is my story… every goddamn bloodstained word of it.

About 25 years ago when I was six my parents died in a car crash. I was bounced around a few state homes until they finally settled me at Meripitt Hill, an orphanage just outside of Lansing, Michigan. It was there that the shadows started visiting me. Not normal shadows. These shadows moved on their own accord, and whispered strange, alien things to me. Scared the piss out of me.

Wasn’t until Donna Elizondo moved to Meripitt Hill that my life started to actually become bearable. She became my best friend. Taught me to love music and to dance. That kept the shadows away. That kept me safe.

That year we were an epic story of two. We danced. We laughed. Hell, I suspect I was falling in love with her, if kids could really know what love is.

But then she was taken away from me. Adopted.

That’s when the shadows returned for me. That’s when they took me to the Shadow Mountains to serve the Whisper King.

For 25 years I learned how to fight. How to kill. I even learned how to transform myself into a Cuthach…a monster. There were thousands of us being trained there. Thousands of us learning to reach deep inside and unleash the monsters in our guts.

When a spot opened in the Whisper King’s elite guard, the Silent Heart, I was chosen to fill it. But first I had to take one final test. A test that would determine once and for all if I was destined to be man or monster.

AMAZON
APPLE
BARNES & NOBLE
KOBO



571636_8b38d5118ba04ce18016752aa52bd2eb.jpg_srz_p_254_402_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Summary

Characters – 3/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 3/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“Cogar Rí had tortured her until music became something that burned. He beat it out of her. He starved it from her soul. He stretched and squeezed and scrubbed her until there was nothing inside her but hate.”

Review
An original and dark consideration of every child’s deepest fears, THE WHISPER KING is the story of a young boy plunged into the shadows and trained to become the ultimate weapon against humanity; a monster. Incredibly exciting and fast-paced, the unique style grabbed my attention from the first page and kept me hooked until the last.

The world of The Whisper King’s army is vivid and hellish. Wil’s rich style captures the background in full detail and grounds the characters in an environment that fits them perfectly. The origins of David’s new home are kept under wraps, but with a hint of mythology towards the end of the book I’m excited to see where the world building will go in future books.

The narrative of THE WHISPER KING is extremely fast paced and punchy, cutting to the significant moments in David’s life as both human and monster. David has a fantastic, raw voice that definitely doesn’t pull its punches – if you’re a fan of violence, cussing and straight-talking characters then this is absolutely the next Dark Fantasy read for you. His tone is almost conspiratorial; I can picture him telling his story in hushed tones in the corner of a darkened room. The reader quickly becomes his ally and partner in crime.

Occasionally the jumps between events meant I missed out several years of David’s instruction on battle, culture and education, and I would have enjoyed reading more of his personal journey as he trained to gain his Cuthach. Nevertheless, we come to understand David’s crude sense of humour and his origins very quickly.

David is a truthful character with such honest and uncompromising imperfections. He knows that he’s too impatient, risky and that his temper boils close to his surface, but we see his personality gradually grow to become much more measured, analytical and mature throughout the story. His inner circle is tight-knit and fiercely protective of one another, and it’s easy to see why they have gravitated to David. I would have loved to have seen more closely into each of their backgrounds before being kidnapped by the shadows, as it gives a real 3D sense of character.

In all, I thoroughly enjoyed following David through the shadows into the Whisper King’s kingdom. A fiery story with an equally explosive finale, I grew quite fond of David’s group of monsters and am definitely looking forward to finding out what’s next for each one.

I received THE WHISPER KING from BookBear in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[REVIEW] Magonia – Maria Dahvana Headley

21393526Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 3/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“I’m dark matter. The universe inside of me is full of something, and science can’t even shine a light on it. I feel like I’m mostly made of mysteries.”

Review
Aza Ray has been drowning in thin air since she was one year old, kept alive on experimental drugs and countless trips to the hospital. Her condition is so rare that it’s been named after her – she’s the only one to ever be diagnosed. When she begins to hallucinate giant ships in the sky and hundreds of birds following her a few days before her 16th birthday everyone puts it down to her medication, and then she disappears.

MAGONIA is an exciting story that bridges the gap between young adult contemporary and fantasy. Whisked up into the sky, Aza discovers a fascinating new world of flying ships, pirates and magic. She can breathe, she can sing, but she can never return home to Earth. The story alternates between Aza’s new life in Magonia and her best friend, Jason, desperately trying to find a way back to her.

I have to give credit here for an exceptionally original and exciting plot. Magonia is a brilliantly unique world of mythology, politics and magic, somehow feeling possible and fairytale all at the same time. Based on 8th century folklore, Aza’s new world brings to life the original UFO story, anchors falling from the sky, sailors drowning in the air and crops mysteriously disappearing. The plot of MAGONIA was something entirely fresh and ever-changing, fast paced with an explosive conclusion.

Whilst we don’t get to experience much of the physical world of Magonia, limited mostly to the ship Aza joins, the culture she experiences whilst aboard is rich and well thought-out. There are norms unique to the pirates of the ship and certain rites and rituals that must be respected. Aza must learn to earn her position rather than strut straight to the top – she might be a bit of a special snowflake but she’s got to work first.

I got on well with Maria’s writing style and thought her occasional poetic touches were perfect – words falling down the page in shapes and spirals, using empty brackets to show the words that best remain unspoken. The relationship between Aza and Jason was well crafted and felt quite realistic, but the inclusion of a love triangle irritated me.

I feel like a lot of YA novels feel the need to add some kind of love complication as an attempt at a side-plot, when in reality it just ruins the story more often than not. Well done romance is certainly a welcome addition to a story – Aza and Jason were definitely headed in the right direction – but throwing in a second love interest often just doesn’t fit with the personality and direction of the protagonist. Aza is loyal, thick-skinned, sarcastic and biting, and Jason has tried for 10 years to make her go weak at the knees. I just don’t see this Romeo and Juliet kind of relationship with another guy even crossing her mind. I completely appreciate the parallels Maria was trying to draw here with Aza’s loyalties now split between two completely different worlds, but her jellylegs for someone she just met seemed disingenuous to her true character.

Whilst overall I really enjoyed MAGONIA, there was a little something lacking that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. It niggled at me the whole way through and I wasn’t sure whether it was in the storytelling, the characters or something else entirely. This little something bothered me and I wish I could have let it go to fully immerse myself in the story.

Regardless, I’m definitely interested to see how Aza’s story pans out in the planned sequel as I’m expecting some serious repercussions and drama based on the final chapters of MAGONIA. A completely original story with an exciting plot, I’m absolutely looking forward to reading more from Maria Dahvana Headley.

[REVIEW] Way Down Dark – JP Smythe

25202767Summary
Characters – 2/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 3/5
World building – 2/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“Don’t die.”

Review
The first novel of the Australia Trilogy, WAY DOWN DARK is another addition to the ever-growing dystopian YA genre. I picked it up after seeing a lot of hype on Twitter but unfortunately was left feeling a little let down.

We follow the story of orphaned Chan aboard the good (space)ship Australia. The huge vessel embarked from a dying Earth hundreds of years before she was born, searching endlessly for a new planet to call home. Chan has learnt to keep her head down and live in her mother’s memory but when the vicious Lows decide to spread out and take her territory by force, she has to decide whether to stick by her rules or sacrifice her safety to help others.

Whilst I found WAY DOWN DARK a reasonably enjoyable read, I just couldn’t squash the feeling that I’d read it all before. Many aspects of the storyline are eye-rollingly stereotypical and it was far too easy to pigeonhole characters into their prescribed tropes. Chan is the feisty female protagonist, orphaned on the first page and thrust unwillingly into leadership. Agatha is her mentor and advisor, disapproving and disappointing but somehow she always manages to come through in the end. Rex is the one-dimensional villain hellbent on utter destruction, her inexplicable hatred for Chan burning with the fire of a thousand suns. And of course there’s the obligatory tease of a love interest.

There wasn’t much complexity in the world-building, limited by the confines of the plot. The inhabitants are unaware of the situation on Earth and which direction they’re floating in, so the social structure of Australia took precedence.

The ship is split down into factions based largely on tired archetypes; religious fanatics, violent lower class savages and genetically engineered warriors. There’s a rebellion of sorts and some exciting battles but ultimately there is a lot of climbing and hiding and gardening in between all the fun parts. And of course when shit finally hits the fan it’s down to the inexperienced, unprepared and seemingly invincible protagonist to save the day.

The style was uncomplicated and relatively easy to digest. With a no nonsense voice, Chan played her part well and I managed to finish WAY DOWN DARK in only a few sittings. Although I found the plot generally predictable, it was still an enjoyable tale that definitely became much more exciting the more I read.

I did occasionally find it difficult to imagine the layout of Australia. The ship I pictured didn’t always seem to fit with how the characters interacted with it and I found it hard to marry everything together. The backdrop is crucial to the atmosphere, especially in such a claustrophobic setting, so I often had to re-read sections to get the story straight in my mind.

The one feature I really took exception to was the few random chapters from Agatha’s viewpoint. They broke up Chan’s narrative to provide some context and background, but they felt lazy to me. I would have much preferred the information being woven into the story naturally rather than shoved in.

Overall, I thought WAY DOWN DARK was a decent read with plenty of bursts of action to keep the story moving. It might be a good introduction to a science fiction style setting for those who aren’t familiar with the genre, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up the next book in the series.

[REVIEW] Alice and the Fly – James Rice

23588512Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 4/5
Setting – 3/5
Style – 4/5
Overall – 3/5

In a Tweet
Greg’s obsession with classmate Alice slowly spirals out of control, as he tries to understand the world of loneliness and fear surrounding him.

Review
ALICE AND THE FLY is the debut novel from Waterstones bookseller, James Rice. Greg is a troubled young man, trying to make sense of the fine line between love and obsession, in a home where he’s ignored and a school where he’s shunned. Struggling with an intense and life-halting phobia of Them hasn’t made things any easier for him, labeled a ‘psycho’ and forced to act as a happy family while everyone crumbles around him. His diary, intended to help him find the words to express his innermost thoughts and fears, has slowly morphed into an open letter to Alice, the beautiful girl who smiled at him once on the bus.

Reading Greg’s diary allows the reader to really get inside his head and see the world through his eyes, making building a close relationship with him extremely easy. While I sometimes didn’t agree with his personal decisions, I understood and truly sympathised with his behaviour due to this intense first-person perspective. My favourite chapters were those written in one continuous prose, no punctuation whatsoever. They were real and completely absorbing, creating such a huge sense of urgency and fear.

To keep the plot pointing in the right direction, there is the occasional police interview with Greg’s friends and family interspersed with his diary entries. While these weren’t always the most informative or interesting, they acted as tiny breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout to keep the intrigue alive. There is a little mystery in this novel, but ultimately I figured out the ending long before I came to it.

The story itself is very engaging, focussing on themes of loneliness in all its manifestations and how we try to hide it from the world. There is a sense of painful truthfulness in Greg’s journal that often made me feel uneasy; he has a sharp mind and a veracious voice. His perceptions of his family, Alice and himself can be difficult to swallow in their child-like honesty, but this only makes the relationship between reader and protagonist stronger. Greg is a real underdog and will quickly get any reader on his side.

An obvious drawback to choosing a journal style is that we don’t have the opportunity to closely experience the other characters. However, I feel that Rice did a great job in representing each character through Greg’s astute observations and more intimately through the transcripts.

While I enjoyed ALICE AND THE FLY very much, I was unhappy with the conclusions drawn about Greg towards the end. It is clear throughout that Greg is struggling with certain aspects of his mental health; he is isolated and withdrawn, has a severe phobia with compulsions and may even be experiencing hallucinations. For me, creating a character like this places the onus on the author to handle him responsibly.

Towards the end, Greg is slapped with a label to explain his actions – a sweeping under the rug of his problems that absolutely does not justify or resolve anything that has happened. It feels like this label is supposed to be a eureka moment for the audience, as though we have been waiting with bated breath to finally hear his diagnosis. This conclusion not only doesn’t fit Greg’s personality and behaviour in the first place, but also serves to perpetuate a multitude of misconceptions around mental health. To jump straight to such a complex, difficult to diagnose and commonly misrepresented disorder feels irresponsible and stigmatises those who may identify with Greg. I would have given 4/5 overall if not for this, as issues such as this are too important for me not to dock a point.

Generally, I would absolutely recommend this book to those who want to read something a little different. Greg is a breath of fresh air and I was privileged to hold his hand through his tragic journey.

I received ALICE AND THE FLY from Hodder and Stoughton in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[REVIEW] Brood – Chase Novak

20454069Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 3/5
Setting – 3/5
Overall – 3/5

In a Tweet
Teens born from an experimental fertility treatment are becoming cannibalistic & wild. Can Cynthia keep her twins safe or will they succumb?

Review
Set in a modern New York City, BROOD tells the increasingly fraught tale of twins Adam and Alice Twisden. Sequel to BREED, I picked it up without having read the first book and it told a complete story with no assumption of knowledge of previous events.

Cynthia has finally won the custody battle for her niece and nephew, years after her sister met a gruesome end in the very house she now lives in. After their parents underwent gruelling and dangerous fertility treatment abroad, the twins have experienced true horror as they bore witness to the vicious and animalistic behaviour of their parents. Now Adam and Alice are growing up, they are desperately struggling to slow the effects of their own changing and suppress the same wild urges that plagued their parents.

The concept behind BROOD is something really different and intriguing; definitely an idea I haven’t encountered before. Even better was the choice to situate the events in a modern and realistic world, rather than a science fiction or alternate setting. This created some great underlaying social questions too; would people really resort to this dangerous fertility treatment in real life? The wild and frightening effects of the treatment and the children it created are swept under the rug and kept top secret in Novak’s world; I wonder how they would be handled in reality?

The first few chapters didn’t really grab me in any strong clear way, so it took me a little longer than I would have liked to get stuck into the story. However once I’d scoped out the characters, I did find myself really involved with the plot and constantly trying to guess how the story would pan out. It was difficult to predict the progression of the story one chapter to the next, making for a pretty exciting read in the long run.

My favourite part of Novak’s writing was the pidgin language he created for the feral children in Rodolfo’s gang. It really set them apart as a community and highlighted their differences from the adults without having to constantly refer to their physicality. The writing didn’t spark the terror I want from a horror novel, but the tension was built pretty well throughout the novel so I wasn’t too put out by this.

While I enjoyed the truly fresh story, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the ending. I would have been happy for the story to end with the final chapter rather than continuing on in the epilogue. The epilogue just didn’t seem to fit the climax at all, so it felt out of character and at odds with what would have been the logical ending.

While I didn’t find any of the characters particularly endearing, I don’t believe you have to like each one to understand and appreciate their stories. Cynthia was especially frustrating, and I much preferred to follow the twins and Rodolfo in their more exciting threads. Cynthia’s voice is suffocating and over-stuffed with the adoration and fear of a new mother, but definitely illustrates her creeping realisation that she is out of her depth. Alice and Adam can be vicious and cruel and most of the side characters are varying degrees of evil too, which were more fun to read.

I thought, overall, that BROOD was an easy and enjoyable read. It wasn’t quite the bone-chilling horror story I wanted, but I will still be going back to read BREED to find out more about Alice and Adam’s troubled childhood.

I received BROOD from Mulholland Books in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own true opinion.