The Dreamers by Karen Thompson – Provided for Review

This book was provided for review by the kind folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. 

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

I always enjoy it when a book grabs my attention in the first few paragraphs before taking me on a wild ride. And that is exactly what happened when I read The Dreamers. From the first page to the last, I was enthralled by the story and continually wondering what would happen next.

One of the good things about this book is that there aren’t too many characters to try and keep track of. Yes, the book takes place in a small college town, but what is happening is presented from only a few points of view. The fact that the characters are all different ages and come from different walks of life only adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

The only real complaint I have is in regards to the virus itself. So very little attention is given to it, though it plays a major role in the story. Where did it come from? How did Kara, Patient Zero, originally contract it? Where did the virus eventually go? It’s alluded that it simply fizzled out, but because the whole town wasn’t affected, I find that tiny point a little hard to swallow.

Personally, I enjoyed reading The Dreamers; I practically devoured it. I wouldn’t recommend it for hypochondriacs, but for those looking for a good fairly quick read, I say give this one a try.

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The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) by S.A. Chakraboty

City of Brass book cover

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. 

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. 

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for… (via Goodreads)

City of Brass is the first book in the Daevabad Trilogy and in my opinion it is off to a good start.

As some on Goodreads have pointed out, when you take the overall plot line and boil it down to it’s most basic points, the story does sound a bit cliched. Young woman living on the streets does what she can to survive when she meets a mysterious stranger. The woman’s life is somehow put in danger and the stranger helps her before whisking her away on a perilous journey. The journey itself is fraught with danger and they finally arrive at a grand city that is beyond anything any one has seen. There, the young woman learns she is a lost person of great importance and she is thrust in to a very unfamiliar and lush lifestyle. She must learn who she can trust when it seems everyone has something to hide.

Yes, cliched, and yes done over and over in countless stories. Yet to be honest, one can say that about almost every book ever written. New and unique ideas are rare and most books are a rehashing of previous ones. It is only in how they are rewritten that is important. At least to me.

And it is in that aspect that City of Brass shines (pun intended). Chakraborty has taken a well known and well used fictional trope and brushed it up a bit with her storytelling. The lead female character, Nahri, isn’t one to sit idly by even when she has everything she ever desired served to her on a silver plate. All of her young life she has refused to let any one dictate her future and she will not let any one start now. Not the handsome djinn Dara, not the equally handsome prince Alizayd, and certainly not the king Ghassan al Qahtani.

As lovely as the story is, what really stood out to me were the characters themselves. Every one of them is flawed in one way or another. None of them are perfect despite what persona they present. Even the minor characters, ones who only appear in one or a few scenes, they too are flawed in one way or another. It makes them all feel more real and adds depth to an already fascinating story.

City of Brass is a bit long at over 500 pages so it will take a bit longer to read. However, it is a unique story set in an area of the world that does not get much love in fiction. Plus it has a strong female main character that will appeal to most. The second book was just recently released and I’ve already added it to my list to read and review.

Provided for Review: Chuck Steak by Casper Pearl

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

Meet Chuck Steak. His insides are well done. He’s a cop, but not just any. He’s the best. Hasn’t been one like him since the ‘90s. Won’t work with partners and disregards the collateral damage his boss is always screaming about.

Chuck Steak is USDA Prime badass, so having a bomb planted inside Mia, his secret, longtime girlfriend who’s been dreaming of marriage for almost a decade, should be just another day at the office. The problem is, an elusive villain challenges Chuck to deliver Mia’s dream wedding within a week’s time, or she’ll blow.

Overwhelmed with “girly tasks”, Chuck’s forced out of his action-heavy comfort zone and into scenarios which require words instead of bullets. One results in the loss of his right hand, and when it’s replaced with a black hand, this white cop (now .65% black) encounters a new kind of villain: racism.

With time against him, Chuck will have to find a non-violent way to convince the love of his life and her disapproving family that this isn’t another publicity stunt—that after all of these years, it’s finally time to ditch the legacy he’s been slaving over in favor of the family she’s always dreamed of. All while overcoming unexpected hurdles like his own department and their trigger-happy mentality toward minorities, backstories, a feminist gang, incredibly friendly Muslims, dementia, depression, gender equality, and trying to maintain action-orientated roots in an increasingly politically correct world.

Any person who grew up watching movies in the 1980’s and 1990’s will easily recognize a character like Chuck Steak. He’s a man’s man – the lone wolf who doesn’t work well with others and consistently ignores any one who tries to tell him what to do. The only person he shows any kind of softness with is a woman who is the love of his life and when her safety comes in under attack, he moves Heaven and Earth to get to her.

Reading Chuck Steak reminded me of every one of those movies I watched when I was younger. Pearl has taken practically every cliche and maxed them out as far as they can go. One would think this would make a book that is practically unreadable, but somehow it works. There were plenty of times I found myself rolling my eyes as I recognized one trope or another. Yes, it does get ridiculous during some chapters, but for me that’s what made it an enjoyable read.

Characters and plot aside, Pearl has an excellent grasp of storytelling. There were only a handful of times where the story became a bit disjointed and that generally happened in the jump from one chapter to another. Otherwise, his prose is smooth while still keeping the hectic pace that many action movies have.

The way Chuck Steak is set up, it looks to be the first in a series and according to Goodreads there is a second book. If it is just as frenetic and fast paced as the first one, I can see it becoming a popular series.

Provided for Review: The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror

This book was provided for review by the kind people of Nosetouch Press. Thank you!

Two young men working as a team supply a vicious drug dealer with a potent and difficult to come by drug. When one of them tries to go back on the straight and narrow path, his former boss is determined to find him and bring him back.

Every year the people of the town are summoned to harvest the fruit at Genesis Farms. They do not know what kind of fruit it is they are gathering, nor do they know where it eventually goes. All any one knows is that they must go; and not for the money but because they are obligated to.

An unfaithful wife returns from the grave and to her husband’s side. The only issue is that she is missing her head as her husband had sliced it off the night before.

These are but three of the stories included in The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror. Each of the nine stories seems stranger than the last and each touches on a variety of themes. From the paranoia that sometimes arises from rural isolation to the monstrous rituals and arcane ceremonies that are handed down generation to generation.

Personally, I love a good horror and the ones featured in The Fiends in the Furrows were right up my alley. While there is a bit of violence, the stories tend to rely more on psychological horror than physical horror. In this way they remind me of many a foreign horror film. Most (but certainly not all) American horror films rely on blood and gore, on jump scares and other visual signs to try and scare the audience. Foreign horror films on the other hand (again, not all), tend to rely on the psychological. They play with your mind, showing only hints and shadows, making one wonder what is was exactly that they saw.

So it is with the stories in this book. Very little is laid out concrete for the reader. Instead, most things are hinted at, leaving the reader to fill in the details with their own imagination. Leaving them to finish the story and decide what exactly happens next.

I was not familiar with any of the authors features in this collection but that does not mean I did not enjoy them. Each brought their own unique flavor of storytelling and was able to add to the tapestry that is this enthralling book. Reading who love a good page turner and who enjoy thinking about what happens next will surely devour this book just as I have done.

Provided for Review: The Plotters by Un-su Kim (Translated by Sora Kim-Russell)

This book was provided for review by the kind folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

The important thing is not who pulls the trigger but who’s behind the person who pulls the trigger—the plotters, the masterminds working in the shadows. Raised by Old Raccoon in The Library of Dogs, Reseng has always been surrounded by plots to kill—and by books that no one ever reads. In Seoul’s corrupt underworld, he was destined to be an assassin.

Until he breaks the rules. That’s when he meets a trio of young women—a convenience store worker, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed obsessive knitter—with an extraordinary plot of their own.

The Plotters is one of those novels that doesn’t quite fit in to any one genre. On the one hand you have a dark novel filled with violence and a game of cat and mouse that keeps one guessing up to the last pages. On the other hand, you have an almost slice-of-life type of story with the main character, Reseng, simply trying to get through another day. It is an interesting mixture and a dichotomy that shouldn’t work yet somehow does.

Now I will not lie to you dear reader, there is a good deal of violence in this book. Not surprising considering this is a book about assassins. People shoot at each other, have knife fights, so forth and so on; and while the fight scenes don’t go in to too much detail, there is still the potential that some readers could find it triggering.

While The Plotters was an enjoyable read, it did start at a kind of slow pace. For the majority of the first half of the book we are following Reseng as he goes about his business as an assassin. It isn’t until over halfway through the book that we meet the three women who challenge his views of the underworld in which he resides. Perhaps if he had met these women earlier, the book would have taken a different turn from what it did.

On the whole, I liked reading The Plotters. While I am quite sure some of the nuances were lost in the translation from Korean to English, it was still enough to keep me interested and reading. Readers who enjoy darker, film noir type stories will likely enjoy this one as well.

The Ultimate Blog Tour Day 9 – After the Green Withered by Kristin Ward

This book was provided for review from The Write Reads and the author herself. Thank you!

They tell me the country looked different back then. 

They talk of open borders and flowing rivers. 

They say the world was green. 

But drought swept across the globe and the United States of the past disappeared under a burning sky. 

Enora Byrnes lives in the aftermath, a barren world where water has become the global currency. In a life dominated by duty to family and community, Enora is offered a role within an entity that controls everything from water credits to borders. But it becomes clear that not all is as it seems. From the wasted confines of her small town to the bowels of a hidden city, Enora will uncover buried secrets that hide an unthinkable reality. 

As truth reveals the brutal face of what she has become, she must ask herself: how far will she go to retain her humanity? (via Goodreads)

Like many, I have read my fair share of post-apocalyptic books. And while many have kept me on the edge of my seat, After the Green Withered is the first to truly frighten me. Not because of the horror that is the world in this book, but because of how easily our world could follow down a similar path.

In reading After the Green Withered I was reminded of the poem The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot. Like the men described in the poem, the majority of the populace live in a kind of Hell. There is no where for them to go and they are far too afraid to try anything that could possibly help them for fear of retribution. We are shown this when one of Enora’s friends tries to build her own small hidden garden. Water is rigidly rationed and growing one’s own food is strictly forbidden. When the tiny garden is discovered, Enora is horrified to see her friend brutally arrested.

After the Green Withered is unique in that there are not many characters to drive the plot. Aside from the main character Enora, there are only a real handful of others that she interacts with and push the story along. Background characters make recurrent appearances, but it is only a few that make up the core of the story.

I found After the Green Withered to be a massively enjoyable read. It was a bit slow in the beginning as the world that Enora lives in is introduced to us, but once she leaves home the story continues at a breakneck speed. There are numerous twists and turns as Enora tries her best to not stand out while keeping true to herself and as she tries to figure out who she can and cannot trust.

My only disappointment comes in how Enora tends to agonize over every decision. While I cannot completely relate to the world she comes from, I do know that there are times when one only seems to be given a choice.

After the Green Withered is a fast paced book that unfortunately ends on a very awkward note. Thankfully, there is a sequel already out so the reader can immediately jump from one to the other should they wish.

Readers who like dystopian type novels with a well thought out back story and decently rounded characters should give this book a try. If nothing else, it will inspire you to possibly care about the environment around us a bit more.

Provided for Review – Daisy’s Run (The Clockwork Chimera Book 1) by Scott Baron

This book was provided by Netgalley and the author for review. Thank you!

Life in deep space could be a drag sometimes, but Daisy supposed things could have been worse. They were still alive, after all, which was always a plus in her book. Now if only she could figure out who, or what, was endangering her return home, things would be just peachy.

With the powerful AI supercomputer guiding the craft beginning to show some disconcerting quirks of its own, and its unsettling cyborg assistant nosing into her affairs, Daisy’s unease was rapidly growing. Add to the mix a crew of mechanically-enhanced humans, any one of whom she suspected might not be what they seemed, and Daisy found herself with a sense of pending dread tickling the periphery of her mind. 

Something was very much not right––she could feel it in her bones. The tricky part now was going to be figuring out what the threat was, before it could manifest from a mere sinking feeling in her gut into a potentially deadly reality. (via Goodreads)

As someone who is a very big science fiction fan, when I was offered a chance to read Daisy’s Run, I jumped at the opportunity. It isn’t often that you come across a sci-fi book where the lead character is a female. And especially one who is as strong and snarky as Daisy.

Daisy’s Run is one of those books that hits the proverbial ground running. Right from the first page we are thrust in to a dangerous, and possibly deadly, situation. The space ship has been damaged by debris and if repairs are not done it could spell catastrophe.

At first everything seems to be running smoothly, but when one of the crew is inexplicably sucked out in to space, what was supposed to be a quiet trip back to Earth takes on a more dangerous tone. It doesn’t help that aside from Daisy, almost every other crew member is augmented in some way, and it seems that every one of them has a secret they’re hiding.

As the story continues and Daisy tries to figure out what is happening, it becomes harder and harder for her to know who to trust. She becomes incredibly paranoid and the reader is left to wonder if all these dangers she is seeing are all in her head.

As Daisy becomes more and more paranoid, the story itself begins to feel frenetic. The pace almost becomes as frantic as Daisy’s mind is, only slowing down towards the end when things begin to be explained.

Baron does a very good job of making us wonder just who is telling the truth. Small clues are dropped through words and actions that hint at bigger plots behind the scenes.

While the story itself is a bit slow to start, I encourage readers to hang in there and keep going. When the story picks up, it picks up fast and pulls you along with it. And personally, I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Fox 8 by George Saunders

Fox 8 has always been known as the daydreamer in his pack, the one his fellow foxes regarded with a knowing snort and a roll of the eyes. That is, until Fox 8 develops a unique skill: He teaches himself to speak “Yuman” by hiding in the bushes outside a house and listening to children’s bedtime stories. The power of language fuels his abundant curiosity about people—even after “danjer” arrives in the form of a new shopping mall that cuts off his food supply, sending Fox 8 on a harrowing quest to help save his pack.

A darkly comic short story, a fable about the all too real impact that we humans have on the environment. (via Goodreads)

Fox 8 is a very short book and as such my review will too be brief.

Before I begin though, I will warn my dear readers that there is animal death and cruelty in this story. It is brief but it could also be enough to put some readers off.

Told by a young fox who refers to himself as Fox 8, the same titled book offers a brief glimpse of what can happen when nature is forced out as humans move in.

At times, the story comes across as cute and amusing. For example, when Fox 8 and Fox 7 enter the shopping mall. They are astounded by what they see and believe themselves to be incredibly lucky by the food they find. Food that their pack desperately needs.

At other times, the story becomes sad and even violent. Fox 8’s pack is shown as slowly starving with some even dying. When Fox 8 and Fox 7 leave the shopping mall with their cache of food and come across some humans, another incident occurs. It is enough to make Fox 8 question why he originally found humans so interesting.

Another thing that could be off-putting to some readers is the language used by Fox 8 to tell his story. He only learned the language by listening to a mother reading to her children and as such his spelling is awful. The words and syntax are akin to an elementary school child. While I had little trouble with it, I can see where some might have problems trying to follow along.

Overall, I liked Fox 8. It is a very short book – I read it in less than half an hour – but it’s impact lasts. Certainly not a book for every one, but one I can recommend.

The Eight (The Eight #1) by Katherine Neville

Computer expert Cat Velis is heading for a job to Algeria. Before she goes, a mysterious fortune teller warns her of danger, and an antique dealer asks her to search for pieces to a valuable chess set that has been missing for years.

A chess set whose pieces have been scattered across the globe because the game that can be played with them is incredibly powerful.

The Eight is a book comprised of two different stories set over 200 years apart. One story is set in 1972 and follows Catherine Velis as she is sent to Algeria on a job for her work. The second story is set in the 1790’s and follows Mireille and Valentine, cousins and novice nuns from the Montglane Abbey.

The stories of the women are both separate and intertwined as each revolves around the Montglane Service – a chess set once owned by Charlemagne. The set is said to hold the key to unlimited power and the person who holds the set has control of that power.

The plot of The Eight revolves heavily around the game of chess. Every character is connected to the game itself somehow, but are also connected to the Game of the chase after the Montglane Service. Some have knowledge that they are playing, while others like Catherine, learn they are along the way.

I found the overall plot of The Eight to be somewhat interesting. Personally, I enjoyed the sections set in France during the Revolution more than the sections set in 1972. Perhaps it is because I found it difficult to relate with Catherine, or perhaps it is because I found the people that surrounded her incredibly irritating.

Neville is commendable in that she is able to combine individuals who actually existed with the characters she has created for the novel. Individuals such as Robespierre, Talleyrand, even Catherine the Great are weaved in to the narrative in the search for the Montglane Service.

On the whole, I am rather ambivalent in regards to The Eight. There were times I wanted to stop reading it and there were times I found that I couldn’t stop. Considering my own feelings on the novel, I cannot easily recommend it nor do I believe I will be seeking out the rest of the series.

Provided for Review: Death of an Eye (Eye of Isis #1) by Dana Stabenow

Alexandria, 47BCE: Cleopatra shares the throne with her brother Ptolemy under the auspices of Julius Caesar, by whom Cleopatra is heavily pregnant with child.

A shipment of new coin meant to reset the shaky Egyptian economy has been stolen,and the Queen’s Eye has been murdered. Queen Cleopatra must turn to her childhood friend Tetisheri, to find the missing shipment and bring a murderer to justice

I was provided with this book from Netgalley in exchange for my review. Thank you!

As much as I claim to enjoy the adventures of one Sherlock Holmes and anything set in the Victorian era, there is another era of time that has had my interest for just as long – that of Ancient Egypt. So when I saw this book listed on Netgalley, I immediately put my name in to request said book.

I am so glad my request was granted and I was able to read this book because I personally enjoyed it from cover to cover.

Set in the ancient city of Alexandria, Death of an Eye follows the young Tetisheri as she attempts to solve a murder on behalf of her queen. The Queen’s Eye has been murdered – an average woman who lives and works in the city and is charged with keeping tabs on certain individuals and reporting back to Cleopatra – and a large sum of coins has been stolen. Finding out how the Eye was murdered is simple enough, finding out who would want to murder her and why is another matter.

Stabenow has a masterful grip of the language as she creates the various settings in the novel. From the back streets of Alexandria to the home of Cleopatra herself, Stabenow’s writing makes it easy to envision these places. This however is also a drawback because with so much put towards setting the scenes, there is little left for the actual mystery itself.

Names of characters can also be a bit problematic as many of them use nicknames and Stabenow uses the given names and nicknames interchangeably. There were a few times I found myself having to reread a passage just so I could get a better grasp of who was talking.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading Death of an Eye. With Elizabeth Peters’ passing, there is precious little fiction dedicated to Egypt and Ancient Egypt in particular. Death of an Eye is a promising start to what I hope is an enjoyable series. Readers who liked Elizabeth Peters’ series should definitely check this one out.