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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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.

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.

Provided for Review: Shadow of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

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

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, a new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself. (via Goodreads)

The story of collecting items to summon a magical creature and grant a wish is a trope that has been used throughout history. The incredibly popular manga/anime ‘Dragonball’ uses it to great success. Even the movie ‘The Fifth Element’ uses a variation of the trope.

Shadow of the Fox can be added to the list. Based heavily on Japanese mythology, culture, and traditions, it is a version set in what to some will be a familiar land.

Kagawa has done an admirable job creating a world that is both familiar and unique. She has taken known Japanese folklore and twisted it just so. In the characters she has created, readers will recognize the physical and personality type traits that are seen so often in modern Japanese storytelling.

While the book is aimed towards almost all readers, I personally think those who have at least some knowledge of Japan and it’s stories will enjoy Shadow of the Fox more. As someone who is a very big manga/anime fan, I enjoyed seeing the mixture. Not everyone will like it though and some might even find it confusing.

Manga and anime fans – especially those who enjoyed titles like ‘Naruto’ or ‘Dragonball’ – will likely devour this book. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Provided for Review: The Fairy’s Tale (The Pathways Tree #1) by F. D. Lee

This book was provided for review from the author via Facebook. Thank you!

Enter the world behind the stories, where ‘Happy Endings’, ‘True Love’ and ‘Rags To Riches’ are all just a means to an end – and a promotion. Here we meet Bea, a cabbage fairy who dreams of being so much more. She wants to be a Fiction Management Executive (godmother division), but no one at the General Administration will take her seriously – until now.

One day a strange, solemn Plotter pulls Bea into his office and offers her the chance to make her Dreams Come True. All she has to do is finish a straightforward story by getting a poor girl married to a rich man. Simple. Easy. It practically tells itself. Except Bea soon realizes that the heroine doesn’t love the hero, and the so-called ugly sister is much more important than the Plot suggests. Plus, she’s pretty certain that there’s an actual, real life villain in the mix – and why is it so important that the Plots always stay the same, anyway?

Bea soon discovers there’s something rotten behind the simplicity of the stories, and suddenly she is faced with a choice, and it seems whichever option she picks will be wrong: Will she commit treason by changing the story and saving her characters from their endings, or follow the Plot and save herself from the sinister Redaction Department?

After all, what kind of fairy godmother really cares about true love?  (via Goodreads)

I don’t think there is a person around today who wasn’t raised on fairy tales in one aspect or another in their childhood. No matter what our background, we were all exposed to these tales as children and as adults. And while the stories themselves might have different casts of characters and different settings, the end results were almost always the same with lessons learned and love found.

The Fairy’s Tale takes us behind the scenes of the stories; asking the question, what if the events in the fairy tales weren’t completely random like they seem? What if the events were carefully plotted out as part of some grander Plot? Who are the individuals doing the plotting? And lastly, what happens when the so-called “characters” don’t want to be part of the story?

Lee has penned a top notch fairy tale within a fairy tale with The Fairy’s Tale. (Try saying that 5 times fast!) Her characters are well thought out and well rounded and each adds their own little piece to the story as a whole. Many questions are posed and while some are answered, there are just as many that have an answer alluded to but are not answered out right either. This keeps the reader guessing and keeps them reading.

There are an additional two books to the series that will hopefully answer the questions left dangling and wrap up any loose threads.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Fairy’s Tale and am grateful for the opportunity given to me. I heartily recommend this tale to my readers and will be looking forward to more from the author!

Provided for Review: Populace by A.M. Wilson

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

America 2151. New York. Washington. Chicago. Los Angeles. All wiped out from nuclear blasts.

The New United States of America is centered in Omaha, where the Leviathan Corporation provides a muted, controlled existence for its populace. Synthetic drugs keep them sane. The people are safe – for now – from the threats on the outside.

Summoned to the president’s office, unlikely hero Thomas Ignatius Stout receives an extraordinary mission: Hunt down and return, dead or alive, the vicious killer responsible for destroying the lives of millions and millions of Americans, Joe Ikowski, who remains a thorn in the government’s side.

Tom accepts his burden and leads an expedition past Omaha’s protective barrier and into the great unknown. That’s when Tom’s journey really begins.

Taking him from Kentucky to Arizona to Mexicali and the Rocky Mountains, Tom finds far more than he is searching for – and starts to learn the deeply complicated, disturbing truths of his own identity and a world in which he had only before scratched the surface. In this poignant page-turner, a novel that blends elements of science fiction, political thrillers and an Orwellian-style future, rising novelist AM Wilson takes readers on a wild ride inside what could become the future of the United States, if we ruin ourselves from the inside. It’s a novel that will make you think, no matter what you think of America.  (from Goodreads)

Much like the blurb provided by Goodreads says, Populace starts with a distinct Orwellian type future.

A series of unknown events leads to the major cities of the United States being wiped out in a series of nuclear blasts. With those cities and the surrounding areas unlivable, a new capital is created – in Omaha, Nebraska. Those who reside inside the walls are cared for to an extent; food, shelter, and entertainment are all provided for by the Leviathan Corporation. Drugs are also provided in untold quantities to keep the population calm and therefore controllable. The people of Omaha do not question their lot in life, they simply exist, living moment to moment.

Thomas Stout is one of these individuals. Working for Leviathan in one of their countless buildings, he is little more than a face in the crowd. He begins to question his place in and purpose in Leviathan, but unlike the protagonist in Orwell’s 1984, Thomas is not tortured but is instead given a seemingly random mission. He is sent in to the wild unknown beyond the walls around Omaha; his mission to capture Public Enemy Number One, Joe Ikowski.

Populace is an odd book. There are portions that feel very probable, as if they could possibly happen in the future, while others seem completely random. The beginning of the book, before Thomas leaves Omaha, is well written. Nicely paced, the prose gives a feeling of the drabness that certainly surrounds the characters on a daily basis.

Once Thomas leaves the city though, the story tends to go off the rails. The writing becomes disjointed and at times I found it difficult to keep track of who was where and doing what. Also, Wilson does not always provide full details on the characters, what their motivation is, etc. and doing this left gaps in the story. And while certain revelations at the end supposedly fill in those gaps, I found it rather unsatisfactory.

On the whole, Populace was a good idea with maybe not the best execution. Fans of dystopian type futures could enjoy it but this book definitely isn’t for everyone.

Provided for Review: The Harbinger by Candace Wondrack

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

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Back in the sixties, the gateways between Earth and the Second – a land of myth and magic – were thrown open. Humanity grew and changed accordingly and eventually the Division (along with the Academy) was formed. The Division handles what most law enforcement can’t, such as the smuggling of goods between worlds. And to join the Division, one must first graduate from the Academy.

Faith is in her fifth year of the Academy. With two years left until she graduates, she is intent on joining the Division and following in her mother’s footsteps. The one path she doesn’t intend to follow though is her mother’s – and grandmother’s – awful luck with men.

On a class field trip to the Second, Faith is startled to learn her path is taking her on a far different journey. She is the Harbinger, the first female to take the title, and it is her destiny to fight the Dread King. To the death.

Faith is going to have to step up and be a hero. Whether she likes it or not.

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I’ve followed Candace on Twitter for some time, but this is the first time I’ve actually read any of her books. Because of this I decided to go in blind and not look at what others have thought of the book before reading it myself. And while some might think this foolish, I’m rather glad I did because while numerous other reviewers enjoyed The Harbinger, sadly I did not.

The world that Candace has created is an interesting one. It is one where the mythical creatures of fairy tales are real to an extent. Creatures such as the fae, shapeshifters, etc. They all inhabit this fictional world even though they do not always live side by side peacefully.

Unfortunately, my issue comes with the actual characters themselves.

The main character, Faith, I found quite hard to like. She is brash to the point of recklessness, a trait that gets her in trouble both before the book begins as well as during it. She does not think her actions through, does not care for consequences, and certainly doesn’t seem to care if what she does causes anyone around her to be hurt. She also claims that she does not want to be a hero, yet she is working towards being just that. Graduates of the Academy and members of the Division are protectors, heroes in a sense. If Faith does not want to be a hero, as she claims, then what is she even doing there?

Another person I had issue with was another main character; Weylon Lightfoot, an elf Faith meets during her school trip to the Second. From his introduction he claims to not like humans, and yet it doesn’t take long for him to get rather close to Faith. I found myself questioning his actions on more than one occasion, something he himself doesn’t seem to do.

Two other male characters are introduced at the very end of the book, and it is my understanding that they too will be drawn to Faith. That in the end, she will have to contend not only with her status as a Chosen One, but also with the small harem she gathers.

As fascinating as the world is that Candace has created for The Harbinger series, I unfortunately do not see myself reading the rest of it. For me, the characters were hard to relate to and I was rolling my eyes in exasperation on more than one occasion. That does not mean I don’t recommend this one to my readers – my opinion is only one among many. I do advise my readers to at the very least try this particular book. Perhaps they will enjoy it more than me.

Provided for Review: The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of Rene Descartes by Andrew Pessin

This book has been provided for review by the lovely people at Bookglow.

 

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In 1649, Descartes was invited by the Queen of Sweden to become her Court Philosopher. Though he was the world’s leading philosopher, his life had by this point fallen apart. He was 53, penniless, living in exile in Amsterdam, alone. With much trepidation but not much choice, he arrived in Stockholm in mid-October.

Shortly thereafter he was dead.

Pneumonia, they said. But who could believe that? There were just too many persons of interest who wanted to see Descartes dead, and for too many reasons. That so many of these persons were in Stockholm—thanks to the Gala the Queen was throwing to celebrate the end of the terrible Thirty Years’ War—made the official story all the less plausible. Death by poisoning was the unofficial word on the cobblestone.

Who would want to murder the world’s most famous philosopher? 

Turns out: nearly everyone.

Enter Adrien Baillet. A likeable misfit with a mysterious backstory, he arrives just as the French Ambassador desperately needs an impartial Frenchman to prove that Descartes died of natural causes—lest the “murder” in Lutheran Sweden of France’s great Catholic philosopher trigger King Louis XIV to reignite that awful War. Baillet hesitatingly agrees to investigate Descartes’s death, knowing that if—or when—he screws up, he could be personally responsible for the War’s Thirty-First Year. 

But solving the mystery of Descartes’s death (Baillet soon learns) requires first solving the mystery of Descartes’s life, with all its dangerous secrets … None of it is easy, as nearly everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted. Nor does it help that he must do it all under the menacing gaze of Carolus Zolindius, the terrifying Swedish Chancellor with the strangely intimidating limp.

But Baillet somehow perseveres, surprising everyone as he figures it all out—all the way to the explosive end. (via Goodreads)

The Irrationalist is basically a historical murder mystery using individuals who really existed in the time when they lived. Rene Descartes was a well known mathematician and philosopher and in 1649 he did travel to Sweden to begin tutoring Queen Christina. In early 1650 he became ill and died shortly thereafter, the official reason being pneumonia. And while many didn’t question this outcome, some had doubts, yet once Descartes was buried the issue too was laid to rest.

This is where the similarities between what really happened and what happened in The Irrationalist ends. 

Pessin does an excellent job of taking a real event and spinning a “what if…?” tale from it. His characters – all either real people or based on real people – are interesting and just when one thinks they have a grasp of the person, a proverbial wrench is thrown in the works. Pessin has done his research and does admirably in making sure that everyone is well rounded and their inclusion helps push the story along. 

The tightly woven plot is really what makes this book stand out. To the casual observer, Descartes’ death seems very clear cut, but it is only when one starts to dig do they realize that not everything is as it seems. And in trying to figure out who would want to kill the man, every one has a reason. And again, just when the reader believes they know who the culprit was, Pessin gives a piece of information that casts doubt. It isn’t until the very, very end that we are given the truth about what happened to Descartes and if his death was indeed natural causes.

This is the first work of fiction by Pessin, and in my opinion it is an very good start. I would not be surprised if he continues to write more like this and when he does, I will be checking them out as well. I recommend my readers do too.