The Mechanical: Book 1 of the Alchemy Wars by Ian Tregillis

Every so often an invention comes along that changes the world. It revolutionizes it’s particular field and nothing is quite the same afterward. One example – and one that is important to the story – is the pendulum clock. Invented in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens, is was a breakthrough in timekeeping, allowing accuracy unheard of in its day.

The Mechanical takes place in a world where the pendulum clock wasn’t Huygens only great invention. Along side the clocks, he also created a clockwork man called a Clakker. Imbued with a mixture of alchemy and science, these mechanical men and women are considered the perfect tool. They are able to fill any role – soldier or servant. They are tireless and obedient and they allow the Dutch to become a world power. Yet what the Dutch do not know – or perhaps deny knowing – is that the Clakkers are thinking and feeling beings and that they desire their freedom.

Our story takes place in 1926, but it is a very different age. The Dutch have built a grand world on the backs of their metal men conquering much of the known world. The French have been defeated and now live in exile in what know as Nova Scotia, Canada. Though the French have a better understanding of chemicals, scientific discovery and spies among the Dutch, and even with a shaky cease-fire between the two powers, the French know it is only a matter of time before they fall to the Clakkers. However the French believe they have found a way to not only defeat the French but to free the Clakkers.

There are three separate narratives creating this story, each showing a different view of this world. At first they seem separate and only as the book goes on do we see how entwined they truly are. I won’t go too much in to it though because to say too much will spoil the plot. And believe me dear reader, discovering how everything fits together is half the enjoyment of this book.

What also makes this book enjoyable is how it makes you think. Not only does it make you question how we define what means to be a human but also what it means to truly be free. It also asks that question ‘what is a soul?’ – it is something that can be measured or even manufactured? Questions that have been asked for millenia are posed again but without being preachy or sad but inquisitive.

To sum up, this book is EXCELLENT. With fabulous writing set in a fascinating well-built world, characters that are interesting and diverse and a truly original plot, this is a very good read. I am definitely looking forward to the second (and third? and more?) book in this series.

Pines (Wayward Pines #1) by Blake Crouch

Wayward Pines, Idaho, is quintessential small-town America – or so it seems.

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrives in search of two missing federal agents, yet soon is facing much more than he bargained for. After a violent accident lands him in the hospital, Ethan comes to with no ID and no cell phone. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off.

As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into his colleagues’ disappearance turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he make contact with his family in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what’s the purpose of the electrified fences encircling the town? Are they keeping the residents in? Or something else out?

Each step toward the truth takes Ethan further from the world he knows, until he must face the horrifying possibility that he may never leave Wayward Pines alive…

Often times when I am looking for books to add to To Read list I will add titles that just sound interesting. Maybe I’ve read something from the author before, maybe I haven’t. Maybe something on the cover catches my eye. Or maybe something in the blurb just piques my interest.

Such is what happened with Pines, the first novel in the Wayward Pines series. Blake Crouch is an author I have reviewed before on here and when looking at some of the other titles he’s written the Wayward Pines series stood out. As a fan of the “survival horror” type video games (ie Silent Hill and Resident Evil) I was especially intrigued and added the title to my queue.

Oh my goodness dear reader, I am so glad I did. It has been some time since a book has held my attention so fully that I read it in one evening. There were times I had to set it down and walk away to take care of one thing or another but I just as quickly returned because I simply had to know what happens next.

If you are familiar with the “survival horror” genre, whether it be via video games, novels, etc. then the basic plotline of Pines will not seem new. Indeed it relies on several familiar tropes that are standard – the perfect little town, the citizens that are a little too friendly, contact with any one outside of the actual town cut off for whatever reason. These things are de rigeur for stories of this type and Crouch uses them all very well.

As in his other novels, Crouch’s writing is tight paced. The action is not just physical but psychological as well. The main character Ethan is easy to sympathize with. As one event leads to another and still there is no way to leave the sleepy little town, one begins to wonder if perhaps it is Ethan himself who is off. In watching him find dead end after dead end you also begin to feel his frustration and despair. And when he does learn what is going on, his horror as well.

Since Pines is the first novel in the Wayward Pines trilogy, I fully expected the story to end on a cliffhanger. I expected few if any questions to be answered and if any were they would simply lead to more. Pines is odd in that it answers most of the questions raised throughout the novel. There is an ending but it is also left open for the subsequent novels in the series. Where Crouch takes the story next, I am not sure but I am curious to find out.

Readers who enjoyed shows like Twin Peaks or X-Files will more than likely enjoy travelling to Wayward Pines. I whole heartedly recommend at least the first novel to my readers. As I have already gotten the second and third books from my local library, readers should stay tuned for those reviews as well.

Provided for Review: Highfire by Eoin Colfer

In the days of yore, he flew the skies and scorched angry mobs—now he hides from swamp tour boats and rises only with the greatest reluctance from his Laz-Z-Boy recliner. Laying low in the bayou, this once-magnificent fire breather has been reduced to lighting Marlboros with nose sparks, swilling Absolut in a Flashdance T-shirt, and binging Netflix in a fishing shack. For centuries, he struck fear in hearts far and wide as Wyvern, Lord Highfire of the Highfire Eyrie—now he goes by Vern. However…he has survived, unlike the rest. He is the last of his kind, the last dragon. Still, no amount of vodka can drown the loneliness in his molten core. Vern’s glory days are long gone. Or are they?

A canny Cajun swamp rat, young Everett “Squib” Moreau does what he can to survive, trying not to break the heart of his saintly single mother. He’s finally decided to work for a shady smuggler—but on his first night, he witnesses his boss murdered by a crooked constable.

Regence Hooke is not just a dirty cop, he’s a despicable human being—who happens to want Squib’s momma in the worst way. When Hooke goes after his hidden witness with a grenade launcher, Squib finds himself airlifted from certain death by…a dragon?

The swamp can make strange bedfellows, and rather than be fried alive so the dragon can keep his secret, Squib strikes a deal with the scaly apex predator. He can act as his go-between (aka familiar)—fetch his vodka, keep him company, etc.—in exchange for protection from Hooke. Soon the three of them are careening headlong toward a combustible confrontation. There’s about to be a fiery reckoning, in which either dragons finally go extinct—or Vern’s glory days are back.

This book was provided for review by the author and the kind people at NetGalley. Thank you!

The copy of Highfire reviewed was an Uncorrected Proof provided by NetGalley. Any changes done after distribution were done at the discretion of the author and the publisher.

Being from the state of Louisiana, I am always interested in books (and movies and TV shows) that are set in this state. I almost always find myself comparing the fiction with the truth. Sometimes the two are so far apart as to be laughable and sometimes the two are actually quite close. When this happens, it is always a pleasant surprise.

Highfire is one of those books where fact and fiction are fairly close. At least when it comes to South Louisiana. And while Colfer does take a few small liberties (dancing alligators) for the most part his portrayal of this little corner of the world is pretty accurate.

Thankfully, Colfer sets the scene in the bayou backwaters around the city of New Orleans. It is much easier to fudge things here since the waterways are constantly changing. What doesn’t change is how the people there live and Colfer seems to get this mostly right. He does not try to make any one character sound too ridiculous or have a bizarre accent that no one down here has. There is a certain cadence to South Louisiana speech that Colfer did try to capture in the first part of the novel and it did not feel natural. Thankfully, the prose shifted away from that later on.

The characters that inhabit Highfire are all unique. It is very easy to cheer for Squib and Vern. Likewise, it is very easy to jeer at Sheriff Hooke. There is one particular character I would have liked to see more of before their departure – not named here because of spoilers. They provided a good dose of humor in to what could have become a too heavy story.

I really enjoyed reading Highfire by Eoin Colfer. Because this is a fantasy with a dragon, the action does go over the top in some scenes. Yet it is done in a way that is also kind of believable. The end is also left open with the understanding that we might once again visit the bayous of South Louisiana and a vodka swilling dragon. I certainly hope so.

Provided for Review: Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Ever since Margot was born, it’s just been her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: a photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. Was it to hide from her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply in to Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing this book for review.

Trigger warnings: Emotional manipulation, Emotional abuse, Mentions of gaslighting

For as long as Margot can remember, it’s just been her and her mom. The two of them just managing to scrape by. The struggle to make it from one day to the next becomes more and more difficult and at times the line between who is mother and who is daughter is blurred.

Desperate to try and stay in her mother’s good graces, Margot decides to try and buy back some of their things from the local pawn shop. Buried at the bottom of a box, Margot finds an old bible and tucked among the pages is a photograph. On the back is a name and a phone number as well as the name of a town – Phalene.

As pieces begin to come together, Margot believes she’s found what she’s been wanting her whole life. A family. It is only that the longer she spends there, the more she realizes not everything is as it seems. Even perfect families have their secrets.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power is one of those books that while the subject matter made it difficult to read at times, neither could I put the book down.

In the first chapter we are introduced to Margot and her mother Jo, and it is here we get our first glimpses of how dysfunctional their relationship is. Their relationship is not a good one, it could easily be described as toxic. A truth that Power does not shy away from and instead lays bare. In showing the dichotomy between Margot and her mother, we see the abuser and the abused. One feeding in to the other in a never ending cycle.

Burn Our Bodies Down is not an easy book to read. While classified as Young Adult, the subject matter might be a little too difficult for some readers. Truthfully, some adult readers might have trouble as well as some scenes could be considered triggering.

This does NOT mean that Burn Our Bodies Down is a bad book – the truth be told, I thought it was a very good book. It is only that a handful of scenes may hit a little too close to home for some readers and would thus take the enjoyment out of an otherwise enjoyable book.

Under most circumstances, I finish my reviews with the answer to the question of whether I would recommend this particular book to my readers or not. With Burn Our Bodies Down, I do recommend it but I also advise my readers to not go in blind.

Oddjobs (Oddjobs #1) by Heide Goody

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but someone still needs to do the paperwork.

Incomprehensible horrors from beyond are going to devour our world but that’s no excuse to get all emotional about it. Morag Murray works for the secret government organisation responsible for making sure the apocalypse goes as smoothly and as quietly as possible.

In her first week on the job, Morag has to hunt down a man-eating starfish, solve a supernatural murder and, if she’s got time, prevent her own inevitable death.

The first book in a new comedy series by the creators of ‘Clovenhoof’, Oddjobs is a sideswipe at the world of work and a fantastical adventure featuring amphibian wannabe gangstas, mad old cat ladies, ancient gods, apocalyptic scrabble, fish porn, telepathic curry and, possibly, the end of the world before the weekend.

The world as we know it may be ending but someone still needs to make sure the proper paperwork has been done.

Oddjobs is the first book in the series of the same name by Heide Goody and Iain Grant. It is a very British take on the Men in Black trope that has spawned several movies, books, and graphic novels. The main difference being while in Men in Black they were trying to stop the apocalypse, in Oddjobs they’re trying to make sure the process goes smoothly. If it’s going to happen anyway, why not make it as easy as possible? And maybe even bring in a few dollars with a line of incredibly cute and cuddly plushes?

As I said above, Oddjobs is a very British book. Peppered throughout are references to persons, places, and events that the average UK reader would recognize but other readers might not. On a handful of occasions I found myself having to look up things referenced simply to try and keep up with the storyline. Not that this is a bad thing per se, but it might throw off the average reader.

Oddjobs is a fast paced book and in some places quite funny. The cast of characters are an eclectic lot, each one bringing their own strengths to the team. While some background is given on each character, it is my hope that we learn more about every one with each subsequent novel.

I really enjoyed reading Oddjobs. As a fan of British sci-fi I found it to be an entertaining mix of seriousness and satire. Readers who are fans of this genre and like classics like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf are sure to like this one as well. Average readers might find the British-isms a bit confusing at time but I urge them to give this a try as well.

Lady of Devices (Magnificent Devices #1) by Shelley Adina

London, 1889.

Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world.

At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up.

When her father gambles the estate on the combustion engine and loses, Claire finds herself down and out on the mean streets of London. But being a young woman of resources and intellect, she turns fortune on its head. It’s not long before a new leader rises in the underworld, known only as the Lady of Devices . . .

When she meets Andrew Malvern, a member of the Royal Society of Engineers, she realizes her talents may encompass more than the invention of explosive devices. They may help her realize her dreams and his . . . if they can both stay alive long enough to see that sometimes the closest friendships can trigger the greatest betrayals . . .

Lady of Devices is the first book in Shelley Adina’s Magnificent Devices series. It opens with the main character, Claire Trevelyan, causing a rather messy accident in one of her classes. Despite the warnings of her instructors, she combines two reactive ingredients because she wishes to know what exactly will happen. And when she is tasked with cleaning up her mess, Claire seems to act as if this wasn’t her fault. If only her teacher had told her what would occur!

This small series of events was only the start of numerous eye rolling moments I had while reading this book.

Now do not get me wrong my dear reader, I enjoy the Steampunk genre as much as the next person. There is so much that can be played with in regards to technology and science. The way history has been shaped by the technology leaves countless ideas for authors to use. Unfortunately, Lady of Devices barely touches on any of them and when it does it is done with a heavy handed and awkward manner.

While Lady Claire is a smart young woman, she can also be irritatingly obtuse at times. When she takes up with the East End gang, she originally berates them for picking pockets. Yet she then turns around and teaches these same children how to cheat and swindle. She becomes a kind of governess for them with the intention of helping them become proper English citizens. But not some time later she (albeit accidentally) kills another gang leader and takes over his base of operations. For someone who supposedly prides herself on being a proper young woman, Lady Claire seems to follow the rules only when it suits her.

While I personally didn’t particular enjoy reading Lady of Devices, neither do I want to discourage my readers from trying it. Over on Goodreads, just as many readers gave it glowing reviews as others gave it less than stellar ones. Like in so many other instances, the reader shall simply have to decide for themselves.

Extreme Medical Services by Jamie Davis

Read the book described by one reader as “Like Grimm With Paramedics.” Follow the exploits of new paramedic Dean Flynn as he gets assigned to a backwater station no one has ever heard of, Station U. He soon learns that his unusual patients are far from normal. They are the creatures of myth and legend. His tough, experienced paramedic trainer Brynne is determined to teach him everything she knows. With vampires, werewolves, witches and fairies as patients, will he survive? Will they?

Ever since he was a teenager Dean Flynn has wanted to be a paramedic. Working hard and graduating top of his class, Dean is sure he’ll have his pick of posts. Instead, he’s assigned to Station U – a tiny station at the edge of town that practically no one knows about. Dean thinks he’s being punished until he learns about the unique patients Station U treats.

Extreme Medical Services is one of those books that doesn’t fit neatly in to any one category. It’s not quite a medical style novel nor is it completely fantasy based – it is instead a mish mash of the two. It does rely quite heavily on medical jargon however if the reader has seen even one medical drama (ER, Chicago Hope, The Good Doctor, etc.) they shouldn’t be to lost.

This overabundance of jargon and procedure comes at a price though, and that price is the characters themselves. There just isn’t enough given to create a connection between the reader and the characters. Everyone sounds quite interesting yet as there is so much emphasis put on the actual emergency procedures themselves, no one character is allowed to develop any depth.

I am also rather confused by the picture on the cover. None of the paramedics show even a hint of supernatural abilities.

As someone who has enjoyed the occasional medical drama in the past, I was rather looking forward to reading Extreme Medical Services. Especially as it was combined with another genre I enjoy – fantasy. I was however sadly disappointed. The premise itself was quite promising but the execution was sorely lacking. Readers who prefer a book that focuses on actual medical procedures albeit in a fictional setting might enjoy it. Other readers might want to look somewhere else.

Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez

This review was originally posted May 16, 2017

Emperor Mollusk – Mad genius. Conqueror and Destroyer of worlds. Intergalactic menace. And Ex-warlord of Earth.

Not too bad for a guy without a spine…or any bones.

But what is a super villain to do when he’s already done everything?

With no new ambitions – no new planets to conquer – Emperor Mollusk finds himself in a bit of a quandry. Retirement isn’t as simple as he thought it would be. While he would certainly prefer to be left alone to explore the boundaries of science, even that becomes boring after a while. So when the assassins of a legendary death cult come calling, Mollusk is eager for the challenge. Someone has their eye on Earth and Mollusk isn’t about to let the planet go so easily, especially in to the clutches of someone less capable of ruling than him!

Dear reader, in reading a book have you ever that should said book be made in to a movie (or even audio book) that a particular actor would be perfect for a particular role?

I found myself having just those thoughts while reading Emperor Mollusk. The great Emperor himself reminded me so much of Iron Man’s Tony Stark that should this anything be done with this book, if Robert Downey, Jr. isn’t cast as Emperor Mollusk, it would be a great shame.

In the character of Emperor Mollusk, Martinez has captured the dry wit and genius of Tony Stark and put it in the body of a spineless blob from Neptune. In the story itself, he takes the numerous tropes that peppered 50’s B-movies and combines them in a fast and funny tale. If there is one drawback, it is that the prose sometimes gets a bit bogged down with techno-babble. This especially happens towards the end however I didn’t find it too detracting from the story overall.

Fans of 50’s B-movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and wonderfully bad sci-fi in general should absolutely read this book. I greatly enjoyed Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain both times I read it and can only hope that Martinez will take us back to visit these characters again.

Extinction Reversed (Robot Geneticists #1) by J.S. Morin

A.I. didn’t destroy humanity. It didn’t save us, either.

Charlie7 is the progenitor of a mechanical race he built from the ashes of a dead world—Earth. He is a robot of leisure and idle political meddling—a retirement well-earned. Or he was, until a human girl named Eve was dropped in his lap.

Far from a failed genetics experiment, Eve is brilliant, curious, and heartbreakingly naïve about her species’ history. But Eve’s creator wants her back and has a gruesome fate planned for her. There is only one robot qualified to protect her. For the first time in a thousand years, Charlie7 has a human race to protect.

The result of 1,000 years of genetic engineering, terraforming, and painstaking toxic cleanup has resulted in the ultimate achievement of the Post-Invasion Age: a healthy human.

Her name is Eve14.

Don’t ask about the 13 Eves before her.

Humanity as we know it is no more and the robots have taken over. But the robots are not quite as unfeeling as one would think. Before the end of everything, twenty-seven of the most brilliant minds were scanned as part of a project known as Project Transhuman. Every robot that now exists is made up of an amalgam of those human minds. Everything those humans knew and thought and felt are a part of the robots – all of their jealousies, their ambitions, their hopes and dreams. All were saved and used to create a whole new world.

Extinction Reversed is a unique take on the whole ‘robots taking over after the end of the world’ trope. At one point in time it was a popular story idea and was explored in numerous different ways before eventually falling out of public consumption. J.S. Morin has brought it back in a way with his six part series titled Robot Geneticists with Extinction Reversed being the first in the series.

The characters that Morin has created for the series are an interesting bunch. The robots are all based on the same twenty-seven individuals; depending on what kind of a person is needed, pieces of three minds mixed together using a process that is never quite fully explained. This creates an individual who is both unique but also has a known quotient about them. They are human in that they have feelings and emotions yet they are in metallic bodies.

The few humans that we meet on the other hand are quite diverse. Eve, the main female character, is more like a robot than the robots she encounters. Born and raised in a lab, at 16 years old she is experiencing everything for the first time. The robot who created her made her perfect in every way and raised her in a very sterile environment. Having never been exposed to anything such as movies or books or art, she is almost akin to a living, breathing, computer.

On the other side of the human coin is Plato. The main male character, he too was created by a robot in a lab somewhere. He, however, is the complete opposite of Eve. He is temperamental, gets angry quickly, and while he is quite smart he often rushes in to situations head first. He is far from perfect and only when it is revealed that while physically he is an adult male, his mind is of a 12 year old boy, does some of his actions make sense.

Overall, I liked reading Extinction Reversed. It was interesting watching the dichotomy between robots and humans play out. Especially as it was the robots who were acting out the most. The writing can be a bit awkward at times and while the first half of the book was a little slow, it definitely picked up in the second half. I especially liked the short story at the end that revealed exactly how humanity met its end and the robots came to be.

Readers who enjoy stories based around robots taking over will likely also enjoy Extinction Reversed. Personally, I’ve already added the rest of the series to my To Be Read list and will slowly but surely be making my way through them.

Provided for Review: Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

In 2153, cancer was cured. In 2189, AIDS. And in 2235, the last members of the human race traveled to a far distant planet called Pearl to begin the next chapter of humanity.

Several hundred years after their arrival, the remainder of humanity lives in a utopian colony in which every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for human labor, struggle or thought. But when the machines that regulate the colony begin to malfunction, the colonists are faced with a test for the first time in their existence.

With the lives of the colonists at stake, it is left to a young man named Samuel to repair these breakdowns and save the colony. Aided by his friend Penny, Samuel rises to meet each challenge. But he soon discovers a mysterious group of people behind each of these problems, and he must somehow find and defeat these saboteurs in order to rescue his colony. 

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

In 2153 cancer is cured, and every disease known to man follows shortly thereafter. This allows the human population to skyrocket even though the cost is unknowingly high. When scientists find an earth like planet, it is deemed as humanity’s savior and those who are sent to the distant planet are tasked with bringing about a new age.

Our Dried Voices poses an interesting look in to the idea of ‘What happens next?’. What happens when a virtual paradise is established on a faraway planet? What happens when every need is met and the struggle to survive is taken away? What happens when we no longer have to think for ourselves?

The answers are both frightening and enlightening. With nothing to worry about the people of Pearl live a carefree life. They are perpetually children, never having to worry about a thing. As everything is completely automated, their largest decision is which of the meal halls will they go to that day. It is both a utopia and a dystopia.

I found Our Dried Voices to be a very interesting read. There are parallels with our own society in that every day more and more of our lives are becoming automated. To have an individual thought, to not ‘go with the flow’, is seen as strange.

There is very little dialogue save towards the end; something that adds to the otherness of the book. Most of the story happens in action, in thoughts and deeds. At times I found things teetering close to purple prose in terms of description. Yet again that also adds to the strange planet and unique lands the colonists reside in.

For readers who wonder “What if…?” or would be interested in seeing what could happen when the idea of a utopia is taken to the extreme, Our Dried Voices should be added to their reading list. If nothing else, it gives a frightening look in to a future that could possibly occur.