Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious Vicious
by V.E Schwab

ISBN-13: 9-780765-335340
Publication: September 2013 from Tor
Source: BEA 2013
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
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Victor and Eli started out as college roommates — brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find — aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge — but who will be left alive at the end?

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Vicious by V.E Schwab is fantastic. One of the best books I’ve read lately, different from my current usual, it was just what I needed. Sometimes a nice break away from the young adult and middle grade is just what the doctor ordered. Sci-fi/fantasy with a superhero twist and unreliable heros and villians (heros who ARE the villians!), Vicious delivers amazing characters, world-building and writing.

Our cast of characters is few, but oh man. They are large! Victor and Eli are our two main hero/villians. Friends from university, everything starts to go pear-shaped when research into the relationship between EOs (ExtraOrdinary people) and near-death experiences results in, well, near-death experiences. In the end, Victor goes to prison and Eli doesn’t. As the story progresses, we pick up Mitch and Syndey on Victor’s side, and Serena on Eli’s. All of them with secrets, four of them with powers, and some really crazy views on what makes a hero or villian. Told in alternating past and present chapters, we see how Eli, Victor, Sydney and Serena wind up connecting and colliding in a show down that is both awesome and frightening.

5 heart

I am completely enamoured with V.E. Schwab’s take on superpowers. She has created a world in which EO’s exist, but not because of radioactive spiders, or meteors, or mutant genes, etc. Instead, they’re gifts come from a flirt with death and having their body completely traumatized. So what begins as a fascination for Eli and Victor, turns into confusion, a little hatred and a sense that really, EOs are wrong and unnatural (on Eli’s part, anyway). The present story in Vicious takes place over two days, while the past talks about events ten years prior. I would love to read more in this world; to know what happens after the end – because oh, what an end! – and get another glimpse into the characters lives.

ARC received at BEA 2013 through an author signing.

Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front alt Storm Front
by Jim Butcher

ISBN-13: 9-780979-074943
Publication: November 2000 (original)
Source: purchased (audiobook)
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under Wizards. Believe it or not, I’m the only one there.

With rent past due and a decent meal becoming an issue of some importance, Harry needs work, and soon. A call from a distraught wife, and another from Lt. Murphy of the Chicago PD Special Investigation Unit makes Harry believe things are looking up, but they are about to get worse, much worse. Someone is harnessing immense supernatural forces to commit a series of grisly murders. Someone has violated the first law of magic: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Tracking that someone takes Harry into the dangerous underbelly of Chicago, from mobsters to vampires, while he himself is under suspicion of the crimes. One thing is certain, if he can’t stop whoever is on this killing spree, Harry will be the next victim

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Not going to lie, a big reason I purchased this audio book is because James Marsters narrates. And because I’d always heard good things about the series and had been meaning to try it for a while now. James Marsters was just that last little push I needed. Storm Front by Jim Butcher is the first book in a series following Harry Dresden, wizard, as he gets himself into the worst possible situations by helping solve murders and mysteries in Chicago.

I adored Harry Dresden. The books are written in first person, so the reader really gets to see inside Harry’s head and learn who he is and what makes him tick. While not always the nicest or best of people, Harry has a pretty good moral code going on. He’s a generally and genuinely decent person who uses his skills as a wizard to act as a Private Investigator and help out the Chicago PD in any cases that seem to be because of supernatural means. Karrin Murphy is the head of the Special Investigation unit and kick-ass. It’s nice to see a strong female cop leading the way. Harry’s got a great wit to him, and there’s just something about the way he views himself and the world that I really liked. It helps that Jim Butcher’s writing style plays to the old type PI storyline and characters very well. Throw in a mix of vampires, the White Council that governs magic, and some pretty crazed magic users causing gruesome murders and Storm Front is an intense first book.

4 heart

Trying to figure out how all the characters and pieces fit together was great. Jim Butcher drops hints throughout the book and we solve the case as Harry himself is solving the case. There are some bloody fights and even bloodier deaths, a very cool introduction to the background of magic in Harry Dresden’s version of the world, and hints as to a darker past for Harry. Also a wee bit of romance, which you know is going to show up again in later books (hopefully, at least). Harry gets beat around quite a bit but he always bounces back and kicks major butt. Storm Front by Jim Butcher is a great start to a series, and James Marsters voice does wonderful things for bringing Harry Dresden to life!

Review: Wide Open by Deborah Coates [blog tour]

Wide Open
by Deborah Coates

ISBN-13: 9-780765-328984
Publication date: March 2012 from Tor
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it!

When Sergeant Hallie Michaels returns home to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days’ compassionate leave, her sister Dell’s ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.

The sheriff says that Dell’s death was suicide, but Hallie doesn’t believe it. Friends and family think Hallie’s grief is interfering with her judgment. The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere Hallie goes and helps her when he doesn’t have to.

As Hallie pushes for answers, she attracts more ghosts – local women who disappeared without a trace – and discovers a disturbing patter. Now she needs to not just figure out what happened to Dell but to make sure no one else shares her fate, even as it becomes clear that someone who wields an unimaginable and ancient power is working against her, and will stop at nothing to prevent her from finding out the truth.

Deborah Coates’ debut novel Wide Open will leave you rushing to turn the pages too fast as you try to work out the mystery surrounding Hallie Michaels’ sister Dell’s death. This book was un-put-downable. Not a word, I know, but I devoured this chilly ghost story in one sitting and was constantly kept on the edge of my seat trying to put all the pieces together.

Hallie has arrived back Stateside on compassionate leave from the army after learning of her sister’s death. She exits the plane with ghost in tow, and is soon joined by a second – the ghost of her sister, Dell. Rumoured to be suicide, Hallie is stubborn and clings to the belief that her sister would never commit suicide. She has only ten days to figure out her sister’s death, and there are more threads to the case than she thinks she can ever put together. Add to that the strange storms and lightening that are plaguing her Prairie home, the ghosts of missing girls that keep appearing, and a handsome Deputy Sheriff that has the knack of popping up in the right place at the right time (or the right place at the wrong time, if you ask Hallie), and Hallie feels her ten days slipping through her fingers.

Hallie is stubborn, capable and determined. She doesn’t need to rely on anyone else to do what needs doing, but she’s not too proud to eventually accept help when she needs it. Her sister has died and she’s determined to figure out what happened, and she keeps that determination throughout everything that happens to her over the course of the book. Deborah Coates’ writing drags you into the story with vivid description and emotion. The descriptions of the cold ghosts, the fire that’s plaguing the prairie and Hallie’s thoughts at these times are tingling and so vivid. And our deputy sheriff! Deborah does a great job in keeping you wondering if he’s involved or not. He’s so mysterious!

Wide Open by Deborah Coates is a murder mystery with ghosts and magic wrapped up in it. I loved working through the mystery of Dell’s death with Hallie. Though it’s one of those book where you’re pretty sure you know who done it, the little details and clues that Hallie finds along the way pointing her in the right direction were often complete surprises – until she finds it, and you’re like “ohhh, should have seen that coming!” Although sometimes it felt like she found her clues a little too easily, the end result is that there are people involved that were a bit sloppy, and Hallie is a smart woman that takes everything she’s given and runs with it. Wide Open is a wonderful debut that will keep you ready long into the night and checking over your shoulder for ghosts every time you feel a chill in the air.

Find Deborah:
Website | Goodreads | Twitter

Hardcover copy provided by Tor Books as part of a blog tour in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: Nightingale by David Farland

Nightingale
by David Farland

ISBN-13: 9-781614-757870
Publication: October 2011 from East India Press
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it

Bron Jones was abandoned as a newborn. Thrown into foster care, he is rejected by one family after another, until he meets Olivia, a gifted and devoted high-school teacher who recognizes him for what he really is — what her people call a “nightingale.”

But Bron isn’t ready to learn the truth. There are secrets that have been hidden from mankind for hundreds of thousands of years, secrets that should remain hidden. Some things are too dangerous to know.

Bron’s secrets may be the most dangerous of all.

Nightingale by David Farland is an intriguing fantasy novel presented in a very unique package – an enhanced e-book, with pictures, animations, music, video interviews with the author and more. My review will of the story itself goes along with my 3 heart rating. I’ll talk about the presentation of the story at the bottom, since I feel the format needs to be mentioned.

Our main narrator is Bron Jones, a foster kid who’s been shuffled through the system into increasingly unsuitable home situations. But it’s not until he comes to live with Olivia that his entire world changes, and not really for the better. Bron is a masaak – not human, he has powers available to him that he can only begin to control. When he stumbles across others like him, Bron and Olivia are in a race against time to hide their whereabouts and discover just who Bron really is, and what he can do. The chapters alternate between Bron, Olivia and a few other characters. The ones narrated by a character other than Bron tend on the shorter side and give glimpses into how Bron’s presence is affecting those people around him.

I found it difficult to connect with the characters in Nightingale. Bron is very hard to pin down, and though we see most of the story through his eyes you’re never quite sure of his motivations or mindset. Olivia does what she thinks is right, and the best course of action, but I think she’s in over her head and making decisions for Bron that may backfire when he finds out the extent of her ‘helping’. The two female characters that are, of course, immediately in like with Bron are just that – in like with Bron. There’s a sinister male classmate, Bron’s father and mother and a few more characters who advance the plot and are probably important down the road. I enjoyed the story but felt some parts were a little rushed, or missing details that would have given a better picture of some events. A few of the details about masaaks, their powers and such were a bit confusing. I definitely enjoyed the story and want to see where it goes – especially with Bron, since he seems to be something new to the masaak groups (Aels and Draghouls) – but it didn’t suck me in and keep me hooked from page to page, and the ending was a bit too abrupt for my tastes. I’m thinking the sequels will delve more into Bron and his decisions regarding the two factions of masaaks and the main villains big plans.

I think Nightingale has a strong young adult/adult crossover appeal, and that the enhanced web/iPad version of the book is amazing – but not the best for my reading experience. I don’t own an iPad, so had to read the web version. Which means that I had to wait until when I had long enough moments to sit in front of my computer to read it. I really loved the chapter heading illustrations, music and animations and then the fact that the rest of the chapter was regular e-book. The videos from David Farland were informative, as were the highlighted words or sentences throughout the story that could be clicked on to provide information from the author about why that particular word or phrase or thing is in the book – but they could be distracting and break the flow of reading. Eventually I just stopped clicking and kept reading. Also, by about half way around the book, the chapter headings were just blank white pages with a quote. This may be because I was reading an advance view of the book, but it left me unable to fully appreciate the media aspect of the story.

Although I did not connect with the characters as much as I would have liked, and the format of the story was not my favourite (I still prefer traditional print over e-books), Nightingale by David Farland is a fairly solid fantasy that I think will appeal to fans of Davids other work and those who enjoy a fast-paced, detailed fantasy world.

Online copy provided by East India Press in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Heart’s Blood
by Juliet Marillier

ISBN-13: 9-780451-462930
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!

Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress of a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the region in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan’s family and his people. The woods hold a perilous forces whose every whisper threatens doom. And Anluan himself has been crippled by a childhood illness.

Then the young scribe Caitrin appears in Anluan’s garden, admiring the rare plant known as heart’s blood. Retained to sort through entangled family documents, Caitrin brings about unexpected changes in the household, casting a hopeful light against the despairing shadows.

But even as Caitrin brings solace to Anluan, and the promise of something more between them, he remains in thrall to the darkness surrounding Whistling Tor. To free Anluan’s burdened soul, Caitrin must unravel the web of sorcery woven by his ancestors before it claims his life – and their love.

Most of us grew up watching Disney animated movies. I remember going to see Pocahontas, Lion King and Toy Story in theatres. I remember Beauty and the Beast and how much magic the story seemed to hold. I had yet to come across a telling of Beauty and the Beast that left me with such a sense of wonder as Disney’s version – until now, and heart’s Blood.

It’s not even the closest retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s presence is the same. Once I was older and able to understand more than just “singing, talking furniture and a huge, pretty dress”, I could see the romance between Beauty and her beast, and more than the story of a curse and magic, the romance is the real tale. That notion that love can conquer and cure all. But I’m jumping into the middle. Let’s start at the beginning, where all good stories start.

Caitrin is a scribe’s daughter, and practices the craft herself. We first meet her as she is traveling away from her home town after the death of her father. She arrives at Whistling Tor, using the last of her money. As luck would have it, the chieftain of the area is in need of a scribe, but the tales of specters and hauntings on the Tor have kept everyone – including the villagers – away. Braving the journey, Caitrin makes her way to the chieftain’s home (which is pretty much like a castle). There, she meets Anluan, the “beast” chieftain, with crooked arm and leg. Caitrin gains employment and soon finds herself amidst the Host, ghostly figures who inhabit the hill of the Tor, otherworldly people, and Anluan. Whistling Tor is facing invasion from Normans, and Anluan is desperate to control the Host. Caitrin wants nothing more than to ease Anluan’s burdens, and helping to send the Host back to death is the easiest way to do that. But she has more obstacles in her way than she knows, and magic always has a deadline.

Caitrin is wonderful. So strong, level-headed, intelligent and loving; but she has her weaknesses. It’s only as the story progresses that she comes into her incredible strength of character. She learns that she can’t run from what she fears, but rather face it head on and conquer that fear. Caitrin doesn’t shy away from practicing her craft, though it’s considered a man’s work. She’s confident in her abilities and willing to use them. Her voice came through the writing loud and clear, and I feel as if I have known her forever. And then there is Anluan, Beast to her Beauty. Anluan is the young, crippled chieftain of Whistling Tor, and has been through so much heartache in his life. Caitrin is like a breath of fresh air to him. Anluan is gruff, abrupt, prone to mood swings and very anti-social. But he’s constantly aware of his useless arm, and his limp. He’s had to struggle to control the Host for years, and has had little contact with people outside of the few in his household. He has a hard time handling the changes that Caitrin is bringing to Whistling Tor, but his heart is so pure and he wishes for hope. I have such a soft spot for Anluan – he’s the type of character that just makes you want to care for him.

For a story that seems only loosely based on Beauty and the Beast in the beginning, there are many similarities. Caitrin, when she leaves Whistling Tor for a while, takes a mirror with her that allows her to see Anluan at any time. She rushes back to his side when it seems he may die. Anluan – and his family – are under a curse that needs to be broken before Anluan dies without an heir, and instead of the rose playing a significant part in the story we have the herb Heart’s Blood. Rather than the household being changed into animated furniture, there is the Host of spirits. But it’s so much more than the plot points that make this story good. It’s the romance and the interaction between Caitrin and Anluan, it’s the characters themselves and the mystery of the curse. The romance is so soft, so sweet. It grows from friendship, mutual respect and appreciation for each others company. It’s a comfortable love, but burns brightly. The result is such a comfortable, happy feeling by the time you finish the book. It’s beautiful. And the mystery of the curse! The build up and solution, the why and how, was all handled perfectly. The writing style helps; it really reminds you of an old fashioned fairy tale or fantasy. I loved it.

Heart’s Blood is a must read for any fairy tale and fantasy lover. It will stay in your hearts long after you’ve turned the last page.

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Genesis
by Bernard Beckett

ISBN-13: 9-780771-011429
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥

2041: First global dust storms
2050: First shot in The Last War fired
2051: The Great Sea Fence completed; The Republic founded
2052: First plague released
2077: The Great War begins

Genesis leads us into a future where ancient – and eternal – philosophical questions have dramatically collided with the march of technology, where just what it means to be human is up for debate, and where the concealed stain of an Original Sin threatens the very existence of a Brave New World.

In the year 2075, the island Republic has emerged from a ruined world. Its citizens are safe but not free. They live in complete isolation from the outside world. Approaching planes are gunned down, refugees shot on sight. Until one man, Adam Forde, rescues a girl from the sea.

Anax sits facing three Examiners and her grueling five-hour examination has just begun. Her special subject: the life of Adam Forde, her long-dead hero. If she passes, she’ll be admitted into the Academy – the elite institution that runs her utopian society. But Anax is about to discover that for all her learning, the history she’s been taught isn’t the whole story.

Genesis is such a remarkable story. Written entirely in dialogue and the thoughts of the main character, Anaximander, the novel tells the story of Adam and Art, and the beginning of The Great War.

Anax is sitting an examination to try and get into the Academy. The Examiners ask her questions relating to her topic – the life of Adam Forde. Through the questions and Anax’s answers, the history of the Republic is uncovered (and what happened to the world to make the Republic ‘necessary’), as well as how Adam became such an important historical figure.

Although I came across this book because it was listed as a dystopia – and there are definite elements involved that would classify it as such – I see it as science fiction first and foremost. Adam was instrumental in the development of an AI robot called Art. As Anax’s exam progresses it comes to light that it is Adam’s and Art’s interaction together that threw a wrench into the Republic and changed the course of their history.

There is a huge revelation at the end of the book, one which I confess I did not see coming. I’m a history major, and so I was swept up in the details of the Republic’s society and the psychological aspects of the story. Genesis is a huge look into humanity and society, and it really made me think about what I was reading, and the implications of AI technology. The writing was captivating and the plot was wonderfully done; I recommend this to anyone who likes science fiction, no matter your age.

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

Pandemonium
by Daryl Gregory

ISBN – 13: 9-780345-501165
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it

It is a world like our own in every respect . . . save one. In the 1950s, random acts of possession begin to occur. Ordinary men, women, and children are the targets of entities that seem to spring from the depths of the collective unconscious, pop-cultural avatars some call demons. There’s the Truth, implacable avenger of falsehood. The Captain, brave and self-sacrificing soldier. The Little Angel, whose kiss brings death, whether desired or not. And a string of others, ranging from the bizarre to the benign to the horrific.

As a boy, Del Pierce is possessed by the Hellion, an entity whose mischief-making can be deadly. With the help of Del’s family and a caring psychiatrist, the demon is exorcised . . . or is it? Years later, following a car accident, the Hellion is back, trapped inside Del’s head and clamoring to get out.

Del’s quest for help leads him to Valis, an entity possessing the science fiction writer formerly known as Philip K. Dick; to Mother Mariette, a nun who inspires decidedly unchaste feelings; and to the Human League, a secret society devoted to the extermination of demons. All believe that Del holds the key to the plague of possession-and its solution. But for Del, the cure may be worse than the disease.

Pandemonium was my purse-book. Meaning I kept it in my purse to read during lunch breaks at work, doctor’s office visits, car rides (where I wasn’t driving, for once) and the occasional long line-up. As such, I’ve been reading it for almost a month. Sometimes this backfires on me and I lose the flow of the book. With Pandemonium, I was just able to better digest what I was reading.

Daryl Gregory’s debut novel, Pandemonium is a captivating and thought-provoking example of science fiction literature. I will definitely be picking up The Devil’s Alphabet at some point in the near future.

What drew me in initially (besides the amazing synopsis) was Daryl Gregory’s writing style. His writing is beautifully descriptive and draws you into the story and lives of the characters. I was never bored and often had to drag myself away. The main character, Del, goes through such a trip during the course of the novel and Gregory’s writing drags you right along with him, every step of the way.

Besides the style of Gregory’s writing, the way in which he writes had me holding breath at one moment, wondering what the hell was actually going on (in a good way) in another, and then having those perfect “ah-ha!” moments in which plot points are tied together and questions are answered. I don’t want to spoil anyone who hasn’t yet read Pandemonium, so all I’m going to say is that all the little details that Gregory spreads throughout the book lead up to one wicked “ah-ha!” moment where you finally know for sure exactly how/why Del is “the key” – the main point of the story, really. I was not disappointed, at all.

I may not have mentioned this yet, but I have a horrible habit of reading the end of a book, first. And not just the last page, either – the whole last chapter (or more) usually. I had been doing good lately, but I caved with Pandemonium, and read the last chapter when I was half way through the book. I didn’t understand any of it. Pandemonium is one book you need to read through in order to fully understand why and how things occurred. I loved it.

The only thing that kept this book from being a five out of five rating for me were the few points where I lost track of who a couple characters were. Some of the more philosophical aspects of the story also left my head hurting in that way philosophy often does (but that’s just me). Overall, Pandemonium is an amazing novel and well worth the read.