Sunday, 28 July 2013

Showcase Sunday #29 - The Moving Edition

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several weekly wrap-up memes into one post. Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

Last Week:

We've moved home! We're in a new flat, and this weekend we're very busy with unpacking boxes and cleaning. We've also been having some pretty dramatic thunderstorms, which is fun as long as we don't have to go out! The flat's not quite fixed up yet - an electrician is coming to fix lights on Monday (at the moment we're using candles and lamps in the living room and kitchen), and we've got new blinds and curtains arriving the week after. I'm glad we managed to get the internet sorted out so quickly though!

Anyway, I think it's going to be really nice. :-)

The living room, waiting to be unpacked

My new office/library
My stalker bee doesn't seem to have followed me either, which is a relief. Every morning at the old flat, without fail, the same bumble bee would bang against every window in turn, trying to get inside. Weird huh? Well, it's the next tenants' problem now.

Oh, and I signed up for Bloglovin. If you want to follow the blog that way, there's a symbol with a plus on it near the top of the sidebar (underneath 'Follow Me').

How are you all doing? Hope you've had lovely weekends. It's going to be an extremely busy week for me getting things sorted out here, so things might be a little quiet on the blog for a bit. Sorry if I don't get a chance to visit other blogs for a while, but leave me a comment and I'll stop by at some point during the week! :-)

Last Week's Posts:

Book Review - The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Simon Mawer

Cover Reveal - Supernatural Fog, by Louisa Klein

New Goodies:

Sent by the author, James Everington, who recently did a guest post for the blog:

 Falling Over, by James Everington
Thanks James! Really looking forward to reading it.

And an audiobook:

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Moving Home

My flat is full of boxes. The bookshelves are almost empty, there are clothes stuffed in suitcases, books stuffed in suitcases, and probably books stuffed in clothes too, for that matter. We're at the one-cup-one-plate-each stage of packing, but of course we've left out the xbox for now, in case we want to play games in the last two days before we move, and then there's the pile of about 10 books I've left out because trying to pick just one is too hard, even though I probably won't finish my current read in the next two days anyway... Um. Yes.

So, as you've probably gathered, we're moving home! We had to leave our current flat because our landlord stopped paying his mortgage and another company took it over. It was pretty stressful, but thankfully we've found a lovely new place! We're moving about two streets away because we really like the area, into a similarish flat but with a bit more room for bookshelves. So yay! This one also has a garage and a small communal area that we can have BBQs in, and I'm getting pretty excited about the move. Already planning where we'll put the Christmas tree later!

Today the internet goes off in the old flat, and if all goes well it should be on in the new one this weekend *touch wood*. However, things rarely go according to plan, so there's a chance the blog may go quiet for a bit. I'll be back as soon as I can though, to tell you how the move went and post some pics!

Hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Not even half the books, and those in front are 3 boxes high...

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Supernatural Fog - Cover Reveal!

Not long ago I reviewed a fun book called Supernatural Freak, by Louisa Klein. I hoped there would be a sequel, and there is! It's coming out later this year, and today I'm part of the cover reveal:

Supernatural Fog, book 2 of the Supernatural Freak series, is another humorous, action-packed urban fantasy, this time with more romance and a little bit of horror...

Supernatural Fog, by Louisa Klein

1) Learn how to use your new powers;
2) Find the other spirits;
3) Keep up with the training;
4) Defeat the Dark Cloud;
5) Don’t you ever, EVER fall in love with your best friend.

Yeah, easier said than done. Supernatural Freak Robyn Wise is, well, freaking out.

She’s trying to adjust to her new life as the Spirit of the Cat’s incarnation. But with little success. She cannot find the other animal spirits who are supposed to help her, nor can she master the tricky art of telekinesis.

And then there’s James, her wizard best friend. They kissed in a moment of passion, right after she had slayed a powerful infernal monster.

After that, being around James awakens a range of emotions she’s really not eager to analyse. She just wants to be back to normal, to be friends again. Trouble is, it’s not that easy.

Especially when a mysterious Fog attacks London and the city’s survival depends on her teaming up with James. But it’s not a big deal, right? They can totally keep things friendly and professional, right? RIGHT?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky - Book Review

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
by Simon Mawer

Barely out of school and doing her bit for the war effort, Marian Sutro has one quality that marks her out from all the others - she is a native French speaker. It is this that attracts the attention of the curious Mr Potter who calls her to an interview in an anonymous office in London. Potter is a recruiting officer for the Special Operations Executive, which trains agents to operate in occupied Europe. So it is that Marian finds herself undergoing commando training, attending a school for spies, and ultimately, parachuting from an RAF bomber into the South-West of France to join the WORDSMITH resistance network.

However, there is more to Marian's mission than meets even the all-seeing eyes of the SOE. Before long a friend from the past returns and it soon seems that Marian could hold the key to the future of the whole war effort. A fascinating blend of fact and fiction, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is an old-fashioned adventure about a woman who did the most extraordinary things when the ordinary was not enough. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

I picked this book up as part of the Richard and Judy Book Club reading challenge. It started off very well, with Marian being dropped from a plane into occupied France, and then moving back to show how she was recruited to be a spy. I found myself grabbed by the book straight away. However, at this point it began to slow down a lot, and it took a long time to get back to France. Marian’s spy training was summarised and breezed over, which I found disappointing, and the way it was written made me feel disconnected from the story in a similar way to how Marian seemed to be disconnected from it, as if she were never really taking things seriously. This was portrayed well, but I did find it a little frustrating, and I thought some of Marian’s motives and feelings were hard to fathom at this point.

When the story finally winds itself back round to Marian being dropped in France, it immediately drew me in again. Marian’s missions in rural France almost feel a little like a game, tinged all the time with a sense of vague menace, which is in sharp contrast to the extreme tension and heavy, serious atmosphere when she is in Paris. I thought the author did an excellent job of capturing the fears and despair of a city under occupation, of the constant suspicion and anxiety. These sections were also paced perfectly, and Marian’s double mission within the city was interesting. The author writes very well, with little details that really set the scene.

Marian herself I found a sometimes wonderful and sometimes baffling character. She never seems to quite know what she wants, and the frivolity with which she makes major decisions is frustrating at first. However, we see her grow up a lot and really begin to understand just what’s at stake. We see her begin to connect with things and people in a way that she didn’t seem to in England. She’s confused about her place in life, and about her feelings for two different men, and there are points where this takes over the novel too much. Marian’s choice at the end of the book, though a little maddening, felt exactly right for her character. She had finally chosen something, firmly, for herself. In the end it wasn’t a choice of which man, or even what was practical, but what kind of person she wanted to be. I’m still not sure how I feel about the very end itself, but it did suit the themes and mood of the novel.

A slow first half that left me feeling disconnected, followed by a much stronger second half with some tense and gripping sections. Characters that were frustrating but also genuine, and a main character who grew a lot in interesting ways throughout the novel. A couple of almost-romances that sometimes dominated the plot too much, but a fantastic sense of setting and some lovely writing. This book often hopped between extremes for me, but overall I enjoyed it, and I loved the sections set in Paris.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Signing up for Bloglovin

So I've been meaning to get Bloglovin for awhile now. Seems like I have to make a blog post to claim my blog, and then I should be all set. If you use Bloglovin, hopefully you should be able to follow me. How are you finding it? I'm enjoying using Feedly so far, but it's always good to have extra options. :-)

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Showcase Sunday #28

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several weekly wrap-up memes into one post. Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

Last Week:

It's all about the packing here, as we're moving flat next weekend. I'm excited about the move, but also not looking forward to packing up the many boxes of books... Despite being very busy, I still managed to find some time to enjoy the sunshine and eat far too many icecreams! :-) Hope you've had lovely weather and a nice week too.

Last week's posts:

Edge Lit 2 - Book Convention Report

Cover Art - The Apprentice Journals by J. Michael Shell, and Schadenfreude by Chris Kelso

New Goodies:

Anachron Press sent me a copy of Artificial Evil, which has a quote from my review on the back. That's the first time one of my reviews has been quoted on a book, so it's pretty exciting! :-D

They've also sent an extra copy, so look out for a giveaway soon!

Artificial Evil, by Colin F. Barnes

And from the library, for the Richard and Judy Book Club Challenge...

 The Sea Change, by Joanna Rossiter


Thursday, 18 July 2013

Cover Art - The Apprentice Journals and Schadenfreude

I've got a couple of covers to share today from four people I've worked with over at Polluto magazine. I'm really excited for all of them, as I've been watching as their books came together, and am looking forward to reading them both! I'm also excited for the artists who have created two such different and amazing covers, and I wanted to provide a little more focus on them too.

First up is The Apprentice Journals (synopsis below), from J. Michael Shell, with stunning cover art from Vincent Sammy. Isn't it gorgeous?

The Apprentice Journals: From the slaver land of Tara to the shores of Ginny’s Beach, ride the mag lines with Spaul and Pearl as they do their best to deal with fickle Elementals, and their growing—as well as dangerous—love for one another. Dangerous because, as they learn from the “Fierae”—the Lightening Elementals—Love is Above the Rules.

I'm so pleased for Mike, who has been a regular contributor of short stories to the magazine, and who has already been getting some great feedback on the recently released novel. J Michael Shell's fiction has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies. He lives in the American South, and though he's been characterised as an 'Old Hippie', he insists the correct appellation is 'Last Hippie'.

Vincent Sammy, a celebrated South African artist, has also recently provided Polluto with a wonderful cover, as well as artwork for South African magazine Something Wicked, and covers for Pandemonium (story collections from the Pornokitsch team). He was nominated for a This Is Horror award for best artist of 2012 and was voted into the Runner Up position! See more of Vincent's artwork here.

Second cover reveal is Schadenfreude (synopsis below), with an eye-catching cover from Vikki Hastings.

Schadenfreude: Enter a mind full of transcendental drugs, doomed punks, voyeuristic puppets and omnipotent intergalactic prisons in Chris Kelso's debut short fiction collection. 

Schadenfreude is a short story collection from Chris Kelso, who has helped me as a submissions editor (and lots more) for Polluto. He's the co-creator of The Imperial Youth Review with Garrett Cook, and co-edited the Terror Scribes anthology with Adam Lowe. You can find out more about him and his writing here.

I think this is such a beautiful and unique image from Vikki Hastings. Vikki has also provided cover art for a previous issue of Polluto. With a love of fairytale and storytelling, she likes to explore the escapist side of art, and you can see more on her website, here.

Haven't both these guys been so lucky with their lovely covers?

The Apprentice Journals

(Dog Horn Publishing)
(Amazon UK)
(Amazon USA)


(Dog Horn Publishing)
(Amazon UK)
(Amazon USA)

Monday, 15 July 2013

Edge Lit 2 - Convention Report

On Saturday I hopped on the bus to Derby for Edge Lit 2, a one-day science fiction, fantasy and horror convention. This is an extremely convenient con for me, as I only live in Nottingham, about 30 minutes away on the bus (a bus, I should add, that had AIR CONDITIONING, unlike the actual convention venue)

I had such a great time. Edge Lit is easily my favourite of the conventions I’ve been to so far. It’s small and intimate, and though all cons have been very friendly to me, this is even more so. And, despite the lack of air con, which may have just unluckily not been working on that day, it really is a great venue. It’s open, has a lovely cafe and patio area, two big cinema rooms that are good for panels and talks, and plenty of restaurants around. And I have a soft spot for Derby anyway, as I used to live there.

As always, it was lovely to see so many people again, and for the first time ever, I actually introduced some people to each other! Woohoo, I’m not the newbie anymore! I also met wonderful new people, and have added even more authors and books to my neverending To Read shelf! On such a hot day, it was so nice to be able to relax with a drink with such a great group of people.

The panels I went to were all good, and I particularly enjoyed the discussion about Urban Fantasy and what makes it so popular. I also loved the raffle, which really has to be experienced! Well done to the raffle hosts, Sarah Pinborough and Conrad Williams, for making it so fun.

Congrats to Adele Wearing, K.A. Laity and Fox Spirit on the launch of Noir Carnival, and to all involved with Spacewitch, which also launched at Edge Lit. Spacewitch is a site that exists as a catalogue of several independent publishers’ books, a place to buy them and discuss them, and to discover more from the authors, editors and artists involved. There are four publishers on there so far – Fox Spirit, Jurassic London, Newcon Press, and Clarion Publishing – and more will follow. It sounds really interesting, and the website looks really good too. Check it out here.

And finally, I didn’t manage to stay for the quiz last year, so was pleased to make it this year, and had a lot of fun contributing virtually nothing while laughing at Emma and Pete Newman’s joke answers.

I’m already looking forward to the next event, and I’m definitely going to make Edge Lit one of my must-go-to cons! Thanks to the organisers, volunteers, and everyone who made it a wonderful day.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Showcase Sunday #27 - The Edge Lit Edition

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several weekly wrap-up memes into one post. Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

Last Week:

Yesterday I went to Edge Lit, a science fiction, fantasy and horror convention in Derby. It's a small, one-day event, and a lot of fun! Met and saw some lovely people, and came home with a lot of books, some bought and some freebies. :-) Will do a longer con report soon.

Last Week's Posts:

Book Review - The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson

Guest Post - Author James Everington: Revisiting the Witches

New Goodies:

Edge Lit goodies!

Dead Bad Things, by Gary McMahon
Hard Spell, by Justin Gustainis
Roil, by Trent Jamieson
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
Noir Carnival, edited by K.A. Laity
Piracy, A Fox Pockets Anthology, edited by Adele Wearing
and a Fox Spirit badge!

How was your week? Have you been enjoying the sun? :-)

Friday, 12 July 2013

Revisiting The Witches - A Guest Post from James Everington

Today I'm welcoming author James Everington to the blog, to tell us a little about what inspires his writing. James writes dark, supernatural fiction, and is the author of four short story collections, as well as one of the creators of the Penny Dreadnought anthologies. His latest collection, Falling Over, is out now from Infinity Plus.

Over to James!



This was meant to be a simple blog post about inspiration; specifically, one in a series of guest blog posts about the key inspirations behind the stories in my new collection of short stories, Falling Over. This was meant to be about The Witches by Roald Dahl. (That was how I originally pitched the piece to Vicky, anyway – sorry Vicky!)

But instead I found myself writing something different, something about childhood, and memory, and time… but still about inspiration, hopefully.

I’d not read Roald Dahl’s The Witches for over twenty-years, but nevertheless I found that some of the scenes from it were constantly in my head whilst I was writing a story called The Time Of Their Lives. I guess anyone reading the story will see the same obvious similarities just as I did – it’s a story from the point of view of a child who is spending a holiday bored in a creepy hotel. Like The Witches, the story is about a child’s fear of adults, and what those adults might really look like, in certain lights…

Because here’s the thing: I decided to reread The Witches before writing this blog post and… it was nothing like I’d remembered. It was nothing like the scenes in my head that had somehow inspired me.

I mean obviously, it is set in a creepy hotel and it is from a kid’s point of view; that was all the same. And some of the delightfully horrible details were just as I remembered – particularly the different ways to recognise witches: the toeless feet, the hairless heads, the blue spit. (This part of the book, incidentally, seemed a brilliant refutation of that hoary old “Show Don’t Tell” rule. Dahl tells us things about witches, and because what he has to tell us is so repulsively interesting, we love it. “Show Don’t Tell” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and never trust a rule about writing that isn’t even obeying itself. But anyway, that’s a whooooole other blog post.)

But the feel of the book, the tone and texture of it, was completely different. It was lighter and fluffier and more whimsical. Although there are some creepy moments (and Dahl’s witches themselves are typically inspired and grotesque creations) I found myself smiling my way through it. And really, what was I expecting – it’s a kid’s book, right?

So what happened? How come what I remembered, and so blithely claimed was an influence in the story notes at the back of Falling Over, didn’t actually seem to exist?

I guess growing up happened.

I read it as a kid, at an age when obviously I wouldn’t have been able to handle the horrors of a Stephen King or a Clive Barker. Dahl has pitched the fear at the exact level that a kid of my age, and upbringing, and sensibility, could take without being so completely petrified that I’d never sleep (or buy a Roald Dahl book) again. So I remembered it being a book that was as creepy as it was possible to be, and because I never reread it, a buried and younger part of me still believed that to be the case all these years later. And good as it was, there was no way The Witches was going to match my memory of it. It’s like if you ever revisit your school as an adult – how small it seems!

I don’t regret rereading The Witches - it is a brilliant book, full of flashes and humour and childhood fears perfectly realised. But I can’t help but feel it’s replaced something else that was there, something more unexamined and personal, that I’d built up in my head over the years, every time my thoughts turned to The Witches. What’s replaced it is a newfound respect for an author who must surely be one of the greatest children’s authors ever - what a lucky generation we were. But I don’t know if it would be much use to me if I was writing The Time Of Their Lives now; despite being from the point of view of a child it really isn’t a children’s story.

Of course, I might be being overly pessimistic. It wouldn't be the first time. After all, who really understands inspiration? One thing that has become clear from writing this piece is that it's certainly not me. Maybe The Witches just needs to find its own place, its own level amongst all the other stories in my head, and maybe one day the real, Roald Dahl version of The Witches will be a jumping off point for another creepy tale for me to tell.

And if that ever happens, I promise I'll come back and write the blog post for Vicky that she originally signed up for!


Falling Over is published by Infinity Plus and is out now. Ten stories of unease, fear and the weird.

"Good writing gives off fumes, the sort that induce dark visions, and Everington’s elegant, sophisticated prose is a potent brew. Imbibe at your own risk." - Robert Dunbar, author of The Pines and Martyrs & Monsters.

Find out more at Scattershot Writing.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Rithmatist - Book Review

The Rithmatist
by Brandon Sanderson

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world. (Synopsis from Goodreads)


I really enjoyed The Rithmatist, though I have to admit I wasn’t at all sure about it at first. The chalk magic was... weird, and to be honest, didn’t seem that useful. So rithmatists can battle other rithmatists in impressive chalk-magic duels, but in real life, isn’t any normal person with a gun or a bucket of water at a fairly big advantage? Scribbling protective circles and chalk monsters takes time, after all, and chalk’s quite easy to scrape or wash away.

Well, actually, I was wrong to doubt, as all these things are explained and become much clearer later. As the book progressed, it became obvious that chalk magic is actually a lot more powerful than I’d thought, and that the seemingly arbitrary rules of it do actually make a lot of sense. I’m not sure I still fully understood the chalk magic by the end, but I did have full confidence that the author knew exactly how it worked, and that the world was working on great internal consistency. No getting out of situations by suddenly introducing new abilities, but instead by using the established rules to outwit the enemy. I really enjoy that kind of thing, and appreciated it here.

I do think, however, that it took a little too long to get to this stage. I spent quite a long time frustrated by the chalk magic and even a bit bored by it. The main character is obsessed with it, and so talks about it constantly, and his enthusiasm didn’t really spark my own. This is a shame, as, by the end of the book, I was really getting into the magic and enjoyed the various battles and duels that came up. I liked how there was a maths aspect to the magic – the circles must be as precise as possible, the angles of any lines just right, and so on – but also a more creative element – the more detailed and imaginative the chalklings, the more effective they are. By the end of the story, the magic is fascinating, and I was impressed that the author could make chalk drawings such a creepy concept.

The story itself is very slow. The book spends a long time with Joel and Melody in the school, learning about rithmatics in detail and trying to solve the mystery of the kidnapped rithmatists. Everything had a familiar feel, and at points felt very similar to Harry Potter (not necessarily a criticism; I love Harry Potter!). The mystery element was very good, and I enjoyed Joel and Melody’s growing relationship, but I couldn’t help wishing that the whole thing would move along a little faster. I wanted to know more about Nebrask and the Wild Chalklings, the ceremony, and so many other things, and felt like this book was perhaps too much a 'scene setter' plot, introducing the world so that later books can go on to more interesting places and stories.

But, as I said, I did really enjoyed this book. It has a fascinating world, a kind of alt.history steampunk with a fun setting. It’s not quite our world (the States of America are the Isles of America, for one thing), but similar enough to be almost the same. The connection of the church to the rithmatic magic is intriguing, and I can’t wait to find out more about why that’s the case. The chalklings are surprisingly creepy, and once we get past all the theory, the magic is exciting. I liked all the characters, and particularly the fact that Joel is not a rithmatist or ‘super special’. He and Melody really have to work together to achieve greatness, which was nice. I also liked Melody’s melodramatic character. I love the idea of the Wild Chalklings and the strange figure that Joel encountered. I think they may not turn out to be the unambiguous enemy that the characters think of them as, and I can’t wait to find out more in later books. Finally, the book itself is so nicely presented, from the gorgeous cover to the illustrations and diagrams inside.

So, while The Rithmatist had a slow start, and took a while to convince me about the magic, I did really enjoy it in the end, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. A fun read!

Thank you to Orion Children's Books for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Showcase Sunday #26

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several weekly wrap-up memes into one post. Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

Last Week:

Gorgeous weather! Hooray! We've been walking around in Nottingham a lot and eating far too much ice-cream. Hope you're all enjoying sunshine wherever you are.

Last week's posts:

Book Review - Playing Tyler, by T. L. Costa

My Top 15 Books of the Year So Far

New Goodies:

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

Really looking forward to both of these :-) What are you reading at the moment? Hope you've had a lovely week!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Playing Tyler - Book Review

Playing Tyler
by T. L. Costa

Angry Robot Ebook Store
Amazon (UK) (USA)

Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.

Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, that’s probably not going to get him into college.

Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.

That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames. (Synopsis from Goodreads)


I was excited about reading this one. I love video games, so I like stories with connections to video games, and the plot sounded so intriguing. Although I liked certain aspects of the book, however, I did find it disappointing.

The characters are written with very distinctive voices, particularly the main character, Tyler. He has ADHD, and this is reflected in the way he tells the story. When he becomes more agitated and restless, the punctuation begins to break down and his thoughts all run into each other, often with short, sharp sentences that jump to another thought without finishing. This captures his state of mind really well, and I think it was cleverly done, but unfortunately it did become quite annoying very quickly.

This isn’t helped by the fact that I found Tyler to be an extremely annoying character in general. I think the author probably did a brilliant job of portraying an authentic teenage boy’s thoughts, but on the other hand, this meant that we get a lot of repetition of how amazing this girl is who plays games, and is hot, and plays games and is really hot, and can actually beat boys at games (and is hot). Sigh. Tyler’s obsession with Ani not only made it seem like gamer girls are incredibly rare (they really aren’t), it also became stalkerish very quickly. Ani makes it clear that they can’t hang out, but about a hundred unreturned emails later, not to mention Tyler scouting out the college campus for her, she finally gives in. Tyler can get quite possessive in his thoughts too, wanting to hit people who flirt with his mother or admire his girlfriend. Later, Tyler’s reactions to major plot events seemed to be a bit all over the place, which, while it did make sense, was frustrating to read. I think he was realistically written, but there were times that I just couldn’t like him and didn’t really want to be in his head.

So Tyler himself was a bit of a miss for me, but there were some aspects of the story that I really liked. Tyler is testing a flight simulator that will be used to train pilots to fly drones. There are some really good questions raised about the war on terror, war in general, and what ‘terrorism’ even means. The story looks at the effect of war from a US point of view, exploring the effects of war on the soldiers who come home, on their families, and on the people working in a non-combative role. This works really well, as it shows how war often seems like a distant thing that people like Tyler and Ani find it hard to connect to on a personal level. In fact, they both distance themselves completely from it in their own minds, and only feel the horror of it when they see how deeply they are actually involved. I thought the author did a good job of presenting these moral issues. They were perhaps a little unsubtle in places, but right for the intended audience.

I also really liked the inclusion of Tyler’s brother Brandon’s drug addiction, and the honest look at how drugs destroy lives, both the addict’s life and their family's. Combining two themes, the war on terror with the war on drugs, is very clever, as both are wrapped up in similar rhetoric and propaganda. Tyler finds out that he is involved in both these conflicts on a much more personal level than he could have imagined.

These aspects of the story were strong, and I thought it was a shame that they weren’t the focus earlier on. I found the love story to be irritating at best, and it certainly took too long for things to get going to keep me interested. I thought the major plot point that drove the story was obvious from the start, disappointingly so, which made it even more frustrating that it took so long to get there. I did also find the premise itself a bit hard to believe, as if there’s one thing bored gamers can be guaranteed to do, it’s shoot at the NPCs, or crash on purpose to see what happens, or fly to the edges of the map to see what’s there.

So, some great ideas and themes, wrapped up with a character and romance that I found very annoying. By the end this was an interesting read, but I would have enjoyed this a lot more if it hadn’t taken so long for the story to get going.

Thank you to Strange Chemistry and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Top Fifteen Books Of The Year So Far

I didn't have the time last Tuesday to do last week's Top Ten list, but I really liked the theme, so I'm going to cheat and do it this week instead! And since I'm already cheating... I'm doing a Top Fifteen! :-) These are all books I've read in 2013, rather than just ones published this year.

My Top Ten Fifteen Books of 2013 So Far (in no particular order)

1) The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. Magic, a circus like no other, Victorians, romance, wonderful writing... I adored this beautiful book. My review is here.

2) Any Other Name, by Emma Newman. The second in her Split Worlds trilogy. Magic and manners, evil Fae, and great characters. And here's my review.

3) The Case of the Good Looking Corpse, by Caroline Lawrence. I love this mystery series for children, set in the Wild West! My review is here.

4) Geek Girl, by Holly Smale. Very funny and observant, and a really enjoyable read. Here's my review.

5) The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester. Finally got round to reading this science fiction classic and I'm so glad I did. My review is here.

6) Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion. Zombies... with a difference! A really surprising book. My review is here.

7) The Reapers are the Angels, by Alden Bell. More zombies with a difference! My review.

8) The Other Half of the Sky, edited by Athena Andreadis. A collection of wonderful science fiction short stories. Here's my review.

9) The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes. Time-travelling serial killer! My review is here.

10) The Eternity Cure, by Julie Kagawa. Second book in her Blood of Eden series and such a fun, exciting read! My review's here.

11) Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong. Werewolves, action and romance. Here's my review.

12) The Red Knight, by K.T. Davies. Fantasy, with great characters and a gritty world. My review.

13) Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman. A collection of magical and strange short stories and poems. Here's my review.

14) Feersum Endjinn, by Ian M. Banks. My first Banks book. Recently finished reading this with the Fantasy Faction book club, and a review will come soon. I loved the ideas and world of this book.

15) The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa. An interesting and fun vision of Faeryland. My review is here.

Honourable Mention: Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie. The only reason this isn't on the list is because I'm still only halfway through it. I'm loving it so much that I really wanted to include it, but I thought I probably shouldn't, seeing as I haven't actually finished it yet. However, I'm pretty sure this will be on future lists of favourite books.