Dragons and Jetpacks

Dragons & Jetpacks: Books of the Month, October 2017

DJ16

Dragons & Jetpacks is a science fiction and fantasy bookgroup, based on Goodreads. The group is open to all, all that is required is a Goodreads account. We read two books a month, one fantasy and one sci-fi – the second week of each month is when members make suggestions, and the third is used for voting. We’re always happy to meet fellow fans of the genres, so you’re more than welcome to join the group!

DJ_SF

Goodreads

At first, only a few things are known about the celestial object that astronomers dub Rama. It is huge, weighing more than ten trillion tons. And it is hurtling through the solar system at an inconceivable speed. Then a space probe confirms the unthinkable: Rama is no natural object. It is, incredibly, an interstellar spacecraft. Space explorers and planet-bound scientists alike prepare for mankind’s first encounter with alien intelligence. It will kindle their wildest dreams… and fan their darkest fears. For no one knows who the Ramans are or why they have come. And now the moment of rendezvous awaits — just behind a Raman airlock door.

DJ_F

Goodreads

For a thousand years, the people of Alera have united against the aggressive races that inhabit the world, using their unique bond with the furies – elementals of earth, air, fire, water and metal. But now, Gaius Sextus, First Lord of Alera, grows old and lacks an heir. Ambitious Lords manoeuvre to place their Houses in positions of power, and a war of succession looms on the horizon. Far from city politics in the Calderon Valley, young Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. At fifteen, he has no wind fury to help him fly, no fire fury to light his lamps. Yet as the Alerans’ most savage enemy – the Marat – return to the Valley, his world will change. Caught in a storm of deadly wind furies, Tavi saves the life of a runaway slave. But Amara is actually a spy, seeking intelligence on possible Marat traitors to the Crown. And when the Valley erupts into chaos – when rebels war with loyalists and furies clash with furies – Amara will find Tavi invaluable. His talents will outweigh any fury-born power – and could even turn the tides of war.

And a special Horror pick for October…

Goodreads

Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

Have you read any of this month’s picks? What did you think?

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Review

Review: The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

The Dead Men Stood Together was, perhaps, not quite what I was expecting. I actually ended up reading this in print, rather than the e-galley originally from Netgalley, and the cover of the finished version gave the impression of a book for much younger readers than I’d originally thought. This is supported by the size of the font (HUGE), which for some reason was all in bold, a choice I found rather odd.

Formatting aside, this was a strange book. It is based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an odd choice considering the book’s intended audience – and especially when, on reading, I think I would have appreciated the book a lot more had I prior knowledge of the poem, which I expect most middle grade/teen readers won’t have. It is not entirely clear when the book is set, the prologue is clearly the late 19th century but the majority of the story is centuries before that – from the elements of the story I would hazard a guess at the 1700s, which is also when Ancient Mariner was published.

The Dead Men Stood Together tells of a young boy who joins his uncle on a supply ship, but their ship gets lost in a storm and ends up in frozen and foggy waters. They are soon frequently visited by an albatross, whom the crew begin to see as a beacon of hope. However, the boy’s uncle, who is possibly mad and completely untruthful, kills the albatross, and the crew turns on him. Fortunately, just before they can kill him, the ice and fog begin to clear, and they are free. It just gets weirder from there – although this is all a direct retelling of the Ancient Mariner, the poem in prose form. The only original element is the narrator, the young boy on a journey with his uncle.

This was an easy and quick read, but a very odd one. I would definitely have appreciated it a lot more if I’d previously read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and I have a feeling the book will suffer a lot for much of its target audience being unfamiliar with the poem. I have to admit, whilst I’d heard of it, I knew very little about it before now. There were no names in the book – as with the poem, I believe – but this only meant that I had no chance to ‘get to know’ the characters. And now that I know that the book is pretty much the poem exactly, with a few additions at beginning and end, it feels almost lazy.

Dragons and Jetpacks

Dragons & Jetpacks: Books of the Month, February 2017

DJ16

Dragons & Jetpacks is a science fiction and fantasy bookgroup, based on Goodreads. The group is open to all, all that is required is a Goodreads account. We read two books a month, one fantasy and one sci-fi – the second week of each month is when members make suggestions, and the third is used for voting. We’re always happy to meet fellow fans of the genres, so you’re more than welcome to join the group!

DJ_SF

Goodreads

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

DJ_F

Goodreads

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

Have you read either of this month’s picks? What did you think?

Dragons and Jetpacks

Dragons & Jetpacks: Books of the Month, October 2016

DJ16

Dragons & Jetpacks is a science fiction and fantasy bookgroup, based on Goodreads. The group is open to all, all that is required is a Goodreads account. We read two books a month, one fantasy and one sci-fi – the second week of each month is when members make suggestions, and the third is used for voting. We’re always happy to meet fellow fans of the genres, so you’re more than welcome to join the group!

DJ_SF
hitchhikers

Goodreads

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

DJ_F
Traitor's Blade

Goodreads

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

And a horror special pick for Halloween!

fireman

Goodreads

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted… and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Have you read either of this month’s picks? What did you think?

Review

Review: HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Shortly after starting this book, I knew I’d made a huge mistake.

It was going to stop me from sleeping for a while.

I’m not normally too creeped out by books. Unlike films, you can alter how something might look, make it seem a lot less threatening or scary than it actually is. However, when it came to HEX I had troubles ‘adapting’ the book in my head. My housemate was away for a day or two whilst I was reading it, and during that period I wouldn’t touch the book because I couldn’t possibly be alone in the flat at night after reading it.

HEX follows the inhabitants of a small town called Black Rock. It might be your usual image of small town America – if it were not for the 400-year old witch that lives there. Katherine, ‘the Black Rock Witch’, is a seventeenth century woman who is still hanging around the town of Black Rock, four centuries later. With her eyes and mouth sewn shut, she can just appear around the town at random – including in people’s houses. For the residents of Black Rock, this is normal and they’re used to it. But they can’t possibly let outsiders know, so great efforts are made to conceal the existence of Katherine from the rest of the world. Therefore this small American town is in fact under constant surveillance.

Not only is it super creepy that Katherine’s eyes and mouth are sewn shut and there’s obvious fear of what might happen were the stitches to be removed, but I found it absolutely TERRIFYING that she could just basically appear anywhere at any time. Just drifting off to sleep in your warm cosy bed? Oh look, there’s Katherine at the foot of it. HOW ARE THESE PEOPLE USED TO IT. IT WOULD NEVER NOT BE TERRIFYING. Needless to say, I may have slept with the light on that first night after reading HEX, ready to spot Katherine when (because in my mind it was when) she appeared.

What I really like was how modern technology was weaved into this tale of horror. Due to the efforts of the town to prevent knowledge of Katherine reaching elsewhere, it is forbidden to record or photograph Katherine. Despite this, one of the main characters is a rising YouTube star, and as the story progresses him and his friends start taking more risks when it comes to Katherine, which leads to some truly shocking scenes.

So in conclusion… if you’re looking for a creepy read that’ll keep you up late into the night – because it’s both scary and a great read – this is it.
Hex-BlogTour

Author Interview, Blog Tour

Blog Tour + Author Interview: HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

HEX Blog Tour

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Today I’ll be sharing a Q&A with the author, who has kindly answered some questions that I posed to him. When I was offered a chance to take part in the tour by Hodder & Stoughton, there were two things that immediately drew me to the book. Firstly, the fact that it is written by a Dutch author and popular in my adopted second home country, the Netherlands. And secondly… well, just look at the blurb:

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.

The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into a dark nightmare.

And if somehow that’s not enough to convince you that this book is wonderfully spine-tingling, then take a look at this TERRIFYING trailer for the book:

Freaked out yet? I’m pretty sure I’ll be sleepless again after watching that – because the book certainly kept me wide awake… I’ll be sharing my full review tomorrow, but today as part of the blog tour I have a small Q&A with Thomas!

Q&A with Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Rinn: Why was the book moved from The Netherlands to the USA in the translation?

Thomas: I love the fresh perspective that comes with reading fiction from different cultures. Being Dutch, about 90% of all the books I read come from abroad, as The Netherlands is such a small country. Sometimes I even want to be taught about these cultures. The Kite Runner gave me a much more nuanced view about Afghanistan than Fox News. Murakami taught me more about Japanese customs than any sushi restaurant I’ll ever visit. But there’s also a limit to what I want to be taught. Some books I just want to read for the fun of it. The thrill. Or the scare. And I realized my novel, HEX, was such a book. My favorite comment from Dutch readers is that it makes them sleep with the lights on (Rinn: Me too…). I have literally hundreds of those. I could care less about what the story taught them about social values in communities or the depravity of mankind, as long as it gave them nightmares. Some literary critics will probably shoot me for this statement, but there’s nothing wrong with a good scare every now and then, right?

To thoroughly scare readers, you have to create a perfect sense of familiarity in a story and then rip it to pieces as soon as they’re hooked. And here’s where the Dutch setting became problematic, once the book was sold to publishers in the US and the UK. If I’d read a horror story set in, say, rural Azerbeidzjan (Azerbaijan), I’d be worrying all the time about what the place actually looks like, what’s the norm for these people, what are they scared of and oh, by the way, how do you even pronounce their names? Bang! Familiarity gone, and a missed opportunity to make me scream at night. I imagined it would be the same for British and American readers when they read about a Dutch setting. I mean, how do you actually pronounce Olde Heuvelt? (Rinn: Having lived in the Netherlands, I would’ve loved this book set there too. But I completely understand your reasoning, it would definitely make it difficult for readers who aren’t familiar with the country. Maybe I’ll get myself a copy of the Dutch version!)

That’s why I decided to change the setting. And I had tremendous fun doing it! It was an exciting creative challenge. I had a book that I loved, I had characters that I loved, and here I had the opportunity to relive it all, without having to face the horrors of a sequel.

Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Rinn: Did this have any big effect on the story?

Thomas: It’s still the same story about a modern-day town haunted by a seventeenth-century witch. One if its strengths I think is the utter Dutchness of the book. The secular nature of Dutch small-town communities and the down-to-earthness of its people, for instance (Rinn: I can definitely vouch for the down-to-earthness of the Dutch!). If a sane person sees a seventeenth-century disfigured witch appear in a corner of the living room, he runs for his life. If a Dutch person sees a seventeenth-century disfigured witch appear in a corner of the living room, he hangs a dishcloth over her face, sits on the couch and reads the paper. And maybe sacrifices a peacock.

The new version left all of that intact. It’s a remake, an enhanced version, a HEX 2.0 if you will, with all new rich and layered details, culturally specific legends and superstitions, but without ever losing touch with the Dutch elements of the original. Katherine Van Wyler, the original Dutch seventeenth-century witch, came to the new land on one of Peter Stuyvesant’s early ships. The rural town of Beek became the Dutch trapper’s colony of New Beeck, later renamed Black Spring. The Dutch characters became Americans, but with the down-to-earth quality of the Dutch. The dishcloth stayed. So did the peacock. I think it has become a better book.

Rinn: What were your inspirations behind the legend of the Black Rock Witch?

Thomas: I wanted to write a story about a witch ever since I was traumatized by Roald Dahl’s book The Witches, and the 1990 movie adaptation of it (Rinn: Ahh they were both terrifying!). The moment when Anjelica Huston, the Grand High Witch, takes off her mask… gosh, I was seven years old, and I didn’t trust any women for the next six months. Imagine what my winter was like, with women wearing gloves all the time. I saw witches everywhere. Then I watched The Blair Witch Project when I was fifteen, and of course, the scary part there was did you did not see the witch. Katherine van Wyler, the witch in HEX, has influences of both (Rinn: I did wonder if there was an element of Blair Witch – it certainly had the same effect on me.). Of course she has this horrible, disfigured face because her mouth and eyes are sewn shut… but for exactly the same reason, you never really get to see her. If you can’t see someone’s eyes, you’ll never know what they think. That makes her so scary.

Me whilst reading HEX.

Me whilst reading HEX.

Rinn: What gave you the idea of mixing technology in with the supernatural?

Thomas: It kind of follows naturally, if you have a town that needs to hide a dirty secret like this. I love the practicality of it. The witch keeps popping up randomly in public spaces, and there’s always a chance of outsiders spotting her, so the HEX service workers have all these props and scenarios ready. Like the elderly choir that surrounds her and walks along wherever she goes, practicing hymns. Or the construction shed if she stands at the side of public roads. And you gotta be on top of her to make it work. You gotta be fast. So everybody in town has a special Hexapp on their iPhone, which has GPS, and they’re obligated to report immediately when they spot her. I’d personally love to have an app to report ghost sightings.

Rinn: Was it difficult to write a book with such a large cast, and still bring each resident of Black Spring to life?

Thomas: I deliberately avoided to use a large cast in order to make the town come alive. Stephen King is a master in doing so – some of his novels have more than twenty point-of-view characters. But the downside of that is that often, the more POV characters you have, the less attached you feel to them as a reader. I think King’s novels that tell the story from only one or a few point-of-views, are his strongest, and much more emotionally gripping. So in HEX, I tried to paint the town from the perspectives of only four characters, two of them from the same family. This gives the reader a lot more space to start caring about these people, which is one of the most important things if you let bad things happen to them. (Rinn: To me the cast felt quite large, even with just a few POV characters – quite a few named residents and very minor characters, but maybe it’s just my perspective!)

Thank you so much to Thomas for taking the time to answer some questions, and to Hodder for organising the blog tour. Look out for my review of HEX on the blog tomorrow, and let me know if you dare read this bone-chiller of a novel! 😉

Review

Review: This House Is Haunted by John Boyne

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I am finally getting round to reviewing this title, just in time for Halloween! I first heard of This House Is Haunted, when Leanne (who sadly no longer blogs) reviewed it a year or two ago. I was really intrigued by the idea of the story – although I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre, I do quite like the traditional ‘haunted house’ tale, especially with a historical setting. This House Is Haunted follows the story of Eliza Caine, a young woman who becomes governess to the children of Gaudlin Hall. From the moment she arrives, a strange force seems to be attempting to drive her away, by any means necessary.

Firstly, I really liked the tone of the book. I have read several books set in the 19th century that just didn’t seem to capture the essence of the era, with their use of more modern language and tone. Boyne writes in a manner that is fitting to the time period, a time when horror stories and tales of ghosts were becoming more popular through the distribution of penny dreadfuls. The inhabitants of the nearby village, as well as the few other employees of Gaudlin Hall, deny knowledge of any strange goings on, but it is clear there is something they are avoiding. A shocked glance, a sudden reluctance to associate with Eliza, a refusal to discuss the history of the Hall – it is clear that something unpleasant happened there.

Eliza’s backstory felt a little overused – a young woman who becomes a governess after a family tragedy, but as a character she was witty and brave, determined not to run away from Gaudlin Hall, even after multiple attempts on her life by paranormal forces. At first she is logical and cannot even consider the fact that there might be something supernatural at bay, but soon the evidence begins to stack up and she has no choice but to admit to herself that Gaudlin Hall is, in fact, haunted.

Whilst This House Is Haunted felt like a classic Gothic novel, with all the required elements: a large creepy house, a missing employer, young children who seem to know far more than they should, local villagers who avoid the new governess, these ultimately made it feel a little too clichéd. It also never quite reached the heights of horror or creepiness that I was expecting, which was quite a disappointment.