Review

Review: The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

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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.

Disclaimer: I am totally obsessed with the TV series Mr. Robot. Not only is it sleek and mysterious, with incredible characters, but there’s something about it that always leaves me totally hooked (also yeah maybe Rami Malek is kinda of cute ahem). From that I ended up playing a couple of hacking-based video games, and then I was offered this book, which felt kind of like perfect timing.

I have read and reviewed work by Benjamin Percy before (Red Moon), and I wasn’t the biggest fan of it, so I didn’t go in with super high expectations. However, to begin with I was quite surprised and was pretty intrigued and drawn into the story. Sadly this did not last very long.

When I picked up this book, I was expecting a high-paced hacker story, full of cool technology. What I actually got was more of a paranormal novel that happened to involve technology. I wasn’t really sure what to make of the supernatural element when it was introduced – basically a virus is being spread via any sort of screen that turns people hostile and incredibly violent, and pushes them to attack and kill anyone around them. There were times where I felt like the hacking and supernatural were completely unconnected plot devices. At this point, my interest in the book started to drop.

Whilst the blurb mentions four main characters, most of the book follows only two. Lela is definitely the main character of the bunch, and she was pretty unlikeable – bossy and selfish. I didn’t care what happened to her, which immediately removed any sense of peril from the book. I also had a bit of an issue with how many times the word ‘rape’ was used out of context. Not cool.

Whilst I may not have enjoyed The Dark Net as much as I’d hoped, it was definitely an easy read. Like Red Moon, Percy writes very well – it was just the story that fell apart for me, with a confused mix of technology and the supernatural.

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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.

Review

Review: The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1)

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

The Dark Days Club combines two things I love to read about:

  • a fantastical spin on a real historical period
  • real historical figures as minor characters

 

And it did it wonderfully! I absolutely loved the idea that behind this delicate society, where main concerns are the latest fashions, finding an appropriate husband before the spinsterly age of 23 and discussing who has been snubbed from the latest social event, there is a group of demon hunters. A group of demon hunters in Regency England, comprised of not just aristocratic gentleman who would be familiar with hunting and other such pursuits anyway, but society ladies, who swap their petticoats for trousers (scandalous!), and evenings filled with balls, champagne and dancing for hunting dark creatures. The book really exposes the ridiculousness of society at the time, where things seemed prim and proper on the outside, but often there was something darker hidden away.

I liked Helen as a character. She longs for the independence that her society will never grant her, and won’t settle for just being married off to the first available bachelor who will take her. Unfortunately, due to some family history, her name is not as desirable as it once was, and her uncle (and guardian) pretty much just wants to be rid of her. Helen is curious and intelligent, eager to learn and quick-witted. It wasn’t just Helen that was likeable, but also Darby, her maid. Their relationship in particular really stood out. Darby was more than just a maid, and the friendship between her and Helen felt so genuine. She could have easily been scared off by Helen’s abilities, but instead she was loyal and just as curious as Helen about what she could do.

I was a little dismayed by the pace of the book – it really was quite slow moving, and it is a good third of the way in before Helen even finds out what she is, let alone starts using her powers. I just wanted the demon hunting to commence asap! Sadly there just wasn’t enough action or demon slaying by the end for my taste, which is one of the reasons why this is a four star read rather than five stars. I’m hoping for a lot more in the second book to make up for it, but it also seems like Helen still has a lot to learn. One of my other issues was that it was quite predictable – none of the ‘shocking’ events were a surprise and it was easy to guess what was going to happen. Finally, at times there was quite a bit of info dumping, which can be quite frustrating.

However, I found The Dark Days Club to be a really fun novel, if slow to start. I absolutely loved the concept, and the contrast between the genteel society and the demon hunters. I’ll definitely be looking out for the second book in the series!

Review

Review: Fellside by M.R. Carey

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

Well, this was incredibly disappointing.

After the absolutely astonishing book that was The Girl With All The Gifts, I expected something just as amazing from M.R. Carey the second time round. Sadly, it was not to be.

I wouldn’t call this horror, not in the same way that The Girl With All The Gifts was. It’s more paranormal, but it’s also just very odd. Jess Moulson finds herself in prison after a fire, a fire that she apparently caused whilst high. When Jess finds out what happened during the fire, she decides the best thing to do is to end her life, and goes on hunger strike. She is teetering on the very edge of life and death when she suddenly starts to hear voices and see visions, a figure from her past that might hold all the answers.

To be honest, I think my main issue with this book was Jess. She was just a bit of a limp character, and there didn’t seem to be much to her. I also found the whole explanation for Jess’s visions to be a bit of a let down. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but with the way that the book was going I had started to suspect the reason behind them (it is very difficult to write about this book with giving anything away to be honest, which is why this review is so short!), regardless it was still disappointing and almost felt as though the involvement of Jess’s case was entirely pointless. And if, like me, you’re more interested in prison dramas after Orange is the New Black – this ain’t that.

As with The Girl With All The Gifts, Carey’s writing is excellent. It was just the story that did not work for me this time – it wasn’t even creepy like the blurb claimed. I will still read his next book with the hope that it will live up to the first, but I feel sadly disappointed by Fellside.

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.
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Review

Review: Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

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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.

I’ve been flitting about this review ever since I read the book, unsure what to really say about it. So this will probably be a short one!

The premise for Harrison Squared is an unusual one, to say the least. The protagonist, Harrison Harrison (hence Harrison Squared), moves back to the town of Dunnsmouth with his mother, a marine biologist. Having lost his father when he was younger, Harrison is very close to his mother, and after his first day of school in this new town, she goes missing.

Okay, so maybe that doesn’t sound so unusual – a Young Adult mystery tale. But what was so different about Harrison Squared was what inspired it. The stories of H.P. Lovecraft, and his tale of Cthulhu, were obviously great inspirations for Daryl Gregory, and the town has a real Lovecraftian vibe to it. It was so refreshing to read a paranormal Young Adult tale without vampires, without werewolves, but instead with sea creatures as the main element.

It was also interesting to have a protagonist with a disability – Harrison only has one leg. I can’t think of many save perhaps She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick. Additionally, I have read so many Young Adult books with female perspectives that it was actually quite nice to read one from a male perspective instead.

I did have a couple of issues with the book. The conclusion was definitely quite rushed, the ‘villain’ felt a little too comedic to present any real threat and the school kids of Dunnsmouth felt a bit Midwich Cuckoo creepy at first, but that soon changed. I think it would have been even better if many of them stayed that way, keeping up the feeling of something within the town not being quite right.

However, this was a good, solid read, with a unique and rather strange premise. Definitely something to delve into if you’re looking for a fresh take on Young Adult paranormal fiction.

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Review of The Six Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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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.

I can’t say that I have read many, if any Westerns. And I definitely haven’t ever read a supernatural/paranormal themed Western novel. The Six Gun Tarot was a new and unique experience for me, and definitely one I would happily repeat. Golgotha initially seems like a small, typical mid-Western town of the late 19th century, but soon it is clear that it is a magnet for all that is unusual.

The main character, Jim, ends up in Golgotha after trekking through the 40-Mile Desert, fleeing a crime he committed and perhaps others. The sheriff is a man who has evaded death countless times, his deputy seems to have an affinity with coyotes, the mayor hides ancient treasures and a respected lady of the town is not quite who she seems. The Six Gun Tarot has a wide range of interesting and diverse characters, each of whom have some kind of secret. Jim, whilst shown as the main protagonist, is often put aside in favour of the other denizens of Golgotha, and this is not a bad thing in the slightest. I have to say that my favourite character was definitely Maude Stapleton, a respected lady of Golgotha who is trained in the art of assassination. Belcher really focuses on the back story of each major character, bringing them all vividly to life.

The evil blight that overtakes the town reminded me a little of something from Leviathan Wakes, and the origins all tie in nicely with the religious beliefs of that particular period and location. However, the religious elements are not overpowering and do not feel at all ‘preachy’ – this was important to me, as someone who would find that a complete turnoff. It felt like, whilst this was happening to Golgotha now, it was not the first time something out of the ordinary had taken place in the town. Additionally, the author also recognised social issues that would have taken place in that era, such as sexism and many of the inhabitants’ prejudice against Mutt, a Native American character.

I’m so glad I finally got round to checking out The Six Gun Tarot – several months after it was chosen as my book group’s Book of the Month! I will definitely be looking out for the next book in the series, and may have to delve further into this newly discovered, rather niche genre.