[Lose Me.] M.C. Frank

When a book starts with Today is not the day I die, you know you’re in for a roller coaster of emotions. Lose Me. is a lovingly written story about the complications life throws at you, first loves, and moving forward with your dreams. Ari is a stuntwoman with her first job coming up: a movie loosely based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’ll be doing most of the stunts for the female lead, a prospect she’s equally nervous and excited about. She knows that she’ll be able to do her job, despite a problem she recently discovered; a problem she keeps pushing to the back of her mind.Frank quickly sets the tone of the novel, with tight and twisting streets and clear blue waters. Both the setting and the characters are richly described, making it difficult for the reader to not enjoy the book.  Ari is spunky and takes no slack from anyone, particularly Wes, the rude lead that believes he’s better than most everything on her island. I loved that her job was performing stunts. I’ve never read a character with a job quite like hers. These two characters are the primary focus of Lose Me., though there’s plenty of secondary characters that are just as vivid. I loved all of the characters in this novel. The characters that Frank created are very real. I had a clear picture of their personalities and desires, even their fears. I loved following their story.

The romance in this story closely mirrored the romance of Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. There were moments of beauty and moments of misunderstanding. I really enjoyed that they were filming a Pride and Prejudice movie and that their romance always paralleled it. I love when books are homages to other books that I enjoy, and Austen is an author that I love seeing referenced. I think that Frank did a wonderful job of connecting both modern day and classical novel.  Continue reading

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[Read-Only: A Collection of Digital Horror] Caitlin Marceau and M. Regan

This is a short anthology by two authors who have put together a series of stories connected to our use of––and obsession with––technology. It’s horror, but few of the stories deal with gore. Instead the authors focus on the horror that can be hidden behind screens and underneath casual words. Most of the stories are in prose form, but there are a few that are in a text or forum style, which made me read them more quickly and provided suspense that built to the end of the exchange.

This is a book that’s slightly out of my comfort zone because of the word horror on the cover. But the idea of digital horror was intriguing so I was glad to be given a copy by one of the authors.  I’ve read M.Regan’s work before but Caitlin Marceau was a new author for me. While both authors are similar in that they’re focusing on a theme, their writing styles are different in ways that set them apart from one another.

Regan tends to focus on the lyrical, her writing producing images both beautiful and grotesque, depending on the situation. I love alliteration, so I was pleased with her use of it. I think there’s an amount of intelligence in her work that keeps the reader on their toes intellectually, meaning that you have to pay attention to what’s going on instead of reading through quickly. I think that her stories are packed with potential and they went in ways that I couldn’t always predict. I liked how she led her reader down certain paths and left hints for them to unravel.

As for Marceau, she puts us in the minds of her characters immediately. Whether they’re looking for the one or looking for the next 100 likes, they’re vividly created in a short amount of time. Her stories are longer than M. Regan’s in this anthology, which allows her to meander as she builds the setting and creates the tone of the story. I found her stories to be the perfect blend of real and what if?, making her stories spookily possible. I enjoyed reading her work, the stories pertinent to our digital age and obsession. They were well thought out and plotted. I do wish that tildes and asterisks weren’t used as section breaks, though. 

I’ve decided that I’m going to individually review the stories and then give an overall rating of the anthology itself. If you’d like to see my final thoughts on the anthology and my rating, please scroll to the end.

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Kinda Stuck

M. Regan

This is the first story in the anthology and I think it works really well. It introduces a text element immediately, which sets the tone for the rest of the anthology. I found the use of repetition to be delightfully creepy. The suspense is created in just a short amount of time and it was very effective. While I enjoyed this story, there was a point where I couldn’t suspend my disbelief that multiple people would fall into the same trap within the story.

4 stars.

This is also the story that watchmojo decided to create a video on, so if you’re intrigued by what this anthology is about, check it out.

Troll

M. Regan

Honestly I’m not sure how I feel about this one. I enjoyed the idea of it, but there’s a lot happening in a short amount of time. I would have liked to have been given more details in order for the buildup to the end to be more satisfying. I was disappointed that it ended when it did because I feel like it’s more of a beginning of something rather than a short story. I liked the idea of technology going after people (at least that’s how I read it!) and I wanted to see more. It seemed like the idea could have blossomed into a longer story.

3 stars.

#NoFilter

Caitlin Marceau

The obsession in this one was insane. And highly relatable, which was kind unsettling. Most everyone has some form of social media today; most everyone is cruising for those likes or little hearts. If you look to the side of your screen, you’ll see that I do it on bookstagram. There have been times when I’ve had to remind myself to step away from the screen because I find myself thinking What more can I do? and it’s very disheartening. Such is the feeling that Ava has when she manages her social media account. She is desperate for those likes, to the point where she considers a potentially dangerous app that is said to make you extremely beautiful. I didn’t like the amount of woman on woman hate, particularly when it was against her supposed best friend. But I did think the execution and pacing of this story was done really well, despite the predictability of the ending. This was my favorite of Marceau’s stories.

5 stars.

Honey

M. Regan

This was my favorite short story in the whole anthology. I enjoyed the references to mythology as well as the subtle notes that led the reader to the end of the story. I also liked the idea of a character who learned everything from the internet. Honey is a great example of horror happening in the everyday. Technology took a backseat as Regan focused her story on the conversation happening between two friends. It was very much the familiar being tainted with the feeling that something isn’t as it seems, which made me feel unsettled as I followed where the story was leading me. The pacing was superb in this one. It was a great short story that had me chuckling at the reveal, happy that I had properly guessed the ending. The addition of the third character, a daughter, gave the story Hitchcock and Poe vibes in my opinion. I’d like to know what will happen to the daughter in the future.

5 stars. Continue reading

[Starstruck] S.E. Anderson

Starstruck is the first book that I received through The Book Robin Hoods, a group of authors and reviewers started by M.C. Frank. More information on my own involvement may be found here and here.

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Sally’s life is not going according to plans. A college dropout, she’s barely able to hold down a steady job and keep a roommate to help pay the rent. When Sally loses her job, it seems like everything is going from bad to worse––culminating in her hitting someone with her car. But it’s not just any someone. He happens to be an alien. She beyond relieved when there seems to be no lasting damage, and she thinks this weird encounter is the last of it. But when he calls her to bail her out of jail, she realizes that hitting him with her car was only the beginning. Starstruck is a fun and fast-paced read that keeps the reader engaged in the story as Sally tries to figure out where she fits into this larger universe that’s suddenly open to her.

Zander is the other main character in Starstruck, and the main cause of Sally’s woes. Although Zander looks human, he still has a lot to learn about being human. I really enjoyed the chaos that he caused in Sally’s life because of that; I loved reading how she had to teach him how to wear clothes properly and the socially accepted way of bathing. It was entertaining to read. I liked that he didn’t instinctively know what to do.

Was there a handbook that could tell me what to do next? There were thousands of books that taught parenting; I was pretty sure there wasn’t a self-help book about alien roommates. If there was, it was probably about abductees, not subletters.

S.E. Anderson’s writing was great. I felt like the humor was genuine and I enjoyed the mixups that sometimes occurred between Sally and Zander. The words and the story flowed together nicely, giving the reader a fully coherent story that had me curious about the larger world contained but not explained. It looks like the next books in the series will be about this world that S.E. Anderson created. I was glad that the book was focused like this. It made the book more detailed because it focused on one place instead of focusing on it all at once.

I thought that S.E. Anderson created a really good protagonist in Sally. She had a great voice and personality that I enjoyed following. The way that the story was told was also slightly different than what I’m used to; it was a combination of Sally looking back on her past, asides to the reader, and current events in the novel. Sally’s earnestness made the story really enjoyable. She was very grounded in her reality even when the world was becoming more complicated.

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[Shimmer and Burn] Mary Taranta

Even the damned get a choice, or at least the illusion of one. I’m proof enough of that.*

Shimmer and Burn‘s beautiful cover caught my eye when I was requesting ARCs a few months ago, and I’ve only just finished it now.  A debut novel from Mary Taranta, Shimmer and Burn takes readers across Avinea as Faris travels with a tyrannical princess, one who will not hesitate to hurt Faris or threaten the sister Faris left behind. If Faris wants to survive and save her sister, she must listen to the whims of a princess who doesn’t think about consequences. They may be traveling companions but they both have their own end goals.

I really enjoy books that put characters who are essentially opposites together. It instantly sets up tension between them and the reader, which allows for events to unfold differently than if everyone was working together. Faris and Bryn are like that. Faris’ mother died when she was young and she was left to raise her younger sister Cadence in the slums of Brindaigel. The only time she feels powerful is when she’s fighting in the fighting pits. Bryn is the opposite, with everything that she could ever want–but she still wants more. When Bryn decides that she wants to be more than the princess of Brindaigel, Faris realizes that she has an opportunity to save her sister.

Naturally, it’s not as simple as that. Faris’ naivety and moments of clarity were a little frustrating at times, but despite that I really enjoyed her character. I liked that she fought–literally–for things in her life and that she wasn’t a weak person. She wasn’t normally involved in political machinations, but when she found herself in the middle of one she proved that she could handle it. I enjoyed reading how–despite the fact that she didn’t have a political background–she even found ways to gain supporters even as Bryn was controlling her with the spell that connected them. Faris isn’t a strong character. Nor is she a weak character. She had moments of both, mostly centered around her sister, and I thought it was really well done. I enjoyed reading how she was so conflicted with the situations she found herself in. She really had to pull herself out of darkness at times, which made her more unique than the standard heroine who just struggles.

I killed a man to save my sister, trading virtue for vice, compassion for selfishness. There’s no going back from that kind of imbalance, and unless I harden myself into iron, the sacrifice will be for nothing.*

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[First We Were IV] Alexandra Sirowy

The Order, its power, it’s a high. I feel it. But it’s also like this shadow I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head and it’s gone. It’s there. Dark. Waiting.*

It’s senior year, and Izzie, Harry, Graham, and Viv are the center of their universe. Self-made outcasts, they love each other fiercely and defiantly, ignoring the insults of their classmates. As the year begins, fear that their friendship will disintegrate after they go their separate ways begins to burn through Izzie. On a whim, she suggests that they start a secret society to stay together–no matter what. When the other three agree, they draft a secret society modeled after the ones they determine to be great. The Order of IV becomes their way to get back at their classmates and their small town, righting what they perceive to be injustices and doing it anonymously. There’s a certain power to invisibility, and they relish in how they can control it. When their rebellions are noticed by other classmates, the four of them realize that their power extends even further than they thought. Power is all-consuming. And it can get away from you.

Never lie.
Never tell.
Love each other.

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[The Disappearances] Emily Bain Murphy

 

The Disappearances is a magical-realism, historical novel rich in character and story. The novel primarily follows Aila, whose life has been uprooted following the death of her mother and the deployment of her father. At some point I had forgotten that this was also a historical novel, so that gave it a nice unexpected flavor when I first started reading it. The Disappearances is about a set of three towns that have been struck by strange Disappearances that no one can explain. With a focus on Sterling, the town that Aila’s mother grew up in, The Disappearances probes the events of the past: possible Catalysts, what has disappeared, and how they’ve unlocked some of the secrets of Sterling. When Aila and her brother arrive it’s like the past has come to Sterling; Aila’s remarkable likeness to her mother, Juliet, the only person who escaped Sterling, sets the townspeople on edge. With the next Disappearance coming up, Aila strives to clear her family’s name by discovering where the Disappearances came from. But there are those who may not want the Disappearances to stop.

“We call them the Disappearances.”*

‘The Disappearance affected everyone, young and old, and every thing: fruits and flowers, perfumes and shampoos–even those things that make people sentimental, like the smell of a child’s hair, or scents linked to important memories.’* 

Disappearances. Catalysts. A mystery that has affected Sterling since 1907, with something new disappearing every seven years. It’s something small, something mundane that you don’t think about until it’s gone: the smell of baking bread and flowers, your reflection in mirrors or lakes, the stars. It’s only when it’s gone that you realize what you’ve lost. With the Disappearances affecting everyone for most of their lives or since birth, living with them has become the norm. The townspeople have adopted rules regarding outsiders and the Disappearances, so when Aila and her brother come to live in Sterling with an old friend of their mother’s and her family, it causes problems within a community where tensions are already high. Their mother is called a Catalyst, a witch, and other things,  and it falls to Aila and her brother to deal with the accusations of the townspeople. Aila knows that the only way to clear her mother’s name is to discover the truth about the Disappearances. Continue reading

[Patchwork] Karsten Knight

Patchwork is said to be like several popular young adult novels, which is something that often bothers me. I feel that it can set up the book to be a failure if it doesn’t meet my expectations–made higher by people touting it as the next Game of Thrones or Gone Girl. It may perhaps be lucky that I haven’t read any of the books that this one is said to be similar to, because for once I don’t have that complaint. In Patchwork, Karsten Knight takes the myth of the Phoenix and puts it in a modern setting, blending past and present in a time-traveling book that sends Renata Lake into her memories for a chance to change a moment. Her power comes to the surface after an attack at prom kills all of her friends and classmates. Suddenly she has a new power that she doesn’t understand. What she doesn’t have is time–Renata must try to figure out how to use her powers to discover who is after her and her friends before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed the world of Patchwork. Knight created a world based on Renata’s memories of the past, knitting together her reality and the mythos of Patchwork. I hesitate to say more because I don’t want to have heavy spoilers in my review. Patchwork functioned as a way for Renata to time-travel, allowing her to walk through memories to find a point in her past that she could try to change, but she can never go back to the original point where her powers manifested: the attack at prom. She can continue going backward to try to save her friends and discover the assassin, but it erases her future. She has to make new memories from whatever point she stops at. Fortunately, she remembers everything. Unfortunately, no one else does. I think that everyone wishes at some point in their life that they could go back and change something, but they maybe don’t consider what would happen if they could change a moment but then they’re stuck and have to start over from there. I thought that Knight did a great job of portraying this by using Patchwork and Renata’s reaction to it. I’ve read a few time-traveling books before, but I thought that this was a unique way to portray it.

The one very slight problem I had with Patchwork was the blending of Greek and what I see as Egyptian mythology, namely the choice of Osiris. There’s an Amaranthine Society, the Minotaurs, and Daedalus, which are decidedly Greek. I love that Greek mythology was woven throughout the story because it’s always been something I’m interested in. The inclusion of Osiris, an Egyptian god of the afterlife, really confused me. I did some research (i.e. read the Osiris myth on wikipedia), and apparently the myth of Osiris traveled to Greece with the worship of another goddess, Isis. The Osiris myth was also written about, where Greek writers viewed the Osiris myth with a Greek philosophy lens. So it does technically fit with the Greek mythology aspect of Patchwork. Even still, I would argue that Osiris is well-known as an Egyptian god with most people being unaware of the connection to Greece. Ultimately, my only quibble is that I wish Knight had chosen another name.

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