[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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[Sky in the Deep] Adrienne Young

It was what we’d been taught our entire lives––vegr yfir fjor––honor above life. 

Sky in the Deep is a Viking inspired story with battles, betrayal, and the realization that your enemy isn’t as different from you as you thought. I really loved this one! I read it in the bulk of one day and then immediately wished I hadn’t because it was over.

Sky in the Deep takes starting in the action very literally. We find ourselves in the middle of a battle with Eelyn and her fighting partner, Mýra, readying themselves to charge at members of the Riki clan. They’re members of the Aska clan, and once every five years, they meet on the battlefield to avenge those of their tribe who fell in the years before. For Eelyn, this is her brother. She fights to avenge his death five years before, pushing down her own guilt about being unable to give him proper rites after the battle. When she meets him on the battlefield and he saves her life, people think that she’s been touched by Sigr, their God. Eelyn isn’t so sure. When she discovers that it wasn’t a spirit sent by her God, Eelyn is thrust into the world of her enemy.

I thought that the beginning of the story was strong because it was right in the action, but it also meant that I felt a little blindsided as a reader. I didn’t know much about the world, just that they were fighting. Initially it did put me off a bit because of how frantic it felt. Young dials it back by having Eelyn captured, which helped immensely. There’s still the feeling of being in the action, but it’s bubbling underneath the surface instead of being right there. I loved that. Young used this time to show the different cultures that are in the book, and I was able to get a clearer picture of the world. I love world building, and this novel was full of everything I like seeing when authors build new worlds: different cultures and ways of life; different religions and celebrations; lush settings. It was great!

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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

[Zeroes] Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti

Zeroes was a confusing mess of names and events that were loosely tied together by the time the book ended, but it was a long road to get there. Unfortunately, having three big authors write a book together does not automatically make it a success. Scott Westerfeld is an author I really enjoy reading. I loved the steampunk Leviathan series, and his Uglies series was probably the first young adult dystopian novels that I read. But in Zeroes I felt nothing that drew me in the way that these other series did. I haven’t read the other two authors so I can’t speak for their writing style or series, and I don’t know who wrote what characters or if it was a collaborative effort. I don’t know what happened with Zeroes, but what should have been an interesting and exciting novel about teenagers with powers became a rather dull novel with a lot of internal reflection and coming to terms with controlling your powers.

This is the first novel I’ve read this year where I’ve been disappointed. And I can’t believe it’s a Westerfeld novel. Part of the problem was that although the writing was very good, the story was super long. If things had happened, I think I would have been more engaged. But the pacing was off. Everything was clustered at the end and I feel like most of the middle could have been condensed down. There needed to be more events in the middle to justify the length of it.

I will say that the ending was very exciting. I saw the potential for the series there. If more of that had been in the middle I definitely would have loved this book. The characters all came together, the threads that had been woven throughout the novel brought the story to a close. I loved that we were finally able to see all of their powers when they were working together to achieve something. They became more than just teenagers who were playing around with their powers in that moment; they had a purpose. That’s something that I can get behind.

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[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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[Shadowsong] S. Jae-Jones

What are monsters but mortals corrupted?*

Strange and queer, the lot of them. Elf-touched, they were called in the old days…The mad, the fearful, the faithful. Those who dwell with one foot in the Underground and another in the world above.*

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We were grotesques in the world above, too different, too odd, too talented, too much. 

S. Jae-Jones is a brilliant writer.

I will admit that I didn’t love the entirety of Wintersong––I loved the first half but thought the second was a little slow––but I always thought that S.Jae-Jones’ writing was beautiful and spectacular. Her writing shone in Shadowsong. The images she creates with her words are utterly beautiful, forming Liesl’s world for the reader in a very poetic way. It’s perfect for the setting of fairy-tales and goblins and music. S.Jae-Jones is someone who can create a world with her words that I just want to immerse myself in. Couple that with the fact that Shadowsong is a fantasy novel with a historical setting and I’m hooked.

Although Shadowsong is fiction, S. Jae-Jones gives her readers an author’s note at the beginning warning that not everything inside of this novel is so easily read as a fiction. Shadowsong deals with the very real subjects of self-harm, addiction, reckless behaviors, and thoughts of suicide. The author is open with her own diagnosis of bipolar disorder and how she gave it to Liesl. There were moments that were difficult to read because of how Liesl was struggling. I could relate to certain thoughts she had regarding creation of art and fear of failure and doubt. I thought it was wonderful that S. Jae-Jones was completely open about this at the beginning of her novel.

I waited for some mood or inspiration to strike me, for the desire to play to overtake me, but there was nothing. Solitude around me and silence within me. I had not dreamed once since we came to the city. The voice inside me––my voice––was gone. No ideas. No drive. No passion. My nights were quiet. Blank. The dullness was seeping into my days.*

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[Tash Hearts Tolstoy] Kathryn Ormsbee

Tash hearts Tolstoy. Like, a lot. So much so that she’s created a web series about Anna Karenina called Unhappy Families with her friend Jack. They’ve been filming for awhile and have a few loyal followers, but nothing too big. They’re both happy that they’re getting the experience for future projects and for college–which is looming on the horizon. Toying with the idea of fame is fun, of course, but they know that it will never happen…until it does.  When they’re thrust into the internet limelight, Tash and her friends are suddenly dealing with followers in the tens of thousands. No longer an obscure web series, dealing with their sudden fame is both exhilarating and terrifying. Being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Tash and Jack need to find a way to deal with both the good and the bad if they’re going to make it through.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy was a cute contemporary read. I loved that it was about producing a web series and what happens when your dreams are realized. Ormsbee did a good job about giving filming details without allowing the book to be bogged down with too many; it allows us to be in the world of web series but not be bored by it. I wish that Unhappy Families existed outside the book! It sounded really interesting. While the focus is on how the web series becomes famous, the book is about so much more.  At its core is a coming of age story. I liked that Tash’s “coming of age” wasn’t about one specific thing. They’re all struggling to find their place in the world and learning how to navigate the messy reality of friendships and family where lines sometimes cross.

Because the book focuses on Tash and Unhappy Families, there’s a lot of focus on her friendship with Jack and her brother, Paul. These are two people who have been in Tash’s life for a long time and who know her in a certain way. I appreciated how Ormsbee explored their friendship and the expectations they’d placed on one another. Friendships change as you get older and as you’re moving to a different part of your life,  and I liked how that was shown against this backdrop of blossoming and distracting fame.

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