June 28, 2014

Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner: "Perfection" (ARC Review)

Title:  Perfection [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Mad World (3rd of 6 books)
Authors: Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner [Mad World site (edit - new site 2017) | Erin's site (added 2017) | Erin on Goodreads | Troy's site | Troy on Goodreads]
Genres: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Year: 2014
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Quirky, refreshing look at magic, woven with a peculiar mythology. Interesting, not stereotypical characters. Surprises and mysteries.
Cons: Some occurrences are a bit too convenient. Astrid and Max's voices sound a bit similar or too mature sometimes. Some characters get less screentime than the others. A lot happens and you feel compelled to read on without giving everything the chance to sink in.
Will appeal to: Those who liked Wakefield and Tunnelville but craved for more action...and more (awesome) magic.

Blurb: Following months of living on the streets of Boston, the Wakefield escapees have found a temporary shelter to recoup in after barely escaping from Arlington Station with their lives. As the troubled teens grow closer and rely on each other for survival, they know the inexhaustible Dr. Lycen is on the hunt. When he shows up on their doorstep, some of them flee to Perfection, a turn of the century living museum that holds more than its fair share of secrets. Those who travel to Perfection find a new home that promises safety and stability. But is a dangerous adversary pulling the strings behind the scenes? (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the authors in exchange for an honest review. And...*drum roll*...this is actually my very first ARC! (Huge thanks to Erin and Troy for trusting me with it!). But I'm confident you'll be able to realise that my review wasn't biased...since it's next to impossible to fake enthusiasm when one writes the kind of reviews that yours truly writes :). Here goes...
You probably know by now that I don't read many popular series, but from what other reviewers say, even the best of them often tend to lose momentum as the story progresses. Well, that's not the case here. The Mad World series has reached its third installment, and I've been pleasantly surprised to see it grow and get richer and more layered with each book. Also, I was able to spot a subtle difference in each one of them. While Book 1 was more "contemporary meets paranormal" (which is the main theme of this series, since it focus on a bunch of kids who don't all have special abilities), Book 2 - though mainly dealing with survival in a hostile environment - had a wider urban fantasy angle, and now Book 3 provides a stronger magical feel, besides being more on the rural fantasy side. Now, since Mad World is, in the words of its authors, a "double trilogy", this means that we're only halfway through the story - and still the vein is well far from running dry
As usual, we mainly get a double POV from friends Astrid and Max, though the book has a prologue and epilogue by Dr. Lycen (the teens' nemesis) and is interspersed with chapters where Karen (Astrid's aunt) tells her own side of the story. As the book begins, six of the original Wakefield escapees are living in a temporary shelter that is literally across the street from where they lived before - so I wonder why it takes Dr. Lycen so much to find them (especially since they make a living with their magic tricks in the metro...). But he ultimately does, of course...though a character from Book 2 makes an unexpected comeback and manages to take them to Perfection, a protected village somewhere near Boston where a bunch of magicians live. Max's old dream has come true at this point: since one of them has made a last-minute decision to follow a different path, only five of the kids actually reach Perfection. But is the turn of the century living museum as safe as it seems?
A lot happens in these 300-something pages. We are introduced to many new faces, and even meet some old ones. Most of the Wakefield escapees get unexpected character development, especially when it comes to their powers. There's so much cool magic in this book...animated origamis, a quilt that can trap memories, a painting that can advise you of your impending death (I'm not going to spoil this one...it sounds creepy, but it's also highly original and fascinating), a place that's not really there (and now we get an explanation for the moving tower in Book 2), and much more. Also, we get a closer look at the different kinds of magic, and learn more about Mentalists and Elementals - not to mention the reasons behind the Hickory Group, an ancient, shady organization bent on containing magic and not letting it be exposed. Of course, magic has its dark side as well, and we get plenty of it. But in the midst of all this, the authors don't lose sight of the human interactions, especially when it comes to Astrid and Max's friendship and her budding romance with fellow escapee Lawrence. Mind you, the latter is a slow-burning fuse, so don't expect any instalove syndrome to rear its ugly head ;D. [...]

June 21, 2014

Amy Huntley: "The Everafter"

Title: The Everafter [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Amy Huntley [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2009
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Fascinating concept, well executed. Relatable, believable characters. Sweet first-love story.
Cons: A little juvenile in parts. A couple of scenes could have been played out differently (leaving the slightly gross details out). The main plot device is a little overplayed.
WARNING! Teen sex is mentioned, but never described. Birth control is addressed, which is good of course.
Will appeal to: Afterlife fans who like their ghosts time-traveling, trying to mend things and investigating their own death.

Blurb: Madison Stanton doesn't know where she is or how she got there. But she does know this - she is dead. And alone, in a vast, dark space. The only company she has in this place are luminescent objects that turn out to be all the things Maddy lost while she was alive. And soon she discovers that with these artifacts, she can reexperience - and sometimes even change - moments from her life. In reliving these moments, Maddy learns illuminating and sometimes frightening truths about her life - and death. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: OK, it looks like I've learnt a couple of things about Dead Character Stories by now - you know, since they're my favourite genre ;). Afterlife books usually come in two main different categories. Some deal with a dead character who still walks the earth, searching for a connection with the living and/or watching over them...and usually investigating her/his own dead in the process (Remember Me by Christopher Pike, Absent by Katie Williams, Between by Jessica Warman). Some actually follow the dead in the afterlife, while they adjust to their new condition and/or uncover secrets (Touching the Surface by Kimberly Sabatini, Ferryman by Claire McFall, The Memory Chronicles by Lenore Appelhans). This book, on the other hand, sort of crosses over (...see what I did here?). Not to mention, it is a coming-of-age story as well...yes, despite the lead being dead.
The story opens with 17 y.o. Madison already in the afterlife, trying to figure out who she is and how the place she ended up in works. It doesn't take long for Maddy to discover she's surrounded by artifacts from her life, a bunch of things that she lost when she was alive and that - for some unknown reason - are scattered around her in death. This concept is fascinating, and makes for a clever device in order to have Maddy revisiting moments of her life...but I have a small problem with this part. A life span of 17 years and all those lost objects? If the afterlife were like that, I wouldn't get the chance to relive more than a few moments, and I'm close to 50 O_O. [Also, you know, most meaningful moments...like not being able to locate a napkin after doing my laundry...]. Of course, I may be an extreme case (admittedly, I tend to check on every one of my possessions a bit obsessively...) but still - the amount of lost objects in a teen girl's life surely can't be that overwhelming, can it? Especially since most of them appear to have been lost at home, so they surely should have turned up again at some point. Anyway, the story wouldn't exist without them, so I'll cut this not-so-believable point some slack...
Like I said, Maddy soon finds out that every object that makes her company in the afterlife works as a catalyst for her to revisit past experiences. Also, she can either watch from a distance, or actually get sucked into Past Maddy and relive those moments - even changing them (if slightly) on occasion. Only, this causes a new reality to be superimposed on the original one - which soon cause Dead Maddy to feel weird somehow. While experimenting with her new "power", Maddy can't help wondering if it will help her unveil the secret of her own death, or even avoid it ultimately...which is of course a paradox, but she doesn't seem to notice. [...]

June 07, 2014

Christopher Pike: "Die Softly"

Title: Die Softly [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery
Year: 1991
Age: 12+
Stars: 2/5
Pros: Believable depiction of a male teen...up to a point. Photography makes for an original plot device.
Cons: Unlikeable characters. Not particularly engaging prose. Some paragraphs could have benefited more editing.
WARNING! Some gruesome deaths. Sex is mentioned/implied; drugs are heavily featured.
Will appeal to: Those who love a classic teen thriller '90s-style...only a lot darker than average.

Blurb: Herb just wanted to photograph the cheerleaders in the school showers. He planted his camera high in the corner where no one could see it, and rigged it to a special homemade timer. He hoped that by Friday night he would have an exciting roll of film to develop. But a girl dies Friday afternoon. On the surface it appears to be nothing more than a tragic car accident. But when Herb finally does collect his roll of film, he develops a picture that shows a shadowy figure sneaking up on the girl who has died with a baseball bat. It makes Herb wonder if the girl was dead long before the car accident. But unfortunately for Herb, he doesn't wonder if the murderer knows he took the picture. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: Well, yes, this isn't one of my favourite Pike books - obviously. I'll state my reasons for that in a moment. But one thing needs to be said in advance...even when YA was still in its infancy, Pike never shunned the darkest angles of human psyche, nor the most gruesome outcomes of human emotions. In a way, this book is mature YA, right because of that. On the other hand, it's still a kid of the '90s, in what it lacks sophistication and conciseness. The best teen novels out there nowadays would never spend pages describing the wiring of a camera to a tape recorder and their location on a ledge, or the development of a roll of film. Not cool ;).
But my main problems with this book are the characters and the tone. I'll get to the characters in a few lines...but I'm starting with the tone. The story is told in third person by Herb, an eighteen year old "nobody" (that's how he thinks of himself) with one single talent - photography. The chapters alternate between the past, when death struck Herb's small clique of friends and acquaintances, and the present ("In the End"), when Herb is on the phone with Sergeant Fitzsimmons, recounting the events. The book ends with an epilogue. Now, Pike's typical style is made of short sentences, on the descriptive side. While it works for his most interesting stories (especially those told in first person), it tends to get a bit dull and simplistic here. I get it that we are in Herb's mind, so the writing style probably mimics his mental processes quite accurately, but it also sets a flat tone on the whole. [...]

June 01, 2014

Blurb + Cover Reveal: "Perfection" by Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner

A quirky paranormal double trilogy by Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner

  Welcome to my first blurb + cover reveal!
You may remember that back in September I reviewed the first two installments in the "Mad World" double trilogy by Erin Callahan and Troy H. Gardner (book 1: Wakefield | book 2: Tunnelville). I had been pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Erin a little earlier, asking if I was interested in reviewing their series. For the very first time, the author in question had indeed read my policy and perused my blog, as opposed to sending a random request. Also, Erin didn't seem to mind that I still was a budding blogger. I agreed to review the first two books in the series, and also interviewed the author duo behind them here. And I'm very pleased now to be part of the blurb and cover reveal for the third installment in the "Mad World" series, Perfection, out on July 11. You know, as a rule, I don't do reveals. Well, I don't do mass reveals, or reveals for books that I'm not interested in. Of course, Perfection is a different matter altogether...I'm enjoying this series, so I'm more than willing to do a reveal for it :).
Just a quick overview of this series for those who haven't read the first two installments yet: "Mad World" focuses on a group of teens - some paranormally gifted, some "simply" troubled - on the run from an educational facility and an evil doctor.
 Note: the series is only available in ebook format for now, but there are plans for a physical release in the future. Perfection has a shiny new Goodreads page, and of course both Wakefield and Tunnelville have one too - just click on the titles.
And now, without further ado, here goes...

Out on July 11th
Perfection ("Mad World", book 3)

Following months of living on the streets of Boston, the Wakefield escapees have found a temporary shelter to recoup in after barely escaping from Arlington Station with their lives - but time is running out.
As the troubled teens grow closer and rely on each other for survival, they know the inexhaustible Dr. Lycen is on the hunt. When he shows up on their doorstep with his crimson army, they are forced into action. With limited options, some of them flee to Perfection, a turn of the century living museum that holds more than its fair share of secrets.

Those who travel to Perfection find a new home that promises safety and stability. But is a dangerous adversary pulling the strings behind the scenes?