God’s Buried Children – A Very Different Kind of Christmas Carol

Sometimes there is this book that might not be perfect but still gets to you – under your skin and into your thoughts – long after you have returned the book to its shelf or turned off the tablet. Daniel Farcas has written one of these books, God’s Buried Children. This is not a story to make you feel all warm and cosy. On the contrary, his is a story to make you sad and angry. I was asked to review it and without much thought I agreed (‘hey, it’s for free, right?’) and I was so gripped by the cleverly put together story I could not put it down until I had come to the last page. So, here goes:

Reading these memories by an orphaned Romanian boy growing up in the 1980’s is a harrowing experience: Daniel is one of the many children left to suffer in one of the state orphanages, where brutality and neglect have replaced humanity and care. He and a ragbag of other children escape to eke out a living in the sewers of the capital, Bucharest. Not only is the secret police part of their daily lives, but also disease, hunger, drugs, and death. The only thing not part of their lives is someone to care for them and keep them safe.

When revolution disposes of Nicolae Ceaușescu this does not mean justice is replacing the previous injustice – at least not for the people at the bottom of society: The children living in the sewers are still tormented by the same people that patrolled during the communist era. Vlad, Crazy, Crow (they rarely know their names), and the rest of the orphans decide to find out why they were abandoned and to hand out their own justice where it is needed. Daniel is dreaming of a different life and when he meets the young American aid worker Mariana he is touched by love for the first time and maybe there is a future for him, after all…

God’s Buried Children is amazing reading with all the suspense needed to make you continue reading. The quirky language puzzled me in the beginning, but what else would make sense when the story is told by a boy who has never been taught to read and write? The mistakes and the tentative use of some phrases and words only help to paint a picture of something that should never have been allowed to happen – the betrayal of a country’s children. This is not light reading -but important. Romania is today part of the European Union but only a few decades ago it was one of the most impoverished and isolated totalitarian states on the European continent.

By not forgetting these children maybe we can stop it from happening again. Hopefully.

Autumn means more time to read…

Wizard Blues, by Steven A. Simpson

I know – the holidays have been long this summer, but here is another book review. This is a book that I discarded after the first page, but as I had promised to read and review it I had to continue and I am glad I did. It is actually not bad at all as fantasy goes these days (post Tolkien and no one could ever, in a million years, write a second Lord of the Rings. And I am not obsessed at all…). I do enjoy being able to read so many books without having to pay a penny but I might make an exemption for the sequel to this one. Here goes:

The day their parents die it is obvious the boys are different from most youngsters as they have powers most people lack. A travelling wizard takes them on and as Sky and Ocean are ready for their first assignment they are waylaid by a young dwarf, who needs their help: a nameless beast is picking the dwarves, one by one, as they mine the deep mountain and only the gnawed bones are left behind as proof of their existence.

This first novel about the orphaned twins who turn wizards feels old-fashioned in a good way: there is time for descriptions and a build-up before the big bang. Maybe this will put some readers off, but I believe it works for this author and I hope the reader will give the time needed to let the story take on momentum, because it is worth it. It is a well-written novel and the characters come alive with the main characters having both a good side and a bad one to make them both interesting and likeable. As much as the two young men believe they are in charge of their future there are other powers at work, with an agenda of their own, and the sequel looks promising.

So, however busy your life is give a good book a chance as the dark evenings roll in (unless you have decided to have an extra summer and live “down under”).

Necromancers and four-legged turkeys – it’s true, I promise

I have just finished an indie book that promises that “going it without a traditional publisher” has a proper future as these books can be equally good (not all “proper” books are either well-written or especially well thought through, to be honest). The book I am gushing about is Necromancer Awakening, by Nat Russo.

The four-legged turkey? Well, you just have to read the book and see for yourself. The resurrected corpses were good, is all I can say. And they had, mostly, only two legs. This book is not written specifically for YA readers but it would suit anyone interested in fantasy novels.

 

Main character Nicolas is suddenly and inexplicably moved from his flat, having been to his adoptive father’s funeral, to a world full of strange creatures and magic. And moving rapidly towards war! If the presence of the weirdest animals and people leave him confused, the presence of evil and power struggles must feel all too familiar to him, coming from Earth. Finding out who his real father is – the evil ruler of this strange world– leaves Nicolas with little choice and he is drawn into the fight for a future for this world while desperately trying to stay alive. However, saving this world leaves him with a big question: will he ever be able to get back to his dog and the woman he loves?

This is a fantasy novel that deserves a wide audience. It has got everything that makes for a good adventure story: the hero’s journey – both the physical and the emotional and intellectual; good versus evil; treason; a few good fighting scenes and a good dose of humour. The author is making a clever move when turning the tables and suggesting necromancy and its practitioners are the good guys. Together with a good plot and a language that flows I come to the conclusion that this is a promising start to a series of novels from a new author.

Necromancer Awakening is a shining example that indie publishing can be of the same high quality as traditional publishing and I can see Nat Russo as a player to reckon with in the future.

So Much Misery – Maybe Something for the Holidays?

If you like dystopian YA there is a box set for you, What Tomorrow May Bring. For a small sum of money you get eleven novels, all dealing, in one way or another, with teenagers living in a future that has gone very wrong. I cannot say I liked all of them, but a few are definitely worthwhile to read and I have already mentioned a couple here. 

Open Minds, by Susan Kaye Quinn

Kira is 16 and one of the few at her school that cannot read other people’s minds. In the future this makes her the weird outcast and she is losing her last friends as she is increasingly ostracised.

One day she realises she is not the only one who cannot share mind reading; instead she belongs to a small group of people who can control the minds of those around her– for good or for evil. As Kira is drawn into this other, subversive, world that the authorities try to stamp out while keeping it secret from the citizens, she is drawn away from her best friend Raf and to the far more sinister school friend Simon.

 

This made for compelling reading and my favourite in the box set. The plot makes sense and the characters, and especially Kira, are credible and mulit-faceted. She grows and changes in the face of reality, which grows increasingly dark, in a way that makes her feel genuine. The future world Susan Kaye Quinn paints is one where good people and bad people are found on all sides and there are no simple solutions.

Stitch, by Samantha Durante

Alessa loses her parents and her foothold on reality and misses her chance to get into her college of choice. Making do with a lesser institution she struggles with the social demands that her sorority is laying on her and things do not get better as she feels this presence that cannot be anything but a ghost. It turns out the ghost is probably the least of Alessa’s problems as the mysteries around her start to unravel and a much more sinister reality is revealed. 

This is the first of a planned trilogy and it definitely fits into the dystopian genre despite its element of a ghost story. Actually, it was the ghost story that drew me into reading it in the first place.

Alessa lives in a world not too alien to the one we live in and it gives the story the credence necessary to make my imagination go in the right direction. Unfortunately, as this is a novel targeted at teenagers and YA readers the characters, as they evolve, fall slightly outside what I would expect.

Despite my misgivings about the main characters I enjoyed the book, which was well written with a plot full of twists and turns.

 

Sometimes I feel slightly  cheated at the end of a book when I realise I have to get the second and even the third in order to make sense of the first one. With Open Minds this could not be more wrong as you can easily stop reading after the first instalment. Yes, the story continues in the sequel but you have a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an ending  – as I think it should be. 

 

Sorry, no zombies

When i started reading I could not help thinking about the British film Shaun of the Dead, a hilarious film about everybody becoming zombies. One of the characters in The Release keeps talking about zombies as his school friends and teachers drop dead around him and I think those one-liners decided it for me: this is a book to read on a windy night when the rain is lashing against the window and the power cuts so you have to continue reading by a flickering candle light.

The Release, by Shelbi Wescott

 

Lucy King, your average High School girl, is about to go on the holiday of her life with her big family when disaster strikes: A virus, first killing all the dogs but then leaving almost every human being dead, separates her from her family. Stuck in her school she has to decide what to do: work with other survivors or treat them as competitors for food and clean water and resort to violence?

 

The massive scale of death and destruction puts this novel in the general category of “they are all gong to die a horrible death”, but the author transcends this in a brilliant way. From the characters: the quirky teachers, the crazy principal, the students, to the setting: a school complete with metal detectors and the usual hide-outs for doing stuff the adults have banned, make this into so much more. It is scary, it is funny but it is also thought provoking at times.

 

The Release is the first in a series, Virulent.

It’s still a force to be reckoned with

At the moment I am doing a lot of reading and reviewing for people and it is great to be allowed to read so many books (for free – when do you get nice stuff for free?). I have just been sent 10 (I know, ten) dystopian novels for YA to read and one of them turns out to be one I have already read. External Forces turned out to be so good I have decided to share it again. This is one of those books you wish you had not read yet as you, reluctantly, reach The End.

Author: Deborah Rix

Title: External Forces (The Laws of Motion), published 2013

 

Desperate to avoid being ousted as a Deviant sixteen-year-old Jess joins the army together with her friend Jay. The Devotees share God’s work to secure genetically acceptable humans in a future America where the undesirables – the Deviants – disappear conveniently. But not everybody is happy with the way society is run and there are rumours about a group of people, The Red Hand, who oppose the authorities. Jess witnesses first hand the high price you have to pay for even asking questions and when she finds friendship and love in the shape of her Sergeant, Matt Anderson, she has to make up her mind whose side she is on.

I found the idea of a future society, where insight into genetic engineering marries religion to form ideology intriguing and believable. There is a mix of violence and romance in the book but also a huge part about friendship and the fear of not fitting in. The story is well developed and the characters are multi-layered to allow them come alive to tell their story in their own voices. Despite Jess being the main character – a shy girl who is suddenly exhibiting skills that single her out from all the other recruits – there are several others that leap out from the pages: Sheree, the strong and outspoken girl who takes Jess under her wing, remains my favourite.

This book felt like an inspiration among the flood of dystopian novels that have been published these last few years and it made for compulsive reading and I am looking forward to the sequel. To anyone who complains about sequels I want to add that as External Forces does not end on a cliffhanger it can be read on its own.

The UN – a rogue world tyrant in dystopian world

I have just finished reading a dystopian novel in which the UN has turned into a dark power…

It is one of those novels I would love if I could change around stuff, but that is not really an option with books and perhaps that is a good thing.

Finding Sage, by Logan Judy

In a future world the UN has become an all-knowing, all-seeing organisation that rules with violence and they are persecuting and killing people with supernatural powers. Silas Knight has spent his life on the run, alone since he lost contact with his father. He meets other rogues, as they are called, and together they are on a quest to find the mysterious Sage – a freedom fighter using a blog to get his ideas out.

 

The idea the author has come up with is better than good (even if some readers may feel outraged that the UN has been given such a sinister role), but I am getting lost among all the new characters that keep popping up, and who, in many cases, are killed off almost as soon as they are introduced. As a consequence I found it hard to engage with the characters and the story. It is brave to keep introducing new characters to the very end, but it is difficult to pull it off and I am not sure the author has.

 

Despite my uneasiness about whether I am comfortable with the massive list of characters the novel is touching something that could become an absolutely great novel and I would personally like to see the next version.