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The Final Empire (Mistborn Trilogy 1) #BookReview

Title:
The Final Empire – The Mistborn Book One

Authors:
Brandon Sanderson

Genre:
Fantasy

Book procurement:
I was at Exclusive Books – Greenstone and saw the entire trilogy boxset on the shelf. So I did what an self-respecting book lover with some money did – impulsively buy it. No regrets.

Rating:

A heart-wrenching 5 out of 5

Synopsis:

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with colour once more?
In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage— Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

First Thoughts

I loved the magic system. I loved the characters. I loved the unexpected twists and turns and internal battles I fought with myself as I tried to figure out what would happen next and getting joyfully frustrated when that didn’t happen.

The book was recommended to me for so long that when the opportunity arose I took it up. I have no regrets. It begins slowly and begins to build and build and the come crashing down on you. I was looking at the last few pages and wondering how the story could be tied up with so few pages left and it was done so well. Really a great example of Sanderson’s story telling ability and one of his online classes come to life.

The Story

The story follows two distinct characters throughout the book. Kelsier, the leader of an infamous thieving crew who has escaped from hell to inact a very elaborate and impossible plan. Vin is a street urchin who discovers something amazing about herself and moves from the streets to Kelsier’s crew.

Around them is The Final Empire, a land where ash falls continuously around the city and mysterious mists swirl about at night. At its head is the immortal and powerful Lord Ruler who has established himself as god for centuries, the dark lord who rules with iron fist and nonchalance. Around the city and within are the citizens of The Final Empire; Skaa who are  fearful, low-spirited workers treated as nothing more than lowest of the low in society, and the Noblemen and Noblewomen who rule the Skaa, while living lavish lifestyles and protected by the Lord Ruler.

It’s a story of survival. Of love and friendship. Of overcoming odds and believing in something greater. It is at its core, a story of hope.

Writing

The writing is simple yet elegant and powerful. It moves you along between characters and perspectives, giving you different sides of the story as is necessary without giving away too much.

The characters are each distinct and easily identifiable. I loved all of them. Kelsier’s charismatic persona filled the perfect role of rebel leader who is a caring mentor with a scarred past (if you’ve read the book, see what I did there). We see the kind of man he is, flawed yet determined.

Vin is clearly a smart girl, and quite adept in her abilities. We see her grow from street urchin to quite a notable member of the crew. We are with her in her thoughts and deliberations, her emotions and actions, all of which build her up as a character that by the end of the book you understand why (even when its frustrating!) she does what she does.

Clubs, Ham, and Dockson may be minor characters but they have major roles in the entire story. Not only in their abilities and characteristics, but how they also show different sides of Kelsier and Vin.

Sazed was perfect as the caring and knowledgeable steward. His Feurchemist abilities make him distinct but it’s his well captured persona that truly makes him a valuable friend and partner to both Vin and Kelsier.

The fighting is so imaginative and well written that you can imagine the scene playing out. The whole Allomancy “magic” system (using metals to fuel a specific ability) are unique and masterfully captured. Sometimes the repetition seems too much but it also works as a reminder of how each ability works. The Pulling and Pushing, Soothing and Rioting, Smoking and Seeing. How weight and power affects each one differently and the thought of using a coin to push off the ground to jump higher – so awesome!

The Inquisitors send shivers down my spine, with metal rods in their eyes, super-healing and just general inhuman strength, like what the hell!

Final Thoughts

This was a fantastic book. Filled with adventure, magic, friendship, death, love, and so many twists and turns and frustrations and joys and so many good things. The world building was done really well, each character consistent and unique, the story flowing well between each scene and tying up really well. Even the little notes between each scene or chapter ties into the whole story, with a major twist right at the end that even I did not predict.

All in all I loved The Final Empire and am looking forward to the next two books. I think there’s a lot I could have said but that would include spoilers and I don’t want to do that. Great work Mr. Sanderson.


The Final Empire was published July 25th 2006.

Did you know: Brandon Sanderson offers lectures on writing? I’ve watched a few and some of the topics he covers I’ve seen implemented in Mistborn. You can find them here: 2016 Sanderson Lectures.

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Tales of Terror from Outer Space #BookReview

Title:
Tales of Terror From Outer Space

Authors:
Ray Bradbury, Ray Nelson, Robert Bloch, Brian W. Aldiss, Ralph Williams, Sydney J. Bounds, Robert Presslie, Charles Barkin, Bob Shaw, Arthur Porges, Claude Veillot, Robert Sheckley, Arthur C. Clarke, R Chetwyn-Hayes

Genre:
Horror/Science Fiction

Book procurement:
Bought this anthology in a heavily secured, highly stacked second-hand book store run by such a nice, though wary, old man. He looked like the gatekeeper to a secret library, awaiting the “Chosen One”.

Rating:

A gripping 5 out of 5

Synopsis:

Outer Space – where in the dark mists of infinity lurk alien creatures from far-flung galaxies. Weird monsters like…

The vamipre girl from Mars. The spaceship manned by living corpses

The hideous giant trapped by time. The lump of intelligent jelly. The huge insects that overran the earth.
Space-age horror comes down to earth in these chilling stories by such famous writers as Ray Bradbury, Brain Aldiss, Robert Bloch and Arthur C. Clarke.

First Thoughts

I am on a quest to read as many classic works by famous horror/science fiction/ fantasy authors as possible. While also under tight budget during this Janu-worry period. So it was quite fortunate that I found this gem. (Along with The Priests of Psi by Frank Herbert which will probably be next week’s review)

I started reading the book almost immediately after I got it. (I was waiting for Ole and Elliot for once) The first story by Ray Bradbury affected me for hours afterwards. Haunted. That’s what I can say about not just that story but all that followed. Haunted. *Shivers

The Stories

I, Mars – Ray Bradbury

We are thrown right into the deep end with a beautifully written, nostalgic and mentally-distressing tale of a man forgotten on the planet Mars. There are no aliens or anything of the sort, just the thought-provoking concept of solitude and how far one will go to overcome loneliness. With very creepy personas leading the way. *Shivers

Eight O’Clock in the Morning – Ray Nelson

Ray Nelson is a known science-fiction writer and cartoonist. This story is one of his most noted works which famous director, John Carpenter, turned into the film They Live. Although the film took creative-liberty to extend the story, it does not change the immense psychological effect it has. Basically the entire human race is under the influence of reptilian aliens who use subliminal hypnosis to keep humans under control. On the TV. On the radio. They are everywhere… and one man wakes up from the illusion and into the horror. Turn off your TVs and phones kids.

Side note: I was playing the new rendition of DmC: Devil May Cry and its basically Nelson’s story but with demons. It wasn’t even influenced Nelson’s story or idea and it was created decades after his short story. Could this be an underlying human fear?

Girl from Mars – Robert Bloch

This one wasn’t so scary. The owner of a travelling circus meets a very, very beautiful girl who claims to be from Mars. Its her first time on earth and in his ignorance of her statement, hopes to take advantage of that situation.

Heresies of the Huge God – Brian W. Aldiss

The human psyche is always one that fascinates me. Especially when it comes from a religious world-view. This story is in essence the writings of a new “prophet” sort of St. Paul’s Letter to the… kind of thing. Only it speaks of the Huge God who appears on Earth suddenly and how people react to this startling new entity with religious zealousness.

The Head Hunters – Ralph Williams

The idea of game hunting is probably as old as time. We’ve all seen that gross act (though some people may argue against that) of hunting an animal and placing its severed head on a wall as a trophy. Now imagine Earth was the playground of an alien race who claimed humanity to be their game – and their heads as trophies. Very Predator don’t you think?

Not that scary in the end but a good read. Human ignorance never ceases to amaze me.

The Animators – Sydney J. Bounds

The silent invasion we never see coming begins with a group of scientists exploring the surface of Mars. After a peculiar accident, the dead come to life on the red planet. How will the sole survivor fair against the animated corpses of his fellow crew members? *Shivers

It is a well written, though with very surface story-telling (because it’s a short story) but has deeper ramifications when one starts to think too deeply about what happens.

The Night of the Seventh Finger – Robert Presslie

There are very few stories of aliens that elicit empathy from us. The usual reaction is fear and/or disgust. This particular story plays on multiple emotions as we are given the “alien’s” perspective as well as of the girl walking through the dark who gets picked up by the seven-fingered creature. The ending makes me shake-fists at the irony of it all. With a touch of sadness.

No More for Mary – Charles Birkin

Toby Lewis is a writer on a holiday who finds an obscure creature in his garden. A bug of sorts with the most captivating skin and a single gleaming eye. Knowing his sister  is a renowned entomologist, he captures the creature and hopes to give it to her as a gift. But of course this is no bug.

Charles Birkin’s writing style is fluid and expressive. The detail he paints is gorgeous. Beyond that the story itself intertwines two unconnected creatures into a chance meeting. Coincidence? I think not.

Invasion of Privacy – Bob Shaw

Imagine you’re sitting at the table, and you seven-year-old son states he saw your wife’s grandmother at the old “haunted” house. Only she’s been dead for two weeks. This is how this short story begins and what unfolds is a tale of terror and reflective poignancy as the father seeks out the truth. What he finds may have far-reaching consequences… and not the deep-space kind.

The Ruum – Arthur Porges

*Shivers

An alien crew forget their “Ruum” on a primitive planet. Billions of years before the start of man-kind. In the age-of-man, Jim travels to the Canadian Rockies on an expedition. There he meets a bizarre creature that begins to chase him.

I can’t give away too much but there is a logical reasoning for all of this, and one of those obscure endings that hit you later like  “Ooohhh!!” Arthur Porges you devious man. I was holding my breath the entire read!

The First Days of May – Claude Veilliot

Nooooooo!

Can that just be my review? No? Okay. So. Giant Praying-Mantis like creatures appear on earth and practically decimate the population with their shrill-like screaming and razor-blade forearms-and legs. We follow a survivor who has kept himself hidden in his apartment, waiting for his wife. Hoping for her return. Eventually he leaves the house to search for her and what unfolds is just pure horror. Will I ever sleep again?

Specialist – Robert Sheckley

This was a weird one. Like. Weird. The story revolves around an alien crew made up of various… body parts? that have learned to co-exist as the universe intended. As in Eye is practically just an eye. Engine is a creature who is an engine. Walls are actual walls etc. And they are all sentient, cognitive beings designed by the universe to be exactly what they are. They are also the Ship, each one with a specific role in their interstellar travels. Unfortunately the storm has forced them to find a new crew member… on Earth.

Its peculiar because these beings are so normal in their “human” behaviour while being completely alien in every way. Underlying this whole story, we actually delve once again into the human mind and how our behaviour is so… uncooperative.

Great insight.

No Morning After – Arthur C. Clarke

Trust Arthur C. Clarke to come up with this perfectly normal and yet exceedingly frustrating and true reflection of us as humans. An alien ship is trying to communicate with earth to deliver an incredibly important message. With all the billions of people, the message reaches the most stubborn drunk fool with morbidly accurate reactions to the telepathic voices in his head providing the warning.

I think the protagonist is right in many aspects. To our shame as humans. Just think about it. Imagine you’re the only human on Earth who hears a message from aliens… how would the world perceive you even if you were right?

PS: This story was so affecting, I actually had a dream about something similar… and it was the most heart-wrenching, mind-shattering dream ever. I may even turn it into a story!

Shipwreck – R. Chetwynd-Hayes

How fitting that the last story in the anthology is also about an invasion. A silent one. A scary one. An asteroid crash lands on earth and a gelatinous substance escapes. It is able to break-down any living thing and assume its traits… almost perfectly. The living creature turning to ash on the spot. Then it spots a bipedal on a motorcycle.

*Shivers

Writing

The writing obviously varies from author to author. Some are quite straightforward in their telling while others use strong descriptive language to captive more than just the mental process of reading, but the visual too. However many of them touch on that one important aspect: Humans.

We’ve built up so many defenses in our minds, negating the very idea of “what if it’s true”. Despite all the movies and books and series and documentaries on the possibility of aliens. There’s just a part of us that doesn’t want to accept it. And it is this idea that makes these stories so much more riveting. So much more frightening. So much more… insightful.

Final Thoughts

I love the underlying meaning in every story. Beyond the fear that your neighbour, or your teacher, or your pet could be an alien in disguise – awaiting its orders to subjugate the human race. Or that we are even worth saving if an alien race realised a star is about to explode and they are our last hope. Will we willing jump aboard their vessels or will we assume the worst of them and begin a war. (Ah war… the bane of humanity.)

Just how we think as humans. Our egos. Our fears. Our oh-so-clever brains that logically make us think ourselves superior on every level. The center of the universe. But as one of the characters in the anthology said “probably the one about praying mantes”,

“Establish communication? Do we ever think to establish communication with an ant before we take a boot to the anthill? What if to them, we’re the ants? Do you still think they’ll establish communication?” ~ paraphrased but you get the gist right?

Isn’t that a scary thought?


Tales of Terror from Outer Space was published May 15th 1975.

Aaru – David Meredith #BookReview

Title:
Aaru

Author:
David Meredith

Genre:
Science Fantasy

Book procurement:
Received a copy of the book from the author for an honest review

Rating:

A promising 3 out of 5

Synopsis:

“…Death and the stillness of death are the only things certain and common to all in this future…”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Rose is dying. Her body is wasted and skeletal. She is too sick and weak to move. Every day is an agony and her only hope is that death will find her swiftly before the pain grows too great to bear.

She is sixteen years old.

Rose has made peace with her fate, but her younger sister, Koren, certainly has not. Though all hope appears lost Koren convinces Rose to make one final attempt at saving her life after a mysterious man in a white lab coat approaches their family about an unorthodox and experimental procedure. A copy of Rose’s radiant mind is uploaded to a massive super computer called Aaru – a virtual paradise where the great and the righteous might live forever in an arcadian world free from pain, illness, and death. Elysian Industries is set to begin offering the service to those who can afford it and hires Koren to be their spokes-model.

Within a matter of weeks, the sisters’ faces are nationally ubiquitous, but they soon discover that neither celebrity nor immortality is as utopian as they think. Not everyone is pleased with the idea of life everlasting for sale.
What unfolds is a whirlwind of controversy, sabotage, obsession, and danger. Rose and Koren must struggle to find meaning in their chaotic new lives and at the same time hold true to each other as Aaru challenges all they ever knew about life, love, and death and everything they thought they really believed.

First Thoughts

The last book I read written by David Meredith was a Snow White retelling, or rather post Snow White, written in beautiful, flowing tones reflecting the fantastical fairy tale world. This book moves across that genre slightly to a more modern, science based world. The difference in style caught me off guard when I started reading. I didn’t know what to expect for the remainder of the book. After a rather slow start it started to pick up towards the end and into a brilliant end.

Also, I liked the references to real life characters and places, altered for copyright reasons I’m sure. Jonas Perry – I see what you did there Mr Meredith.

The Story

The story focuses on two main characters. Rose is sick and dying. Her hope comes one day in the form of a virtual paradise called Aaru, built by Elysian Industries (side note: Elysian means relating to or characteristic of heaven or paradise). Koren is Rose’s younger sister who looks up to her older sister and hates seeing Rose on her deathbed. Once Rose is sent to Aaru, she becomes the spokesperson for Aaru as the grief stricken sister who can still be with her now virtually immortal sister.

What begins as a beautiful after life for both sisters, they soon learn to come to grips with the various aspects of their new lives. Rose in the virtual world questions what it all is. Koren realises that being a celebrity is not all its made to be.

Lastly, there comes an intense danger to both sisters that completely rocks the very foundation of their new lives. I want to say more but it will become a spoiler so…

Writing

Initially the book was a bit slow. In a sense boring, and as much as I understand it was Mr. Meredith’s way of getting us to know the characters, some of it felt a little to drawn out. In my opinion we spent too much time with Rose in hospital, though I guess it helped to ground me in the idea that she was practically hopeless. Which makes the introduction of Aaru all the more compelling both to me as a reader, and to Rose as the recipient.

While I appreciated the slight references to real world characters (Jonas Perry, Ronaldo Casillas etc), it also ruined the illusion that this particular story is taking place on “this” Earth or “this” reality. It’s nothing major but it did distract me because in my head I kept changing in-book characters with their actual real-life counterparts.

 

The real story here in Aaru, despite the whole thing with Koren and Rose, is this idea of life after death. There were some religious crazies making appearances, questioning the whole idea of God, and how Elysian Industries is in a sense playing God. Elysian then states they are not playing God, but rather providing a platform where those who are about to die can continue to live on in their virtual world. In Aaru. But… are they really living though?

Unfortunately with these kinds of books, Christians are never depicted as anything other than ignorant idiots believing some old tome with religious zealousness that has no actual understanding of God. Using the bible as a means to justify their unjustified beliefs. Its an unfair portrayal and one held by too many people. Sadly, sometimes its true. (End Rant)

From the Christian perspective of not just reading the bible but learning of God’s character and our role (humans) as His creation, the soul cannot be downloaded into a computer. The mind? Sure. It is data after all.  The question all these Sci-fi kinds of stories ask is: Is the mind extracted into data, living as a remnant of the actual person, the person themselves? Or are they merely mind-data acting as data is expected to, in light of the tons of memories stored in hard drives, defining who they, as the “mind-data”, are supposed to be? I think of Transcendence with Johnny Depp.

 

Final Thoughts

Once I got through to halfway in the book, the whole story dynamic changed. It changed in the sense that there was finally some action. It’s all good and well to read about a soccer match straight out of Inazuma Eleven or Shaolin Soccer or reading about people flying and creating mansions (oh the biblical references in this book), and the romance building up, but all of this is the fluff around the real story. The story which is the idea of life after death, as explained above, but also the privacy and safety of being a celebrity.

The second half turned into a brilliant thriller and I loved every part after that. If the book had started out this way, I might have enjoyed it better. There were some uncomfortable scenes, necessary for the story, and this second half just didn’t hold back at all. To that, I give Mr. Meredith great credit.

All in all, if the second book (which is part of the first book in the Aaru Cycle) continues where this book ends off, I’ll be very happy.


Aaru was published July 9th, 2017.

Did you know: David Meredith teaches English in the Nashville area. This is his second published book.

About Author

David Meredith is a writer and educator originally from Knoxville, Tennessee. He received both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tennessee. He received his Doctorate in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.) from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. On and off, he spent nearly a decade, from 1999-2010 teaching English in Northern Japan, but currently lives with his wife and three children in the Nashville Area where he continues to write and teach English.

Author Page: DavidMeredithWriting


Are you an author who wants your book reviewed? Contact me on my site: NthatoMorakabi.com

The Fortress at the end of Time – Review

Title: The Fortress at the End of Time

Author: Joe M. McDermott

Genre: Sci-Fi

Book procurement: Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

In The Fortress at the End of Time, humanity has expanded across the galaxy by use of ansible and clone technology, but an enemy stands in their way—an enemy alien in concept as much as physiology. Ronaldo Aldo is a clone stationed in the back-end of nowhere—a watch station with a glorious military past, but no future. He’s desperate to prove himself worthy of ascension—of having his consciousness broadcast to a newer clone, far away from his current post at the Citadel.

Review:

First Thoughts

Sci-fi and I are good friends. Not the best, but good. Like that friend you talk to occasionally and have a great time with but won’t talk to for months until you meet again. Yeah. That’s sci-fi to me alright.

The Fortress at the End of Time was very vague in its synopsis. I guess they were trying to keep the whole story a mystery, so I couldn’t get a sense of what I should expect. From the get go I was thrust into this technologically advanced world where humans get cloned, and it is the clone that get’s shipped off to where the original is needed. And they have with them, all the originals memories. And this is the story of one clone of many – Ronaldo Aldo.

Ronaldo Aldo is my name. There are as many of me as there are colonies.

~Ronaldo Aldo

The Story

Ronaldo Aldo is a clone sent off to a remote watch station, the Citadel, with a glorious military past. It was there that humanity made an impressive stand against an unknown, apparently alien, enemy. Now they stand watch for a possible, inevitable counter attack although none think it will come. Yet someone must watch just in case. In truth the Citadel is nothing more than a decaying way-station where clones spend the rest of their lives in routine boredom. There is every level of bureaucracy as one can expect and the corruption that comes with it.

The novel plays out from Ronaldo Aldo’s first person perspective. It is a written confession of a grievous crime he’s committed, but to get to it, he explains how it all began. From his last night as his original self – a graduate at the War College – to his clone self assigned to the Citadel, and the life there. It is a story of self-discovery and budding existential crises. A story of a clone who realises the monotony of his existence and hopes to one day change it.

Knowing the self is vital to clones, psychologically, and more so at a posting like the Citadel. If we perceive no origin, and there is no place but the Citadel, and all else is just a story, then I would prefer not to uncover the truth.

~Ronaldo Aldo

There is also a religious context to the story. A way, I think, J.M McDermott addresses the idea that no matter how much we progress as a species technologically and scientifically, there are things that even those cannot answer. Later in the book, Ronaldo gets to visit one of the colonies off Citadel. One of his few joys. There he goes to a monastery with a unique number of characters who question the military life and its absolutes. One of which asks whether people reborn through the ansible as clones, have their souls transported too.

Writing

The writing is truly captivating. I did not get a sense of the author (in the writing itself) at all but the view of the main protagonist. As though I were truly reading his confession here on my own Earth substation. It is authentic and real. No unnecessary flowery talk but a near-narcissistic, emotional wreck expunging of life. He just does his duty regardless of the obvious, unspoken occurrences by those who realise that they are stuck forever on the Citadel, and nothing will ever change that.

I was pushed to this great act by the station, the military protocols, and the lies I was told about transcendence. I sinned against the devil and beat his game. By grace of God, my sin against the devil is the triumph of my life.

~Ronaldo Aldo

Final Thoughts

 

I was rooting for Ronaldo, while at the same time wanting to punch him in the face. The decisions he made sometimes were infuriating. Then again, imagine knowing you’re a clone, sent off to some random corner of the galaxy where a corrupted bureaucracy rules and everyone knows and exploits it. A place where suicides are common. Where you have no hope of ever leaving the dreary, indifferent world you’ve been throw in to.

What would you do?

I do not deny my guilt, and will never deny it.

~Ronaldo Aldo

Rating: An entangled 3 out of 5


The Fortress at the End of Time was published on January 17 2017.

Did you know:

An ansible is a category of fictional device or technology capable of instantaneous or faster-than-light communication. It can send and receive messages to and from a corresponding device over any distance or obstacle whatsoever with no delay. The term ansible is broadly shared across works of several science fiction authors, settings and continuities.

In The Fortress at the End of Time, the McDermott uses the ansible as an instantaneous cloning tool.

Are you an author who wants your book reviewed? Contact me on my site: NthatoMorakabi.com

The Five Daughters of the Moon

Title: The Five Daughters of the Moon

Author: Leena Likitalo

Genre: Historical Science Fantasy

Book procurement: Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo is a beautifully crafted historical fantasy with elements of technology fueled by evil magic.

The Crescent Empire teeters on the edge of a revolution, and the Five Daughters of the Moon are the ones to determine its future.

Alina, six, fears Gagargi Prataslav and his Great Thinking Machine. The gagargi claims that the machine can predict the future, but at a cost that no one seems to want to know.

Merile, eleven, cares only for her dogs, but she smells that something is afoul with the gagargi. By chance, she learns that the machine devours human souls for fuel, and yet no one believes her claim.

Sibilia, fifteen, has fallen in love for the first time in her life. She couldn’t care less about the unrests spreading through the countryside. Or the rumors about the gagargi and his machine.

Elise, sixteen, follows the captain of her heart to orphanages and workhouses. But soon she realizes that the unhappiness amongst her people runs much deeper that anyone could have ever predicted.

And Celestia, twenty-two, who will be the empress one day. Lately, she’s been drawn to the gagargi. But which one of them was the first to mention the idea of a coup?

Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, The Five Daughters of the Moon is a beautifully crafted historical fantasy with elements of technology fuelled by evil magic.

Review:

First Thoughts

Writing book reviews for Gamecca has been an interesting journey. I’ve been introduced to some amazing books and authors, and some really drab books. I don’t really have a choice, just a list of books to read (which I am very grateful for, I mean free books!) so not all of them are “up my alley.”

The Five Daughters of the Moon didn’t start off as “up my alley” although I was definitely intrigued. By the end of it I was drawn right into the world, characters, and story. Sometimes you just got to give a book a chance.

The Story

The book is based on the Romanov sisters. As the book “The Romanov Sisters” says about them,

“The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov—were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.”

In that regard, Leena Likitalo did an amazing job of showing this prestige. Even keeping the fact that the sisters used to sew gems into their garments, among many other historical facts. While the novel is based on the sisters, Leena did take a lot of creative freedom. There were originally only four sisters and their youngest brother Alexei, in the novel it’s five sisters. She also changed their names and a little bit of their stories. However reading this novel and the history of the sisters, you can see a lot of correlation. Also, the setting of this story takes place in a science-fantasy world.

We follow each of the sisters lives and experiences, seeing varying situations from each sister’s perspective. The focus is mainly around Gagargi Prataslav, a Sorcerer-Scientist, who has built a contraption known as the Great Thinking Machine. Only this machine is more than what it seems, and each of the sisters begin to slowly realise what the machine will mean to the Crescent Empire.

It is a story of intrigue, drama, betrayal and family. Of a broken society and how each sister tries to live with their life, especially when everything comes crashing down.

That is the role of the younger daughters. To be ignored and forgotten.

~ Merile, Five Daughters of the Moon.

Writing

 

Each chapter is from the perspective of the different sisters, usually starting with the youngest and ending with the oldest. This provides interesting insights into each of the sisters, building up a sense of foreshadowing which is then explained in the next sister’s view. This was done really well, where each sister had a particular way that they provided their view. Sibilia wrote in a diary and that’s how she “spoke”, while Merile focused on her pets, and so on.

Each sister was also unique in personality and there was no doubt who was who (even with the name at the beginning of the chapter). We see how the youngest look up at their older sisters and the persuasions of a young child in a royal family. The oldest sisters were all about finding love and being responsible. The contrasting personalities made for a good read.

The writing style was also flowery. From the world building, to character descriptions and how scenes played out. I liked this style and I felt like I was in the particular room being described. Like I could see each of the sisters, their mother, the Gagargi, etc.

Gagargi Prataslav strides toward us. The heels of his boots clack loudly against the floor. His black robes billow behind him as if he were riding the wind. His dark eyes gleam with pure malice.

~Alina, Five Daughters of the Moon.

Final Thoughts

I realised I couldn’t write female characters as well as Leena because I’m a guy. There are intuitive observations that a female writer has that I have yet to see in many male authors. It was a refreshing take. Also, the little details taken from the actual historical account that were included in the novel added ingenuity to the novel. Great work.

“I have looked into the past and present. But neither of them hold the solution for the problem we face.”

~ Gagargi Prataslav, Five Daughters of the Moon.

Rating: An interesting 4 out of 5


The Sisters of the Crescent Empress (The Waning Moon #2) will be published on the 7th of November 2017.

Did you know:

The Romanov family were executed in Yekaterinburg on the night of 16th-17th, July 1918. – Romanov Family Execution. Don’t worry, the novel doesn’t end with an execution.


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Mr Mercedes – Review

Title: Mr. Mercedes (#1 Bill Hodges Trilogy)

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Thriller

Book procurement: Bought a copy from Exclusive Books – Clearwater Mall.

Synopsis:

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.

Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

 

Review:

First Thoughts

So, I started this trilogy wrong. I read Finder’s Keepers which is the second novel in the Bill Hodges Trilogy. While you don’t have to read the first novel to delve into the second, it would be good to know what happened to Bill in the first book to understand him better in the second.

Also, I was better prepare to read a thriller rather than a horror. This trilogy is about a retired detective after all, so my expectations to be freaked out weren’t shattered. I got to enjoy the book from the get go.

The Story

Mr. Mercedes is the story of a man who plows a stolen Mercedes into a crowd of job-seekers, and the retired detective who decides he’s still useful enough to try figure out the who, and hopefully the why. Simple right? No. It is Stephen King after all so one can expect a lot of drama and many more thrills. Especially since the prologue is an entire chapter of getting to know the very crowd that ends up… dead. No it’s not a spoiler so don’t get all riled up.

The story is told from the perspective of both Bill Hodges and Mr. Mercedes himself, Brady Hartsfield. This gives insight into their minds and as the reader, I felt the unmistakable tension between the two minds. Of the cop on the brink of a breakdown who is thrown into an unsightly situation. Of the clearly crazy killer who is just too intelligent for his own good. That tension between them grows right through the novel until a very climatic (and stress inducing) end. Man I actually put the book down because I didn’t want to see that conclusion. Now that’s proper suspended disbelief.

“as if the cops expected the big gray sedan to start up by itself, like that old Plymouth in the horror movie,”
― Bill Hodges, Mr. Mercedes (Cheeky reference to Christine)

Writing

While Stephen King is no doubt a master of horror, he is just as brilliant at thrillers. The reason is simple, and I speak about it often when I review books by King: his characters are written to be real.

Bill Hodges is a retired detective. He’s old. He’s getting chubby. These little things attribute to his character and King writes him in such a believable way that it is easy to imagine him. To think as he does. To experience his life as though it were our own.

Brady is a unique character with his own issues including an alcoholic mother and a rather taboo relationship between them. He is also intelligent and knows how to fit into society. King captures him in such a way that I was getting paranoid. We don’t know who could be a ‘Brady’ in our daily lives… and that’s freaky.

Brady has seen them often when he’s driving the Mr Tastey truck. He waves to them and they wave back.

Everybody likes the ice cream man.

― Brady Hartfield, Mr. Mercedes

 

When King writes, even the environments come to life. Everything works together to build either the characters, the story or the tension. No word seems extraneous.

Also, one of the ways that King builds tension, which I also mention often, is his knack for foreshadowing. You know what’s coming up without it being a spoiler – and that adds tension to the building suspense.

 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to thrilling read, Mr. Mercedes rates itself up there with some of my favourites like Three by Ted Dekker and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Now I’m looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy. Because Stephen is King.

Without a head to stretch it, the red-lipped smile had become a sneer.

“Creepy as hell. You ever see that TV movie about the clown in the sewer?”

― Pete Huntley , Mr. Mercedes (Cheeky reference to IT)

Rating: A thrilling 4 out of 5


Did you notice that Bill Hodges and Brady Hartfield have the same initials? Just sayin’…

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Joyland – Review

Title: Joyland

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Book procurement: Bought a copy from Exclusive Books – Clearwater Mall.

Synopsis:

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever.

A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old—and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time—Joyland is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers. With all of the emotional impact of King masterpieces such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank RedemptionJoyland is at once a mystery, a horror story, and a bittersweet coming-of-age novel, one that will leave even the most hard-boiled reader profoundly moved.

 

Review:

First Thoughts

I read the synopsis on Goodreads and expected quite a horror from the King himself. The story itself was great but it didn’t give me nightmares, let alone tickle my horror bone. It’s much more of a mystery and coming-of-age novel than it is a horror. Which I guess is something I should be expecting and yet still fail to anticipate with each King novel I pick up.

Writing

It’s Stephen King so the writing is apt to be great and it is. Each word feels like it is necessary to the story and nothing was added for the sake of word count or flourish. The story starts off right off the bat with some insight to the main character Devin Jones. We are laid with the “coming-of-age” foundation and the oblivion of youth. As the story progresses this theme is revisited. The novel revolves around this a lot.

“When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.”
~Devin Jones – Stephen King, Joyland

Is it horror? Well no. There a elements of horror in the novel. Specifically the legend of a murder in the “Horror House”. Devin is drawn to it as we would expect him to be. Madame Fortuna, the resident fortune teller, is not always right about her predictions but Devin are accurate. And no this is not a spoiler. Stephen King is known for his unambiguous foreshadowing and he dives right into it very early on.

Lastly, King writes to immerse you into the world he’s created and I was most assuredly immersed. I knew Devin, Tom, Erin, Lane, Fortuna and the Joyland amusement park as though I were there, or perhaps watched a film. Descriptions are clear, vivid and inviting. The characters come to life in their actions, moods, and emotions which King captures oh so well.

The Story

The overall story is much more a “thriller with horror elements” than it is a “horror with thriller elements.” Devin Jones narrates the story as a much older man, who is looking back at his Summer of 1973 working at Joyland, an amusement park in North Carolina. We are introduced to his friends Erin and Tom and the energy of an amusement park that we know will one day fade into nothing but for now is alive enough to have “charisma” to it.

“Climb aboard, Jonesy. I’m going to send you up where the air is rare and the view is much more than fair.”
~ Lane Hardy – Stephen King, Joyland

Devin Jones hears a rumour that there is a ghost in the horror house of Joyland. It becomes a mystery that he wants to solve. On top of that Madam Fortuna tells him a very peculiar future which Devin brushes off as just a sham. But part of him thinks there may be something to it.

Throughout the novel we re-live Jones’ summer. We experience his love and loss, his fears and anger, his sadness and hope. These elements reinforce the “coming-of-age” aspect and intertwine really well with the overall story.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to fault Stephen King. Some tend to find his character and world-building descriptions to be overbearing. I think they are his unique style and what makes his novels work.

I was watching Bag of Bones on Netflix and when Mike Noonan (played by Pierce Brosnan) drives through TR90 at Dark Score Lake, Maine, and he looks at the familiar places, it missed the Stephen King charm. Where every familiar house he passes gets its own “history” which you know will play a part later on in the book.

That “charm” is what makes Joyland a great book rather than an okay book. It’s what separates King from other novels and why I’ll keep reading his books even when they don’t become what I expect.

“The last good time always comes, and when you see the darkness creeping toward you, you hold on to what was bright and good. You hold on for dear life.”
~Devin Jones – Stephen King, Joyland

Rating: An engaging 4 out of 5

Grey Magic by JT Lawrence – Review

Title: Grey Magic

Author: J.T. Lawrence

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Book procurement: Received a copy from the author for an honest review. Currently available on Amazon.

Synopsis:

No one appreciates the irony of her situation more than Raven Kane: she’s a burnt-out witch. Raven is a hip, hexing-and-texting sorceress – or at least, she used to be.

Now her ancient timber house is falling down around her, and the bank wants to repossess it. Nothing would make her cantankerous neighbour happier than seeing Raven and her messy menagerie out on the street. To add to her stress, the reckless Wicked Witches are causing mischief and it’s her job to reign them in. Worst of all is that her magic seems to be fading.

Just as everything seems to be too much to handle, there’s a knock on the (splintering) door. A not-unattractive man appears in her life: not to save her, as a fairytale would have you believe, but to arrest her for the murder of one of her clients. It wouldn’t be that bad for Raven, except that she knows she’s guilty.

Review:

First Thoughts

First and foremost, I thought this was a great book. It’s a fresh take on the whole “magic” and “witches” perspective. Grounds it in a natural and almost believable setting of earthly charms. Very apt for a South African novel considering the African cultural perspective on magic.

The entire story kept its center around the idea of “Grey Magic”, this idea that intention has nothing to do with consequence. Where something with the best of intentions can spiral towards a dark consequence.

There were a few inconsistencies or perhaps better to call them irregularities in the story, but they weren’t so major as to derail the story. They did break my sense of suspended disbelief though and it took a while to reign myself back in.

Writing

The writing flows well from beginning to end. It’s clear there was a good deal of research invested into the novel. Not only in execution of  the magic and spells, but the descriptions that captured places and events not rooted in our current age.

The clever use of technology and social media was also well written. If one can communicate with someone from across the world through Twitter, why not tweet spells and magical advice too. Perhaps we need more tech savvy-witches.

Raven, the main character, remains true to herself throughout the novel. Even as the story starts with Raven displaying sarcasm and wit, it’s all just building towards her self-discovery. The rest of the characters were also well captured. From detective Kruger, to Father Stephen Bishop, and the coven of witches with well-meaning agendas. I’d love to break each character down but then… I’d spoil the book for you. Some clever twists there.

I did feel as though their roles were to set Raven up as the main character. Thankfully their individual personalities made up for that.

Final Thoughts

Overall the novel is great. I really enjoyed the interconnected symbols appearing through the course of the novel. Ravens, fire, Fenrir and more. It was a beautiful amalgamation of fate, destiny and karma swirling about.

I was a bit disconcerted by the modern pitchfork wielding mob and the whole mob mentality, especially considering our time frame. Also the types of people who had shown up don’t seem like mob-mentality people, unless that’s just my ignorance speaking.

The criticism of the Christian ethos made me roll my eyes, as though every Christian is an ignorant fundamentalist with no concept of the bible (or God) they read. Picking and choosing context for their purposes. It’s not something I’ll get into now but it did annoy a bit.

Nonetheless it culminated perfectly, aligning all of the obstacles that had plagued Raven in the beginning to a perfect conclusion of karma, and the Grey Magic that spilled through lifetimes.

Rating: An enjoyable 3 out of 5


JT Lawrence

JT Lawrence is an author, playwright and bookdealer based in Parkhurst, Johannesburg. She is the mother of two small boys and lives in a house with a red front door.

She has written various plays for SAFM including ‘The Shelter’, ‘Unspilling the Milk’, ‘Every Breath You Take’, and serials, the most recent being the crime drama ‘Jigsaw’. Her short story collection ‘Sticky Fingers’ was broadcast in the last quarter of 2015, and will be available as a paperback and ebook in 2016.

Her first novel, ‘The Memory of Water’ (2011), is about a writer who would do anything for a story. Her 2015 offering, ‘Why You Were Taken’is a pre-dystopian sci-fi thriller starring a synaesthete, and takes place is a futuristic Jo’burg burdened by infertility and a water crisis. It was optioned by the national broadcaster, SABC, for a radio adaption.

She is currently working on her new novel, ‘Grey Magic’, slated for December 2016, about an eccentric modern-day witch, accused of murder, who must explore her past lives in order to keep her freedom — and find her way back to magic.

Website: Pulpbooks

Amazon: J.T. Lawrence

Twitter: @pulpbooks

Facebook: facebook.com/JanitaTLawrence

Instagram: pulp_junkie


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The Warren by Brian Evenson – Review

Title: The Warren

Author: Brian Evenson

Genre: Science Fiction

Book procurement: Received a copy from Tor.com for Gamecca Magazine Vol 8 Issue 88.

Synopsis:

X doesn’t have a name. He thought he had one—or many—but that might be the result of the failing memories of the personalities imprinted within him. Or maybe he really is called X.

He’s also not as human as he believes himself to be.

But when he discovers the existence of another—above ground, outside the protection of the Warren—X must learn what it means to be human, or face the destruction of their two species.

Review:

First Thoughts

X, if that is his name, is a but a single person. Within him lies the imprinted personalities of others before him, salvaged minds seeking to keep knowledge within the last remaining human. However, X begins to question his humanity when he discovers another on the surface of what he calls, the Warren. Things begin to spin out of control as the two wrestle with an existential question: what makes one human.

I won’t say this was an easy read. Sometimes confusing. Sometimes annoying. Most importantly, it really did what it’s supposed to do: make us question the concept of what makes us human.

Writing

The Warren is a fascinating science fiction thriller, a dive into the mind of a man with multiple-personas within him. Only they aren’t just personas, bu the minds of people who came before X. Imprinting what remained of their minds into the remaining living being. The really creepy part was when X described the opening of eyes within his mind, as the individuals grew coherent of the fact that they too are fragmented minds living within another conscious mind. *shivers

Unable to comprehend the individuals within, X begins to seek out questions regarding his existence in the Warren. The personalities don’t share much and his only other source of knowledge is Monitor, a computer of some sort. It carries some of the information from before, but not enough to make a lot of sense to the questions that X asks. Questions that plague his existence. The most pertinent question, especially when X finds another human on the surface of the Warren, is: what makes someone human.

In light of this, you can imagine the conversations that occur. Also, the surface above the Warren is poisonous to all who stand in its air, and no one who has left has come back. Only there’s no way to know why it’s so bad, and why this person on the surface even exists. The only way to survive is to look for resources and continue your existence yet even resources have become scarce.

Not only that but imagine being the only living person with just a computer as your companion, trying to figure out who or what you are, and who the other person could possibly be. Would you risk the possibility of death to find out? Or continue in the routine of solitude and scouring where you can for resources.

Final Thoughts

Brian Evenson captures the isolation and alienation really well. One can almost imagine the paranoia and anxiety of solitude and confusion. Of having multiple minds just sitting in the darkness of your mind. More importantly, of trying to understand the world around you when there’s nothing to truly help. Except for the one thing you know you shouldn’t… exploring the surface.

Rating: A borderline 3 out of 5


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Greedy Pigs by Matt Wallace – Review

Title: Greedy Pigs (Sin du Jour #5)

Author: Matt Wallace

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Book procurement: Received a copy from Tor.com for Gamecca Magazine Vol 8 Issue 94.

Synopsis:

The Sin du Jour crew caters to the Shadow Government in Greedy Pigs, Matt Wallace’s fifth Sin du Jour Affair

I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.

Politics is a dirty game. When the team at Sin du Jour accidentally caters a meal for the President of the United States and his entourage, they discover a conspiracy that has been in place since before living memory. Meanwhile, the Shadow Government that oversees the co-existence of the natural and supernatural worlds is under threat from the most unlikely of sources.

It s up to one member of the Sin du Jour staff to prevent war on an unimaginable scale.

Between courses, naturally.

Review:

First Thoughts

 

First I just want to say I love the very concept of chefs and cooks who cater to both humans and supernatural entities. A clandestine operation in the most unexpected setting.

Sin Du Jour is definitely one of my favourite series, it just unfortunate how each novella is so short, and yet it is that very fact that makes the stories work.

This fifth book in the Sin Du Jour series is yet another great piece of writing from the talented Matt Wallace. He keeps the drama and intrigue going with just enough wit to lighten the load while getting the point across. Character growth. Excellent setting. Perfect cliff hanger ending. Looking forward to the next book.

 

Writing

The writing is as crisp and humourous as usual, with a weighty, earnest realism to it. Events from Idle Ingredients continue to escalate when politics came in to play and a massive war creeps to the fore. The staff members are still reeling from the last demonic entity that entrapped them, and the consequences of their actions haunt them.

What I enjoyed most about the writing, is how well the characters are captured. There was growth to the main female character Lena, and a foreshadowing of what is to come. Nikki brings a different perspective to the second female character the novel follows. Both are strong and as similar as they are different. I like both.

The roster of characters balances out well and adds a dynamic experience to reading the novel. We don’t see the whole team this time around, but Bronc the main chef and Darren are suffering more after the last encounter. How all of this will proceed opens up a ton of speculation. And let’s not talk about the big baddie who remains in shadow yet oozes an ominous presence throughout the books.

A couple of recognizable celebrities make cameos, and Matt Wallace doesn’t need to use names to capture their essence. You’ll know immediately when you read them. It’s clever. It’s sneaky. It’s great!

Final Thoughts

Perhaps I was a bit biased when I read the book, considering how well I enjoyed it. I can’t say if I did found anything wrong with the pace, the writing or the characters. I don’t know when the next book will be available, but I hope I get a chance to read that too.

Rating: A gratifying 4 out of 5


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