Review: The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (August 12, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978-0385538152
  • Source: Publisher (egalley)

After an unknown cousin commits suicide, twenty-something A. finds himself owner of a beautiful, yet slightly ominous, estate in Point Bless, Virginia.  Questions surround his cousin’s death; he jumped out of the same 3-story bedroom that his father had before.

Joined by his mute companion, Niamh, A. arrives in Virginia to find that Axton House is riddled with mystery. Locals declare that it is haunted, a fact that is soon confirmed. Employing the use of surveillance devices, including voice recorders and video cameras, A. and Niamh attempt to track down the root of the secrets of Axton House.

Told in a series of journal entries, security tape transcripts and newspaper articles, the author quickly reveals all is not as it seems, a characteristic readers will soon realize a well. What appears to be a chilling ghost story is not; while it has some supernatural elements, at its very core The Supernatural Enhancements is more of a thriller or mystery.  The identity of the entity that roams the great home is quickly determined, leaving the focus of the storyline on the other mysteries and secrets that remain.  Mentions of a annual meeting of a secret society at the home send A. and Niamh on an intense hunt to find the answers to the dozens of questions before them.

Despite being set in present day, the setting and overall tone of the story gives this novel a Gothic feel. Had it not been for the technology Niamh and A. use to capture evidence, it would be easy for readers to assume this story to be set at the turn of the century.

Although the format of this novel prevents readers from connecting with the main characters, the captivating storyline is guaranteed to capture the attention of a wide variety of readers. A stunning and surprising ending wraps up this truly fun and remarkable novel. Highly recommended.

 

Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (Audiobook)

  • Listening Length: 16 hours and 23 minutes
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (April 8, 2014)
  • Source: Publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox)

The death of print is eminent. Books, magazines and newspapers have been replaced by Memes, handheld devices that are not only communication tools but sensitive enough to sense our every want. It is also connected to a virtual marketplace called the Word Exchange that allows people to create and sell language.

Anana Johnson and her father, Doug, work at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL). Doug’s passion has always been the written word, refusing to embrace technology. His latest project is the last print edition of the dictionary to publish.  His passion is so great that, when he disappears, Anana is immediately concerned. The only evidence Doug leaves behind is a code word he and Anana would use when one another was in danger: Alice. As Anana begins her hunt for her father, a “word flu” has begun to devastate the population.  This illness forces people to speak in gibberish, spreading quickly with devastating results. When her closest ally in her search, her colleague Bart, becomes infected, Anana is even more determined to locate her father, certain that locating him will provide the answers to her unending questions.

The Word Exchange is a brilliantly executed cautionary tale about the dangers of technology. Set in the not-too-distant future, Graedon has created a world in which everyone is connected, virtually, long-ago abandoning the very thing we should hold near and dear to our hearts: the written word. Citizens were repeatedly warned of the potential consequences of such technology, yet these warnings went ignored. The conveniences of such devices far outweighed any consequences.  The fate of humankind is now at risk, the damage irreparable.

Alternating in points of view, readers get a glimpse of what transpires through the eyes of Anana and Bart. As Bart declines due to illness, his slips in language are made obvious in his dialogue. Listening to the audiobook, at first I assumed the narrator had misspoken, quickly realizing this was an intended point of confusion, further detailing the impact of the word flu.

This novel was recommended to me after I read and adored The Lexicon by Max Berry. Both books are tremendous feats of the written language that will force readers to reflect upon the very thing that ties us all together: language.  Devastating in its plausibility, there is no doubt that readers will contemplate putting away their electronic devices, stepping away from the computer, in favor of embracing the print word.

A note on the audio production:
This title was narrated by Tavia Gilbert and Paul Michael Garcia.  Overall, this was an outstanding audio performance. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Garcia to intentionally slip up in word usage, using completely incorrect, or in some cases, gibberish words, to replace normal speech.

That said, there was something in the quality of the audio recording that irritated me. At times, it seemed as though excerpts of the book were edited in for the tone and quality of the narrator’s voice shifted into an almost hollow sounding tone, as if they were speaking from a hole or through a long tube. So obvious, this shift in quality, it would take me a few seconds to recover and become once again attentive to the narration.

At first, I thought perhaps this was just me, but when I played segments for others they experience this shift as well. So, while the narrators did an an outstanding job, something in the editing of the overall performance elicited a less than stellar listening experience. My personal recommendation would be to skp the audio, embrace the print version of this novel instead.

Bottom line: The Word Exchange is a must read for fans of the written word. Thought-provoking and lasting in message. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (July 8, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978-0385534833
  • Source: Publisher (egalley)

Emily Shepard is a sixteen year-old only child of parents who work at a nuclear plant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. She has her fair share of struggles: her parents have been alcoholics most of her life.  This isn’t a secret; everyone knows of Emily’s plight. When a meltdown at the nuclear plant occurs, her father, the chief administrator, is blamed. Both he and Emily’s mother, a communications director, are declared missing after the meltdown, assumed dead.

Emily is certain that others will blame her for her parents’ actions. Lives have been lost, property destroyed, a community devastated all at her parents’ hands. Rather than seeking refuge and safety with others, she lives on the streets, surviving by selling her body. She has a passion for Emily Dickinson novels, and takes the name of one of Dickinson’s friends, Abby Bliss, as her own.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is told from Emily’s standpoint. This isn’t your typical post-disaster novel, for rather than following the saga post-disaster, readers follow Emily through her journey through self-destruction and survival.  She alternates between past and present, the reader playing witness to two seemingly very different characters.  One Emily is strong, caring, and considerate. The other, more destructive Emily, cuts herself, abuses drugs, and has no qualms in giving up her body in order to survive.

Emily’s character, while not admirable at all, is quite dynamic.  Not only has she survived the loss of her parents and family dog, but every scrap of normalcy. She is surrounded by destruction and devastation, reflecting on the calm, yet stark beauty of Dickinson poems to sustain her.  Her choices aren’t always the best, yet despite any evidence pointing toward self-destruction, Emily wants to live. On her own terms, after finding her own answers, she does want to live. She craves a normal life and forgiveness for all the damage her parents have done.

I know I’m not shocking anyone when I mention the talent of Chris Bohjalian. A fan of all of his sixteen novels, I know when I pick up on of Chris’s books that I’m going to be surrendering my heart and soul to that book. This is certainly the case with Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.  Bohjalian captures Emily with such eloquence that it haunts me. Obvious suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Emily not only captures the reaction of one teen girl in this particular incident, but of the response of anyone after a devastating incident.

For this reason, an obvious one in my belief, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is, in a large part, a dark and difficult book to read.  Yet this is just another piece of evidence of Bohjalian’s brilliant and talented writing. He’s not going to sugar-coat real life, loss and devastation. He expresses it realistically, not covering it with a shroud of happiness and hope.  That’s not to say that this is a novel devoid of hope; for at the end of Emily’s difficult journey readers are granted a feeling of hope, of a future.

The feeling I experienced while reading this novel were bittersweet. The darkness I felt was reminiscent of feelings experienced after many of the devastating acts that have befallen our country, like 9/11 and others. This is Bohjalian’s intent…the title has direct ties to a very recent horror our country faced. I won’t give it away, for that revelation is a turning point that each reader must experience themselves.

While the main character of this novel is a teen girl, I would in no way classify this as a young adult novel. The tone, language, etc. are definitely that of an adult novel. That’s not to say that more mature teens should avoid this, but with the understanding there are some rather mature scenes and language throughout the book.

It goes without saying that I highly, highly recommend this book. It is one with a lasting message, one that will haunt you long after you finish the last pages. You’ll close the book and want to recommended it to someone, just so you can have the shared experience in discussing it. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a book you will hear a lot about this summer, one that you should not miss.

Review: Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0385537093
  • Source: Publisher

In Robopocalypse, humankind was at war with robots. The world as we know it is destroyed, a pathetic wreckage of what once existed. Once Archos, a “super” robot is destroyed, civilization has the potential to recover. . .or so they think.

Copies of Archos were spread far and wide and are now slowly awakening. Unfortunately, they are at odds at one another, the most vocal and terrifying being Arayt Shah. Focused on creating a fighting force strong enough to survive the “True War,” one fought between highly intelligent machines, Arayt Shah is quickly proving to be a robot to be reckoned with!

In addition the characters who survived the first wave of attacks, several new and innovative characters join the motley cast of characters. A mash up that completely blew my science fiction/horror-loving mind was a human/robot hybrid, in which the majority of the human dies, replaced with a stronger, deadlier robotic version. Unexpectedly, however, the human identity remains, cognizant of the world around him/her. Think of it as a self-aware robotic zombie.

This new war is far more deadly than the previous. Alliances are destroyed.  With a host of technical “mutations,” the line that separates human from robot is far more vague and unclear.

Chapters are developed as narratives of the key players in this latest battle, including humans, modified humans, freeborn robots, and the humans infected with robotic parasites.  While the narratives are many, Wilson excels at creating a unique and memorable voice for each “individual”.

As noted above, this is the sequel to Robopocalypse, one of my favorite books of 2011. While Wilson does a pretty decent job of filling in details about each character’s back story using each characters own narrative, I honestly believe you should read the first in order to get a good understanding of what happened before and how/why the characters  have evolved into their current state of existence.

The great thing about these books is they are just as applicable for fans of general fiction as they are to science fiction fans. They require readers to contemplate the implications/possibilities for something like this to happen and to reevaluate the technology that we see and use every day. Bottom line: Robogenesis is just further proof of the genius and creative mind of Daniel H. Wilson. Highly recommended.

Review: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (February 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0385538499
  • Source: Publisher

West Hall, Vermont has a centuries-old history of strange disappearances and activity tracked back to old, family legends.  The most infamous is that of Sara Harrison Shea, found dead shortly after her daughter Gertie’s death. The only witness to her death was her husband, so stunned by what transpired that could not speak, taking his own life soon after.

Fast forward to present day: Ruthie, her mother Alice and her younger sister Fawn now live in Sara’s farmhouse. They’ve always lived a secluded life, Alice warning her daughters to stay clear of anyone who walks out of the forest. One morning, Ruthie awakes to find her mother missing. As she scrambles to search for a cause for the disappearance, she is startled to find the diary of Sara Harrison Shea in one of her mother’s many hiding places in the house.  Just as she begins to retrace Sara’s past, she crosses paths with another woman desperate to find answers. The fate of many are in her hands, for she must find a way to prevent the past from repeating itself…in the most horrific of ways.

Each time I read one of McMahon’s novels, I swear that it’s my favorite so far. In each case I’m floored when she writes yet another novel that exceeds my expectations. The Winter People is such a novel. I’m a long time fan of the dark and mysterious, of horror and the supernatural. The Winter People is everything I could have ever hoped for in a novel. Its slow, methodical pacing had me desperate to know more, using every free and waking moment to read just a few more pages.  The ties to old and ancient folklore and the dark and desolate setting compound into a truly outstanding read.

Additionally, the loss the characters experience is genuine. My heart ached, I shed tears, their pain coming alive before me.  I wanted to console them, offer my sympathy for the character building is so well done that the characters became more than just an aspect of a novel but a genuine vessel for my sympathy.  Add on McMahon’s outstandingly skilled writing and you have the most perfect of novels, in my mind.  This will be a novel I will rave about (and likely convince my book club to read!) for it has so much to offer, so much to take away. Highly, highly recommended.

Visit McMahon’s web site and read about the backstory for this novel. Chilling!

Review: Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

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  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (July 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0385535783
  • Source: Publisher

Twenty years ago, sixteen-year-old Tara Martin disappeared from her small English town.  Her boyfriend Richie, whom just also happened to be her brother Peter’s best friend, was the prime suspect. Little evidence of any crime was found and for the past two decades, Richie has walked the streets a free man, although deemed guilty by the townspeople. Peter is now married with young children of his own. Unable to overcome the accusations made against his best friend, they haven’t spoken in decades.

One Christmas morning, the Martin family is shocked to find Tara standing in the doorway. Not the adult-form of Tara, but instead appearing just as she did when she disappeared. Her explanation is haunting: she was abducted by a man, a fairy, and escorted to another world in which time passes at a slower rate. In her mind, she’s only been missing for six months. Scrambling for explanations, Peter takes his sister to an assortment of doctors for a battery of tests to determine her health…and definite age. One of the doctor’s Tara visits is a psychologist, Vivian Underwood, one of the few people with which Tara will share details of her experiences.Underwood believes Tara is suppressing memories to difficult to face, suffering a combination of amnesia and delusion.

Her family can’t help but wonder what really happened. They tip-toe around her, not really facing and accepting what has transpired. Her parents are in denial and Peter struggles to find a logical explanation for what has happened. The only individual who seems to embrace Tara for who she is presently is Richie. Her reappearance has allowed him to face medical issues he’s been facing for years. All in all, Tara’s return, despite all the questions, is a gift to those around her. In Tara’s case, however, her past isn’t what is in question to her personally but instead her future…and just where she intends to spend it.

Told from varying viewpoints, readers are allowed to experience what transpires from a number of key characters, each of their stories ranging in credibility. We learn a great deal about each of the main characters through their actions. Characters that may seem minor to the storyline surprise readers when their value and impact to the storyline is discovered. Joyce uses a great deal of imagery and folklore in this novel, enveloping the reader in the mysterious fairy world in which Tara was held captive. Known for his talent at portraying reality with a tinge of fantasy, Joyce truly embraces all of the elements of fantasy, and in a sense, magical realism as well. Bottom line, Some Kind of Fairy Tale is not merely a novel but an experience in and of itself, destined to gain the interest of fans from a number of genres. Highly recommended.

 

Review: Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (June 5, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0385535155
  • Source: Publisher (via Edelweiss)

In a near-future world, the medical profession has found a treatment for various diseases/ailments: brain implants. These implants, referred to as amps cures such diseases as epilepsy and allows individuals who have lost limbs due to various injuries to walk again as well as treat those with mental impairments. What starts out as a medical treatment expands and soon policeman and the military are being armed with amps, giving them super-human strength and abilities. Perfectly healthy individuals are implanted with the device, giving them superior physical and mental abilities. Soon, regular people not implanted with the device are being cheated out of educational opportunities by amps with superior brain power. Unaltered athletes are forced to compete against amps with extreme physical capabilities.

Amped begins with a ruling by the Supreme Court revoking all legal protections from Amps, those individuals implanted with the device. Despite the fact that many of these “amps” are normal people who are being treated for some medical impairment, an extremely conservative politician begins to manipulate the public, creating a fear of those with the device.

Owen Gray is one of these individuals. His father was the designer of the implanted chips. As a young adult, Owen sustained a severe head injury which resulted in horrendous seizures. A chip was implanted to control the seizures…or so Owen thought. In reality, the damage his brain received was so severe that he would not have lived without it. The chip implanted was not standard issue but one his father obtained from the military. As the country around him quickly descends into a military state, Owen has now become one of the country’s most wanted men.

Forced to leave his life behind him, Owen hunts down the man originally behind this rogue group of soldiers, a sort of special forces that was ordered to disband due to the side effects caused by the implanted amps.  He uncovers Eden, the place where all the research into these implanted chips began. In his journey, he learns about the power that has remained dormant in his brain all these years. Owen is just your average schoolteacher, or so he thought. In order to save the lives of thousands of modified human beings, Owen must learn how to control his powers and use them for the good of the nation.

Scattered throughout the novel are legal documents, providing the reader with an evolution of the government’s increased response to public outcry. In addition to Owen’s own observations, these legal documents provide the reader with evidence of the rapid decline of society.

Amped , like Wilson’s previous book, Robopocalypse, has a great deal of social commentary embedded in the text. Issues such as the value of a person, what makes a person, etc. are heavy to this storyline. These individuals have lost all legal rights and are eventually rounded up into camps for their “protection.” Legalized racism runs rampant, high-level politicians suggesting that these “amps” have lost what makes them human and therefore should not be treated as humans. “Regs,”those individuals that have not been implanted, brutalizing and killing amps without fear of prosecution.

This social commentary, compounded with a truly reliable main character that any reader can relate to, all add up to a truly impressive novel. Highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

This week’s Frightful Friday read is Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson:

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (June 7, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0385533853
  • Source: Publisher
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    People should know that, at first, the enemy looked like everyday stuff: cars, buildings, phones. Then later, when they started designing themselves, Rob looked familiar but distorted, like people and animals from some other universe, built by some other god.

    In a not too distant future, the world is at war with robots. By this time, human beings have manipulated robots to suit their needs: they are now servants in our homes, maintain & run smart buildings, control the steering in cars. But one day, they begin to think on their own. 

    It begins when Archos, a “super” robot contained within a lab, is awakened by a scientist, Nicholas Wasserman.  This is Wasserman’s fourteenth attempt to awaken Archos; each time he does so, Archos states that he is the rarest of miracles.  To preserve Earth, he must destroy mankind. Due to an oversight on Wasserman’s part, Archos is able to permeate the constraints of the lab and goes live. Led by Archos, the “leader” of the robot uprising, robots, also known as “Robs”, begin communicating.  They rise up and join forces to annihilate human kind. The uprisal is small at first, robots not following orders, smart toys coming to life, attacking their human “masters.”  At Zero hour, they all attack. Cars begin attacking people.  Planes fall from the sky.

    All over the country, small bands of survivors rise up and destroy their cities in order to save them.  Robs are unable to climb over or through demolished buildings or debris, so they begin blowing up buildings, starting fires, etc.  However, it is the actions of one little girl with a unique “talent” that ultimately saves the world.

    The actual possibility that something similar to this could happen really adds to the terror the book elicits.  Think of all the computers we use or have access to on a regular basis.  The computer you are reading this review from, the iPhone you make your calls on.  The GPS embedded in the dashboard of your car.  Imagine of all of those things joined forces, out to destroy the human race? Wilson’s expertise in robotics really creates a level of believability in what would initially appear to be impossible.

    At the surface, Robopocalypse may appear like any other “robots take over the world” scenario. However, Wilson’s attempt at this reoccurring story is unique.  The book is broken up into testimonies of victims of the attack; some survive, others do not.  The characters are genuine, the reader begins to have hope for their survival. Ultimately, while it is a story of a robot apocalypse, it is also a story of human survival, hope, and perseverance.

    Fans of science fiction, horror, sci-fi and action will be sure to enjoy this impressive novel. Highly recommended.

    Review: A Dark Matter by Peter Straub

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    • Hardcover: 416 pages
    • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (February 9, 2010)
    • ISBN-10: 038551638X
    • Source: Publisher

    The year is 1966 in Madison, WI.  Four high school students Hootie Bly, Dilly Olson, Jason Boatman, and Eel Truax, become enamored by Spencer Mallon, a charismatic guru who promises to introduce them to a “higher reality.”  During an occult ritual, something goes horribly wrong, killing one teen.  The four friends are forever changed, each dealt with this horrid day in a different way.  Hootie was taken to a mental institution.  His only means of communication is quoting lines from Hawthorne’s A Scarlet Letter. Eel marries Lee Hayward, her high school sweetheart, but she eventually loses her sight. Boatman, once a shoplifter, now runs his own theft prevention company. Dilly Olson never really got over the entire situation.  Decades later the group comes back together when Hayward decides to write a non-fictional account of that afternoon.  Each learns that their own personal account wasn’t as accurate as they believed. This reunion is the first time they have had the opportunity to share their experiences with one another. Pieces of the puzzle are finally starting to come together to form a large, broad picture.

    Once again, Straub does an outstanding job.   A Dark Matter is purely character-driven; the book is broken up into several parts, each devoted to detailing the account of each of the main characters. Readers are transported thirty years in a matter of pages. I was impressed at how smoothly this transformation flowed. There is potential for the novels with character-driven storylines, specifically ones with as many characters as A Dark Matter, to seem drawn-out and exaggerated.  I did not feel that in this case, for I do not think the overall “feel” of the novel would have carried through had it not been for the varying and differing accounts of each of the characters.

    Those demanding a defined and definite resolution might be disappointed, however I think this aspect is what makes this such an amazing book. I takes an extremely talented writer to do what Straub has done with this one: giving detailed explanations of one situation from various standpoints, yet still leaving the actual event quite vague. Highly, highly recommended book.

    Be sure to check back later for my interview with Peter Straub, the Master of Horror! Until then, check out the book trailer:

    Review: The Rapture by Liz Jensen

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  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (August 11, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 0385528213
  • Source: Publisher
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    Sixteen-year-old Bethany Krall is a patient at Oxsmith Adolescent Secure Psychiatric Hospital.  She was committed two years ago after brutally murdering her mother.  Bethany’s last psychologist was forced to take a mysterious health-related leave of absence.  She has been reassigned to Gabrielle Fox, a wheelchair-bound art therapist.

    Bethany claims to have the ability to predict natural disasters.  These visions occur immediately following electo-convulsive therapy.  Bethany’s claims have been ignored up until now.  Gabrielle begins to make note of some of the predictions and when a few come true, she feels the need to report it to someone.  When Bethany begins seeing visions of “the end”, Gabrielle knows she has little time to act.

    Gabrielle meets Frazer Melville, renowned physicist, and mentions Bethany’s “gift” to him.  She is desperate to understand the likelihood of such natural disasters occuring.  At first, like the others, Frazer is skeptical.  But a devastating disaster occurs and he can’t help but be convinced.   In a strange turn of events, Gabrielle and Frazer start a romantic relationship. 

    Gabrielle and Frazer are eventually able to convince experts of Bethany’s ability.  They form a team and quickly determine the impending cause of the end, a natural disaster so catastrophic it will have world-wide repercussions.  But will they be able to stop it? And if they can’t,  how can they save themselves?

    Jensen does an outstanding job with this apocalyptic thriller. Bethany’s character is so brute and abusive,  yet I felt sympathy for her.  She is obviously unable to control her “power” and is forced to be a victim to her “disease.”  Gabrielle certainly has her own demons to contend with.  She’s still healing, physically and mentally, from the car-accident that took away her mobility.  As the first person narrator, Gabrielle’s character is the one with the most depth.

    My only complaint would be the tempo of the book.  There was a bit of a lull in the middle of the book and I’m afraid this may dissuade some readers from completing it.  The middle segment of the book isn’t fluff, though.  It provides the reader with information that adds definition to each of the characters and delves a bit more into Bethany’s history. The ending does not dissappoint and definitely suggests a sequel.

    I should also note that while the title refers to a Christian/Biblical theme, I would not label this as Christian fiction.  Religion is definitely an underlying theme but is not at all pervasive.

    Also be warned that this book will haunt you for some time. It is a cautionary tale about what could happen to civilization if we are not careful about how we treat our planet. I literally could not get this book out of my mind after completing it.  I dreamed about it, I think of it several times throughout the day.  So, I do suggest that you pick up and read it, but be prepared for a lasting relationship!