October 30, 2014

Review: The Brothers Cabal (and giveaway)

The Fear Institute Book four of the Johannes Cabal series
By Jonathon L. Howard
Available now from Thomas Dunne Books (Macmillan)
Review copy
Read my review of The Fear Institute

THE FEAR INSTITUTE ended with the surprising revelation that Horst Cabal was once again alive.  (In a sense, given that he is once again risen as a vampire, and technically he's just undead again.)  For the first two thirds of THE BROTHERS CABAL, the focus is on Horst's resurrection and his adventures before reuniting with Johannes.

While I missed Johannes' dry impatience, I did relish getting the chance to see this world through a different point of view.  Horst is more social and affable, if inhuman in his own way.  He certainly makes friends and allies easier, including monster hunters and a barnstormer circus.  Once more Leonie Barrow doesn't make an appearance, but a wide range of female characters are introduced.  It's an aspect I appreciated.

The plot starts simply, with a supernatural society that wants to take over the world.  There is a long chase, and a big battle, but it's just big set pieces illuminating that Johannes Cabal's enemies are starting to work together for a bit of revenge.  I liked that there turned out to be a personal motive behind everything and that the bad guys were much smarter than they first appeared.

Some of the action was a bit hard to follow.  There are a lot of people with different powers on the scene, which means sometimes there are giant, fierce bugs with little explanation of how that happened.  The humor, however, is more than intact.  I can turn to almost any page and find a gem that made me laugh.  Let me try it right now.

"Does my little brother have a crush?"
Cabal started to deny it, but then instead blushed a little, and a small, perhaps even shy smile appeared on his own face.  He leaned towards Horst and said in a lowered voice, "She told me where to find the fifth volume of Darian's Ocusculus." - ARC, pg. 58-9

The humor is best whenever Horst and Johannes banter with each other, but really, many of Jonathon L. Howard's characters give good banter.  Thanks to the multitude of new characters and POV change, THE BROTHERS CABAL is fairly welcoming to new comers.  The climax slightly less so, although the old connections between the characters are explained.

This is one of my favorite series, and I dread the wait for the next book. 
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October 29, 2014

Review: The Heart Does Not Grow Back (and Giveaway!)

The Heart Does Not Grow Back By Fred Venturini
Available November 4 from Picador (Macmillan)
Review copy

(A version was previously published as THE SAMARITAN by Blank Slate Press.)

Dale Sampson, through a fortuitous game of Blind Man's Bluff becomes Mack Tucker's best friend.  Before that, Dale was a lonely, ignored boy.  But together, he and Mack have big dreams.  That is, until a horrific tragedy at the end of their junior year.  A tragedy that leads to Dale discovering that he can regenerate.

THE HEART DOES NOT GROW BACK begins much like a YA novel, full of young love and sports triumph.  It becomes something much more bleak, although it always retains a dark humor and eventually finds hope.  Dale is a broken, pitiable man, and I often just wanted for him to get a good therapist.  At the same time, even at his lowest point, he retained the ability to think and plan that made him once so promising.

Over the course of its pages, THE HEART DOES NOT GROW BACK takes on ethics, reality television, and domestic abuse.  But its heart is always the characters, who are all dealing with trauma in their own ways. 

I often disliked Dale.  In fact, none of the characters are written to be particularly likeable.  They're deeply flawed people.  As Dale is the protagonist, we get to know him in particular.  He's obsessive about women, has a bit of a savior complex, and is pretty confrontational.  It works because author Fred Venturini understands that these things are flaws and that Dale needs to work on them.

THE HEART DOES NOT GROW BACK is an intense reading experience.  As Dale cuts away more and more of himself, I feared the promise of the title coming true.  From coming-of-age tale, to reality TV satire and slice-of-life superhero, to nailbiter, this is a memorable book.

I have one copy to giveaway to someone with a US or Canada mailing address.

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October 28, 2014

Redeemed: Excerpt and Giveaway

Redeemed Today I have an excerpt from REDEEMED to share with you.  This is the twelfth and final House of Night novel by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.

To celebrate the launch of REDEEMED, P.C. and Kristin Cast teamed up with some great companies, like Sinful Colors, 21 Drops, Jamberry, Chrislie, Baby Blue Designs, and For Strange Women to put together “Goddess Gifts” filled with goodies that represent main characters in the books.

--

Excerpt #1 

…Neferet beamed a smile at her Dark minions that was both exquisitely beautiful and terrifying. “I have an answer to our dilemma, children! The cage we created to hold Redbird was a weak, pathetic attempt at imprisonment. I have learned so much since that night. I have gained so much power—we have gained so much power. We will not cage people, as if I am a gaoler instead of a goddess. My children, we are going to blanket the very walls of my Temple with your magickal, unbreachable threads so that my new supplicants will be able to worship me unhindered. And that will only be the beginning. As I absorb more and more power, why not encase the entire city? I know it now—I know my destiny. I begin my reign as Goddess of Darkness by making Tulsa my Olympus! Only this is not a weak myth passed down as trite stories from schoolchildren to schoolchildren. This will be reality—a Dark Otherworld come to earth! And in my Dark Otherworld, there will be no innocents being abused by predators. All will be under my protection. I hold their fates in my hands—they have only to look to my welfare to be fulfilled. Ah, how they will worship me!”

Around her, the tendrils writhed in response to her excitement. She smiled and stroked those nearest to her. “Yes, yes, I know. It will be glorious!”


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October 27, 2014

Review: Stitching Snow

Stitching Snow By R.C. Lewis
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
Review copy

It will be of little surprise to anyone that I jumped on the chance to read a sci-fi retelling of Snow White.  STITCHING SNOW opens on the remote mining planet of Thanda, where young Essie makes her living as a mechanic and cage fighter.  It's definitely not the traditional Snow White beginning.

I really enjoyed getting to see the rhythm of Essie's life.  She's clever, tough, and resilient.  She's managed to keep herself safe (and profitable) in a place with few women, much less single women.  Then, a spaceship crashes and brings Dane into her life.  I'm of mixed feelings about Dane.  Essie did need someone to remind her that there was a world beyond Thanda, and I found their relationship built believably, and even included some natural setbacks.  But the opening goes to such lengths to establish Essie as a tough, worthy opponent when fighting.  Yet, of course, Dane is infinitely better than her and she has to learn from him.

After Essie repairs Dane's ship, events lead them to travel to the planets of the galaxy.  I was fascinated by the different economies, politics, and ways of life, but felt that there wasn't enough time to devote to each.  It definitely meant that the climax was rushed and mostly devoid of emotional turmoil.  There was one particularly nasty late-game reveal that had little impact because there were no previous signs of it.  I liked Essie and Dane, but by the end they felt flat, just going through the predictable motions.

I think STITCHING SNOW had a fascinating setup and a good sense of humor.  Essie's droids, which take the place of the dwarves, are real highlights.  But somewhere everything takes a turn for the generic.  This is a find tale for fairytale fans, but nothing truly exciting.  It is a good choice for readers waiting for the next book in the Lunar Chronicles.

October 24, 2014

Review: (Don't You) Forget About Me

(Don't You) Forget About Me By Kate Karyus Quinn
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Kate Karyus Quinn's sophomore novel is an unsettling fable about a town called Gardnerville, where no one dies of illness but strange things happen, getting worse every fourth year.  Last fourth year, Skylar's older sister Piper killed sixteen other teenagers in revenge for getting dumped.  Now, it is a fourth year again.

Skylar is one of the last of the Gardners, the founding family.  Her greatest pursuit is the forget-me-nots, a drug that leaves her forgetful.  But Skylar needs to remember if she's going to prevent this year's tragedy.  She needs to remember her sister, who no one else in the town wants to remember.  She needs to remember her family's shadowy history.  She needs to remember who she can trust.

(DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME is an interesting beast.  Every other chapter is a tape from Skylar's childhood, recording her memories with Piper from various points in their lives.  The present chapters cut in and out, sometimes coming back to a Skylar who doesn't remember what happened last chapter -- or even what happened between chapters.  And the story just gets stranger the more Gardnerville reveals its secrets.

I liked the romance between Skylar and Foote, who has is own secrets.  It's very subtle, which is what saves it from its predictability.  The rest of the novel is too surreal for a rote romance.

If you're looking for a disorienting read that requires you to put together the pieces, I suggest giving (DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME a try.  It's a little bit fairy tale, a little bit magical realism, and a lot bizarre.  It's certainly a memorable reading experience.

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