Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Look Into My Eyyyyeees
Frankly I can take or leave this cover, it’s a fuzzy grey face like shape. There’s not a whole lot more I say about it. Except it’s maybe the first cover that wasn’t detrimentally affected by being viewed on my kindle. There you go, a positive!

It's The End Of The World As We Know It
Alex has decided to check out of the everyday grind, taking her beat up car, camping gear and a few prized possessions she leaves her Aunt without a word and heads for the wilderness for what maybe the last time. Having made the decision to forgo any further treatment, Alex is vividly aware that the tumour in her brain can take her away at any moment, just like it did her sense of smell. And before that happens she plans to do one last thing for her deceased parents. However her plans are drastically derailed when a wave of excruciating pressure and madness suddenly hits Alex and every living thing around her. Then just as suddenly, it lifts, leaving Alex in a world where technology has died, where the moon is a hazy green and where nearly everybody else is dead. And most of those that survived are suddenly craving meat of a different kind, the two legged variety. Now Alex along with Ellie, an eight year old orphan, and Tom, a solider on leave, are trying to find out what happened, but first they'll need to survive it.

Funk To Funky
It seems you can’t swing an undead cat these days without hitting a book, movie, game or comic featuring zombies in some way. Most are obviously pretty shoddy cash ins on the never ending popularity of these shuffling monsters, but there are a golden few that really take the mythos and the terror of the zombie and use it so effectively that you forget the old slow-moving-brain-eating-infected-bitey-faced rules and just fall into the story with relish. Ashes is one such story.

I was completely sucked in from the first page and I just know it's going to be a great book when that happens. It opens with Alex, on the phone to her Aunt, trying to explain why she just up and left with out a word and how she's secretly still trying to decide if she's coming back at all. Alex broke my heart within just the first few pages but I never pitied her. She quickly establishes herself as a girl who's already tried everything, thought it all through a hundred times over and she's finally come to her decision to stop the treatments and get on with the things she needs to do before she can't anymore.
"A chronic headache muttered in her temples, but like Barrett said, no one ever died from pain. True, but some days you didn't much enjoy living either. Eventually, the smell of smoke went away- but so did the smell of everything else, because the monster didn't shrivel up but continued silently growing and munching. 
What no one warned her about was that when you had no sense of smell at all, a lot of memories fizzled. Like the way the smell of a pine tree conjured a quick brain-snapshot of tinsel and Christmas lights and a glittery angel, or the spice of nutmeg and buttery cinnamon made you flash to a bright kitchen and your mother humming as she pressed pie crust into a glass dish. With no sense of smell, your memories dropped like pennies out of a ripped pocket, until the past was ashes and your parents were blanks, nothing more then the holes in Swiss cheese."
She carries this grim determination throughout the book, admirably applying her survival skills and knowledge to the er.. less then usual situations. And what of the situation? Well considering Alex has purposely taken herself well off the map when the mysterious pulse happens we're obviously not going to be treated to a nice explanation of what it was and what immediate effects it has. Besides the crazy animal behavior, the way it effects Alex, little Ellie and her Grandfather who were just passing by, we're as in the dark as Alex is, and I loved that! All those glimpses of the aftermath, the little teasing tidbits which our heroes start to piece together in to theories along with the total failure of any communication technology, really invoked the feelings of total isolation from the outside world.

And of course, there's the wild man-eating kids. Oh yes here be zombies, or not as the case may be, these monsters may have a taste for the long pig but there the similarities end. I don't want to go into too much detail with the nasties as their appearances are few (although the threat of them hangs heavily) but I can say that they are terrifyingly good monsters, I'm not afraid to admit that I may have been late back from lunch a few times because I really needed to make sure everyone was going to be alright, especially the mysterious and swoony Tom, who seems to have his own reasons for escaping into the wilderness before the pulse struck. 

All in all Ashes is a compelling and excellently written book that will drag you back in whenever your not reading it. The characters are a joy to follow and Ms Bick totally tricks you into caring deeply about them so every dangerous moment is tensely felt. I loved it and the second book is a must buy for me as I absolutely have to find out what happens next.

Review is based on an advanced reader copy which was kindly supplied by NetGalley and Egmont USA. My review is a honest account and absolutely no payment was received for it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hold Me Closer Necromancer by Lish McBride

Thrill Me
It should come as no surprise that I adore this cover, anything bold and graphical will always get my little reader's heart racing, as opposed to the glut of photoshopped glowing half-faces of inexplicably healthy teens which just leaves me, at best, a little cold and, at worst, insulted. But thankfully there are no pouting My Space girlies here, and why would there be? This book is about a boy, a rather hot boy if the dish on the cover is to be believed. And, er, his crow. Apparently.

Kiss Me
Samhain, or Sam to his friends, has led a rather lackluster existence. Dropping out of college and working full time at the local burger joint, Plumpy's, with his only three friends was not on his list of things to achieve in life. So when an ill advised potato hockey match brings him to the attention of one Douglas Montgomery, necromancer and all round power crazed a-hole. Sam is very surprised to suddenly find a whole world of crazy shiz existing right in front of his face. And now all of it is revolving around him. Disembodied heads that can talk, dancing zombies being sucked out of the ground, little girls demanding waffles in exchange for knowledge on the dead and a very cute werewolf girl all come together when Sam realises that Douglas's offer to train him in necromancy, may not be the selfless kind act he insists it is.

Kill Me
Debut! I have to keep reminding myself this is a debut novel. Because it was so good! Where on earth did Ms McBride appear from with this little gem, and why oh why did I have to pick it up now? When there's no news yet of the next book and I have no clue how long I'll have to wait till it's released? I have absolutely no patience when it's comes to waiting for the next book in a series I love, but as we all know (and so I keep telling myself) absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer feels like a pretty short book mainly due to the fact that we don't get to meat of the story until about halfway through, but Ms McBride is such an natural at weaving interest and humor into the everyday moments I didn't really notice that I had more pages in my left hand then my right when things really began to kick off. Which turned out to be a bonus if you consider the emotional pay back I got from all those pages spent building the characters was huge. Even the characters with the smallest word time were a pleasure to read about and not once did I have any trouble imagining a face or location, Ms McBride has that rare skill with writing that allows you to follow the action perfectly with the bare minimum of words (see also Sarah Rees Brennan and Ilona Andrews).
"Ramon and I started a rousing game of "Guess What I Put In The Fryer."
I closed my eyes and leaned against the back of the shake machine. There was a fairly large plop and a hiss from the fryer. "Pickle," I said.
"That's uncanny, Sam" Ramon said. 
"Not really. I just helped Frank get the bucket out of the walk-in." 
"Damn," he said. 
After the pickle, a bun, one set of tongs, a spoonful of mayonnaise, and a hat, Ramon ran out of ideas, and I decided not to eat the fries here any more. I stared at Ramon's spatula. 
"Thou shalt not covert thy neighbor's spatula, Sammy.  
"I'm pretty sure that's not in the Bible," I said. 
"How do you know? Have you ever read it?" He slapped a chicken burger on the grill. 
"Not really, but I'm still pretty sure that's not in there" 
"Trust me." he said. 
"Fine," I said, "what version then?" 
"The King Ramon version. Spatulas are considered very sacred in the King Ramon version."
I folded my arms across my chest. "Well, I'm not Christian, so I can covet. I can covet like a fiend.""
Sam himself is rather lovable (and, I thought, a bit of a hottie), despite seeming to be a massive dropout and all round failure. His three best friends make up a fantastically dysfunctional Scooby Gang of sorts and I challenge anyone to read this book and not wish Ramon was their bestie for life, everybody needs a friend who wouldn’t think twice about hitting a rampaging psycho with their skateboard for them. I also adored tough-as-dried-on-porridge Brid, she was bright, optimistic and wasn't afraid to take what she wanted regardless of being stuck in a cage for most of the book, and the scenes with her and Sam? I lived for those while reading this.

So in conclusion, it has action, it has funny, it has romance and it has a genuinely scary bad dude. All this filtered through the sharp pen of Lish McBride make this a must read. And if anyone knows anything about when and what the next instalment will be. Please share the love with me?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Follow Friday

It's that time again! Make sure you head over to Parajunkie's View and check out the humungoid list of fellow book bloggers!
This weeks Featured blogger is the mind bending Holjo and her trusty blog the: Pedantic Phooka. Be sure to head over and check her out, she seems to have an unnatural ability for unearthing awesome books I've never heard of!

And (the best part) the question!

Q. Have you ever wanted a villain to win at the end of a story? If so, which one??

Not really a story but when I was a kid I really really hoped that one day Wile. E. Coyote would FINALLY catch that smug little bastard. I mean, he worked so hard at it and his ideas were genius! Not to mention he probably went bankrupt what with all those extravagant purchases from the Acme Corporation. 

But no, the roadrunner wins and Not because he's smarter or more cunning. No. Just because he can run fast.

What an arse.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

God's War by Kameron Hurley

Bugged Out
Woman who's so tough she took one look at The Expendables and pissed herself laughing? Check. Mysteriously robed dude with his little creepy crawly friends? Check. Plus the dismembered head and gorgeously tiled background make this a double cover win for being both beautiful and specifically relevant to the story. Extra special bonus points for featuring dark skinned protagonists (because, you know, the characters are dark it would be nonsensical to have white people on the cover, they may as well have a picture of a roller coster) especially considering the picture they nearly ended up with.

The Angry Angry Caterpillar
On a desert planet with multiple suns, two powerful countries, the heavily religious Chenja and the 'ungodly' Nasheen, have all but wiped out each other's menfolk fighting their centuries old holy war. Nyx is trying to scrape out a living in Nasheen, a country now run by women while all the men are sent to the front to fight. After losing her coveted position as a Bel Dame assassin and finishing a prison sentence, she runs a small bounty hunting service with the help of her rag tag crew featuring a shapeshifter, a teenage weapons expert and her subpar magician Rhys, a man capable of controlling the ubiquitous energy all their technology runs on. Bugs. 
Accepting a suspiciously well paid mission for the Nasheen Queen, Nyx is trailing a missing off worlder who claims to possess the power to finally end the war. But in which side's favour?

Entomology 101
What an incredible world Ms Hurley has created here! We've all seen desert based worlds before in sci fi and fantasy, they can be (ironically) rather fertile settings for writers to explore, although too often you are left with a Dune or Firefly taste in your brain. What I enjoyed about God's War was the way she completely embraced this arid environment as her world, and then fully mapped out of all the problems it would cause with things like travel, health and food and how civilizations would adapt to these difficulties. No hermetically sealed underground cities or widely available flying machines here. Here people deal with the deadly environment with nothing but the basics. They develop cancers as easily as we grow our nails, with a war-zone choking on deadly gases clean organs are freely traded for cash and male children are smuggled across neutral borders to save them from a lifetime fighting at the front. Weirdly it seems so alien and at the same time familiarly human.

Personally, my favorite part of this world was the technology. Everything on this planet, from weapons to cars to radios, is run using bugs. Creepy crawlies spill out of exhaust pipes on organically run cars and seal up wounds. They can be controlled to varying degrees by the magicians, men and women born with this ability that sets them apart and, they seem to think, above everyone else. Nyx's magician, Rhys, is not exceptionally gifted but as a devoutly religious Chejan man in very prejudiced Nasheen, he's got little option but to stay with Nyx and aid her on any mercenary work she picks up. Regardless of how much he may disapprove of the work and, especially, the woman herself.

"Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert. Drunk, but no longer bleeding, she pushed into a smoky cantina just after dark and ordered a pinch of morphine and a whiskey chaser. She bet all of her money on a boxer named Jaks, and lost it two rounds later when Jaks hit the floor like an antique harem girl.  
Nyx lost every coin, a wad of opium and the wine she'd gotten from the butchers as a bonus for her womb. But she did get Jaks into bed, and - loser or not - in the desert after dark, that was something.
"What are you after?" Jaks murmired in her good ear. They lay tangled in the sheets like old lovers: a losing boxer with a poor right hook and a tendency to drop her left, and a wombless hunter bereft of money, weapons, food and most her clothing.
"I'm looking for my sister," Nyx said. It was partly the truth. She was looking for something else too, something worth a lot more, and Jaks was going to help her get it."

Nyx is a deeply complex character and I loved her complete honesty in everything she did, even when telling an outright lie. It's fair to say she's not your average 'kick ass heroine' (which is a good thing, no tight trousers and an alpha male for her) she's barely even heroic, except maybe in her ability to withstand punishment. Nyx deals with all types of pain in this book and it gets pretty graphic at points, but then I love those stories where the protagonist spends most of the book just barely surviving and trying to pull bits of themselves back together, so it wasn't a problem for me (see also the brilliant Samuil Petrovich by Simon Morden). Her former Bel Dame sisters made for incredibly effective villains, they are ruthless in their pursuit of Nyx and her crew and I found myself truly believing that they wouldn't stand a chance against the trained assassins.

God's War is a beautifully scenic story about violence and desperation on a planet that's learned to live around the constant every day horrors of war. It's characters are flawed and imperfect but lovable, and the reluctance to admit trust between Nyx and Rhys was just so much more satisfying to read then the usual pinned on romance that a lesser writer would have shoe horned in here. The next installment, Infidel, is out next month so now is the perfect time to pick this diamond up.