November 11, 2017

James Wymore: "The Last Key" (ARC Review)

Title: The Last Key [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Actuator (book 4 of 4)
Author: James Wymore [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Year: 2017
Age: It's marketed as an adult book, but it can be read by teens, though a bit heavy on horror/gore
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Creative premise. Breathless adventure, though there's a time for reflection as well. Poignant ending. Female characters finally get more screen time and weight.
Cons: As with the rest of the series, the premise is somehow better than the execution - there's more telling than showing, and the storyline is a bit too hectic sometimes. Some editing issues (among them, a character changing name midbook*).
(*Edit: after posting my review, I was told the issue would be fixed prior to pub date).
Will appeal to: Alternate realities enthusiasts. RPG fans. Readers who get bored easily.

Blurb: The Actuator, a machine capable of literally changing reality, was created to make a utopian paradise. Before it happened, a saboteur used it to transform the world into patches of every kind of genre fiction, scattering the keys necessary to put it back across the globe. Everyone alive found their lives radically altered, some living in fantasy realms with real magic and others in incomprehensible horrors. Thrown into chaos, people struggled against aliens, pirates, orcs, and vampires. Many died. Only a handful of people on the planet, called Machine Monks, even knew why it happened or how. Now they have to put it all back before humanity is destroyed. Even if they could get all the keys, the small group opposing the tyrant don’t know what to do when they get to the final one - a key they’ve never seen before. If they don’t find the answers fast, the world will be lost. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I am a semi-regular reviewer of Curiosity Quills titles (like this one), but if you look back at my ratings, this never prevented me from being unbiased. And all the books I received from them were generously sent with no strings attached.

OUT WITH A BANG

It's kind of funny, you know. I went into this last installment expecting it to follow the same pattern of the previous ones, and in a way it did - lots of jumping around the world in a teleporter, epic fights, interior moral dilemmas. But I was pleasantly surprised by a few tweaks that made this book stand out - and not only because duh, it gives us closure. Here are the things I didn't expect:
  • The Actuator finally becomes its own character, what with everyone wondering if it might have turned into something more than a supercomputer that feeds on thoughts and ideas, and have developed a coscience of sorts - and if that's the case, is its conscience good or bad? does it have plans for the world? can it be reasoned with? and, last but not least...does it have a gender? Of course, the living computer is far from being a new concept, but Wymore puts a spin on it. I should probably have seen it coming...but I didn't.
  • Time travel is introduced! Though it has a few limits and can't ultimately save the day, but it would have been a cop out if it did, so I'm happy about that.
  • The female Machine Monks get more space and finally kick ass 😀. [...]

November 05, 2017

C.W. Snyder: "Child of Nod" (ARC Review)

Title: Child of Nod [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Balance (1st of 3 books)
Author: C.W. Snyder [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Fantasy, Mythology
Year: 2017
Age: 14+ (it's marketed as NA, but since I don't have a NA section on my blog, I shelved it as YA. However, it's a complex and dark fable that will appeal to adults as well)
Stars: 4.5
Pros: Imaginative, multilayered tale weaving lots of literary and mythologic references into a fresh story. Evocative prose.
Cons: All the different characters and their stories - and Nod's many facets - might not come together smoothly until a second read.
WARNING! Contains elements of horror and gore.
Will appeal to: Both the young and the adult reader seeking a strong, dark-but-poetic example of revisited and enhanced tropes.

Blurb: Alice wakes one day to find herself on the other side of death, in the corrupted fairy tale land of Nod. Unknown to her, the man responsible for her death, Jack, is on a mission to find her spirit and end her second life. Along the way, Alice meets a cast of characters that include a madman with a dark secret, her faithful companion, Dog, and woman made of memory. Together, they help her on her journey as she uncovers the truth of Nod and the woman behind it all, the Red Queen. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review:  First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this book from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. All the books I've received from CQ so far have come with no strings attached, and it's always a pleasure for me to work with them and discover more (sometimes underrated) gems.

BLOOD SUGAR DEATH MAGIK

Afterlife books are my biggest weakness, as this post testifies. But CON is so much more than that. Building on a classic prompt - Lewis Carroll's Alice slipping into the alternate world of Wonderland - C.W. Snyder spins a dark, yet poetic tale about loss, pain, fear, courage, loyalty, violence and purity of heart. Alice - our Alice - travels in a rich, imaginative version of the afterlife, pursued by an unknown enemy and aided by a bunch of sometimes suspicious, sometimes charming, always quirky characters. This afterlife has lost its Balance and has been partly turned into a wasteland since the Red Queen was born; for reasons we are to uncover through the story, Alice is the only one who can fight the Queen and restore the Balance. It's a classic Chosen One story, except it's not, since Alice's peculiarity is rooted in facts, not in random gifts granted by a superior entity. And though, while traveling through Nod, she does pick up informations and abilities that will be needed for the final showdown, she still manages to retain her umanity and a sense of wonder. [...]

October 27, 2017

James Wymore et al.: "Chaos Chronicles"

Title: Chaos Chronicles [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Actuator (book 3 of 4)
Author: James Wymore et al. [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Year: 2016
Age: It's marketed as an adult book, but it can be read by teens, though a few stories are a bit heavy on horror
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Eclectic bunch of stories, covering a wide range of genres and (fictitious) eras. We get a glimpse of how the Change affected some people unaware of the Actuator's existence, but mostly, lots of behind-the-scenes about Machine Monks who weren't main characters in the previous books.
Cons: Not every genre tackled in here can be everybody's cup of tea.
Will appeal to: Those who like eclectic short-story collections. Those who want another (and more insightful) perspective about the Actuator.

Blurb: Scattered all across the world, the Machine Monks struggle to deal with the saboteur’s next big move. Isolated in a situation they’ve never experienced before, their mission to collect all the Actuator keys grows desperate. 
An elven ranger finds himself in the Old West. He accepts a quest from a strange lawman in exchange for help returning to the home he loves.
When the world’s most dangerous kaiju marches on manga-inspired Japan, can Isaac defeat it using only his wits and the power of anime?
A honeymoon safari goes horribly wrong. Without guns, how do you fight against ancient wildlife with a mind of its own?

Stranded in Camelot, Machine Monk Elizabeth Darling seeks a way home to Steampunk London - and finds an unexpected surprise in the medieval forest.
While Lennie is traveling to a safe haven with her little brother, disaster strikes and she is forced to rely on a woman with a dark secret.
Brian and his crew face the saboteur face to face in a high tech war that will alter the fate of the world. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I am a semi-regular reviewer of Curiosity Quills titles (like this one), but if you look back at my ratings, this never prevented me from being unbiased. And all the books I received from them were generously sent with no strings attached.

TUTTI-FRUTTI

I usually don't read anthologies, unless they 1) contain stories by one of my favourite authors, 2) are part of a series I'm reading, or 3) have a unifying theme that calls to me like a siren song. Case #2 comes into play here, since the stories in Chaos Chronicles all give us a taste of the life after the Actuator (a reality-bending machine) has turned the whole world into a patchwork of different, often plain weird realities. To be more precise, all these stories are chronologically set right after the events in Return of the Saboteur, so that, unlike the previous collection Borderlands Anthology, they can hardly be read by someone who hasn't followed the series so far. But the good news is, even with all the set and character variety, this bunch is more close-knit, and actually makes the plot progress (this is why Chaos Chronicles is Book 3 in the series, while Borderlands Anthology was Book 1.5). Book 2 in the series, Return of the Saboteur, was a game changer. We know now who was responsible for turning what was a mere experiment (the Actuation) into a worldwide nightmare. We know why. But the real catch is, the same person caused the virtual borders between the different realities to fall, so that now different types of characters and/or monsters from different eras can cohexist in the same space, with crazy, but intriguing consequences. Well, wacky ones too, but I will admit that it's fun 😄. [...]