Tag Archives: published: 2015-01

Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk

Restless Spirits

Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk

Series: Spirits, Book 1
Published by: Widdershins Publishing on January 5, 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Henry Strauss has no time for psychics or mediums. His own experience witnessing their deception has led him to develop machines that can detect spirits without the need for a medium–total objectivity. And he’s determine to prove that they work. So when he receives an invitation from Dominic Gladfield to investigate a haunted house and exorcise it of any malevolent beings, he jumps at the chance. Of course, the $500 prize is just as enticing.

Vincent Night received a similar invitation, but he doesn’t bring any fancy equipment with him. He has his skills as a medium and those of his colleague. And he is equally determined to win the prize. But what neither Vincent or Henry count on is the spark of attraction that pops up when they meet and lingers between them as they investigate Reyhome Castle. And they don’t exactly have time to explore the attraction while they’re still competing for the prize and trying to stay safe from what appears to be a powerful, angry, and violent spirit. To get out alive, they may just have to put all of their misgivings aside…

I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I was going to when I read the blurb. Paranormal mysteries with a romantic subplot seem to be all over the M/M romance sphere. But this one stood out as unique to me. For one, the author doesn’t rely on tropes to carry the story. Yes, you can see them in the story since this is such a common framework. But aside from being the framework, the characters and their interactions have a spirit to them that is fresh and original. And each of the characters–including the side characters–has a rich backstory that comes into play at various points throughout the plot. Everything that happens is grounded in advancing the story, which keeps the momentum and the buildup to the climax going on an even pace.

I give this one a strong recommendation.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Published by: Riverhead Books on January 13, 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Synopsis

“I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts. Who was it said that following your heart is a good thing? It is pure egotism, a selfishness to conquer all.”

Rachel’s life is not in a place where she’d like it to be. She’s divorced from her husband, who found a new woman while they were still married. She was terminated from her job. Living with a friend, she’s trying to get things back on track. But until then, she goes through the motions, taking the train into London each day, staying there for the work day, and returning home.

But the train goes right past her old neighborhood, making it hard to leave the memories behind. Interestingly, though, it’s not Rachel’s husband and his new wife that catches her attention. It’s a new couple who has moved in down the street. Rachel sees them almost every day, and the love they share for each other is clear to her. They are, as she describes them, a perfect couple.

One one of her trips, however, Rachel sees something that shatters her image of this couple. It hits home in a way that she never expected, and she finds herself returning to her old neighborhood, despite her husband’s pleas that she stay away. But drunken courage and impaired judgment prevail. When Rachel wakes the next morning, everything changes. The woman from Rachel’s perfect couple has gone missing. The husband is a suspect. And while Rachel can’t exactly remember what she saw, she knows he wouldn’t hurt his wife. She’s certain of it. But should she rely on what is nothing more than an incomplete memory? Should she trust her instinct, even if she’s not sure why her belief is so strong? And if the police don’t believe her, why should she believe herself?

Review

I enjoy a good mystery. I adore a well-written thriller. And I love stories where we, as readers, get the chance to really understand the protagonist. And The Girl on the Train is all those things and more. It’s a well-paced, thought-provoking read that is deceptive in that it tackles a number of issues that one may not expect when looking at the synopsis or the story from a very high-level perspective.

There’s a part of me that wants to list through the various issues, but I also want to be mindful of spoiling what I consider is one of the best aspects of this story. But I think I can summarize by at least saying that one key theme is that relationships aren’t always what they seem from the outside. And they also aren’t always what they seem to the people in them. To know someone and to trust them is to have faith in both our own judgment and perceptions. It’s a matter of giving ourselves over to something and someone else and hoping we made the right decision.

My only qualm with this book is that I started to suspect the resolution a little earlier than I think the author intended. As I watched the final clues roll out, I had already placed a very high suspicion on who I thought was responsible. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; I just really like when an author can keep me guessing until right near the end. But there was still some new information that came out as the last few scenes played out.

There’s no question for my why this became such a hit so quickly. And I am absolutely looking forward to seeing the film adaptation.

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

Clarkesworld 100

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

Published in: Clarkesworld, Issue 100, January 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

As we’ve become increasingly reliant on the Internet to fulfill our needs and desires, we are now feeding it more information about ourselves than ever before. And we simply assume it just sits there where we put it. But what if the Internet was self-aware? What if it took that information and used it for its own purposes? We can only hope that the Internet would be a benevolent AI, right?

But if the Internet was a benevolent AI, would it really impact us? Would we just continue to assume we put information up on the Internet and that’s where it stays? If the Internet tried to use that information to help us, would we listen? Or would we just continue to see it as a repository for our Tweets, our rambling Facebook statuses, and cute pictures of our cats?

The idea of sentient AI and self-aware technology is not a new one in science fiction. But Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please” is a unique and somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at what it would be like if the Internet was that technology. With as much of our lives as we make public these days, it might not just be the government we need to worry about seeing and using the information. And while it’s fiction, it’s still a sobering thought as one thinks about how someone could do these same things on their own by accessing the right feeds for an individual person.

This story has made it onto the list of finalists for this year’s Hugo Awards. And I can definitely see why. It’s a fresh and unique take on an science fiction standard. It’s well-written, entertaining, and thought-provoking. It’s the kind of work that I think should be recognized by the Hugos. And I’m glad that it’s a finalist.

Before I Wake by Eli Easton

Before I Wake

Before I Wake by Eli Easton

Published by: Eli Easton (2nd Edition) on January 10, 2015
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

When a comatose patient, Michael, comes into the hospital, Jonesy finds himself drawn to the young man. He learns that Michael was the victim of a hate crime. And he also learns that Michael’s parents have abandoned him. Though Jonesy is only a nurse’s aide, he’s certain that Michael stands a chance of coming out of the coma. Even though the doctors aren’t so sure.

But Jonesy is unwavering. He goes out of his way to spend time with Michael and to find any way he can to help him. Although the two have never spoken, Jonesy knows that Michael is a beautiful person (on more than just the outside). And Jonesy also knows he’s the only person Michael’s got in his corner.

Whether Michael will wake up is something that only time will tell. And if he does wake up, will he even want anything to do with Jonesy? All Jonesy has is hope, and hope can be an incredibly powerful thing.

I try not to use words like “charming” to describe a story, because I feel like they don’t tell you enough. But I feel like it’s the most appropriate word for what I read. I found it so easy as a reader to connect to these characters and really feel for them. And I think pretty much anyone would be drawn to Jonesy and his big heart. What a guy.

This is on the shorter side, so it’s a quick read. Perfect for when you just need that quick “awww” story, with only the smallest hints of angst.

His Unexpected Mate by T.L. West

His Unexpected Mate

Book Info

Title: His Unexpected Mate
Author: T.L. West
Published: January 28, 2015
Pages: 31
Publisher: Beau to Beau Publishing
Publisher’s Website: link
Rating: ★★★

Review

Eli works as a private investigatory with his father, and he is sent to investigate a series of mysterious deaths in a small town. While moving into the small cabin that’s been set aside for him during the investigaton, Eli meets the local sheriff, a man who piques his interest in some unusual ways. He quickly learns that the locals attribute the deaths to some sort of mythical man-beast, and it isn’t long before many of them begin to suspect Eli as someone unknown to them who just showed up in town. But the sheriff proves to be a valuable ally, and Eli is about to have his world rocked in more ways than he could ever expect.

This is a short, quick read, but it offers up a complete an interesting story. There are certainly enough twists and turns here to keep readers guessing without it being so much that you feel like your feet aren’t on the ground at all. I certainly had not called parts of the ending before we got there, which I always see as one of the hallmarks of good writing. When an author can take you somewhere unexpected but it feels right–that’s the magic of storytelling. I do want more from these characters, though, which is the only reason I was disappointed by the length of this one.

Burn the Sky by Jaye McKenna

Burn the Sky

Book Info

Title: Burn the Sky
Author: Jaye McKenna
Published: January 11, 2015
Pages: 170
Publisher: Mythe Weaver Press
Author’s Website: link
Rating: ★★★

Review

Prince Garrik is the eldest son in his family and should be all set to take over the throne of Altan after his father. There’s just one problem–Garrik’s Wytch power has yet to manifest. Without it, Garrik will be deemed unfit to rule, and the crown will fall to his younger brother, Jaire. Jaire does not want the crown, and their father is set on passing it to Garrik. In a very risky–and illegal–move, the king convinces Garrik to go along with forcing his Wytch power to manifest. Everyone quickly finds out that the power Garrik was containing is something stronger than anyone has seen in generations. If Garrik cannot learn to control it, there may not be a kingdom left to rule. Wytch Master Ilya, a man who has seen his fair share of loss and disaster, is sent to help keep Altan standing at whatever the cost…

I love when I can find a well-written fantasy story that takes place in a unique universe. Everything about this struck me as original, and the way the author presents the history and context of this world is streamlined and flows extremely well. I had no difficulties quickly becoming immersed in Garrik’s world. I find myself hoping for more from this world if it’s anywhere in the author’s future plans…

One Perfect Wish by L.M. Brown

One Perfect Wish

Book Info

Title: One Perfect Wish
Author: L.M. Brown
Published: January 2, 2015
Pages: 61
Publisher: Totally Bound
Publisher’s Website: link
Rating: ★★★

Review

Scott Baxter isn’t sure what to think when he wakes up in Cameron Kirk’s bed and is referred to has his husband. Scott’s never met Cameron before, and he would certainly remember getting married. He soon learns he’s been put there by a djinn; he’s been sent to give Cameron a perfect day with his husband, the love of his life. Scott finds this hard to believe. How can he be the love of someone’s life if the two of them have never met? As the day goes on, though, Scott starts to see how the two of them just might be made for each other. And when the day ends, he sets out on a personal mission to track down Cameron. There’s just one problem: it’s too late for anything to happen between them beyond the one short day that they shared.

The idea of being forced into spending a day with someone is not very appealing and definitely sounds a bit nonconsensual. But even though Scott can’t leave, there’s nothing that really feels like he’s forced into anything specific. And the overall concept here is an intriguing one, based on the idea that there is a perfect someone out there for everyone, sometimes you just haven’t met them yet. And even if you haven’t met them before it’s too late, maybe there’s still a chance?

Frostfire by Amanda Hocking

18105451Title: Frostfire (Kanin Chronicles, Book 1)
Author: Amanda Hocking
Published: January 6, 2015
Pages: 321
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Bryn Aven has never truly fit in. A member of the Kanin, the most powerful of the troll tribes, her half-blood status has always been an impediment, but not one that she’s allowed to stand in her way. She’s become a successful tracker, being among those who track down changelings–the children of Kanin nobility who are slipped into human society to be adopted by rich families until they reach adulthood–and bringing them home when the time comes. The identities and locations of Kanin changelings are a closely guarded secret, which makes it troubling when evidence surfaces that someone may be targeting them and attempting to kidnap them before the trackers bring them home. It’s even more troubling when Bryn learns that one of the men involved is an outlaw she used to adore and respect until he betrayed the crown, her family, and her heart…

I enjoyed my time getting lost in this rich fantasy world. Amanda Hocking has created a unique story with several twists that will keep readers engaged and guessing about the truth behind the mysterious behavior. The first book in a series, obviously this one doesn’t resolve everything, but it is a great set up for what I’m hoping will be a good series. The second book is out now, and the third is on it’s way; I’m looking forward to continuing Bryn’s journey.

The Metamorphoses of Narcissus by Tamara Vardomskaya

Title: The Metamorphoses of Narcissus
Author: Tamara Vardomskaya
Published: January 8, 2015
Pages: 8
Publisher: Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Publisher Website: link
Rating:

And it didn’t matter. This was not my blood; it was but part of glamorous transfiguration. I was beautiful, or I believed I was. What did it matter, the beauty a woman was born with, my long fair hair that was now a wooden horse’s mane, my hands and feet that had once moved in the dance so skilfully? Beauty was a construction, a blueprint geniuses dictate to mere mortals who could not know for themselves what it meant.

In a world where artists transfigure people into new creations, the ideas of art and beauty have reached a new level of subjectivity, dictated by those with skilled in the art. And for the narrator of this story, she’s willing to defer to the subjectivity of the genius artists of her day. But in the face of war and destruction, she finds that beauty may be more subjective (and perhaps less of a lofty pursuit) than she had led herself to believe.

This is a short but powerful piece from Tamara Vardomskaya, and I definitely recommend it.  The layers of meaning that I think one can find here makes this quite profound, especially considering its length.  Definitely looking forward to more from this author.

Cold Hands and the Smell of Salt by J.Y. Yang

Title: Cold Hands and the Smell of Salt
Author: J.Y. Yang
Published: January 23, 2015
Pages: 3
Publisher: Daily Science Fiction
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Review:

Anja returns with the groceries to find her dead husband sitting by the white fence he’d built, pale hands uprooting grass blades and dispersing the shards into the wind through bony fingers. She doesn’t know what he was wearing when he died, but the long thin figure by the gate is clad in the matching grey windbreaker and track pants she’d given away weeks ago.

This somewhat dark taken on a Swedish merfolk legend (see my comment a few posts back about the prevalence of merpeople in science fiction and fantasy at the moment) explores what it means to love, to lose, and to find a way to cope and move on. Finding happiness sometimes seems an impossibility, but there’s a level of personal responsibility for finding happiness and being open to those places where we might find it.  An intriguing and well-written short form J.Y. Yang.