Review Corner: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

I’m not sure where I first saw Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, but I was intrigued with the description and tried multiple times for a copy of it on Goodreads giveaways and ARC copies. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review through another channel.

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I finished reading this many months ago (okay, almost a year now), so I apologize for the delayed review. I got frustrated every time I tried to put my thoughts into words and kept moving on to other things.

As excited and interested as I was for the book from reading the blurb, I was unfortunately disenchanted with it….….actually more than that, I disliked it and by the end, I was angry.

It was easy enough to read through quickly. It’s written in often short, choppy sentences or pieced together fragments. It’s supposed to add suspense, but it’s mostly lacking. At times it works well, at others it’s annoying. Some more strategic use of this would have made it stronger in my opinion…at least the reading part, the plot- well, we’ll get there.

The story goes that Jason Dessen (also to be known to as “Original” Jason) goes out one night to get some dinner (I believe) for his family, but never comes back because he’s abducted. The “familiar” but mask-wearing culprit takes Jason’s clothes, asks him some strange questions, and eventually disappears into the ether. Jason is eventually left unconscious in the unknown location he’s been brought to.

He awakes strapped to a gurney, surrounded by people that supposedly know him, but that Jason does not recognize. “Original” Jason is believed to be a different version of Jason, one that never married (wife, Daniela, called Dani) or had a child (Charlie), is not a professor, and who continued to pursue work in the field of quantum physics; it’s this Jason’s work that brings “Original” Jason to where he is. This “other” Jason’s research and work created a way, through use of ampules and what was once a physically impossible box, to travel to different dimensions, thus the many various versions a person’s life (and the world) can take. (Here’s how it works: once inside the box you take the ampules then start walking down a hallway of doors, each door is a different possible decision or branch that changed something about the world beyond; so endless Jason’s making endless Jason decisions….talk about nightmare, but anyway…)

It doesn’t take long to piece together that the masked abductor was this other Jason, who had decided he had missed out on a few things and thought stepping into “Original” Jason’s life made more sense than…any number of other things…. such as trying to reconnect with the Dani in his dimension, or another woman entirely…the point is, this over-entitled supposed genius had options, and he went with abduction and switching lives….I’ll explain even more how this is a problem in a moment…

So essentially, “Original” Jason wants his life back and escapes with (and with the help of) a woman named Amanda that ‘other’ Jason worked with. So they travel with ampules and simple packs through the endless rows of doors, randomly picking ones to step through to find the right door to “Original” Jason’s life.

Throughout the book I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was written as a testimonial to the author having researched, learned, and understood some physics. The bulk of it is told from Jason’s perspective, so the delving into physics explanations was like the man giving himself a mini-lecture in his head every time he remembered something physics related; it did not work for me at all.

Most of what happens in the box and in the worlds “Original” Jason (and sometimes Amanda) visited isn’t really important. The descriptions of the worlds are varied, their reason for leaving the box routinely isn’t highlighted or well explained other than to give the book a “middle” and attempt to illicit more drama. The only thing you need to know is that “genius” Jason tries some asinine and repetitive things to go home, Amanda leaves him to be stupid and whiney on his own, and eventually he magically finds his way to the world and life he was stolen from.

Which then leaves the other glaring issues with this book (and its horrible conclusion).

So, something to keep in mind while “Original” Jason has been blundering his way back home, Daniela has been living and sleeping with a man who is not exactly her husband or the man she married….there is SO much wrong to me on the basis of consent when it comes to the devious and disgusting violation of Daniela as a human being with rights to her own body. Of course one of the first things ‘other’ Jason did is have sex with the wife he took to be his, even though she wasn’t, of course without telling her. It is NOT an interesting philosophical debate about if it’s really Jason or not- it’s rape.

But it gets worse.

You remember how the box creates branches at each decision Jason makes, which leads to a large number of versions of Jason converging on this ONE Daniela and Charlie; all believe themselves to be the “Original” Jason that deserves to be with Daniela and Charlie…and NONE of them seem to really believe it’s down to Daniela to choose. There’s one very brief quasi-choice given to Daniela, but it’s not a full and proper choice; it follows the story the author decided he wanted to tell.

This book was mostly that; pieces of a story made to fit together the way the author wanted, characters acting out a necessary script, plus some physics and erasure of women’s choices. Consider me not a fan.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. It was a waste of time, a poorly plotted story (admittedly a difficult idea to tackle, but badly done), and unnerving in how many people seem unbothered by Dani’s lack of proper autonomy or the fact that she was violated throughout this book, which apparently didn’t matter because it’s all about Jason.

The very end is even more frustrating and further evidence of negating Dani’s rights and choices (it’s safe after the kitten under flannel):

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Dani selects her Jason (the one whose story we’ve followed)…BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH!!! Apparently Daniela’s “choice” isn’t enough to persuade the other Jasons, so Dani, “Original” Jason, and Charlie all “have” to go into the box and choose another world to live in and hopefully hide from all the other Jasons…..
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Let me break that down again: Dani chose a Jason. The other Jasons still think they know better. Dani and her chosen family have to flee their lives…..

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(safe from spoilers now)

There are also issues with continuity and explaining away the presence of the boxes throughout the worlds, how they were exactly where they needed to be for whatever purpose in the moment, all without being noticed by really anyone other than the Jasons; then there’s how much Jason is talked about as if he is incredibly intelligent, but he does some of the stupidest things and fails to ask some of the most important and obvious questions of certain characters that he meets.

Add in the glaring issues concerning Daniela (and Charlie)….

Yeah, I’m not a fan of this book and I would recommend you spend your precious reading time on other, far worthier, books.


Recommendations:
Assimilation by James Stryker

 

Review Corner: Boy: A Journey by James Stryker

While speaking with James Stryker after I had finished his debut novel Assimilation, he told me about his latest (then upcoming) novel, Boy: A Journey.  After reading the description on his website, I was very much interested in it as well.

A snippet of it is: Everyone knew about Jay’s hidden transgender past — except his son. Now that his father is gone, Luke must seek the truth to understand the man he thought he knew. (click here to read the rest)
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James Stryker was gracious enough to honor me with a copy of Boy: A Journey in exchange for an honest review. So, I eagerly dove head first into the novel, soon realizing that I would need to break from it over the holidays due to the sensitive and heart rending nature of the story and the events in it.

The first chapter includes the brutal and graphic death of Jay, Luke’s father, in the midst of yet another fight between father and son. The room became quite…dusty…during the first chapter, of course being the cause of my watering eyes…

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When I was able to collect myself (and *ahem* find a less dusty room) I returned to the story to learn what happened in the aftermath of Jay’s death.

Boy: A Journey is told in three perspectives. We’re first introduced to Luke, the King of Brats, Luke the “Wronged”; the next chapter, we meet Tom, the man dying of cancer holding secrets to his chest like precious gems, in love with Jay and hiding in the wings; and finally, we have the perspective of Ginger (real name Jake), Luke’s brother-in-law and the man stealing Beau away from possessive Luke (he and Beau are twins, after all).

Unfortunately while reading, I ran into some similar issues that I had with Assimilation regarding pronouns and how time passes. For instance, it could be difficult at times to know for sure who is talking or being talked about. This was especially true when there were more than two people in the conversation; it got a little confusing on occasion.

There was also a lot of jumping back and forth in time without clearly seguing the reader through the time shifts; this made the car ride home with Luke and Jay in the first chapter a little confusing and difficult to get through, in particular.

Some chapters repeat blocks of time from different people’s perspectives, but it’s not always stated or made clear that that’s what’s happening. This left me with a discombobulated feeling. I think if chapter intros were used more consistently and effectively (which may or may not be the case with the final published version, I’m not sure), this problem would be mostly resolved.

Before I go too much further, there is one major detail (or set of details) that I wish were perhaps different: three important characters have the names Jay, Jake, and Jackie…even by the last page, this still messed with me. The names are so similar it took me way longer than it should have from the beginning to place who each character was every time I came across them. I became frustrated with momentary mix-ups more than a few times. It was easier when Jake was called by his nickname, Ginger, but then it would throw me off when I saw “Jake” used again.

Nevertheless, the story drew me in for the most part, despite Luke’s obnoxious and occasionally cruel asides. I did, however, spend a healthy portion of the book wondering why I was reading so much from Luke’s perspective; the giant chip on Luke’s shoulder leaves him with a skewed version of events in his life, all of which are compounded by the unexpected revelation of the secret Jay had kept most vigilantly from his son, and the fact that Luke is the last to know. It’s hard to understand how Luke came to be this much of an ass.

In the aftermath of Jay’s sudden and traumatic death, Luke’s focus is still mainly himself. He may be affected by the loss of his father, but the reasons are far more egocentrically based than truly mourning his dad; he cares more about trying to rattle and humiliate Ginger (his brother-in-law) at Jay’s funeral than he does giving his last respects and saying goodbye to his own father. Even his eventual tender moments towards his mother and sister are all about playing Luke’s most important role, that of “perfect” son and brother.

Everything comes to a head when Luke finds out that there’s a secret and everyone else was privy to it except him, and he believes, his twin, Beau. When Luke finds out that Tom, a virtual stranger to him, knows and has some connection to Jay and thus the secret, he arranges a meeting in hopes of manipulating answers from him. The meeting, however, is brief as Tom quickly realizes that Jay has not told Luke everything and that Luke is fishing. The disastrous encounter prompts Luke to confront his mother, Jackie, and demand the truth from her…the night of his father’s burial.

There are a couple of things I would I like to comment on concerning the conversation where Luke is told of his father’s transgender past and the ending, but I don’t want to give anything away to anyone who wants to experience it for themselves (I definitely recommend that!) So just in case you don’t know the drill, scroll down until you see the kitten under the flannel, it will be safe after that.

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No matter what Luke’s justification is to himself, or anyone else, he is incredibly cruel with some of the things he says after the revelation of his father’s past, and Tom’s contribution to his and Beau’s existence.

The best part, though, are Beau and Jackie’s reactions; I loved the ferociousness with which Beau and Jackie defend Jay being a man and Luke’s real father. They rail against Luke and his ignorant and disgusting comments with passion…my heart swelled. Even though it was violent, I have to say I also enjoyed the detail of Ginger noticing Beau moving her wedding ring so that she smacked Luke with it facing him.

Another moment that tugged at my heart strings, and was incredibly sad to read, was Tom’s hallucination of Jay taking care of him, when it is really Luke. I almost cried.

As far as the end goes, one thing that I wish had been done differently was the apology and reconciling conversation between Luke and his family. I’m sure it would have been incredibly difficult to write, but as a reader, it seemed to resolve relatively easily. One long phone conversation after months of nothing, and things are on their way to being better. Not entirely fixed, but better, and mostly forgiven. Though it was obviously painful and difficult to get there for the characters, it still felt a little too easy of a makeup. I think it would have made the book a little stronger to further illustrate this pivotal conversation between Luke, Jackie, and Beau.

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Yes, is safe now.

There is only one other matter I have an issue with and feel I must comment on, and that’s the way Tom talks about the pain medication he is given for his cancer. To read Tom’s experience, it’s incredibly easy to get pain medicine when you need it, which is not necessarily the case, regardless of a doctor’s willingness to prescribe.

For a man that likes to comment on being put upon and listing all the things he has to go through, Tom doesn’t once mention the debacle of having to go pick up his higher dose pain prescriptions himself from the doctor’s office and then taking them to the pharmacy to be filled; a doctor cannot call in a prescription for pain medicine that is classified as a narcotic, they have to have the physically written prescription in hand, and the ID of the person picking it up/who it’s for. I know this from personal experience. And believe me, it’s not fun.

Both to keep to Tom’s character, as well as to accurately and responsibly depict something concerning pain medicine, it’s something I would like to see done a bit better.

All around, even though I wanted to strangle Luke on more than one occasion, it was an unexpected journey to experience, and one I enjoyed reading overall.

My favorite aspect of the book is the “good deeds of truth,” doing something for the sake of someone else without any benefit for yourself. In general, it’s a beautiful sentiment that I wish more people understood, shared, and practiced. In the book, it’s one of Jay’s pillars, especially in concerning his care of the dead; Jay and Ginger are morticians, they care for the dead with love and respect without being repaid in anyway by the person they care for. There is no benefit but to respect another human being’s life.

I heartily recommend this to anyone looking for an LGBTQ+ related read, but only if you can handle some sad and difficult scenes. It’s hard for me to say who might enjoy this book, it has cancer, death, and transgender man holding onto a secret, but it also has a lot of heart and an ending that won’t make you want to throw it across the room, though you might tear up.

It’s safe to say that I’m a fan of Stryker’s writing style and his stories are intriguing. I will be eagerly awaiting and anticipating his future releases. You can get a copy of Boy: A Journey on Amazon or B&N , or visit James at his website.

You Might Also Like:
Assimilation by James Stryker
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Review Corner: Assimilation by James Stryker

Months ago, I was approached by James Stryker about possibly reading and reviewing his debut novel Assimilation. After being given a brief synopsis:

ASSIMILATION, a dystopian thriller with LGBTQ elements, follows the struggle of a man who is reanimated in a woman’s body following a cryogenic error. The story’s main character, Andrew, must fight to assert his own identity against the husband who paid to have his wife returned.

I was intrigued and more than ready to dive in.

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It was a slow start for me, though admittedly, it was a very difficult place to take up the story since the reader is not familiar with it or the characters at all yet. It opens with the emerging consciousness of recently remade/reanimated Natalie, except that it’s Andrew….as I said, it’s a difficult place to dive in, but once I was in a chapter or so, past the foggy uncertainty, and into the ability to learn about and connect with the characters and the story, I was hooked.

In fact, I still blame Stryker for essentially missing a few days of writing progress because I was either reading the book, or distracted by thinking about it…

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The novel is told in three perspectives; we start with that of Andrew/Natalie. There are a couple of chapters with Natlie’s husband, Robert’s, perspective to illustrate his inner thoughts concerning the changes he sees in his wife, and what he thinks about doing to make things the way he wants them. Lastly, we have a few chapters from Oz’s perspective (we’ll talk more about him in a bit).

I was a bit jarred at the first switch in perspective because I was not expecting it. In particular I was not expecting Oz’s perspective, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of it and not be as jolted by the shifts.

It was soon evident that the author has a gift for evoking an emotional response from the reader, swiftly pulling you into the strange situation at hand; Robert wants his submissive, ‘perfect’, wife and caretaker, mother of his remaining son, returned to him just as she was before the car accident that killed her; Andrew wants to find who is, be who he is, despite his outward appearance being that of Natalie.

While Andrew, attempting to play the role of Natalie, continues to get better and grow stronger while recovering in the hospital, he must face the looming and terrifying circumstances he is in; being “restored” and reanimated by Cryolife comes with a lot of signed paperwork, but also the fact that “Natalie” is under conservatorship for a six month period, where the conservator then decides whether or not to grant full benefits and entitlements to “her” ……just simmer on that one for a moment…

Robert, Natalie’s husband, is the conservator. It is up to him to decide if his wife is “acting appropriately” for the six month period that she will be under observation…packaged as for the sake of safety. Andrew is faced with the task of conforming to Robert’s ideal version of Natalie in order to keep from being returned to CryoLife and “helped” by being put through a process that would essentially kill Andrew and result in any number of possible issues with the newly “restored” Natalie.

Even once deemed well enough to return home, “Natalie” must continue taking antibiotics and other medications, as well as return regularly for sessions with Dr. Zuniga, head of the psychiatric board for Cryolife, and one of the Brigman team that controls the medicines and therapy that Natalie receives, all shaped by Robert’s desires.

It is while picking up the refill of one of these prescriptions that Andrew (in Natalie’s body of course), meets Oz, the pharmacist, and that’s where things start to take a turn for Andrew.

After a most shocking in depth introduction to Oz, “Natalie” begins sneaking out to spend time with him, where Andrew also meets a ragtag collection of fellow reanimated CryoLife subjects, all “returned” more than a little different; one hears an unending loop of the same music in his head, sometimes growing louder to the point of madness, and another with an affinity for things no longer living. For the first time since coming to being, Andrew finds comfort and a sense of belonging, but it’s not with the family that Natalie had made and elected to go through the CryoLife procedure for.

“Natalie’s” odd behavior does not go unnoticed by the demanding, controlling Robert. Behavior such as a complete disconnect from their son, Simon; before, Natalie had been doting, quintessential mom and housewife, but after, she was nearly negligent if not blatantly abusive (secretly drugging Simon with cough medicine to make him sleep instead of clinging to “Natalie”), not cleaning up to Robert’s usual standards (dust on the electric socket…not even joking….), etc. Stryker does an excellent job at portraying a character as a narcissist, one that believes that they are infallible and acts accordingly, including forcing their own desires on other people the way Robert does with Natalie.

Things eventually devolve when Robert finds out that “Natalie” has not being visiting with her best friend, Shelly all the times she’s gone out, but is instead visiting Oz. Again, Stryker knows how to paint a horrifying picture of abuse and abduction, to the point that, as a survivor of abuse myself, I wish I’d had a little more warning, but that’s a personal thing. There’s nothing too terribly graphic, but the inferences and some of the actions and conversations are enough to horrify a reader.

One thing I had a problem with while reading were some confusing uses of pronouns. There were many occurrences where “him/he” were often used without being sure of who was actually talking or being referred to. This seemed to be a particular problem when Andrew is telling the story, especially since Andrew is sometimes referred to as Andrew (he/him), while other times as Natalie (her/she). Using names a little more often would have been helpful in these situations.

Another thing I noticed was an occasional issue with story tense and marking the passage of time. When a character recalls something from the past, there isn’t always a clear marker or segue, or even consistent past and present tenses, to move the reader back and forth between them. Also, things seem to sometimes happen on top of each other; an unexpected and unstated amount of time can pass from one paragraph to the next without it being marked and left to the reader to divine whether it’s been minutes, hours, days, or weeks. This is probably heightened by the switching perspectives without a firm grounding of time.

One other big thing that was difficult for me to go along with is some of Andrew’s reactions; they can be incredibly aggressive, sometimes over the top, often without provocation other than Andrew mistaking something someone said, did, or is thinking instead of asking for clarification (except the pizza throwing, I understand the reason, but the action still felt unnecessary, and there are other reactions that would have been more plausible to me). That aspect was a bit frustrating for me, unless Andrew is supposed to be acting like someone that could have borderline personality disorder. I’m not sure if this is intended to speak to the various drugs “Natalie” is being given by CryoLife doctors, a comment on Andrew’s personality, the damage CryoLife did, or just an attempt to illustrate more conflict, but it didn’t work for me very well.

One of my favorite things about Assimilation, though, is the love and connection forged between Oz and Andrew. Despite the bizarre way they came together, there’s something beautiful about how they are able to connect. At one point, Oz was a mathematician, it was his art, an art lost to him after being reanimated, and Andrew is able to appreciate and see it for that. That really got me, I have to admit, and my description of is it atrocious in comparison to the picture described by Stryker.

I have a few other comments that are or could be possible spoilers so, if you don’t know the drill and you don’t want to see any spoilers, just scroll down until you see the kitten in flannel.

Spoiler-Alert-Discussion

At one point in the novel, after a relationship between Andrew and Oz has been established, it comes to light the Dr. Brigaman, the same man responsible for CryoLife, is Oz’s father. When this is revealed to Andrew, he makes no real comment about it and has essentially no reaction to it, which I find incredibly hard to believe.

As the reader switching into Oz’s head on occasion, it was no surprise that Brigman was his father, but to Andrew, I can’t imagine that’s expected news.

I’m also curious as to what kind of place Robert takes the abducted “Natalie” to that has doors that lock from the outside, or if Robert changed the locks. I don’t remember seeing any mention of that, or signs that it had occurred. I feel it needs to be explained in some way or else it feels like an added detail just to keep Andrew trapped without having a real basis for it.

The only other issue I have is why Santino, one of the group that has been reanimated by CryoLife and is friends with Oz and Andrew, leaves Oz at all in the Savanah General Hospital after he is hurt; it’s connected to CryoLife, which they all know. I just found it a little hard to believe given the parameters of knowing that Brigman is too close, and that the unconscious are vulnerable.

Other than that, I found the ending incredibly sad, but understandable, especially given the way it ends; since Tinks is the one that hears the music and routinely wants to end things in order to make it stop, it’s a difficult ending, a crushing one, but worthy of the characters in it. I really wish Oz and Andrew could have been together in life and happy; it was a poignant ending, but it worked in a strangely love soaked (and thus beautiful) way.

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Okay, it’s safe to come out and read from here if you wanted to skip possible spoilers.

I know I’ve mentioned a lot of things that may not have worked for me, but I need to make clear how strongly invested I was in this novel once I get into the characters. There are always things that could make a novel stronger in hindsight, but the core story-telling, and the characters, were well written.

If you don’t like sad endings, you may want to skip this one, it’s a heart breaker.

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But if you are willing to brave through it, it’s worth the read, my friends.

Those looking for LGBT+ related books might find it of interest, given the involuntary/voluntary switch from Natalie to Andrew. Also, fans of dystopian sci-fi, but really, anyone that wants to walk away with a story and characters you won’t forget, then Assimilation is worth your time.

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James Stryker has a new book coming out called Boy: A Journey, which I’m also personally looking forward to emerging myself in, if you’ll excuse me….

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Review Corner: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

I was fortunate to receive an ARC copy of Nevernight by Jay Kristoff in exchange for an honest review after both the description (and the cover) caught my eye.

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In a land under three suns that almost never set (Nevernight, get it? But it does get dark every 2 ½ years), Mia Corvere witnesses the execution of her father as a traitor after a failed rebellion, the arrest of her mother and baby brother, and barely escapes with her life, all at the age of ten.

As Mia makes her way through the world over the next six years with assistance of a retired killer named Mercurio, and the shadows that are drawn to her and drink her fear, she’s left with her mother’s words, “Never flinch. Never fear. Never forget.” This is the anthem she lives by and repeats to herself as she prepares to enter the Red Church to become an acolyte in a school of assassins wishing to pledge themselves to and to be accepted by the Lady of Blessed Murder; all to get back at those responsible for annihilating her family (Scaeva, Remus, and Duomo).

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I was intrigued.

The first thing to note is that this book is violent, there’s plenty of blood, swearing, death, and even some sex, so it’s not for everyone. The interesting thing is how the prologue warns of you this from the start, including:

“And if the unpleasant realities of bloodshed turn your insides to water, be advised now that the pages in your hands speak of a girl who was to murder as maestros are to music. Who did to happy ever afters what a sawblade does to skin.”

Heavy prose and metaphor may not be more your thing, and if any part of the above lines irks you, I suggest you pass on reading Nevernight. However, if any part reels you in, it’s worth the read. I admit that I was swept up in the way it was written and for the most part, increasingly interested in learning more of the story.

Mia, with the help of Mister Kindly, the “not cat” made of shadows that becomes Mia’s companion, navigates the world around her on the way to the Red Church; though not always helpful, his banter with Mia as he drinks her fear entertains the reader as it allows Mia to act without flinching, moving fearlessly.

On her way to the Red Church (which involves collecting the tithe of some teeth or bone of someone you’ve killed), Mia meets a half Dweymeri boy named Tric (which we learn is not a proper Dweymeri name, nor are his facial tattoos the proper artist style, nor his brown skin dark enough, nor tall enough; we learn why this matters in relation to his reasons in joining the Red Church later). Together, Mia and Tric travel across the unforgiving desert, outrun a sand kraken, fight with and then save a woman named Naev, all on their way to deliver their tithes and become acolytes.

Tric, Mia, and a group of other young hopefuls pledge themselves to the Red Church in hopes of taking one of the four open spots for assassins. The rest (that live) are to become Hands (helpers, servants, etc, which is what Naev is), and stay on to assist the Church and inhabitants in anyway necessary.

Along the way, Mia meets other students, a couple that she is friendly with such as Ashlinn (called Ash) or Carlotta (called Lottie), and one in particular that is not so friendly and has in fact sworn to kill Mia,  named Jessamine. Jessamine’s father was executed beside Mia’s father as a traitor due to the failed rebellion. Such hostility is tolerated in church of thieves and assassins, as long as no one openly defies any rules set by the Shahiid’s (teachers/Masters), or the heads of the church, including Lord Cassius (rarely seen), and Mother Drusilla.

Classes include instruction in thievery, poisons and potions, seduction and extraction of secrets, as well as fighting techniques and sparring practice (which often turns violent and bloody); each of the Masters issues a challenge in their field, winning one or more of the challenges garners the favor of the Master and a near guarantee of being one of the chosen four to become pledged.

There is plenty of intrigue and animosity (and hormones) at play to keep the novel moving. More mystery is added when it’s learned that enigmatic Lord Cassius happens to also be darkin, or those that converse with the shadows and the dark, and it’s not just anyone that can call the shadows to them; in fact, most people are petrified of the darkin. This stokes Mia’s desire to learn more about what it means to be darkin, which prompts her to visit the worm infested library of dead and forgotten books in search of the right one to assist her (the keeper of the books tells her he’ll keep an eye out for one).

One thing she learns the hard way about being darkin is the vulnerability to the sign of the Trinity, three suns to represent the god Aa; she becomes violently ill and tries to hide from it, attempting to retreat into the shadows. The Trinity also prompts Mister Kindly to leave Mia for the first time ever since he first came to her in attempt to flee the symbol of the blessed suns.

I took a special liking to Mister Kindly. Something about the darkness and Mister Kindly in general kept me coming back to drink up more of the story (though I did occasionally need to put it down and step away because some of the characters’ decisions or thoughts were irksome). Perhaps it’s the visual aspect that draws me in. I foresee many a piece of fan art to be made from this book. It speaks to a lot of my own inspirations and reminds me of some of my own ideas; something about the shadows and Mister Kindly makes me want to create things.

All around I have to say that I enjoyed reading Nevernight and am curious what happens in the next couple of novels and leads to Mia’s death, which the narrator tells us of at the very beginning. Which leads me to the first of a couple of things I was disenchanted with, downright disliked, or seriously question.

Our narrator is never named, but tells us early on, not only of Mia’s death, but that the narrator loves her. Sometimes the realization that our narrator knows all that they do about Mia makes it a little creepy, or at the very least poses some questions on the part of the narrator. By the end of the novel, there’s no way to know if we’ve met the narrator yet, or even if the narrator can be completely trusted, which again poses some interesting queries.

Perhaps it’s because of the narrator (whoever they may be) is telling the story, but there are a lot of footnotes. Some of the footnotes are useful and helpful to the reader, such as the ones that give more context or information to something typical in the book, such as copper and iron coins being called “beggars” and “priests” respectively as slang, and gold ones just called gold. However, I found some of them unnecessary tangents that could be distracting by sometimes taking up half the page, and often continuing from one page to the next, all without actually adding to the story; I wonder if all of them will be included in the final version.

One thing that kept bothering me while I was reading involved that of a woman named Marielle, who lives in the depths of the Red Church with her beloved brother. Marielle is visibly deformed, described as sadistic and grotesque; the visual malformation is the price of the gift Marielle wields, which allows her to change features, alter flesh (Marielle is the one that doles out punishment by ripping up the offender’s back with her gift).

So here is my issue: only four acolytes are chosen to stay in the Red Church as assassins, and there are roughly thirty to start. Even though the numbers are paired down, I question why Marielle is bothered to transform the features of all living acolytes that have not yet been chosen and accepted into the Church in a capacity that would necessarily need their features changed…maybe that’s just me though.

Besides a stray couple of continuity issues, including Mia throwing her “last throwing-knife” more than once in the same fight a few pages apart and a duplicate description of a character chapters apart, the only other issue within the novel that I have concerns the number of soldiers/legionnaires involved in the big fight near the end. It reads like a never ending parade of faceless soldiers that are only there to impress the reader with their numbers to drive the drama. It falls flat to me and just reminds me of bad fight scenes in movies. Admittedly there’s a lot going on in the midst of battle and fights, but it felt like every few paragraphs there were yet another 20-100 soldiers at any given time, none of which adds up if you tried to do the supposed math. So, not my favorite aspect.

Lastly, I raise the question of the age range on this book; I absolutely do not believe it belongs in Adult Fantasy. There are some “adult” themes, but as a whole, it reads more YA than Adult. The main character is 16 years old, and most of the other acolytes are around the same age. Then there’s the general maturity level of the characters, their thought processes, logic, and the decisions they make, all of which strongly give me the impression of more Young Adult than Adult in nature. I read somewhere that the author described it as possibly NA, or New Adult, and that I would concede as well, but not Adult. (This was also an interesting read that further adds to my feeling this way.)

Measured in that regard, I enjoyed it enough to be curious about the next books, but definitely not for an adult reader looking for a Fantasy along the lines of Song of Ice and Fire, Wise Man’s Fear, etc.

Nevernight is dark. If you are one to be swept up in language, it will devour you. I would recommend it to Fantasy lovers, those not adverse to violence, if you’re looking for something a little ominous that will entertain you (but not really challenge or change you), then you’re in the right place. I look forward to hearing more about the second book in the future.

 

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Review Corner: Never Never by Brianna Shrum

I came across Never Never by Brianna Shrum on Twitter and it is the first alternative version of Peter Pan that I’ve actually read so far. I was excited when I first started reading it, this retelling told from the perspective of James Hook, beginning at a young age when he was spirited away to Neverland on what was supposed to have been a short vacation and turned into something entirely different.

NeverNever

In Part One, the reader is introduced to the soon to be 14 year old James Hook, his sea fairing father, and his pregnant mother and his quiet, Eton-bound life in London where he is eager to grow up and go off to school. He sneaks out one night and meets Peter who ultimately convinces Hook to come to Neverland, for what James believes to be a temporary visit, a vacation.

I was a bit enchanted with the description of Neverland, which was delightful and full of strong imagery. I was also first interested in and sympathetic with young Hook’s plight of ultimately being stuck in Neverland when Peter refuses to take him home. This is particularly felt when Pan and his Lost Boys kill for the first time, and expect Hook to take part.

However, it is not long into Part Two that I started to lose interest in the story and any empathy I may have had for Hook in the beginning. The more I read, the more evident it was that the characters lacked depth  and the more dramatic, erratic, and…well, whiney, Hook became. Granted, he does not have an easy situation at hand, but he makes one incredibly questionable choice after another making me seriously question how he managed to supposedly get into Eton.

There were a lot of continuity issues, big and small throughout the novel which made it difficult to enjoy or to take very seriously. One of the biggest issues involves islands that magically appear when it’s necessary for the plot. One of the first things a growing/grown up Hook does after claiming the Spanish Main and, supposedly, becoming Captain, though only in title, is to try to sail away from Neverland. His intention is to sail to London, but regardless the scene shows Hook continuously finding himself sailing back towards Neverland with nowhere else to go. The problem arises later in the novel, when it’s necessary and convenient, there is mention of a specific place called Keelhaul Isle, as well as other “never isles” just waiting to be sailed to other than the main Neverland.

Another major continuity issue involves a duel between Hook and Pan where the description in the book sounds violent and gruesome, yet there is no mention of Pan being hurt at all afterwards. One minute the scene reads like Peter Pan is mortally wounded, and by the next page and as the next chapter begins, it’s like nothing at all happened to Peter.

Then there is the relationship between Tiger Lily and Hook that plays out like any high school relationship, and probably has the same life span; setting aside the odd aging and time changes (which has no real explanation and is completely subject to what the Shrum needs to happen to follow her plot), I don’t like any part of their relationship other than one heartwarming scene when Hook first cries in front of a pre-pubescent Tiger Lily.

There were other aspects and choices that I question and could not reconcile as being needed, necessary, or even adding to the story. One such incident involves James Hook meeting his younger brother, Timothy (who is dreaming when he meets/visits James in Neverland), who has also chosen to be a pirate in his dreams. Though I can understand the impulse and desire to include Hook’s younger brother or life in London in some way, the scene has no depth, it’s full of surface information and poor dialogue. By the end of it, I’m really over following Hook’s perspective. Meeting his brother has no real effect on Hook (aside from one superficial sounding line), and doesn’t really seem to be necessary in the grand scheme of the novel.

I wish there had been more to like about this alternative perspective on Neverland and its inhabitants. Neither the story nor the characters kept my attention or captured my heart and I found myself more irritated with them than anything else. The dialogue unfortunately made me cringe at times with the stiffness and the obvious attempt at banter that just feels strained and awkward. I was ready for the end and not surprised at the conclusion; it did nothing to improve the story, in my opinion.

I would have a hard time recommending this to anyone and didn’t particularly enjoy anything after Part One of this novel, which is a shame. There was one point where I vainly hoped that Hook’s eventual erratic and increasingly violent behavior would turn into some interesting reflection about turning into what we hate (i.e. Hook acting like Pan and becoming the next Pan or something), but that was not the case. In the end, the story just wound itself out to the only conclusion it could within the age category it reads for. To each their own, but I’m not a fan.

Review Corner: Storming by KM Weiland

 

I found Storming by KM Weiland through a combination of Twitter and Goodreads. There was a lot in the Goodreads description of this book, which started with praise for it from readers. I would have preferred just to have to blurb about the book, the rest is what reviews are for, but, I scanned and finally found the description. It was interesting enough, I happen to have a soft spot for steampunk and the many offshoots, and particularly, I have a strong love of the ‘20s era, at least in the way of music and some of the style, not so much in the social culture; the slang can be pretty fun though, haha (don’t get me started..)

Anyway, I decided to give it a try since there were some fun elements involved.

storming km

I really wanted Storming to be more than it was and feel it could have been made stronger, but as is, it wasn’t what I hoped it would be.

One big thing I made note of from the start was the use of jargon in reference to flying the planes, which is a sizable part of the action in this novel. I think it’s very clear in reading this novel that KM Weiland is not overly familiar with flying airplanes, or with aircraft in general (if this is not true, I will be very surprised and must ask about some choices made). There is a heavy reliance on jargon and phrases used by those who are quite familiar with such things, most likely to enforce a sense of history and knowledge on the part of Hitch, who the story follows and is a pilot.

It makes sense for Hitch to know what he’s talking about and doing when it comes to planes and flying, but that doesn’t mean that an explanation and further description in layman’s terms wouldn’t be a good idea in a novel like this for the reader…who may not necessarily have that knowledge.

I lost track of the times I noted where this lack of knowledge in the author seems apparent. Information isn’t wielded with authority, and so there isn’t what feels like a wealth of knowledge to tap, it’s a string of jargon and passable sentences that show what the author wishes. She probably did a lot of research, and that’s great, but there needs to be more in the novel, at least for me. The opportunity was there, in particular, when Hitch is showing young Walter how to fly when they go up in the plane together for Walter’s first ride. The lack of familiarity weakened it for me, the jargon alone didn’t impress me when there is no other indication that the author has working knowledge of planes and flying that can be shared with the reader. I hazard to say it was almost confusing at times, and often had to resort to googling if I had any desire to actually understand what action was taking place. There were some wonderfully crafted lines that described the planes movement at times, but it was in part undercut by the lack of more intimate knowledge with the subject matter; the scene is interrupted when you have to lookup a term to understand the description…kind of kills the action.

The description of Walter’s first ride in the plane, whiche he so dearly wanted was heartwarming and well written. I enjoyed the scene, aside from aforementioned issues.

I was sorry to realize that I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters, mainly because I felt there was nothing to invest in with them. I had moments where I cared, instead of becoming more invested as the story progressed. This was in large part due to the pervasive feeling that the characters were there to act out a set script, the plot lines the author wanted to happen, instead of the story moving forward as a result of the actions and reactions of fully realized characters with their own set of thoughts and desires that fall within their personalities.

There were occasional scenes or lines that I appreciated, but in general they were few and far between. The rest of it was a collection of action scenes that I questioned or things I generally just didn’t buy, continuity issues sprinkled throughout, with a dose of, what I feel, is questionable dialogue.

Some examples include: you don’t lose a heavy accent within a couple of days by being around people that speak a native language that is not yours, as is the case, apparently, with Jael, the woman who drops out of the sky. Jael supposedly speaks another language as her native tongue, and though she might understand more English within a couple of days if she’s smart,  and she might be better at the weird word placement English has in comparison with other languages, again if she’s smart, but you don’t lessen an accent within a couple of a days. It takes more time and a lot more conversation.

As for the dialogue, it was often far too pointed and scripted sounded. It screamed “I am dialogue!” I rarely felt like there was conversation going on, more a necessary interaction for the reader to understand the next point. There was also some very heavy handed talk of heroes, both in dialogue and not, that I personally wasn’t a fan of. It was a bit much for me, seemed like trying too hard. Walter, as a child, I could understand a bit more, but still, wasn’t a fan. None of it was particularly witty or funny, and I don’t remember anything standing out, which was a shame.

Even the drama seemed manufactured, such as the villain of the tale (or the man who pushed Jael out of Schturming,), named Zlo, and his demand for money from the town…there’s no explanation or context given for this desire. Zlo has been foraging, stealing, and generally taking what he wants or needs, both for him and the others (such as food, etc.,) as Schturming moves from place to place being completely contained in the air, aside from those let onto the ground to forage…again, there’s no reason for Zlo to value money, and it’s unclear what value he places on it.

The premise was interesting, which is why I was excited about starting Storming, but I was disappointed. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, or at all what I expected or hoped. With some more attention to detail and further development, I think it could be better, but as it, I’m not among the throng of people that are impressed and overjoyed with this novel.

Review Corner: In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen

After reading an interesting description of how the lives of three strangers overlap paths across the country and time, I received a copy of In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

in some other world.jpg

 

The premise of the book rests on the idea that you never know what is going to happen, no matter where we hope or believe our decisions, actions, and desires will eventually lead us. The initial overlapping element between the three characters the story follows involves the Eons& Empires movie, which is also based on a comic book series.

First we are introduced to Adam in Coral Cove, Florida; next to Sharon in Cincinnati, and finally to Phoebe in Chicago. The story starts with the high school versions of the characters and follows their current lots in life, to varying degrees, and the circumstances which lead them to see the premiere of the Eons & Empires movie.

The novel is mostly written in present tense, and a large portion of it is a collection of pieced together sentence fragments. Occasionally the fragments work, or are at least understandable given the style of the novel, but there are times when the fragments are almost cryptic. This is sometimes because the fragments preceding and following are lacking pertinent information..because they’re fragments.

For the most part, it’s written in third person, but randomly it switches to second person, and that happens a couple of times throughout the novel to take up the story of Oliver. In my opinion, one of two things should have happened; Oliver should have been added onto the back cover (I understand he’s not because his and Phoebe’s timeline are woven together at the start, but still) and been properly added into the book, including keeping the third person point of view; OR, the necessary parts of his story should have been woven into information obtained through other characters. I know, it’s difficult, but I feel like the random addition to this obviously more than side character with the unnecessary and jarring switch in point of view only added the complications of the story in hopes of adding drama and conflict, not, I feel, to the richness or strengthening of it.

One major issue I have is the decision not to add any dates after 1992 and some obscure and sometimes vague references to events in the news over the span of years the book covers. The ages of the various characters are scarcely mentioned and easily lost track of given the skipping around of time, places, and people; it was difficult to know how much time had passed at any given moment while reading. I count at least four time I noted my frustration and desire for something as simple as a month and year at the start of the chapters. I am very curious what the reasoning was behind leaving out this information.

Another issue I had with this book involved the numerous occurrences of, generally small details throw in by the author, that I just cannot buy and in some instances, question. One of these is the likelihood of a person, not affiliated or enrolled in a college, allowed to drop into a class just to take notes for a student; any professor I’ve met would suggest you ask another student actually enrolled in the class for notes. Some professors are more lax about this, true, but other are incredibly diligent about the people allowed in the classroom.

Another of these instances includes the owner of a restaurant in a random city would just happen to know some place called the Rosebud in LA, where main character Phoebe worked for an extended period of time as a bartender. I really feel it’s a stretch, though it is a bit less so when the restaurant owner mentions living in California for some time later on in the chapter. But in general the Rosebud is discussed as if everyone in the world would know it.

One last example of this (though this one of the bigger disputes I have) involves main character Sharon, and the cut on her arm. I will leave the details of the circumstance for any readers, but for what is described as “barely pressing” and “only a scratch” does not add up to what seems to be a scar on her arm for many years down the line. The repeated references to it by other characters, as well, makes it seem like far more than it is described to be. Perhaps I’m just not a fan how every interaction involving this cut is described in the book.

All around, the characters were not particularly endearing, filled with depth, or memorable to me. They seem like echoes of popular tropes, and are utilized more as tools and puppets to fuel a drama than characters I felt I could invest in. Also, given the drawn out and ambiguous nature of the plot, there is also no actual ending, at least not to my satisfaction; it seemed like an arbitrary place to stop the story, though this could also be in part due to the lack of dates, if there happens to be some sort of pattern.

I know, I’ve mentioned a lot of the things I disliked about this novel, and honestly, there were just a lot of things that left me uncertain why I was reading, what I was reading, and what the point of it would be in the end. However, Shari Goldhagen has a certain talent for adequately describing an oddly authentic and realistic human voice, in spurts.

One such example is within the first couple of pages and had me rushing to jot down “it was the panic in her eyes that pulverized everything inside of him- the first time he understood the awesome responsibility of being someone’s whole world.” This struck a chord with me and imprinted on my heart.

Another of these moments, I must admit to understanding myself, is the idea that talking about a book, movie, show or something that you love, has the potential to make it less real or weigh it down; I understand wanting to suspend the magic in your own thoughts, reviewing and remembering without any other input.

For these moments, and a general simple enough style to absorb, I continued to read, despite feeling that I had no character to invest it, no one to root for, and no ending to hope for.

I couldn’t say who I would recommend this to; if you’re looking for something you’ve simultaneously probably haven’t ever read before and yet can easily recognize every character from others you’ve met and experienced before. Ultimately, if it sounds interesting to you, go for it, but this book didn’t do a whole lot for me, aside from those particularly memorable quotes that I will, indeed, carry with me.

In Some Other World, Maybe is available for purchase February 10th in hardback and in paperback February 16th.