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review 2018-10-25 15:52
Sound of Distant Thunder (Amish of Weaver's Creek #1) by Jan Drexler
The Sound of Distant Thunder - Jan Drexler

Katie Stuckey and Jonas Weaver are both romantics. Seventeen-year-old Katie is starry-eyed, in love with the idea of being in love, and does not want to wait to marry Jonas until she is eighteen, despite her parents' insistence. So much can happen in a year. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother's name comes up in the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother's place. But can the commitment Katie and Jonas have made to each other survive the separation?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Seventeen year old Katie Stuckey cannot wait to marry her twenty year old boyfriend Jonas Weaver. The feeling is mutual for Jonas, but while he looks forward to a future with Katie and enthusiastically jumps into building their home from scratch, his mind is also quite consumed with thoughts of the approaching Civil War, conscription and the abolitionist fight. Jonas battles conflicting feelings: technically, the concept of war goes against his Amish faith, yet he's not comfortable sitting idly by while others put their lives on the line to end slavery. He does have a little wiggle room in his favor in that he has yet to be officially baptized within the Amish faith, so if he chose to serve in the war, there would likely be less harsh consequence with the church elders. 

 

Fate seems to make the choice for Jonas. When his married brother is drafted but unwilling to leave the family, Jonas volunteers to take his place. There is a historical mention within this story that explains that at the time of conscription, those with religious conflict (something similar to the more modern idea of "conscientious objector", I imagine) could opt to have another man go in his place or pay a $200 fine. Jonas asks his good friend Levi to look after Katie while he's away, not knowing that Levi secretly carries a strong flame for Katie himself.

 

Jonas goes off to the battlefield, doing his best to balance his duty as a soldier with continuing to honor his Amish beliefs (mainly, to do as little harm as possible). While Jonas is away, Levi finds the temptation to woo his buddy's girl almost unbearable. 

 

I think this might be the first Amish themed novel I've come across that is set in Civil War years. The idea definitely pulled at my curiosity, but the execution did not quite hit the mark for me. Technically, the writing is fine, just DULL. The romance portions don't tug at the heartstrings and the plot lacks any sort of real tension to keep things lively. Everything is moving along just sort of there... baseline existing, but never quite giving me something to truly root for. 

 

Also, there was a pretty underdeveloped element to Katie's background story that suggested she might be struggling with some PTSD-like behaviors following a sexual assault or attempted assault. It's hard to say though because it felt only vaguely woven into the story (as far as the details of WHAT actually happened), yet Drexler also tried to make it seem like it was a pivotal part Katie's emotional make up, hinting at how it might affect her future marriage. The whole thing just felt sort of sloppily interjected into the rest of the book. It would've been nice to see this fleshed out more. 

 

The back cover features a blurb from Suzanne Woods Fisher hailing this book as "compelling and memorable". While I do enjoy Fisher's writing and would like to trust her vote of praise, on this one I will have to respectfully disagree. It's doubtful that I will have much interest in carrying on with this series. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Revell Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-09-27 17:44
"Civil Blood" by Chris Hepler
Civil Blood - Chris Hepler

"Civil Blood" is a self-published genre-crossing novel: part vampire, part courtroom drama, part science fiction.

 

"Civil Blood" starts in familiar territory for videogamers: The Umbrella Corporation A big Pharma company accidentally releases a vampire virus on America and tries to cover it up by using squads of Forced Protection subcontractors to round up and imprison quarantine the infected.

 

We leave the familiar behind partly by having a virus that is powered by a new technology that harnesses Qi, the lifeforce in biological entities and partly by having an infected lawyer turn whistle-blower and demand his day in court to get redress from whoever created the virus.

 

The book is told from the point of view of two strong characters. There's a first-person account from a screwed-up but kickass former enforcer for the evil corporation who has gone rogue after she was infected while rounding up targets, and a third-person account, focused on a senior enforcer inside the corporation who has a complex corporate history and some extraordinary talents. 

 

The story read more like science fiction than a traditional vampire or zombie apocalypse tale. There was a strong focus on the science, the politicals and the legal niceties.

 

I felt the legal parts were the weakest. The idea was intriguing: can the infected be declared non-human and have their rights taken away because they are dead and in the grip of a virus that compels them to fatal violence. Unfortunately, the lawyer character wasn't charismatic enough and the courtroom scenes felt flat and went on too long.

 

There were some great action scenes and some novel ideas but character development beyond the two primary characters was a little lacking.

 

It was a fun read but I felt the pace was uneven and there were too many changes in points of view to maintain high levels of engagement and tension.
 
I'll be looking out for Chris Hepler's next book. I think he's a writer who hasn't quite hit his stride yet but will be compelling when he does.
 
I read "Civil Blood" for the Deadlands square in Halloween Bingo.

 

 

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review 2018-09-26 22:24
THE NEW JIM CROW: MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander

I knew this would be a hard read and I was right.  I learned so much in this book.  I am appalled that this discrimination is going on.  I did not know how completely a felony conviction takes over a person's life and how much it ruins that life.  This book opened my eyes to the abuses that go on today.  I do not know how we can go about correcting the wrongs of mass incarceration but changes do need to happen.  This is one book everyone should and must read.

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review 2018-09-19 12:26
A magical visit to Barcelona and to the world of books and stories. Unmissable!
The Labyrinth of the Spirits - Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Thanks to NetGalley and to Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Orion Publishing Group) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I enthusiastically and freely chose to review.

I read the first two novels of the Cemetery of the Forgotten Books series years back, in Spanish. I have recommended The Shadow of the Wind to anybody who would bother to listen to me (probably multiple times, sorry) and was enthralled by the complex tale of creation and mental unravelling span by The Angel’s Game. In the maelstrom of the last few years, somehow I lost track of the series and missed the publication of The Prisoner of Heaven (although I have been trying to locate a copy since I started reading this volume), but when I saw the last novel in the series was being published in English and offered on NetGalley, I knew it was my chance to catch up. As I also do translations and had read two of the novels in their original Spanish version, I had the added interest of scrutinising what the translation into English would look like. Well, I must say I thought it was superb, in case I forget to mention it later. Lucia Graves manages to capture the style of the author, the complexity and beauty of his language, and translates the local peculiarities of the dialogue, helping readers feel the joy and the intoxicating and magical experience of reading the original. Hats off!

If you’ve read up to this point, you’ll likely have guessed that I loved this novel. To get it out of the way, I’ll clarify that I think it can be read by itself, or as a starting point to a reader’s visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and although perhaps somebody who starts by reading this book will feel s/he knows already the whole story, I suspect they’ll feel curious and intrigued and will want to learn the full details of the stories that come to fruition here (this is my case as well). Here, the author of the story inside the book, Julián, (yes, the story is full of books and writers) explains how the series works better than I can:

The way I dreamed of it, the narrative would be divided into four interconnected volumes that would work like entrance doors into a labyrinth of stories. As the reader advanced into its pages, he would feel that the story was piecing itself together like a game of Russian dolls in which each plot and each character led to the next, and that, in turn, to yet another, and so on and so forth. The saga would contain villains and heroes, and a thousand tunnels through which the reader would be able to explore a kaleidoscopic plot resembling that mirage of perspectives I’d discovered with my father in the heart of the Cemetery of the Forgotten Books.

This is a long novel, and a complex one, although not one difficult to read or follow (I don’t think). As the quoted paragraph says, there are many stories here, and many memorable characters, some dead, some alive, and some… (among them, Alicia Gris, femme-fatale, spy, little girl, seductress, avenging angel, long-suffering survivor of a terrible war; Daniel Sampere, bookshop owner extraordinaire searching for answers; Fermín Romero de Torres, whimsical, fun, full of life and common-sense, witty, heroic, down-to-earth;  Julián Sempere, the stand-in for the author and heir to a long tradition; Isabella, a mysterious figure much of the action revolves around; authors David Martín, Julian Carax, Víctor Mataix; the fabulous Vargas, a hard-working an old-fashioned honest policeman with some secrets of his own; the complex Leandro; the horrifying Hendaya; the intriguing Rovira…). The story moves back and forth in time, from the time of the Civil War in Spain (1938) to its aftermath during the Franco regime, and into 1992. We visit Madrid, Paris —however briefly— although the main setting, and the main character, is Barcelona, in all its glory and horror.

In the darkest corner of her heart, Barcelona, mother of labyrinths, holds of mesh of narrow streets knotted together to form a reef of present and future ruins.

I kept thinking what genre one would fit this book into. Amazon has it listed in the categories of literary fiction, historical fiction, and mysteries. All true, I guess. There are secrets, mysteries, action, revenge, intrigues, crimes, murders, torture… The novel reminds me, in some ways, of the big adventures and narratives of old, novels by Victor Hugo (whose pen, possibly?, makes an appearance in the novel), Jules Verne, the Dumas (father and son), with its sprawling narrative, its wondrous descriptions of people and events, its historical background (the Spanish Civil War and the postwar years, accurately reflected through a fantasy lens), and even its gothic setting (we have mysterious mansions, dungeons, cells, castles, underground passages, true labyrinths…). This book bears homage to literature, to books, to authors, to the power of imagination, and to the magic of reading.

The book talks about books and writing and contains plenty of advice on writing, some of it contradictory, and there are many different types of writers contained in its pages. It is metafictional at its best, and I was not surprised when I read that the author also composes music. There are variations on a theme in evidence (stories are told and retold: sometimes different versions, sometimes from different perspectives, and in different formats). There is plenty of showing, there is telling from direct witnesses, or third-hand, there are documents that bring us missing pieces from the pens of those who are no longer able to tell their own stories, and everybody gets a chance to tell his or her own story, be it in the first person or the third, be it directly or through a narrator. The author has explained that he writes his novels in a similar way to how movies are conceived and designed, and that is evident when one reads the story, as it is impossible not to visualise it. Carlos Ruíz Zafón professes his admiration for Orson Welles and that comes across loud and clear in this book. But, however much he loves movies, he believes books can conjure up worlds that no filmmaker would be able to bring to life, and that is his stated reason for not selling the rights for the film adaptation of the series. Part of me would like to watch it, but I am convinced I’d be disappointed, so incredible is the world the author has built.

I have mentioned the style of writing when I talked about the translation and I have shared some quotes. I kept highlighting and highlighting text while I was reading it and I found it very difficult to select some to share, but I hope the few fragments I have included will pique your curiosity and make you check a sample if you are not sure if you would like it (you would!). One of the tips on writing contained in the book highlights the importance of the way the story is written, above and beyond the plot, but in this case, the two mix perfectly.

I have mentioned some of the themes, the historical background, and the mystery elements included in the story, with some gore and violent scenes, but there are plenty of magical, lighter, and funny moments as well, and I wanted to share a couple of sentences from Isabella’s notebook that I particularly enjoyed, to illustrate the sense of humour (sometimes a bit dark) also present:

We were three sisters, but my father used to say he had two daughters and one mule.

I didn’t like playing with the other girls: my specialty was decapitating dolls with a catapult.

I’m not sure what else I can tell you to try and convince you to read this book. I am from Barcelona and love the city, even if some of the places mentioned in the novel no longer exist (or not in their original form). You could use the book as a guide for a visit (and I know there were tours visiting some of the streets and settings of The Shadow of the Wind), or you could lose yourself in the labyrinth of your imagination. You could imagine the movie, cast the characters, or put yourself in their place (I’d happily be Alicia Gris, pain and all). If you need to live some adventures and take a break from your life, go on, enter the labyrinth and visit the cemetery of the forgotten books. You might never want to find the way out. I am rearing for another visit soon.

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text 2018-09-16 09:58
Reading progress update: I've read 14%. - trying a self-published author
Civil Blood - Chris Hepler

I'm trying to balance ebooks and audiobooks for Halloween Bingo but that TBR stack is much smaller. Not a bad thing, it turns out, as it made me pay attention to this $2 self-published impulse buy.

 

This starts in familiar territory for videogamers. A big corporation (definitely NOT The  Umbrella Corporation - that could get a person sued) has accidentally releases a vampire virus in America and is trying to keep things quiet by rounding up the infected quietly and disposing of them. Then an infected lawyer goes public and promises revenge on whoever made the virus.

 

Two things have made it stand out so far:

 

Two strong story-lines: a first-person account from a screwed-up but kickass former enforcer for the evil corporation who has gone rogue after being infected and a third-person account focused on a senior enforcer inside the corporation who has a complex corporate history and some extraordinary talents.

 

A Sci Fi feel to the story rather than a traditional Urban Fantasy of Doomsday feel. There are new technologies in this near future America and some interesting politics.

 

Having tasted this, I'm going to eat the whole thing for my Deadlands Halloween Bingo square.

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