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review 2017-11-22 20:20
Surprisingly entertaining Canadian & Cree First Nations read about overcoming your past and owning your power.
Strangers - David Alexander Robertson

Disclaimers: I'm reviewing an uncorrected proof ebook version acquired via NetGalley, I'm choosing to leave an unbiased review, and I'm not qualified to comment in-depth on aboriginal representation.

 

More disclaimers: Um, so I just want to note for the record that I already named characters Cole and Ash in BLIND THE EYES before I read this book. No plagiarism. I guess Canadian authors just think alike? lol.

 

I loved this WAY more than I expected to. To get a few critiques out of the way, the cover looks a little off to me (more indie or MG maybe?), so I wasn't expecting a lot of polish. The first few pages are also a little disorienting, because the author launches with a different perspective from the main POV, incorporates supernatural elements immediately without explanation, and references past events without backstory at first. All of which turns out to be great in the scope of the story, but it feels like jumping in the deep end.

 

This is the story of a 17yo Cree First Nations teen who left his rural home community in elementary school and is attending high school in Winnipeg at the time the story opens. A supernatural being is trying to lure him back to his hometown. His aunt and grandmother don't want him to return for reasons that aren't explained at first, but we discover that there's past trauma and bullying to contend with. Cole also has some superior abilities that may be more than natural. There's a lot going on in the plot:

 

-trickster spirits, ghosts, unexplained supernatural/paranormal phenomena
-murder mystery/thriller
-romance? maybe?
-bullying, trauma & clinical anxiety (incl. struggles with medication)
-rural vs. city enmities/tension
-First Nations/aboriginal experience (on/off reserve, resourcing, discrimination)

 

As a Canadian, and as someone who actually lived in Winnipeg during her childhood, there was a lot that felt familiar in this, including issues raised that I'm not sure if a foreign reader would pick up on or not. The author (based on his Goodreads bio) does live in Winnipeg and is a member of a Cree First Nation, so this is an #ownvoices book with (to the best of my knowledge) good representation.

 

I liked how the struggles that First Nations people experience within Canadian society were included within the scope of the story, but that the focus was on the characters and their experiences. It can be hard to write good fiction that represents real-world issues without breaking character or bogging down/diverting the plot (see: preachy dystopias for one), so I thought Robertson did an excellent job of including accurate world-building in service of the story. For instance, there are medical emergencies in the scope of the story, and it's referenced a few times how help is requested but the government takes a long time to respond, ignores the pleas, or doesn't send the help needed in a timely manner. Remote communities struggle for resources and lose people to the cities where there's more opportunity, jobs etc.

 

Some Cree words are used (and translated in place), some ritual and beliefs are incorporated, but the narrative doesn't suffer at all from the exoticisation of aboriginal culture. (Though maybe American readers will feel like it's "exotic" Canadian culture?) If anything, the hockey-playing, tiny-remote-community, one-restaurant-in-town setting felt so recognizable to me that it would have been boring if not for the strong character writing and murdery-plot.

 

Cole and his friends are relatable as teenagers struggling with a variety of issues: tragic pasts, tension with childhood friendships left behind, current identity and past identity, sexual identity and relationships, trust issues with adults who're keeping secrets . . . Also, the writing of "Choch" the trickster-spirit was hilarious. That's probably what tipped this story from a good read to "when's the sequel coming out?" for me. His clowning felt instantly recognizable and, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious. It was a great counterpoint to the dark thriller plot that could have headed into way more emo territory without him.

 

I'm totally down for reading a sequel/series about a Canadian First Nations teen with superpowers and his trickster spirit sidekick/tormenter/guide/whatever.

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review 2017-11-22 00:18
Book Review: Blood From A Stoner by L.A. Witt
Blood from a Stoner: A paranormal gay romance with vampires & weed. In Seattle. Obviously. - L.A. Witt

I first heard of this book when the author talked about it on Facebook - about this romance between a vampire and a stoner. Giggling, I made a note to snatch this up when it became available. 

It's a quick read, and just based on the title, you'd think it'd be all fun and sexy times, and you'd be half-right.

Greg is the aforementioned vampire, forever frozen at 24, needing blood, having to stay out of the sunlight, and somewhat regretting his decision to become one of the undead, even if it will allow him to eventually pay off his student loans. He works as a software engineer for an IT company, and since in this particular universe, people (mortals) know about vampires, the company accommodates them by having the vamps work overnight, and provide sleeping quarters in the windowless basement in case of unpaid overtime so they don't have to drive home in the daylight. 

Zane is a mortal/human, similar in age to Greg, and works at the same company as a programmer. On whom Greg has a secret crush. Zane also indulges in weed which is legal in Seattle, where they both live and work.

Speaking of work, the company has been putting Greg under a lot of pressure to get the new product ready for release, which means overtime and no days off, and Greg is hangry. Which, being a vampire, is never a good thing.

Then Greg happens upon Zane outside, while taking a minute to breathe, and hangry Greg takes up Zane on his offer of taking a sip or five from Zane's neck. Which is super frowned upon at the company, but hey - whatever. Except Zane has partaken of some pot, unbeknownst to Greg. And now Greg is also a bit high.

I laughed and laughed and laughed at this point, because high vamp was hilarious. 

This being an L.A. Witt book, the sexy times are right around the corner, and boy, do they ever burn up the sheets. With or without weed, with or without getting high. The author has a real knack of writing those scenes, and they never felt gratuitous or repetitive. 

Obviously, as feelings develop, as they usually do in romance books, Greg now has a problem on his hands - he's immortal. Zane, not so much. And considering how much Greg regrets having chosen this life, he sure as hell won't convert Zane. But thinking of Zane growing older and eventually dying also makes Greg's unbeating heart hurt. What's a vamp to do?

I'll leave you to read this for yourself...

It's not easy fleshing out your characters to make them realistic in a novella, especially since one of them is supernatural, and you also have that whole world-building thing needing to happen, but the author does a fantastic job sprinkling the info into the narrative without ever making it feel like info-dump. Greg bitches about higher insurance rates, and extra tinting on the car windows, and being taxed higher than mortals, and generally having to pay more for stuff, because of that whole undead thing, which is plenty to make this world feel real enough. 

There's more to the book than just the sexy times, even if those are plenty. There's also doubt and confusion and fear, and the author did a great job exploring those feelings. As the story is told entirely from Greg's POV, we don't get a whole lot of insight into Zane, but what we get is enough to paint a picture of the guy - laid-back, a bit of a free spirit, definitely into weed and sex with Greg, but also insightful enough to realize that Greg needs to come to terms with what's bothering him, and then giving him the space and time to figure things out. Well done, that.

Recommended for all L.A. Witt fans, and those who love romance books that are sexy, light, and fluffy, but also have some serious undertones.

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review 2017-11-20 07:10
The Handyman by Bentley Little
The Handyman - Bentley Little

Typical Bentley. He has a knack for taking a seemingly innocent type of character and turning him into something that gives you the chills and leaves you feeling uneasy. In this case a run of the mill handyman who not only does shoddy work, but throw in some Vietnamese voodoo witchcraft, and you have a handyman from hell.

 

 

This one was creepy as heck, but fun read. Recommended for horror fans.

 

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review 2017-11-14 21:18
The Library of Light and Shadow
The Library of Light and Shadow: A Novel - M. J. Rose

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

When I requested this novel, I hadn’t realised it was the third instalment in a series; however, it turned out you can read it even without having read the previous ones, since the narrator does summarise well enough what her family is about, and that’s what you mostly need to know as far as background is concerned.

I liked the premise—Delphine’s gift and how it can turn out badly, the family with witchcraft gifts... I also liked how most characters felt like they had a life of their own: they definitely weren’t just plot devices, but had relationships, past experiences (sometimes together, sometimes not), and generally breathed and lived.

A lot of descriptions, too, were vivid, and allowed me to picture the places and scenes quite clearly. I’m definitely not sure about all of the fine details, though (avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt in Paris in 1920... uhm, it was avenue Victor-Emmanuel III, but even without knowing that it doesn’t make sense), so I advise not getting into that with a historian’s mind. Unless those were corrected in the final copy, that is. Anyway, the prose does have its charm, and whether New York, Paris or Southern France in the mid-twentied, it conjures the needed images easily.

I had more trouble with the pacing. For a good half, Delphine doesn’t do that much, to be honest, apart from being depressed because of her gift (which she probably wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t been such a doormat to her brother) and remembering her love story. I don’t know about the format it was told in (a diary), background info was needed here, yet on the other hand, it felt disjointed from the story. Moreover, while in terms of relationships the characters had a life, indeed, their actions and decisions were at times... silly. I could guess the turns and twists, and seriously, Delphine, that vision you had, that made you run away to the other side of the world... it was so obviously opened to many interpretations that it being a misunderstanding was a given here.

The story picked up after the characters arrived at the castle, but at that point I wasn’t ‘in’ it anymore.

Still, I may try the first book, because the parents’ story could be interesting (there’s a duel and a bargain with the spirit of a dead witch, apparently?).

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review 2017-11-14 18:51
Review: "Necropolis" (Whyborne & Griffin, #4) by Jordan L. Hawk
Necropolis - Jordan L. Hawk

 

~ 4.5 stars ~

 

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