Thursday, January 12, 2017

Raven Song (Inoki's Game # 1) by IA Ashcroft (Blog Tour)

Raven Song is the first book in this series called Inoki's Game, by IA Ashcroft introducing us to this dark, dystopian world, teetering after a nuclear holocaust, filled with magic and inexplicable dangers. I took this up on a whim after I read the premise of the book. I signed up for the blog tour ( and as usual, I got a bit late in posting the review!) and started the same, the last week of my holiday season hoping I could whizz through it. Alas - a combination of reasons saw me plod through it and not wrap this up in time. Well, mainly two reasons. The pacing of the novel and of course, the new year rush that crowds in on your time.


About the Book

A century ago, the world burned. Even now, though rebuilt and defiant, civilization is still choking on the ashes.

Jackson, a smuggler, lives in the shadows, once a boy with no memory, no name, and no future. Ravens followed him, long-extinct birds only he could see, and nightmares flew in their wake. Once, Jackson thought himself to be one of the lucky few touched by magic, a candidate for the Order of Mages. He is a man now, and that dream has died. But, the ravens still follow. The nightmares still whisper in his ear.

Anna’s life was under the sun, her future bright, her scientific work promising. She knew nothing of The Bombings, the poisoned world, or the occult. One day, she went to work, and the next, she awoke in a box over a hundred years in the future, screaming, fighting to breathe, and looking up into the eyes of a smuggler. Anna fears she’s gone crazy, unable to fill the massive hole in her memories, and terrified of the strange abilities she now possesses.

The Coalition government has turned its watchful eyes towards them. The secret factions of the city move to collect them first. And, old gods stir in the darkness, shifting their pawns on the playing field.

If Anna and Jackson wish to stay free, they must learn what they are and why they exist.

Unfortunately, even if they do, it may be too late.

Raven Song is the first of a four book adult-oriented dystopian fantasy series, a story of intrigue, love, violence, and the old spirits in the shadows who wait for us to notice them again. Readers of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Charlie Human will enjoy this dark magic-laced tale rooted on the bones of what our world could become.


Author Bio:

I. A. Ashcroft has been writing fiction in many forms for almost twenty years. The author's first book, written at age seven, featured the family cat hunting an evil sorceress alongside dragons and eagles. This preoccupation with the fantastical has not changed in the slightest.

Now, the author dwells in Phoenix, AZ alongside a wonderful tale-spinner and two increasingly deranged cats. Ashcroft writes almost exclusively in the realm of darker fantasy these days, loving to entertain adults with stories of magic, wonder, despair, violence, and hope, bringing a deep love of mythology into every tale penned. The author also loves diverse and intriguing casts of characters.

When not buried in a book, one might find Ashcroft learning languages, charting road trips, and playing tabletop RPGs with clever and fun people.


You can buy the book here: Amazon || Barnes & Noble || Kobo

Review

There's nothing wrong with the plot itself and its a fairly original, fresh take on the dystopian fiction. We land right in the middle of a futuristic society, living in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, a technologically created 'barrier' protecting the atmosphere within the cities and people protected from the mutations and 'magic' as spread by the nuclear poisoning by this government agency called 'Coalition'.

Into this chaotic mess, we land in with Jackson, a smuggler with 'weird dreams' problems who as a boy has no memory of his past and Anna, a research scientist who lands up in current times trapped in a box, having no memory of how she time-traveled from the past. And of course, both of them have unexplored talents that ticks off the antennae of the government agents - and a lot of other nefarious organizations for their own vested goals.

You see, both our protagonists have this 'memory' issue. While a powerful hook in itself, I thought this premise left too much questions unanswered. And Ashcroft doesn't make it easy on the reader either - While the tension is cranked up slowly higher, we are left fuming, impatient and tapping our foot as both Jackson and Anna play the bumbling idiots, waiting for circumstances to land them in hotter soup than they already are. I felt both the leads tended to play the 'helpless' because of the raw hand dealt by Fate way too often. The initial first half of the book, there really wasn't much happening, Ashcroft setting up his lead characters with a lot of introspection.

And indeed, the beauty of the book is that there is a lot of that introspection that moves the plot forward. There is back-stories to both Jackson and Anna - recurring dreams, moving shadows and of course, the presence of the mysterious ravens. As an urban fantasy that weaves down the streets of dark and devilish, Ashcroft does a bang-up job. The tropes are of course there, the Chosen Ones and Old Magi who can guide the lost ones etc - but right around the halfway mark, Ashcroft does a complete 180-degree flip and reveals one of the main antagonists; and this literally blew me away and made me sit up. He does a great job of painting up the characterization of the villain and weaves in some of the random narratives into this explanation.

Jackson and Anna both are well fleshed lead characters but somehow, they don't exactly behave in the way you would expect the hero/heroine of an urban fantasy to act. They get to their grooves eventually but Ashcroft makes them take their sweet time, getting to their powers. Riddled by self-doubts, unreliable memories and craven, because of extenuating circumstances they are thrust into, Jackson and Anna definitely weren't my favorite people. There are characters introduced early on who don't get so well utilized ( Hello, Genial Old Man Magi!) by the end of the story. And well, there weren't too many pay-offs for the questions built up over the course of this story.

For all this, I am going in with a 3-star; Somewhere past the half-way mark, Ashcroft really rises the quality of his writing, jump-starts the plodding narrative injecting a lot of tension and some well set up action. The jittery Jackson and Ann-combo really made my day in those few heart-wrenching moments when they take on the villain together. With just too many questions left unanswered and cryptic clues about Inoki's Game, it is obvious Ashcroft is in this for the long haul. Color me curious, I will get on that ride. The Game, as they say, is ON.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This week, the second Wednesday of the year, keeping in with the traditions of ringing you guys in on what's hot and eagerly-awaited-for-release on the book circuit (meme originally started by Jill of the Breaking the Spine blog), we are delighted to present - an action-packed YA/LGBT-themed superhero thriller called Dreadnought ( Book One, Nemesis) by April Daniels.

( I read the first couple of chapter excerpts and it's nuts! A boy who is a girl inside, watches the greatest Superhero on earth get blown apart and then inherits the super-powers to actually, become the girl she always wanted to be. The tone is really funny - and of course there is bound to be some really cool superhero fights. So I am definitely in on the ride!)


(NB - The exclusive cover reveal happened on The Mary Sue blog)

An action-packed series-starter perfect for fans of The Heroine Complex and Not Your Sidekick.

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.

She doesn’t have time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer—a cyborg named Utopia—still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

Dreadnought comes out on 24th Jan, 2017 from Diversion books and is up for preorder now.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Blog Tour : Review & Excerpt from Freeks by Amanda Hocking


Amanda Hocking has been a publishing sensation - with more-than-a-million-copies sold of her massive hit series, "Trylle trilogy" - and from what I could gather, I definitely think she is a prolific writing machine. Putting out one book after the other in humanly impossible time intervals.
So Freeks came out on Jan 3rd, 2017 and I was lucky enough to have snagged an early copy and be a part of the . Having never read a Hocking book before, I was eager to dive in - and the dry dusty carnival setting in this cold, mysterious town called Caudry really lured me in.



The story is about Mara, a teenager on the cusp of her adulthood, who has been leading the life of a nomad, along with this Travelling Circus group. She lives in a Winnebago trailer along with her mother, who poses as a diviner for the circus but actually is a necromancer who can talk to spirits. In fact, everybody in the group have some paranormal abilities - self-healing, super strength, animal control, pyrokinesis, telekinesis, you name it. Gideon's Travelling Circus has been home to these people with strange abilities whom the society has shunned and cast out. And for this reason, everybody are real close to each other. As the story begins, the group has fallen on pretty hard times and so, when Gideon, the head of this group gets an invite to set up carnival in this small town called Caudry in the middle of nowhere with the promise of good payment, they take up the offer readily and pitch tents outside town.

Mara, a spirited and intelligent young girl, who prefers books to parties decides to explore town - and gets invited for a random birthday party in town on account of having helped out the birthday girl with her drunken oaf of a boyfriend; And here's where she meets Gabe, a brooding handsome young man, to whom she is immediately attracted to. Gabe also happens to be a rich, his family being one of the oldest and most respected in the small town of Caudry. Initial teasing remarks soon give way to confused heady feelings for each other - as the cupid gets stronger with every other 'date' of theirs. Having pitched up the carnival for at least a week, Mara knows this might not last - and she shouldnt get attached to 'townies' but something about Gabe hits her the right way. They try and catch up every other day and the feelings get hot and heavy on both sides.

However, Caudry isn't just another sleepy, swamp-ridden town where the folks would enjoy some magic and tiger tricks. Strange things are happening. Everybody with magical abilities are feeling that something is wrong - their natural abilities are diminished and there's an awful sense of creeping dread that hangs around the circus. And then, one night, the strong-man in the circus gets attacked by a mysterious creature, rending him bloody and on the verge of death. The attacks continue every night leaving Gideon and his troupe frightened, confused and fragmented, on their decision to stay or leave.
Meanwhile, Mara is conflicted with her feelings for this 'boy' - and also, the creeping cold in this strange town has been giving her nightmares that she cannot explain. Tensions escalate as the events tumble towards an explosive climax where Mara has to choose between her 'love' or save her 'family' - the Circus group.

It's a very interesting YA paranormal romance - and is the first of the kind, I'm reading after a long time. I usually steer clear of the "Twilight" books but I had to try out Amanda Hocking after her name frequently surfaced on all things "good and great". I really liked the way the narrative proceeds, setting up the whole circus group and the characters in the group are very well crafted. Mara and Gabe of course are the central points of interest in this 'romantic' story but there are tons of others I grew to like in the course of reading.

Lyanka, the harried middle-aged mother, torn between her visions and her lack of ability to 'care properly' for her teenage daughter, trying her best to be friends with this girl whose hormones drive her decisions. There's Gideon - the leader of the group, a strong-willed fearless leader who sticks to his guns and runs a tight shop when it comes to his circus and who takes responsibility to protect his whole 'family'. There's Roxie, a fireball of a young girl, beautiful and strong who's shaken off the worst of what's happened to her and takes life head-on. Zeke and his two beautiful tigers. These characters really make the circus or the carnival come out real and I think, Amanda's effortless writing puts the shine on it.

Mara comes across as a fearless and intelligent heroine, willing to take the risk to protect those she loves. There are times when I did want to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her as she wandered heedlessly into danger - but overall, she's a very endearing protagonist, admirable for her qualities of being level headed and practical. Gabe, now is the perfect foil, the swoon-worthy, sweet handsome boy who stands by his girlfriend come hell, come highwater. A trope we've come to expect in YA paranormal featuring strong heroines, no complaints though.

The pacing is even and having churned out a few whole completed series by now, Amanda's writing is top notch and keeps you glued to the flying pages. The ominous sense of dread surrounding the mysterious town of Caudry keeps mounting. And this was deftly done without losing steam on how the slow-burn romance also builds up.

I only had one grouch with the whole book; the ending and the central conflict that powers the narrative felt rushed and incomplete. The climax and the way the problems were dealt with seemed overly simplistic - and the reader might feel a bit cheated. But perhaps we will get to see more of both Mara and Gabe as the travelling circus moves on, headed for a new adventure. I for one, am buying ringside tickets for the next show.

And to whet your appetite, here's a sneak-peek -

5. Carnival Unlike many of the other members of the sideshow, I didn’t have a specific job. My mom was a fortune- teller, Gideon did a magic show, Zeke had his tigers, Brendon andhis family did acrobatics, Seth was a strongman. My best friend Roxie Smith wasin two acts— she helped out Zeke, and did a peepshow revue with two other girls.I had no talent. No special ability, making me essentially aroadie. I did what was needed of me, which usually involved helping set up andtake down, and various menial tasks. I cleaned the tiger cages and emptied outlatrines when I had to. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it was crucial to our way of life. Since Roxie worked with the tigers, Mahilā actually tolerated her. Roxie was helping me clean out the tiger cage they traveled in. The cage wasopen to a fenced-in enclosure Seth had built, so the tigers could roam as theypleased.Safēdalounged in the grass, the sun shining brightly on her white fur. Whenever westopped, Safēda seemed content to just lay in the sun, sleeping the entiretime, but as the older tiger, it made sense.Mahilā paced along the fence, occasionally emitting an irritatedguttural noise in between casting furtive glances back toward Roxie and me. Hergolden fur was mottled with scars from her past life in the abusive circus,including a nasty one that ran across her nose. “So where did you go last night?” Roxie asked, her voice lilting in a sing song playful way. She was out in the run, using a hose to fill up ablue plastic kiddie pool so the tigers could play in it, while I was on my hands and knees scrubbing dung off the cage floor. Her bleached blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and the sleeves of her white T- shirt were rolled up, revealing her well-toned arms. The cut- off jean shorts she wore barely covered her bum, and her old cowboy boots went up to her knees— her chosen footwear anytime she was at risk of stepping in tiger poop. With fair skin, full lips, large blue eyes, and a dainty nose, Roxie was pretty and deceptively tough. Being a beautiful carnie was not an easy job, and dancing in the revue under the stage name “Foxy Roxie” didn’t help that. But she made decent money doing it, and Roxie never put up with anybody’s crap. I’d seen her deck guys much bigger than her and lay them out flat on their backs. “I was just at a party,” I said as I rinsed the brush off in a bucket of bleach and warm water. “A party?” Roxie looked over at me with a hand on her hip. “How’d you get invited to a party so fast?” I shrugged. “I was just exploring town, and I saw some people hanging outside of this big house party, and they invited me in.” “So what are the people like here? Are they nice?” Safēda had gotten up and climbed into the pool, and then she flopped down in it, splashing Roxie as she did. Roxie took a step back, but kept looking at me. “I don’t know. The people I met last night seemed nice, and they were superrich, so that bodes well for the town, I guess.” “Like how rich?” Roxie asked. “Like their house is practically a mansion.” I dropped the brush in the water and sat back on my knees, taking a break to talk to her. “It was the nicest house I’ve ever been in, hands down.” “Is that why you spent the night there?” Roxie understood my fascination with houses. Well, “understood” wasn’t the right word. It was more like she knew of it, but didn’t understand it all. She’d grown up in an upper- middleclass family, in nice houses with basements, and thought they were about as boring and lame as she could imagine. “Partly.” I nodded. “It was a really amazing house. There were pillars out front, and the front hall was bigger than my trailer.” “It’s just a house, Mara.” Roxie shook her head. “I know but . . .” I trailed off, trying to think of how to explain it to her. “You know how you felt when you first joined the sideshow two years ago? How everything seemed so exciting and fun, and I was like, ‘We live in cramped trailers. It kinda sucks.’” Roxie nodded. “Yeah. But I still think this life is a million times better than my old life. I get to see everything. I get to decide things for myself. I can leave whenever I want. There’s nothing to hold me back or tie me down.” She’d finished filling up the pool, so she twisted the nozzle on the hose to shut it off. Stepping carefully over an old tire and a large branch that the tigers used as toys, she went to the edge of the run and tossed the hose over the fence, before Mahilā decided to play with it and tore it up. She walked over to the cage and scraped her boots on the edge, to be sure she didn’t track any poop inside, before climbing up inside it. “So what was the other reason?” Roxie asked. I kept scrubbing for a moment and didn’t look up at her when I said, “Gabe.” “Gabe?” Roxie asked. “That sounds like a boy’s name.” “That’s because it is.” “Did you have sex with him?” “No.” I shot her a look. “We just made out a little.” “What what what?” Luka Zajiček happened to be walking by just in time to hear that, and he changed his course to walk over to the tiger cage. “Is that what you were up to last night?” “That’s what sucks about living in a community so small. Whenever anything happens, everybody knows about it right away,” I muttered. Luka put his arms through the cage bars and leaned against it, in the area I’d cleaned already. Since he was rather short, the floor came up to his chest, and his black hair fell into his eyes. His eyes were the same shade of gray as mine, but his olive skin was slightly lighter than mine. We first met him when he joined the carnival four years ago, and the first thing my mom said was that she was certain that we were related somehow. Unfortunately, Mom knew next to nothing about our family tree to be able to prove it. All she could really tell me was that we were a mixture of Egyptian, Turkish, and Filipino, with a bit of German thrown in for good measure. Luka had been born in Czechoslovakia, but he’d moved here with his family when he was young, so he’d lost his accent. He had recently roped me into helping him with a trick. He’d stand with his back against a wall, while I fi red a crossbow around him. Originally, Blossom had been the one to help him, but she kept missing and shooting him in the leg or arm, so he’d asked me to do it because I had a steadier hand. “So you made out with some local guy last night?” Luka asked, smirking at me. “Are you gonna see him again?” “He’s a local guy. What do you think?” I asked, and gave him a hard look. Luka shrugged. “Sometimes you bump into them again.” “And that goes so well when they find out that I work and live with a traveling sideshow,” I said. The floor was spotless, or at least as spotless as tiger cages can get, and I tossed my brush in the bucket and took off my yellow rubber gloves. “We can’t all meet our boyfriends in the sideshow,” I reminded Luka as I stood up, and it only made him grin wider. He’d been dating Tim— one of the Flying Phoenixes— for the past three months. “But you didn’t see Blossom anywhere in town last night?” Roxie asked, and Luka’s smile instantly fell away. A sour feeling stirred in my stomach, and I looked out around camp through the bars of the cage, as if Blossom would suddenly appear standing beside a trailer. As I’d been doing my chores all morning, I kept scanning the campsite for her, expecting her to return at any moment with a funny story about how she’d gotten lost in town. But so far, she hadn’t. And the longer she went without coming back, the worse the feeling in my stomach got. I shook my head. “No. I didn’t see her at all last night.” “She’s gotta turn up, though, right?” Luka asked. “I mean, it’s not like there are really that many places she could’ve gone considering she has no money or car and she’s in a small town.” The tigers were still down in the run, so I opened the side gate and hopped down out of the cage. Roxie got out behind me, then we closed the door. “I should talk to Gideon,” I decided as Roxie locked the cage up behind me. “It’s not like Blossom to do this.” “It’s not totally unlike her, though,” Roxie pointed out. “When we were in Toledo six months ago, she dis appeared for a few days with that weird commune, and came back just before we were leaving, totally baked out of her mind.” Blossom had grown up with parents who pretended to be hippies but were really just a couple of drug addicts. That— along with her unexplainable telekinesis— led to her dabbling with drugs and alcohol at a young age, before the state intervened and shipped her off to a group home. My mom tried to keep her clean of her bad habits, but sometimes Blossom just liked to run off and do her own thing. That wasn’t that unusual for people who lived in the carnival. “But if you’re worried, you should talk to Gideon,” Roxie suggested. “Luka’s right in that Blossom really couldn’t have gone far. Maybe you can scope out Caudry.” “Since that sounds like a mission that may take a bit of time, can you help me and Hutch with the museum before you talk to Gideon?” Luka asked. “The exit door is jammed, and we can’t get it open, and Seth is busy helping set up the tents.” “Sure. Between me and Mara, I’m sure the two of us can get the door unstuck,” Roxie said. I dropped off the bucket with the other tiger supplies, and then followed Roxie and Luka away from our campsite to the fairgrounds on the other side of a chain- link fence. We always stayed close to the rides, the midway, and the circus tent, but we didn’t actually sleep there. It was much better for every one if we kept our private lives separate from the crowds. Many of the games were already set up, and the Ferris wheel was in the process of being erected as we passed. Near the end of the midway was along black trailer painted with all kinds of frightening images of werewolves and specters, along with happier pictures of mermaids and unicorns, and the sign was written in bloodred:

Beneath that were several smaller signs warning “Enter at your own risk. The creatures inside can be DISTURBING and cause NIGHTMARES.” The entrance to the left was open, but the exit door at the other end was still shut. Wearing a pair of workman’s gloves, Hutch was pulling at the door with all his might. His neon green tank showed that his muscles were flexed and straining in effort. The bandana kept his dark brown hair off his face, but sweat was dripping down his brow. “Let me have a try, Hutch,” Roxie said. “What?” He turned to look back at her. “Door’s stuck.” “I can see that. That’s why I said let me have a try.” “Okay.” Hutch shrugged and stepped back. Hutch’s real name was Donald Hutchence, but nobody ever called him anything but Hutch. He didn’t have any special powers, unless you considered being really agreeable and easygoing a super power, so, like me, he was left doing whatever else needed to be done. Roxie grabbed the door and started pulling on it, and when it didn’t budge, I joined her. “Luka, go and push from the inside,” Roxie commanded through gritted teeth. Both Luka and Hutch went inside, pushing as Roxie and I pulled. And then all at once, the door gave way, and we all fell back on the gravel. I landed on my back, scraping my elbow on the rocks. Roxie made it out unscathed, and Hutch fell painfully on top of me, so he’d avoided injury. Luka crashed right on the gravel, though, and the rocks tore through his jeans and ripped up his knees and the palms of his hands pretty badly. “Do you need me to get a Band- Aid or anything?” Hutch asked as he helped me to my feet. “No, I’ll be okay.” I glanced over at Luka and the blood dripping down his knees. “What about you? Do you want anything?” “Nah. Just give it a few minutes.” Luka waved it off and sat down on the steps leading up to the museum door. No matter how many times I saw it, I couldn’t help but watch. His knee was shredded, with bits of gravel sticking in the skin. Right before my eyes, the bleeding stopped, and the rocks started falling out, as if pushed by his flesh, and the skin grew back, reattaching itself where it had been little mangled flaps. Within a few minutes, Luka’s knee was healed completely.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Well, Hullo there 2017!

2017 crept upon me, unnoticed.

















Literally. I wasn't prepared for the calendars to flip over a new page. a new YEAR. I was off vacationing in the jungles of Angkor Wat and busy bumming away on the beaches of Krabi, the real world a forgotten hazy dream, my only reality being the brilliantly azure stretches of the sea, the twisting gnarled roots growing out of the magnificent ruins of an empire and civilization, long forgotten - And then, time pulls a fast one on me. Damn, where did year 2016 go?

I still use terms like, "Earlier this year" - like it wasn't early enough now (snort!) But yeah, so coming back to the reading challenges, I think I hit an exact 52 books this year. One book, a Week. I really did hit a slump mid-year and didn't quite catch up on the challenge I set for myself but no complaints. I did get some writing done as well, hit close to sixty thousand words on my second book, started off a short story that might just become a novella ( ~ eight thousand words for now) - and well, also kicked off my Travelogue! ( combining the love for writing with travel!)

Personally, this year has been quite a roller-coaster but as with all travails and adversity one faces, I am hoping this one year has made me stronger.

So here's to another fantastic year to come, to another 365 days of great books and good writing. Cheers 2017! 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello

Robert Masello has risen up to the top tanks of my must-read authors, who can skillfully interweave historical fiction with mystery and intrigue. I admit to not having read this author before, but that is soon going to be rectified. An enticing mix of history, horror and literary, The Jekyll Revelation by the best-selling author of Einstein Prophecy caps off a good year of reading for me, 2016 and is definitely one of my favorite works this year.




The Jekyll Revelation is a gripping thriller in which Masello takes one of the darkest chapters in the human history, namely the shocking and brutal murders by Jack the Ripper and deftly weaves his creative genius around it to create a riveting tale that imagines the dark evil depths the human mind can fall to. Split as two parallel narratives, one set in the late nineteenth century and the other in modern day, the story weaves these parallel threads together, subtly at first and then through this hair-raising revelation about how terror, dormant across centuries, could rear its ugly head again in the present day. 

The story features two main protagonists. The first one being the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson whose journal is what the reader is privy to while in the present day, we follow the adventures of Rafael Salazar, an environmental scientist living in the dry and dusty canyon of Topaganga, California. But I think the main pull of the overall narrative would be the nagging teaser around the identity of the infamous murderer,  Jack the Ripper.

Admittedly, the dark heady days recounted in the famous author's journal is far more gripping than the present day turmoil that Rage goes through. The story begins on a slow note, introducing us to Rafe and his world, confined to tracking a pack of coyotes in the bush, his confused feelings for the bohemian girl whose trailer he has rented and also his run-ins with the gang of no-gooders in that canyon, who torture and kill animals for fun. And the diary begins with the account of Stevenson going to this secret medical rehab to improve his ailing lung condition. While the initial parts set in this snowy small town rehab in the Swiss Alps makes for a very entertaining read, Rafe's life seems pretty drab by comparison. 

But things heat up when Rafe on one of his hikes into the wild, discovers a trunk at the bottom of a lake, that reveals to him, this very same diary and a secret elixir. We switch back and forth rapidly between the two narratives, each a punchy revelation in itself, racing to make up that connect between these threads. Nebulous it may seem, till the last few chapters as terrible secrets tumble out of the closet. 

I thought it was fascinating as to how Masello recreates the life and times of Stevenson - based on the eerie coincidence that the first murder by Jack the Ripper happened at roughly the same time, the first stage production of Curious case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde premiered in London, Masello brings alive the late nineteenth century Europe - from the slippery snow-laden slopes of the Alps where Stevenson saves the life of a grey wolf and in that process, in a strange turn of events, himself gets saved by something from the wolf - to the rainy, dismal alleyways in London, where young unsuspecting women are being preyed upon by this deranged killer. The writing is really solid as Masello nails the deadly atmosphere and the grim mood of the setting; the creepy sense of dread gets under your skin while the whole of London is in the grips of fear and uncertainty. There are some really terrific moments of action in the dark of the night featuring Stevenson himself that had me biting my nails down to stubs. The lightning fast plot however, really doesn't have the same bite when it comes to the story of Rafe. 

Does the terror that stalked the streets of London get a new lease of life, in modern day California? The bikers gang and the meth problem doesn't compare well enough to the grungy dirge that plays out in Stevenson's life after he pens down the polarizing novel called Curious case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that charmed and repulsed readers worldwide in equal measure; a novel that may well be a reflection on the human society - daring us to reach into the stygian depths where evil that resides in each of us. The novel would well have worked just as a standalone historical thriller and done well by itself. But the twists and turns keep coming - and that final whopper of a twist will definitely blow your mind. All the elements of a thriller done right, there are a few shallow moments in this book, especially in the present day narrative and characters, not well fleshed out enough. But Rafe holds his own and grows into a compelling character by the end. Full points for the inventive and creative imagination by which Masello has wrought out the Stevenson angle to the Jack the Ripper murders, this definitely is the gripping account that will have you ripping the pages out to get to the end. 

A blazing fast read, crammed with some brilliant characters and a compelling dark twister of a plot. Lovers of mystery and historical fiction, anyone who's interested in Jack the Ripper's story, should not miss this one!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Good Behavior ( Letty Dobesh Series) by Blake Crouch

I have already been crooning about my die-hard love for Blake Crouch - His latest, Dark Matter - a twisted dark pretzel of a delightful science-fiction thriller was the icing on a noteworthy career full of glorious books. I first came across him before Wayward Pines became a TV Series.

And now this - Good Behavior hit the small screens across America on TNT a month back and is raking up the TRP's, purportedly one of the best shows after Southland. I picked up the collection of three novellas after I came across this news but hey, it's a rule now! Anything Blake Crouch, sign me up for the ride baby! This man sure knows how to write a thriller, get your blood pressure roaring and ratcheting up the tension to levels often sharp enough to cut diamonds.



So this one features Letty Dobesh, a thief, a meth-addict and a functioning alcoholic - fresh out of prison and looking to redeem herself. She has a young son, being taken care of by her own mother and probably wants to come clean, for his sake. But she has this one weakness that she cannot really ignore - the impossible high that comes from being on a 'job' that beats everything else. And being great at what she does, she is often sought after by the who's who in that part of the society, regularly hitting her up for one job or the other. The novellas follow three such 'jobs' and the complications that arise.



It's not necessarily in chronological order, the events in the three novellas - but nevertheless, as an introduction to the character of Letty, it does a bang-up job. The first book, is perhaps the grimmest of the three. We find Letty having set herself up in this nice posh hotel, hooked up with the bell-hops and waiters to slip her the master card keys of rooms where she waltzes in and gets out with the goodies in the rooms. Easy pickings. However, this one job - she gets stuck in the room as the occupant walks in and has to scramble into the closet to avoid being caught. The conversation that she overhears however, changes the course of her life. A plot to assassinate this guy's wife - and even Letty, hardened by life-experiences as she is, cannot in good conscience overhear what she does and forget about it. Cold murder is not something that she can condone and sleep easy. Against her own set of rules, she decides to intervene and try to save the said victim's life. What happens next, is a chilling grisly plot of depraved humanity and makes for a grim, tense read.

The second story finds Letty hooked up with one of her favorite 'handlers', Javier - a cold man who sets her up for jobs. This one's an odd request though - a tech CEO who's been convicted by the courts for fraud, living an exiled life on a remote island requests one last night with a beautiful girl. Javier sees the opportunity as an attempt to rob the man of his most valuable painting and Letty seems like the perfect person to execute this one. However, Letty's worst nightmares come true as the plans go topsy-turvy. Deceit, nerve-wracking tension and some edge-of-the-seat action-drama. Brilliant stuff!

The third story, personally for me was the weakest of the lot - and involves an elaborately planned heist of a Las Vegas hotel. and here's where we meet Christian, the third important person in Letty's life, her psychologist. Enough said about this, the plot rolls out like a B-Movie narrative and involves speed-chases, rappelling down skyscrapers and blazing guns.

I loved Letty's character - and if this was to whet our appetite before the show rolls out, then I am hooked. She's smart, sassy, ballsy to the core and still comes across as an endearing character, the underdog down on her luck, vulnerable girl trying her best not to give into her own demons and take life by its cojones. Crouch's writing is, as usual, spot-on. Razor-edged tense thrillers that make the pages fly and keeps you awake long past your sleep-hours. A book you must try, if you like action-thrillers seeped in mind-games and twisted psychological drama that will fuck with your mind. Recommended. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review and Giveaway Contest: Winter Halo by Keri Arthur


ABOUT THE BOOK:
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Souls of Fire novels comes the second in the futuristic fantasy series that will make you want to keep the lights on...

When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between worlds, they allowed entry to the Others. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay....

The humanoid supersoldiers known as the déchet were almost eradicated by the war. Ever since, Tiger has tried to live her life in peace in hiding. But in the wake of her discovery that Central City’s children are being kidnapped and experimented on, Tiger’s conscience won’t let her look the other way.

The key to saving them lies within the walls of a pharmaceutical company called Winter Halo. But as she learns more about the facility, Tiger’s mission is derailed by a complication: Winter Halo’s female security guards are being systematically attacked by an unknown force. 

Now Tiger must summon all her gifts to stop those responsible for both atrocities—no matter the cost to herself...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Keri Arthur is the New York Times bestselling author of the Outcast series, including City of Light, as well as the Souls of Fire, Dark Angels, and Riley Jenson Guardian series. She has written more than thirty books and has been nominated in the Best Contemporary Paranormal category of the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards and has won a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for urban fantasy.

Winter Halo marks the sequel to the excellent paranormal/urban fantasy series starter, City of Lights by Keri Arthur that I really enjoyed last year. The series introduced us to Tiger, a super-soldier created through genetic experiments during the savage war that destroyed earth hundreds of years before. Tiger is a dechet, known for their skills to ‘lure’ targets, seek information and kill. City of Lights lays the foundations for this dystopian world of the Outcasts where darkness brings vampires and wraiths and other unnamed dangers out in the open – and the two species, humans and shifters live huddled away in fear and confusion, deep within the brightly lit multi-tiered city called the Central; an uneasy peace brokered between the two that ended the war, but only on paper. The seething hatred for the devastation caused by the war continues to rage among the minds of these survivors and this forms a crucial foil to everything that unfolds in this series.

Tiger, the only dechet who survived the genocide perpetrated on her kinds during the war, is thus wary of company or friends. Trust doesn’t come easy. The first book was excellent because, as a reader, I was so emotionally strung and connected to the lows and highs of what Tiger, the first person narrator, goes through. And by Rhea, does she go through a lot!

Book two, picks up right where city of lights ended. Tiger – and her uneasy alliance with Nuri, the powerful earth witch and Jonas, a ranger who is also a shifter of the cat family, still continues on. The main narrative here follows Tiger and gang hot on the trail of the missing children from book one. The book starts off on a pulsating high, a high-octane action chase sequence with the vampires and slowly settles down to a fast paced rhythm as we follow the trail of the kidnapped children to a mysterious pharma company called Winter Halo, deep within the Central city. Tiger infiltrates the security of the company and realizes that the shady dealings extend much beyond, within the walls. Female security guards go missing and she suspects a much deeper ploy here, something that might have earth-shattering consequences if the experiments come true.

This book, just as the first one, is full of thrilling action set pieces as Tiger and Jonas, finally set aside their mutual distrust and hatred and work towards a common goal. However, the sparks of attraction that we felt right from book one, still hasn’t caught on to become that inferno you would expect. It’s more of a slow burn – and sometimes, for me as a reader, a bit frustrating. Tiger gets thrown together with Jonas quite a lot in this book and their teaser interactions never really heats over, the knowing smiles, the innuendos and the squabbles never get over and gets repetitive. But the good thing is, hey – Jonas and Tiger may finally have gone to first base.

There are several secondary plots that emerge in this book and I for one, am definitely excited about the final reveals and how the tapestry gets woven together. Tiger remains a charming, selfless heroine – who in spite of being this hot, super spy who uses her sexual charms to get information, remains an endearing character with a lot of heart. Chiefly because of her interactions with the child-ghosts Bear and Cat, who have been her chief companions for long now and who get to play a lot more important role in this book than the first.  Jonas reveals a lot more of his own background in this book and has almost grown to be a protagonist at par with Tiger, whom the reader wants to get behind of. There are several questions laid open now – with the plot developments like what happened to Penny, the girl who was first rescued by Tiger in the book one beginning or how would the alliance between Tiger and Nuri play out – and of course, who is the mystery perpetrator of all these genetic experiments that could have disastrous consequences in the world.

An excellent sequel that builds up on the fascinating world-building done with book one, Winter Halo has all the ingredients that endeared us to Tiger and this brutal world of deadly vampires, shape-shifters and mind-bending magic. If you haven't yet read the Outcast, then you should head straight away into this dangerous and bizarre futuristic world teetering on the edge of a disaster, rest assured you will love it.

GIVEAWAY:

Courtesy the lovely folks at Berkley, I have one copy of both, Winter Halo and City of Lights to be given away ! All you need to do, is drop me a mail at sachin.dev@gmail.com and let me know you need it! This one's open only to residents of US/CAN only. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Jakkattu Vector by P K Tyler

Jakkattu Series gets off to a fantastic start with this blistering action-packed alien contact story set in a dystopian earth featuring two remarkably gutsy female leads, rebelling against the ruling tyrants.



I confess I haven’t read the prequel stories, Avendui 5ive set in the same world or the earlier works of PK Tyler. But when I got a review copy, my interest was piqued by the “Margaret Atwood of the indie scene” comparison. And after having rushed through this one, I am definitely looking to reading anything else from her. A year, when xenophobia has been termed as the word of the year by Dictionary.com, this book truly brings out a different dimension to that word. A startlingly original novel, The Jakkattu Vector is the first in a series that chronicles a disturbing contact story of aliens arriving on a ravaged earth destroyed by environmental disasters, but with veiled intentions and genetic experiments that go horribly wrong.

The story begins on an exuberant high – Sabaal, a Jakkattu (An alien species remarkably similar to humans, from another galaxy and a planet called Perithia) imprisoned by Mezna (this new species of aliens who arrived on earth decades ago, offering their superior technology to save the ecological disaster that has engulfed earth and has destroyed the planet and humans alike) escapes her captors and gets away from the ‘terraformed’ city that is the capital of their rule here on Earth. The scene sets the tone for the book, fast-paced to the point of frenetic and we never look back. Now Jakkattu are a warrior species, violence being an essential part of their lives – as is evident by the physiological structure of the Jakkattus. Sabaal is taller than most human women, her body denser and in better shape to endure physical stress. Pavarti ensures that through Sabaal’s thinking and actions right up at the beginning of the book, the readers are made aware that Mezna have some hidden intentions in their ‘visit’ to this new planet called Earth. The brooding sense of tension only escalates as we are taken on a wild ride, with Sabaal who escapes into the ‘wild’ beyond the city; an area apparently off-limits to the residents (‘rez’); humans or hybrids alike. The city houses ‘miscegenates’ hybrid experimental results of the Mezna, trying to fuse their DNA into the humans. Characterized by their bright blue eyes and their utter devotion to their faith as spread by Mezna, where a Divine Lord Mother is the guardian deity.

The other POV comes in from Julia Thorpe, who lives on one of the last few ‘pure’ human settlements beyond the big Mezna city. A feisty girl who question the rules and limits set in place by the council of leaders (strangely enough a matriarchal society ruled by women, taking tough decisions to ensure safety of the last few pockets of humanity, huddled together against the marauding dangers like toxstorms and the ‘feral’, cannibalistic roaming wildlings) Julia isn’t content with the deadbeat rhythm that her leaders have the society dancing to. Her brother, Norwood – himself a rebel in his thinking, refuses to be just a ‘cattle’ who is fit only for physical labor or being paraded for marriage proposals from ‘brides’ who arrive from different cities. In fact, I really liked his character and I wish there was a POV for woody. A brave man who actually acts on his thoughts and is in fact, the catalyst for Julia’s character evolution.

The diseased Earth – with left-over pockets of humanity cringing together for survival against an enemy that is the crippled environment or nature around them itself, comes alive beautifully in Pavarti’s punchy prose. Deft world-building that will bring a lump to your throat as you imagine the dangers of the scathing tox-storms that sweep through the settlements or the monsters out in the ocean. Or the detailed cultures of the different species including the epics and Gods of a new faith as being popularized by the ruling class. The societal hierarchy and the far-reaching consequences of rules set down by the tyrants in power. It forms a haunting background to the intriguing power-play and the evolution that our lead characters go through.

Pavarti mixes science fiction and genetic experiments, throwing up some burning questions about the human nature itself and writes up a storm as Sabaal and Julia’s worlds collide and explode. Jakkattu Vector is a book that takes you on a harrowing adventure, streaking past issues of human identity, xenophobia, environmental disasters and a stagnating culture with an emotional heft that will slam you with a left hook you never saw coming. This one deserves to be on your reading list. Solid four stars. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2017 Movies - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Guy Ritchie. Guy Ritchie. Guy Ritchie. This one's going to be EPIC.

Yup - New movie out in 2017 and the trailer released sometime back at Comic-Con looks like a motherload of a shit-kicker! It's got Charlie Hunnam( Pacific Rim), dark humor, bare-knuckled fights, Jude Law, fire-balls, black magic and hell, it's a Guy Ritchie movie. Do you seriously need any other reason?

This one's way up on my Most Awaited Movies of the Next Year - The King Arthur, Legend of the Sword. In his own inimitable fashion, Guy Ritchie stamps his masterclass and his own distinct stylish visual flair on this legend, gritty, pulsating with a very high level of energy that never lets down through this whole trailer.

Would you be interested in a Guy Ritchie take - on the Arthurian legend ? Let's find out, March 24 2017 as the movie opens. For now, feast on this action-packed exhilarating trailer that definitely ups the expectations to beyond star-trek.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Release Day Blitz: The Jakkattu Vector by P.K. Tyler

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Welcome to another Novel Publicity tour! We're so excited for the release of The Jakkattu Vector by P.K. Tyler ! I am halfway through with the book and it's mind-blowing stuff. Imaginative worldbuilding, posing some really tough questions in the guise of a well-packaged post-apocalyptic story of alien contact, poignant and disturbing at the same time. Look out for a review coming up soon!

About the Book

tjv-ebook-cover

They came as saviors to a deteriorating Earth Julip Thorne questions whether there is more to life beyond the barren dirt, acidic seas, and toxstorms her people work and die in. Living in poverty on the withering Greenland Human Reservation, she wonders if the alien Mezna goddesses are truly as holy as the temple preaches. Julip begins to dig deeper into the history of the planet and her leaders’ rise to power. But nothing can prepare her for the atrocities she uncovers. Meanwhile, Jakkattu prisoner Sabaal suffers constant torture and heinous medical experiments as her Mezna-priest captors seek to unlock the key to her genetic makeup. Escaping from captivity, she finds herself suddenly alone on the hostile alien planet of Earth. To survive, she’s forced to work with the same Mezna-human hybrids she’s loathed her entire life, but the more they work together, the more they realize that their enemy is the same. When humans and Mezna collide, will Sabaal turn out to be the genetic vector the Mezna have been searching for all along, or will she spark the flame that sets a revolution ablaze?

About the Author

pavartiktyler

P.K. Tyler is the author of Speculative Fiction and other Genre Bending novels. She’s also published works as Pavarti K. Tyler and had projects appear on the USA TODAY Bestseller’s List. “Tyler is essentially the indie scene’s Margaret Atwood; she incorporates sci-fi elements into her novels, which deal with topics such as spirituality, gender, sexuality and power dynamics.” – IndieReader Pav attended Smith College and graduated with a degree in Theatre. She lived in New York, where she worked as a Dramaturge, Assistant Director and Production Manager on productions both on and off-Broadway. Later, Pavarti went to work in the finance industry for several international law firms. Now located in Baltimore Maryland, she lives with her husband, two daughters and two terrible dogs. When not penning science fiction books and other speculative fiction novels, she twists her mind by writing horror and erotica. You can follow PK Tyler on Facebook, Twitter, and sign up for her newsletter, or visit her website here.


Exclusive Author Interview & Excerpt from the Jakkattu Vector:



You’re the head of marketing for Novel Publicity, a business woman, and an award winning author. What does a typical day work day look like for you?


How do you find balance between working life, your family and everything else?
P.K.: Have a forgiving spouse?  I don’t do everything, I can’t. It’s just not possible.  Thank god for a man who loves to cook and clean!  My kids are getting older now so they need less of my focus and more of my driving skills, so I do a lot of reading in the car waiting for them.  I don’t know how to organize it, I kind of just do it.  I’m really walking talking chaos so I’m the wrong person to give advice on this.  

Have any tips for those of us that work from home?

P.K.: I’d say the most important thing is to accept that you can’t do it all and not only is that okay, it’s normal and good.

The Feral

IT STARTED TO RAIN AS they walked, but Norwood kept an impossible pace. Julip slipped and fell more than once, but he just kept going. She guessed he was right to hurry; they had to get back before nightfall so they didn’t get caught. Ma would be furious as it was, what with them gone missing for so much of the day.
The sky darkened despite it still being midday, and clouds rolled in behind them. Back home it would be a mess. Rain put everyone in a sour mood. The sea was too volatile to risk going out when it stormed, and while the rainwater was clean and safe, the ocean steeped in chemicals that could peel a person’s skin before too long. Their father had burning water scars up and down his arms and speckled across his face from working as a jellyfisher for so long. By comparison to other men who worked the sea, he had remained pretty intact.
The Cotillion was probably having a great time. Rain meant clean air and fresh water, for a little while at least. Sometimes if the rain came at the same time as a toxstorm, it would bring the fumes down to Earth, keeping everyone inside for days, sometimes weeks. The last time that happened, Julip had been nine and was forced to stay in her parents’ dwell with no one but her brother for nineteen straight days. The damage the fumes caused still marred the walls of the bedroom they shared.
The siblings had complained, begged to be allowed outside, but nothing they said or did would convince the adults to let them go. Only her father ventured out to pick up a daily ration of food and water from the Center-of-It-All. He would bundle up, covered from head to toe in fabric and plastic. Even his head was wrapped in one of her mother’s scarves, and his eyes hid behind goggles he’d made out of extra window plastic.
Thirteen people died during that storm, and two more were blinded. For months after, there was a rash of stillbirths on the reservation. The Daughters all agreed that the fumes had come down and poisoned the babes. It’d been five years since the last bad toxstorm whipped through Greenland, so one was due to come soon. Julip loved the cool rain as it soaked through her scarf. She uncovered her head and felt the water trickle down her face and saturate her hair. Parents would take the littlest kids on the rez outside, strip them, and scrub them red. Clean rain meant a real washing, not a quick, timed wipe-down with the gray water from the sinks.
Norwood pulled a canteen from his trouser pocket and caught drips of water from the oversized leaves surrounding them. The trees weren’t much taller than him, but the forest canopy closed in as they walked. Soon they walked on dry earth, and the only remaining evidence of the rain was the heaviness of her hair and the sound of water dripping on leaves high above.
“I’ve never been deep in the Wilds,” she said.
“Ya’ve never been shallow in the Wilds.”
“True, but there ain’t even words for this back home. It smells different, dirty, but my nose ain’t pained by it.”
“‘Cause it’s real. This dirt is from the Earth, not the toxes.”
“Why do we have so much tox on the rez if this is right here?”
“I dunno, but I reckon it’s ‘cause we’re human. People made the toxes. In some way, I guess it’s only right we live in ‘em.”
A howl rose from deep in the forest, and Julip yelped and bent down, trying to blend in, hide in the underbrush. Her legs wanted to give out, but she squeezed her eyes shut and demanded her body not betray her