Tag Archives: supernatural

Esper Files (Esper Files #1)

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In Victorian London, an experiment in controlling electromagnetic power goes horribly wrong, resulting in the Great Storm. This unnatural meteorological occurrence affects some of the population’s electromagnetic field, giving strange new abilities, which of course leads to the rest of the population turning against them in fear, and having the “Espers” live as outcasts.

But not all of them. The man responsible for the failed experiment, the Professor, starts up an Institute to train Espers to handle their abilities, and use them for good. Two of his top agents are James, who possesses the ability to teleport, and Nathan, who can mirror anyone’s ability through feeling their emotion. Together, they rescue Espers and fight against the Baron, a corrupt man and former partner of the Professor who controls an army of corrupt Espers, and wants to control the world. But the Baron has a controller as well…

And you know what would have taken me less time to type? Hey – do you like the X-Men? Then read this series. For the Professor, insert Xavier, for Espers Mutants, for Baron Magneto, for the Institute the School for Gifted Youngsters.

What we have here is a steampunk reimagining of the X-Men universe. But I’m not sure if you can call it a reimagining. It is the X-Men.  Eccentric professor saving youngsters with powers that the population fears and a powerful man with a link to the professor who has gone rogue and is bent on controlling the world.  Put it all in Victorian London, add the Parliament and an airship, and bingo.

What was good? Author Egan Brass writes fabulous action sequences and scenes. The story is well-paced and flows smoothly from one scene to the next. He doesn’t get caught up in over describing the scenes but gives enough detail to really draw the reader into the action. Reading it, I knew where every character was, their actions, and could picture each sequence.

The characters are a bit predictable but change and develop through the novel.  The Professor is horrified by the use of Esper powers for evil and fights for the good of all. *cough* Professor X *cough*. Nathan is a poor outcast with extraordinary powers who is a trouble maker and self-destructive but really has a heart of gold as he discovers how to control his impulses. *cough* Logan *cough*  James is the sidekick, shunned from society as an Esper and a person of colour . *cough* Storm *cough*  You can start to see a pattern… Freya is an orphan whose powers come out under duress as her adoptive parents are murdered and brother is abducted, and she must learn to control her power in order to rescue him.

But. There are problems with the book, besides the obvious inspiration behind it. As a fantasy, a certain amount of disbelief must be suspended anyway. But there is no explanation, scientific or otherwise, of why/how people got abilities through the Great Storm. Nor does it actually ever explain how the Great Storm came about. The failed experiment wasn’t the only factor.

Also, I was distracted throughout by typos and incorrect sentence structure (pot, meet kettle). It is difficult to be in the middle of an action-packed battle scene or tense situation and grind to a halt because of poor word choice or lack of proof-reading. The author has a good story-telling talent, but he needs an editor. (I just researched the publisher and discovered it is a self-publishing site.)  His sentences follow a certain pattern (it is always “he said” or “she ordered” or “the Baron yelled” or “Shadow snarled.”  Mix it up, please).

Show, don’t tell, please. Show me how Nathan learns his self-worth, instead of having me follow his every thought about his life and realizing he is a good person in the end. Show me how Freya comes to trust everyone instead of having read her thoughts as she looks upon her teammates and sees they are good people. And so on. And so on.

The last few chapters were obvious attempts to tie up loose ends and build suspense for the next book in the series, but suddenly certain characters were acting out of character, and I wish the book had ended three chapters earlier than it did.

After all that, you probably think I hated it.  I didn’t. Criticisms aside, this is a fun, fast-paced story. I read it in one sitting, and while it has some violent, fairly gruesome scenes (if excessive blood loss turns you off, or you don’t like the idea of snacking on someone’s brains, this book is not for you), it is a good story for a lazy afternoon.  It is the first in a series, so I am hoping the next book irons out some of the problems.

By the way.  I popped over to Goodreads after I wrote this and read the reviews of the book there.  I’m a DEFINITE minority in my criticisms, so take this review for what it’s worth.

Esper Files was published October 26th, 2016 by Inkitt.

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Not Your Sidekick (#1)

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The characters in this novel will make your heart flip. They kick some ass and save the world and bond with friends and oh! fall in love in the absolutely cutest possible way.

It is post-WWIII Nevada, and almost 17-year-old Jessica Tran is a bit of an aberration in her family. Her parents are local superheroes (not that anyone knows thanks to their impeccable secret identities), her sister is following in their footsteps, and her younger brother is a super genius and college student that spends his days building things that tend to singe body parts. She’s not athletic, not motivated in school, and not sure what she’s going to do when she turns 17 and everyone realizes she has no powers.

The nuclear fallout from the Disasters one hundred years before caused a mutation in the gene and certain people are born with super powers. Some become heroes, and some become villains. Each city gets a set of each. Since Jess is without powers, she decides to get a job and find out what she can be good at. Bonus: getting a job gets her out from under her parents’ disapproving looks and constant questions about what she’ll do with her life.

And she ends up interning for her parents’ arch nemeses. AND with her secret crush, Abby. This could be the best job EVER. But her dream job takes on a dangerous element when she discovers that the heroes and villains are not all that they seem.

Holy crap, this is a fun book to read! It is charming and endearing and the characters are believable and likable and my heart truly melted over the romances.

Jess is an Asian-American child of immigrant superheroes, her dad is Vietnamese and her mom Chinese.  She is a wonderful protagonist for the story – kind and friendly and desperate for her powers to manifest. She lives with superheroes, collects comic books to read more about them, and belongs to the Captain Orion fan club. She is bisexual, asks people for their pronouns because she does not want to misgender them, and is totally intimidated only by her first real crush. As the child of immigrant parents of two cultures, Jess faces familiar issues. Although comfortable with the food and customs, she is not fluent in either language and never quite feels like she fit in with the Vietnamese or the Chinese communities in her town, while also feeling like an outsider in her own country.

Best friends Bells and Emma are also perfect. Bells is transgender and bright and hard-working, while Emma is cisgender, flirts with every boy that walks by, and is completely oblivious to the fact that Bells is in love with her. They are dynamic and quirky and completely hold their own in the story. And first-love Abby is red-haired and gorgeous and smart and athletic, and Jess is adorably tongue-tied and nervous around her. Their romance is funny and sweet and filled with hope and promise.

All the relationships in the novel are beautifully explored and developed. Author Lee takes everything from casual friendships and acquaintances to first loves and marriages and truly respects the different ties that people have to each other. Not one character seems like a token representation in this novel – various races and gender identifications are present and feel genuine to the story.

The world building in the novel does not take a back seat to the characters or plot. Fallout due to radiation is a common enough superhero backstory, but it is the perfect set-up for this novel. The world is now made up of Confederations, and water and food are not rationed but rather respected and not wasted. Lee has created a dystopian world filled with contrasts; each city has an assigned supervillain and hero to create havoc and order, there are wastelands and well populated big cities, there is extreme wealth with access to perks unavailable to the common population.

At the heart of it is the difference in perception and reality; who or what makes someone a hero or a villain? How do you resist pressure to be something you aren’t, and stay true to your own convictions? Especially when you learn that everything you thought was true is the opposite.

This is a great novel for everyone to read. No age limits, no restrictions. It is fun with fabulous messages, and I am just giddy waiting for the next book in the series!

Not Your Sidekick was published September 8th, 2016 by Duet Books.

Lockdown (Escape From Furnace #1)

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When I am finished reading a book it usually looks pretty close to the way it did when I first opened it. I am obsessive about taking care of my books, I don’t break the spine, I don’t dog-ear pages. Not this one. The front cover is rough-edged and crumpled where I was gripping it and the spine is cracked and I think I might have bitten it because it looks like there are teeth marks on a few pages… Every fear I have ever had? Meet the written word.

Built after the “Summer of Slaughter” when teens in Britain ran wild on a murderous crime spree, Furnace Penitentiary is buried miles beneath the surface, the world’s most secure young offender’s prison. There is one way in, literally. And no way out. You get convicted of murder, you take an elevator down through the granite, and never see the surface again. The problem is, not everyone in Furnace is actually guilty.

14-year-old Alex Sawyer is a petty thief, spending his time shaking down kids on the schoolyard for their cash, breaking into houses for bigger scores. He lives large and thinks himself invincible. But then it all goes sideways.

Convicted of a murder he did not commit, Alex is sent to Furnace for life without parole. Death might be the better choice. Furnace is beyond imagination. Blood-coloured rough rock walls and pulsing with heat, it houses thousands of teens kept under control through fear of a fate worse than death. Think mutant beasts, giant men in black, inhuman creatures that take screaming boys from their cells in the dark of night, a warden that seems to hold supernatural control over both inmates and employees.

And the outside world could not care less. These kids are no longer their problem.

Deep breath. Whew. The characters in Lockdown are incredible. Alexander Gordon Smith has written teens that we all recognize and can relate to in some way. They handle the horror of Furnace believably: they scream in their sleep, they have nightmares, they band into gangs, they throw up their lunch and they look the other way when violence breaks out.

Alex is the perfect blend of stupidity and bravado and bad choices and a good heart. He is not a bad kid, just one who didn’t think about the consequences until it was forever too late. What starts as a life controlling the playground ends as one of terror. He fights to stay himself in a place that fights just as hard to rob him of his identity.

And the friends he makes in Furnace are also a great cross section. Donovan has a tough exterior that hides fear and desperation, Zee, like Alex, is innocent of the crime he serves time for, and needs friendship but fears reprisals, and Monty has a surprising internal strength that could get him killed.

Smith’s talent for description is mind-boggling. He draws such a vivid picture of hell under the earth that you will swear it must exist. Furnace is gang wars and hard labour and overwhelming exhaustion and fear and the blackest evil. It is tier upon tier of tiny two-to-a-room cellblocks that lockdown when the siren wails. It is the simultaneous fear of death and overwhelming desire for it.

The psychological aspect of this novel is completely and totally unnerving. Not only does the fear of telling the truth and not being believed resonate, but the use of total blackness and despair to control a population is terrifying to the extreme. Yes, of course you know that darkness can’t hurt you. Intellectually. But tell that to the 5-year-old that still inhabits your brain in the middle of the night when the power has gone out and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Add the knowledge that there are actual things to fear in the dark in a hellacious prison, and you can start to feel the panic.

I wanted to stop reading this book. But it is told with so much suspense and in such a terrifying voice, it was impossible to put down. Alex’s voice is compelling and real and absolutely sucked me in to the point where I was begging out loud for him to survive as I tore through the pages.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go turn on all the lights and quadruple check that all the windows and doors are locked. And maybe put some furniture in front of them. And maybe let my two dogs sleep on my bed tonight. Just this once. Just in case.

Lockdown (Escape From Furnace #1) was published October 27th, 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The Looking Glass Wars (#1)

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So. I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks because I was up north at my cottage, and the wifi was down. Talk about a champagne problem. I had to spend my time watching the kids swim while sitting on the dock, drinking wine and reading. It was tough. But it did give me some time to start working through my TBR pile!

Another retelling, this one of Alice in Wonderland. Full disclosure. I have never been the biggest fan of Lewis Carroll’s novel. It just never really grabbed my attention when I was younger, and I haven’t really felt the urge to revisit it now. So I am looking at Beddor’s story through new eyes. And I think it is the right way to read this novel, the first in a series of three.

7-year-old Alyss Heart, the heir to the throne of Wonderland, has just celebrated her birthday and is learning to control her powerful imagination. Full of mischief and fun, she uses her powers for amusement, dreading the day she will become Queen, and have to do all the boring stuff that goes with the wearing the Crown. But her peaceful life is disrupted violently when her estranged Aunt Redd and her Cat assassin attacks the Crystal Palace and destroys her future. Hatter Madigan, trusted Royal guardian and advisor, escapes through the Pool of Tears with Alyss to save her, but loses her in the time stream. After emerging through street puddle into Victorian London, Alyss fears she will never find her way back.

Purists will probably hate this book, but I didn’t. Beddor definitely takes liberties with the original (he starts by stating the Carroll got it all wrong) and adds a fantastical sci-fi element that held my attention.

The characters were good, if a bit underdeveloped. Although as this is the first book in the series, there is always room for that to change as the story progresses. The exception is Alyss. The story begins with her at age 7, but she seems to be written older, which was confusing at first. That problem is ironed out, and her true age matches up much more smoothly with her actions. The story takes place over more than a dozen years, with Alyss going through many changes beyond her control. Beddor handles the different transitions well, and Alyss’ final identity is strong and the natural conclusion to her difficult growth.

Hatter, the Cat, Dodge Anders, Bibwit Harte, are all recognizable characters, even as they take on fantastical new roles. I think Beddor assumed a bit too much for their background because they all appear fully formed, but they seamlessly fit into the story.

The political struggle and resulting war in Wonderland are just dressing for the main storyline. They are well done. But the main plot line, that of Alyss searching for herself and validation of her life will resonate with most readers. She fights a constant battle to remember who she is in the face of others denying her story, and she struggles to hold on to her history. Her loss of self hinders her ability to help her people win the war; the rebuilding of her identity is the lynchpin to the entire story.

What I think is absolutely outstanding is Beddor’s world-building. Our world is somewhat behind Wonderland in technology and unknowingly relies on the fantasy world for our innovation and progress. Driven by the power of imagination, Wonderlanders imagine everything from gas lamps and hot air balloons to internal combustion engines that are then transferred to our world through a series of crystals, where someone here “invents” them. Incredible!

This is a successful retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Again, not for the purists, but if you are looking for an action-packed, often gory look at the adventures, this is a good book for you. I am hoping the that few issues I found with the first book are ironed out with the next two.

The Looking Glass Wars was published September 26th, 2006 by Dial Books.

Shallow Graves

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17-year-old Breezy (yes, hippie parents) remembers everything about the day leading up to her death, but doesn’t know who killed her, or how she came to wake up in a shallow hole, digging her way up and spitting dirt from her mouth.  But a year has passed and a man lies dead next to her grave. Because of her.

So now she is alive, sort of; her heart beats and she breathes air when she remembers. And she is conscious of those who hide a murderous past. The shadows of former crimes follow certain people, and she can sense memories of past bad deeds. Breezy sets out to discover what she is, and if she can ever go back to the life she had planned. As you might have guessed, it isn’t that simple. There are those who would hunt her down, those who hate her unnatural state, who can sense what she is.

There are a lot of reasons this novel is impossible to put down. Breezy is the first one. She is strong and independent, curious and confident, with just a touch of vulnerability. She enters a world she previously had no idea existed, armed with strange abilities and facing a cult that wants her dead (or, really, more dead), and she fights her way to understanding and freedom. But it isn’t an obvious outcome, and her plight kept me turning page after page, and I had to force myself not to skip ahead. Her voice is authentic and matter-of-fact, and she faces incredible violence without letting it define her.

Added to the constant cliff-hangers are humour and character diversity. A ghoul joking about eating the dead, mermaid fight club, and chilling with the brownie in the basement, all bring unexpected laughs throughout the story. And a biracial and bisexual main character who accepts herself unquestioningly sends a positive message, without it feeling forced.

The secondary characters are equally well fleshed-out (a little zombie humour for you), with Zeke and Jake being my favourites. Rain is creepy and terrifying, and Violet is still a little girl trapped in a life she doesn’t know how to escape. And Willow and Mother just creep me out.

Flashbacks of Breezy’s family and friends provide great context for her personality while moving the plot along and adding information.

The book is a total page-turner. It is packed full of changing and unresolved threads and heart-stopping predicaments in a creepy world filled with monsters that had me reading just “one more page,” right up to the end. And the end lives up to the rest of the story. Breezy faces an unknown future filled with infinite possibilities and dangers, and makes the brave choice to leave her old life behind and charge into the unknown.

The writing is beautiful, with stunning imagery. Debut author Kali Wallace has a great take not only on death, but also on creatures and ghouls and monsters and things that go bump in the night. They are the monsters we have grown up fearing in the dark, but with unexpected twists and personalities. Maybe all is not as the myths have led us to believe…

The novel is an appropriate read for the full YA age range, but may have the reader looking at people suspiciously after finishing it.

Shallow Graves was published January 26th, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books.

Wolf by Wolf

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So much for a nice, light read. Wolf by Wolf will grab your heart and leave you gasping for breath. This is one that you will not be able to put down.

In 1956, in the capitol of the alternative reality Third Reich, Yael carries the hopes and the weight of the resistance on her shoulders. As the survivor of a painful medical experiment in the death camps, she escaped with the ability to change her appearance at will, or skinshift.  This supernatural ability is her hope for a successful mission to change the world.

The victorious Third Reich and Imperial Japan control half the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia after WWII, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race from Germania to Tokyo, 20,000 kms long, with the best of the best of elite teenage racers competing. The victor is honoured with wealth and celebrity, and the chance to meet with Hitler himself.

Yael has one goal: win the race and kill Hitler. Avenge and honour the lives of millions, but specifically the four lives that haunt her, and the one life that taught her to live again. But she can’t race as herself; she does not exist. Yael must become another in order to compete, she must stand out to blend in.

Yael is an amazingly relatable character, given the torment and torture that defined her childhood.  With her ability to skinshift and take on new faces and personas, she must find a way to define herself beyond her physical presence. She learns to channel her pain, not to leave it behind, and to use it to fuel her purpose.

The various supporting characters are as alive as Yael. With a few strokes of her pen, author Ryan Graudin paints vivid characters that fight and race and scheme and die around the reader. The five wolves that mark Yael are as distinct as the rest of the cast; while their actual appearances in the story were necessarily brief, their images haunt throughout.

The world building, difficult to do in a “what if” recent past, was impeccable. Graudin transported me to the dark streets of Germania, dingy beer halls, arid deserts, exotic cafes and humid jungles. The various scenes had me on the edge of my seat, and I can say with complete honesty that the ending was a total surprise. I did not know who to trust, and who to avoid. I did not know if Yael would be successful in her mission; Graudin gave nothing away. The twist at the end left me reeling.

There will be a second book – thank goodness! I need more.

This is an excellent book, but with dark imagery of death camps, medical torture and wartime. It may not be for everyone.

Wolf by Wolf is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain

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After a month of reading horror and Hallowe’en-y type books, I needed something fun and light. What is better than a middle grade book about a 13 year old getting super powers, and mistakenly following the path of villainy, instead of becoming a hero?

Penelope has spent her life wanting, and expecting, to be a superhero. She’s got superhero parents, Brian Akk and The Audit. She’s got the ultimate mad science power, building gadgets she can’t explain and doesn’t yet understand. She has two super powered best friends. Her life looks well planned ahead of her. The best laid plans, however…

A superhero sidekick, trying make a name for himself, decides to attack Penny and her friends. Defending themselves, and defeating the sidekick and his hero in the process, they are labeled super villains. And they are really good at it! Penny becomes Bad Penny (as super villain names go, not so good, but she’s stuck with it), with super sidekicks Reviled and E-Claire. Together they are known as The Inscrutable Machine.

The characters are fun! Super-smart Penny becomes the defacto leader of the group; as the mad scientist, she invents and builds their defences and weapons, and super-strong Ray and mind-controlling Claire are happy to use them and become her minions. They are middle grade best friends with respect for each other and their own self confidence.

I liked that they all recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and don’t try to be something that they weren’t, with no envy or competition or resentment that can happen amongst even the best of friends. Penny occasionally wished for the stamina and strength of the other two, but mainly so she could keep up on foot. Not going to happen, so she invented teleporting rings and a light bike so her transportation was at least equal to their foot power.

They act like kids, but kids with extraordinary powers. They are smart enough to battle against and alongside adult superheroes, but not mature enough to know their own limits. Or when to call it quits. So, you know, typical 13 year olds.

The Villains and Heroes were fun and varied. I loved all the different powers, and just the sheer normality of villains taking over Chinatown for weekend parties, the sacredness of the secret identities, truces between heroes and villains, and the reality that good does not always triumph.

A few issues: This was a really fun story, but seemed long. And I’m not sure why – it was very well written, and action packed. But there are a few scenes that were probably longer than they should be, or maybe not even needed, but so fun I wouldn’t know what to edit out.

Generic Girl was a bit of a loose end that author Richard Roberts didn’t know how to handle. She was extremely powerful, but almost an afterthought in the story, disappearing for most of it, then just showing up at the end. She could have easily been part of The Inscrutable Machine, or actually stopped them, given that she knew their secret identities from the start. Her role was a bit confusing.

Anyone who has grown up on the Marvel and DC universes will recognize the traits of the genre, and can read this story. The book is first of a series, and makes it well worth reading the second.

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain is published by by Curiosity Quills Press.