A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman #bookreview #magicalrealism #TuesdayBookBlog

Both seventeen. Both afraid. But both saying yes.

It sounded like the perfect first date: canoeing across a chain of lakes, sandwiches and beer in the cooler. But teenagers Amelia and James discover something below the water’s surface that changes their lives forever.

It’s got two stories.

It’s got a garden.

And the front door is open.

It’s a house at the bottom of a lake.

For the teens, there is only one rule: no questions. And yet, how could a place so spectacular come with no price tag? While the duo plays house beneath the waves, one reality remains:

Just because a house is empty, doesn’t mean nobody’s home.

When I requested this from NetGalley, I didn’t realize it was originally released in 2016. Reading reviews from that time, it looks like this novella was categorized as horror – which is absolutely isn’t. On Amazon, it’s now listed as coming of age and magical realism, which are much more appropriate descriptions.

Can I just say how cool this cover is? The eerie colors and perspective of the boat above the house just draw you in, and it helped me visualize the house as James and Amelia explored it underwater.

I’ve read three other books by this author and enjoyed them all, especially Bird Box. While I liked both of these teen characters and was riveted by their growing obsession with the house and their discoveries, I had to shove my disbelief out of the way several times to continue on with the story. Their first exploration of the house is done by holding their breath, but they quickly realize that’s not possible if they want to get through all of it. Then they bring an old diving suit which requires an air compressor. With only one suit, each of them takes a turn and also helps the other change in and out of it. Keep in mind all of this happens in a canoe – which is apparently large enough to hold hundreds of feet of hose and a heavy air compressor and is miraculously stable enough to never capsize. James and Amelia then decide to become certified divers, something I’ve never done, but I’d think requires more than a handful of days.

Once I pushed all that aside, I enjoyed this tale, which at times is eerie, claustrophobic, and even heartwarming, but it’s not my favorite by Malerman. For me, the ending is a thing of beauty and not what I’d expected.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

#Grogu, Best Indie Book, and #AmWatching

Happy New Year! I think most of us were happy to kick 2020 out the door – I know I was. We spent NYE with family and a few friends and once again were lucky to have both sons here. My oldest son and his girlfriend surprised me with a late Christmas gift. I had no idea Build-A-Bear had Grogu aka Baby Yoda and The Child until I saw it on a friend’s blog (thanks, Tessa!). I might have dropped a few hints (or maybe made a sign and paraded it around the house) that I wanted one of my own. They even bought him a Gryffindor scarf. Isn’t he adorable?

About a month ago, I mentioned Subject A36 had been nominated for one of the Best Indie Books in the science fiction category on ReadFree.ly. I’m excited to say it was named one of The 50 Best Indie Books of 2020! Thanks to all of you who took the time to vote – I deeply appreciate it.

Have any of you watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix? Several friends recommended it, and I finally got to it last week and finished it over the weekend. I’m not a chess player, but this storyline was so compelling it was difficult not to binge the entire series in one day (I watched three episodes on New Year’s morning). Beth becomes a chess prodigy at the age of nine, but struggles with addiction and other obstacles as she grows older. She’s a flawed MC who isn’t easy to like at times, but you can’t help but cheer her on.

Have a great week in this brand new year!

Guns of Perdition (Armageddon Showdown #1) by Jessica Bakkers #bookreview #darkfantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

IT TAKES GRACE TO HUNT WHEN IT’S DARKSOME

Jessie expects he’ll be forever cleaning up after the cowpokes of the Bad Hoss Saloon. That’s until the day a drifter strides through the doors, and blows away a blood-sucking demon, along with Jessie’s belief in an everyday world. Jessie is captivated by the enigmatic Grace, with her pearl-handled revolvers, and wolf companion. He throws in his normal life and follows her across the Wild West, as she hunts down and slays the evil creatures that roam the frontier.

Along the way, they seek the aid of a Native American warrior, cross paths with a Cajun Queen, and encounter a small-town tycoon with a deadly hunger for gold. Animosity and distrust plague Grace and Jessie, and their strange group of allies, but they must put their differences behind them if they’re to have any hope of finding and defeating the frontier’s true evil, the Darksome Gunman.

The Armageddon Showdown is a dark-fantasy, weird western series of epic proportions, focusing on the age-old battle between good and evil, though in the Wild West, it’s not always clear just who is good and who is evil.

Join Grace Dyer and her band of miscreants as they battle demons and demi-gods, in the frontier’s deadliest conflict…the Armageddon Showdown. 

I haven’t read many westerns – to my knowledge this book makes a sum total of two. It’s not one of my favorite genres, but toss in Armageddon, dark fantasy, and a battle between good and evil and I’ll snatch it right up regardless of the genre.

The genre blend of western, dark fantasy, and horror is done so well and will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Some parts are a bit graphic, so heed the warning if that’s something you prefer to steer clear of (or just skim over those parts). It’s clear the author did her research for this time period, and I really enjoyed the western vernacular.

Morally gray characters are my favorite and these characters? Shades of gray dripping on nearly every page. Jessie had no idea what he was getting into the day Grace walked into the saloon where he worked or how much his life would change after leaving town with her. His character arc from young and naive to weathered and jaded is fascinating, but also kind of heartbreaking at his loss of innocence. It’s one of the things I enjoyed most. And Grace? She’s badass, hardened, lethal and ruthless, but I loved how the author also allowed her softer side and undying loyalty to her friends to shine through.

Vile creatures, unsavory characters, shocking twists, somber moments – my emotions were all over the place. Alexa read this to me from my Kindle and I had to rewind her more than once because I let some curses slip out over suprising plot developments. The author absolutely didn’t pull her punches from the first page to the last.

Readers of westerns, horror, and dark fantasy will be delighted with this gruesome, gritty tale and after this book, I’ll have to retract my statement about not being a western fan. It’s a powerful debut, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

Christmas and Goodreads Challenge

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! Hubby tested negative for COVID-19, so that was like a bonus Christmas gift for us. We were able to spend a socially distanced/partially outdoors Christmas Eve with friends who are more like family and had both boys here, so ours was perfect. Being an hour north of Nashville and having AT&T as our cell phone provider, our phones were out for a few days, but we were still able to email family and friends.

Santa left Bond, our furry cat friend, new balls with bells inside (his favorite) and catnip mice in his Christmas stocking. The picture shows his favorite thing – wrapping paper. It was hours before we were able to get it away from him and put it in the trash. Just like kids getting new toys and preferring to play with the boxes they came in.

I also added some new items to my nerd cabinet. My book club Secret Santa gave me a couple Star Wars action figures – Han and Chewbacca. The youngest son added Ronin to my Funko Pop collection, and I finally put together the Star Wars Legos hubby gave me last year – almost 500 pieces. All of this joins my Harry Potter Legos (featured here last spring), Marvel golf balls, and Funko Pops Hawkeye, Westley (The Princess Bride), and Ted (the Geek from Sixteen Candles).

I got my Year in Books email from Goodreads, and I exceeded my reading goal by 18 books – soon to be 19. I can’t remember the last time that happened, but since the writing has been so slow this year, it’s easy to see what I was doing instead of adding words to the WIP.

We’re almost finished with this crappy year so hang in there a few more days!

Rona, #AmWriting, and Secret Santa

So I was officially released from quarantine last Friday – woo hoo! Thanks to all of you for the positive thoughts and well wishes. Hubby is getting tested again today, so keep your fingers crossed for a negative result. He’s still showing no symptoms.

One good thing about quarantine? I mean besides cleaning out the closet. All kinds of time for writing – which I did last week. Things are moving along for the Subject A36 sequel. Muses, inspiration, and characters working together for the common good – finally.

For one of my book clubs, our December meeting typically involves sharing lots of food and receiving gifts from our Secret Santas. Obviously that’s not happening this year – the food part anyway. We still drew for Secret Santa through Elfster.com, and I found a basket of goodies on my porch yesterday. Han and Chewie will be perfect additions to my nerd cabinet! I’ll find out who my Santa is at the Zoom meeting tomorrow evening.

While we’re on the subject of Star Wars, the season finale of The Mandalorian absolutely blew my mind. No spoilers here – but holy crap! Soooo good.

This is my last post until next week. Wishing all of you a peaceful, safe, and healthy Merry Christmas!

#BookReview – Subject A36 – Teri Polen #scifi #dystopian

Happy Friday! Jessica Bakkers posted a wonderful review of Subject A36 on her blog that absolutely made my month! While you’re visiting her, check out her new debut novel, Guns of Perdition. It’s a delightfully sinister mix of western, dark fantasy, and horror. Grace is at the top of my list for favorite heroines.

Jessica Bakkers

Subject A36 (The Colony Series Book 1) by [Teri Polen]I’m not usually a big reader of young adult fiction, but I’d read extracts of ‘Subject A36’, and could tell in the first few pages it was going to be a book I’d enjoy. And I was right.

‘Subject A36’ by author Teri Polen, is an extremely well-written story, set in a dystopian future/alternate timeline. Slightly reminiscent of the bleak unjust future in the Hunger Games series, Polen pits the Insurgents – a morally good group of people trying to survive – against the Colony, the overlords of this region, with superior tech, and a penchant for the finer things. Unfortunately, those finer things involve the very genes of the less fortunate being literally stripped from their living bodies. This so the Colony populace can have access to talents and traits they find desirable (such as blue eyes, intelligence, blonde hair). It’s a shudderingly gruesome concept that instantly…

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Conscience by Jonathan Pongratz #novella #scifi

Rory Bennels lives in a world ruled by a business entity known as the Corporation. For years he’s executed cerebral uploads for the recently deceased, but when the famed anarchist Epher Lore ends up in his lab, a series of events occur that shakes Rory’s world to the core.

I’ve been a science fiction fan since before I hit double digits in age, and I read across the board in the genre.  As a fan of this author’s horror novella, I was immediately interested in checking out his venture into sci-fi.

Cerebral upload isn’t a new concept to me, but the author puts a different spin on it.  What happens when the upload is from a wanted anarchist who has repeatedly eluded authorities and is accidentally transferred into a robot?

Rory is a follow-the-rules type of guy who’s just keeping his head down and doing his job, but then everything he believes about his world changes almost in the blink of an eye.  He’s forced to make a quick decision that will forever alter his life, and you’ll cheer him on until the last page.

Although this is a quick story, the author does a wonderful job with character development, and there’s plenty of action to go along with it.  If you’re a sci-fi/dystopian fan, I highly recommend this novella.  I’d be interested in seeing what happens next to these characters.

I was an early reader of this novella and received a complimentary copy from the author.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Crown of Bones (Amassia #1) by A.K. Wilder #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Raise. Your. Phantom.

For fans of epic fantasies and sweeping adventures, this ensemble cast will immerse you in a world of unique magic, breathtaking action and unforgettable characters.

In a world on the brink of the next Great Dying, no amount of training can prepare us for what is to come …

A young heir will raise the most powerful phantom in all of Baiseen.

A dangerous High Savant will do anything to control the realms.

A mysterious and deadly Mar race will steal children into the sea.

And a handsome guide with far too many secrets will make me fall in love.

My name is Ash. A lowly scribe meant to observe and record. And yet I think I’m destined to change us all.

I’ve read plenty of YA fantasies where worlds are in danger or on the brink of war. But raising phantoms? This was something I haven’t seen and I needed to know more. The lavish cover was a bonus.

I’m not sure what my favorite part of this novel was – the wildly creative world-building, the well-drawn characters, or the whirlwind pacing – but I was completely submerged in this story from the first page.

Marcus is the heir to the kingdom of Baiseen and has difficulties controlling his phantom (which are unique to the individual), something that could prevent him from ever taking the throne. He’s sent to Aku for intense training and accompanying him are savant (people who raise phantoms) friends and his best friend and nonsavant (can’t raise phantoms), Ash. They’re on a tight timeline – if they don’t make it there before the gates close, Marcus will never take the throne. During their harrowing journey, they’re met with one life-threatening obstacle after another. I was breathless and couldn’t read the pages fast enough to find out what would happen.

The world-building is intricately developed and unique – the author did an outstanding job. Without being info-dumpy, it’s masterfully woven into the story – and there’s much to take in – but a glossary is included at the end of the book if your memory needs refreshing while reading.

This cast of characters will steal your heart with how they’re so protective of and devoted to each other. The strong friendship between Ash and Marcus is done so well, and they offer each other unconditional support. An intriguing mystery surrounds one character the group picks up along the way, and I’m anxious to learn more about him in the next book and his connection to Ash. Ash experiences some stunning revelations, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her.

Battles, magical creatures, ancient scrolls, secrets, compelling characters – I’d highly recommend Crown of Bones to fans of epic fantasy. It’s a series I’ll absolutely continue.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Christmas and Rona

Not much to report this week. Last week was spent catching up on tons of things after our long weekend away – laundry, errands, Christmas shopping, etc. No matter how much I try to get done ahead of time, it always seems like I’m rushing during the holiday season. One evening I was able to slow down and listen to A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack for the first time this year. It’s my absolute favorite, and no Christmas is complete without it.

Did I add to the word count last week? No, I didn’t. I made a few notes in my phone, but at this point, I’ve lost what little momentum I had before Thanksgiving and need to review the past few chapters, new notes, and dive back into it. But over the next week I should have plenty of time to write. Why?

Because I tested positive for COVID. Mild symptoms started last Monday (no fever, just sore throat and a little achy) and I assumed it was the same cold I usually get around this time of year. By Wednesday, I felt fine and assumed it was over. When I woke Thursday morning, I knew I needed to get tested (but still no fever). Hubby is negative – how, I have no idea – but I’ve got another week to quarantine, and he’s back to working from home. I’m very fortunate my symptoms have been mild so far, and I’ve been taking it easy. The worst thing is I lost my sense of smell, and I’ll miss the aroma of the pumpkin bread I’m making later today!

Stay healthy and wash those hands!

Bright Shining World by Josh Swiller #bookreview #YA #darkhumor #thriller

A darkly funny thriller about one boy’s attempt to unravel the mysterious phenomenon affecting students in his new town, as he finds a way to resist sinister forces and pursue hope for them all.

Wallace Cole is perpetually moving against his will. His father has some deeply important job with an energy company that he refuses to explain to Wallace who is, shall we say, suspicious. Not that his father ever listens to him. Just as Wallace is getting settled into a comfortable life in Kentucky, his father lets him know they need to immediately depart for a new job in a small town in Upstate New York which has recently been struck by an outbreak of inexplicable hysterics–an outbreak which is centered at the high school Wallace will attend.

In the new town, go from disturbing to worse: trees appear to be talking to people; a school bully, the principal, and the town police force take an instant dislike to Wallace; and the student body president is either falling for him or slipping into the enveloping darkness. Bright Shining World is a novel of resistance, of young people finding hope and courage and community in a collapsing world.

I got a strong Stanger Things vibe after reading this description, and dark humor gets me every time.

I cannot emphasize how much I adored Wallace’s voice. I couldn’t contain my laughter at his internal monologue and snarkiness, but it was also easy to sense his vulnerability behind the humor. His past is heartbreaking, and his present isn’t much better with his father moving him around the country every few months. His awkwardness at his new school is endearing, and the supporting characters are just as likable.

The strange occurrences in the town – trees talking, weird visions, the outbreak of hysterics – and how it all relates to his father’s mysterious job had me forming theories (all incorrect) for several chapters, and the way the teens come together to fight for a common cause is admirable and heroic. Then the story spirals in a direction that was difficult to understand. I have no problem suspending disbelief in books – most of the time it increases my interest – but it still has to make sense to me within the confines of the story. Throughout the last half or more of the book, I was confused about what was going on, but kept reading because I assumed a logical explanation waited at the end – which is so abrupt I felt sure pages were missing. Maybe there’s a sequel?

The first part of this book is fabulous with a comedic, endearing MC, enjoyable supporting characters, and a curious mystery, but for me, the last half was difficult to follow and the abrupt ending left me baffled. Overall, it was an entertaining novel, and maybe other readers will have a better understanding that I did.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.