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The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

The Burning DarkPremise: Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is a war hero ready to retire. For his last assignment he has been sent to the remote U-Star Coast City, a space station being dismantled for decommission. It rests near the strange star known as Shadow, with eerie purple light that has incalculable effects on those who look at it. The remaining crew aboard the Coast City are less than friendly, and skeptical of the Fleet Medal Cleveland wears, especially once he discovers the mission where he saved an entire planet from being destroyed by spiders has been wiped from existence in the database.

Shadow causes all sorts of electrical malfunctions and interference with communication, but its light also causes the crew to hear and see things that may or may not really be there. When Cleveland picks up radio communications on the banned subspace channels, he discovers a message from far away and long ago. With creeping shadows and malfunctioning electronics, he and the rest of the crew begin to think they are seeing ghosts. Or perhaps it’s just the negative effects from the looming purple star.

Themes: Ida Cleveland does all he can to uphold honor and respect, especially with records of his heroics being wiped from all knowledge. Nobody on board the station believes he actually earned the prestigious Fleet Medal, and because of this he feels he must prove his own valor to the rest of the crew. As a retired captain, the other soldiers don’t pay him the same respect as if he were still an officer.

Friends are hard to come by in the remote space station, especially when Cleveland is new to the crew. He befriends a medic named Izanami, but sees her only occasionally on the large station. The established crew already have their allegiances, and nobody wants to give Cleveland a chance especially with there being no record of him earning his medal. Lacking any true friends, he spends most of his time alone in his cabin listening on his piecemeal radio.

Pros: The Burning Dark is creepy, and it gets progressively creepier. Christopher made some intense characters in The Burning Dark, with the space station and the nearby star gaining personalities of their own. Everything is suspect when it comes to trusting senses or how characters perceive their surroundings, including interactions with other people aboard the Coast City. I like that there are multiple dangers all around for everybody in the enemy spiders, churning shadows, and the ever-present star Shadow and its odd purple light, all within the vacuum of space.

Cons: Without giving a spoiler, I think it was about halfway through the book (before the author gives away one important secret) that I actually figured out one of the main secrets happening on this secluded station. It doesn’t make the story less creepy or intense, but it’s the angle the story later takes that I felt could have been left more ambiguous. Thankfully, I didn’t think it went off the rails at the end, but it left me with the feeling of being set up for another book.

Recommendations: I’ve read a couple other books from Adam Christopher that I’ve really enjoyed, but I’ll say this is probably my favorite of his I’ve read to date. In The Burning Dark, he’s done a thoughtful crossover between science fiction and horror that sits firmly in either genre. The story takes an unexpected turn at the end, but manages to keep the reader on their toes. While The Burning Dark stands on its own as a story, I would gladly read another set in this universe of cyborg insects and subspace ghosts. Read at your own risk. You might find yourself jumping at shadows and hearing voices in radio static.

Adam Christopher’s website
The Burning Dark on Goodreads
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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Horror, Science Fiction

 

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Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz & Tyson Mauermann

Manifesto UFPremise: Strange creatures lurk in the shadows in shady back alleys and street corners, waiting to ensnare and devour unsuspecting victims. Battles between good and evil are being fought by angels and demons out of sight of humans. What we see every day is far from what is actually happening in this world and beyond.

The dangerous and illicit activities of inhuman things are ripe for these fantastical stories. With vampires, were-creatures, ghosts, angels, demons, dragons, wizards, trolls, goblins, and more, the imagination is free to run wild. These are the things that make up the tales told in Manifesto: UF.

Themes: Redemption plays a huge role in this anthology, since many of the main characters have fallen from grace or are making up for shortcomings from times past. In order to regain balance of power or to redeem their previous mistakes, it means helping others who cannot help themselves.

Many characters are also seeking justice for themselves or for the innocent. With enduring conflicts and forsaken people, making up for this becomes possible by conquering the evil at the root of the turmoil. Even if it means sacrificing a piece of themselves, the tradeoff for is sometimes worth the price.

Pros: Strangely, I felt pretty strongly about most of the stories in this collection on both sides of the spectrum of liking and not liking them. There were a few that make me want to go find more from the author, such as RL Treadway’s “That Old Tree” that gives personality into a tree long past its reasonable age, intertwined with the lives of those around it in order to give it an ultimate purpose. I loved the emotion of “Green Grow the Rashes” by William Meikle brought out by a haunting song and the discovery of the joys of existence. Teresa Frohock manages to impart soul into song through a frantic search for a lost thread from the tapestry of Armageddon. There is something in here for most readers, at least if you are willing to winnow through the broad variety of styles and subjects.

Cons: With a few exceptions, most of the stories contain profanity, gory violence, drug use, or explicit sex, with at least one containing all of the above. A few of the stories have an anti-religion slant that is not just indifference toward religions, but intentionally and relentlessly inflammatory that highlights this view in a way is unnecessary, especially since in at least one case I think it actually takes away from the story itself. There were a couple of stories that also felt incomplete, leaving me questioning what was supposed to happen next.

Recommendations: With so many urban fantasy books being written for a younger audience, this set of short stories especially targets adult readers. Manifesto: UF is not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned. There are several gems in here, such as Teresa Frohock’s enchanting “Naked the Night Sings” and Nikolas Sharps’ humorous “Toejam and Shrapnel” that help to redefine the sub-genre as more than just young adult. While not as seamlessly compiled and unified in voice as Marquitz’s previous Fading Light anthology, Manifesto UF does a better job than most anthologies in showcasing each author’s writing style and will more likely leave you with the knowledge of whether you will love or hate an author’s work. Rest assured this collection contains work from some talented writers. You’ll just have to read through it to find the ones you like.

Tim Marquitz’s website
Manifesto UF on Goodreads
Buy Manifesto: UF on Amazon
Download Manifesto UF for your Kindle
I received a copy from one of the authors to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Fantasy, Short Story

 

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Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers (Boxers & Saints)Saints (Boxers & Saints)Premise: Little Bao is a Chinese peasant tired of the Western missionaries that are infiltrating their country and corrupting it with their religion and ideals. The Westerners are also converting some of the Chinese people to their religion and gaining protection from the Chinese government. Bao creates a rebellion, energized through the visions of Chinese gods, that turns out to be incredibly successful, storming through the countryside and gaining strength as they fight for Chinese values.

At the same time, a young Chinese girl is taken in by some of the missionaries in a search for identity and acceptance. She is the fourth girl of the family but the only one to live, so instead of giving her a real name, her family names her Four-Girl, four being a Chinese homonym for death. It is with the missionaries that she finds love and a forgiveness she dreams for, including a new life with a real name: Vibiana. She faces the Chinese rebellion with an unexpected decision of faith, one inspired by a great Christian follower from the past.

In this two volume series, we see that there are multiple sides to every conflict. When stories intersect, the greatest of decisions are made, and the smallest influence can make all the difference in the world.

Themes: Religion is all over both Boxers and Saints, especially in the way each perspective comes across to the other. Bao sees the Christian missionaries and the Chinese who convert as devils by their corruption and abuse of villagers, while Vibiana converts to become a “devil”, finding the forgiveness and acceptance she was actually seeking all along. When given both perspectives, we can see that it is the individuals who are corrupt or good, not necessarily the religion itself.

With each protagonist being the hero of their own story, perspective becomes key as both Bao and Vibiana experience the conflict with their own histories. How they see people is colored by their past, and when those beliefs are really challenged they learn what true strength, bravery, and compassion are really about.

Pros: Visually, these two books are stunning, with drab browns and grays highlighting the contrasting stunning colors of the Chinese rebels in Boxers and the illuminated gold of the ghosts in Saints. These stories give some perspective on opposing viewpoints that can cause the reader to consider how they judge others. It also emphasizes the damage of war on a country and the terrible things that can be justified on any side of conflict. I liked the way the character stories intersect and come full circle as you read both books, especially mirroring each other in juxtaposition for mercy and compassion for others in the end.

Cons: Compared to Boxers, Saints is a little short. The missionaries come off as unlikeable and evil, even in their own book. The protagonist in Saints has motives that seem genuinely naive for her interest in the Christian faith, though it is hard to believe the missionaries wouldn’t have made it clearer the truths of their religion earlier on in their studies. The connection between Bao and Vibiana seemed a little too open-ended at the end of Boxers, making up for it a little by the decisions they both make in Saints. Most importantly, it’s hard to imagine reading one of these without the other. I’m not sure why these are even offered for purchase separately.

Recommendations: The Boxers & Saints duology infuses an air of fantasy into an historical account of the Boxer Rebellion as we get both perspectives of the rebels in Boxers and the Chinese Christians in Saints. While both of these volumes are interesting on their own, the most impact is made when they are put together as contrasting stories, giving the reader more to consider about worldview and religious beliefs, especially in the context of war. Boxers and Saints are insightful stories that can expand how we perceive the beliefs of others, including for someone with a strong grounding in their own beliefs. If you are going to consider a purchase, make sure you get both books, perhaps in the boxed set.

Gene Luen Yang’s website
Boxers & Saints Boxed Set on Goodreads
Buy the Boxers & Saints Boxed Set on Amazon
Download Boxers & Saints for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

 

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Teacher’s Pest by Charles Gilman

Teacher's Pest (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3)Premise: Robert Arthur has defeated Professor Gargoyle and The Slither Sisters in Crawford Tillinghast’s plot to take over the world: by bringing his strange monsters from the supposedly destroyed Tillinghast Mansion into the grounds of Lovecraft Middle School. With help from his friends Karina Ortiz, Glenn Torkells, and the two-headed rat named Pip and Squeak, Robert was able to defeat the Price sisters by winning the election for student council president. But Robert never wanted to be student council president, so he withdrew his bid and gave the position to the friendly Howard Mergler. The problem is that Howard is really a giant bug creature in disguise with the ability to control insects to do his bidding.

Howard’s new plot is to infest the school with massive swarms of insects all over Lovecraft Middle School. What a bad time for the janitorial staff to go on strike. As student council president, Howard is trusted by the adoring faculty and staff. There are few who know what he really is, and it is up to Robert, Karina, Glenn, and their pet rat to save the day yet again. Can they defeat a massive insect army led by a giant insect general intent on taking over the world?

Themes: The strength of friendship is put to the test in Teacher’s Pest. Pip and Squeak go missing and Robert will do whatever it takes to get them back. Glenn also grows distant after he is stung by a giant wasp, so Robert attempts to connect with his bully friend. But the reasons for Glenn putting off his friends might be the one thing that Robert can relate to, if only they could be forthcoming with each other. These friends are willing to put themselves in danger for each other.

Appearances are not a good way to judge people. On the outside, Howard Mergler is a well-dressed, polite, wonderful student. On the inside, he is a cruel bug-monster plotting to take over the world. On the flip-side, Robert is a loner with almost no friends, but after his previous fights and the bravery he displays in battling dark forces, he shows that great things can come from unexpected places.

Pros: Teacher’s Pest is full of action and a sense of real danger, more so even than the previous two books. There is some interpersonal conflict not found in the previous books that isn’t necessarily germane to the plot but adds a much deeper character development for the three main characters. Even with the intense action, I thought Teacher’s Pest was more appropriate for younger children than the other books, with less of a scary horror element and more of a gross out factor. Kids will love the bugs, rats, and eyeball monsters. As with the previous two books, the shapeshifting cover is awesome.

Cons: The main characters make some odd decisions that were out of character, excepting for the disjointed thought processes of middle school students. Both Robert and Glenn treat friends terribly at some point: Robert out of fear and Glenn out of embarrassment. The behavior is built up over a considerable time, especially in the case of Glenn, and then the explanation is almost too simplistic. There were also almost no references to the work of H.P. Lovecraft apart from an instance of chanting in another language, which is kind of a disappointment for Lovecraft fans seeking elements of homage to the horror great.

Recommendations: Make sure you read the first two books in the Lovecraft Middle School series to get a lot of setup information, some of which will be necessary to understand the plot, but most of which will just make the entire experience much better. This series has very high quality writing that is easy to read. It has horror elements that might be too intense for readers on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, though Teacher’s Pest is more appropriate for younger middle grade than the first two books. It is packed full of bugs that are sure to gross kids out, in a good way. Robert and his friends show us that kids can do great things, especially when there are teachers and mentors who support them in their efforts.

Lovecraft Middle School website
Teacher’s Pest on Goodreads
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3: Teacher’s Pest on Amazon
Download Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3: Teacher’s Pest for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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The Slither Sisters by Charles Gilman

The Slither Sisters (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2)Premise: The Slither Sisters picks up where Professor Gargoyle left off, with Robert Arthur at his new school trying to learn the mysteries of Lovecraft Middle School and the strange creatures that inhabit it. Robert soon discovers that there are gates leading from the school to an alternate dimension that is actually the old Tillinghast Mansion, where Crawford Tillinghast and his scientists were thought to have perished under questionable circumstances.

After coming back from their mysterious disappearance, Sylvia and Sarah Price run a campaign for class president. Robert and his friends Karina Ortiz and former bully Glenn Torkells will have to find a way to hinder this small step on the way to the Price sisters and the dark powers behind them taking over the school. As Robert uncovers these secrets it will be up to him and his friends to protect the students and teachers who are unaware of the sinister plots going on around them.

Nothing is as it seems and so many people are not who they appear, and learning who to trust will be important for the survival of Robert, his friends, and everyone else at Lovecraft Middle School.

Themes: Leadership and responsibility are traits that are bestowed on people, sometimes without a choice. With so many people at Lovecraft Middle School being clueless as to the dangers around them, Robert finds that it will be up to him to protect them.

Appearances are deceiving, especially at Lovecraft Middle School. Anybody could have their bodies taken over by creatures from another dimension, while others might be on Robert’s side without him even knowing it. Knowing who to trust is a challenge, but the truth can be discovered through dangerous research and perseverance.

Pros: Just like the first book, the cover is really cool, with a transforming lenticular image changing from the seemingly innocent sisters to their snake-like alter egos. This cover will not be as off-putting as the Professor Gargoyle cover as it isn’t as scary or demonic. The Slither Sisters includes some H.P. Lovecraft tidbits, such as tiny Cthulus infesting our world under the guise as hermit crabs. We get the same fast-paced book as the first, with a little bit of extra character development. The conflict is better fleshed out than book one, I thought the twist ending actually helped make The Slither Sisters even better than the first book.

Cons: Again, the cover is a spoiler for the antagonists of this story, though we got some hints at it from the first book in what the goal of the enemy is. The only character I wish we would have gotten some more fleshing out with was Karina. Hers is the most mysterious of the main characters and we still don’t know much about her.

Recommendations: The Slither Sisters is the second book in the Lovecraft Middle School series. It picks up where Professor Gargoyle ended and takes the story to new depths. Thankfully, these are just the right length for middle grade readers, though adults will probably enjoy Lovecraft Middle School just as much, especially H.P. Lovecraft fans. Kids should have some parental guidance, but this book was not nearly as scary or creepy as Professor Gargoyle. The Slither Sisters is even better than its predecessor, but readers will want to read Professor Gargoyle first in order to get a foundation of characters and plot.

Lovecraft Middle School website
The Slither Sisters
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters from Amazon
Download Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman

Professor Gargoyle (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, #1)Premise: Robert Arthur is at a new school, Lovecraft Middle School, where he struggles with the same things every middle school student does: new classes, homework, meeting new people, bullies, teachers, and…monsters.

As he makes friends with the most unlikely of characters, Robert soon learns that his new school holds some old secrets that might help explain some of the strange things that are happening to him. Some of his new friends might also have some secrets of their own to help reveal some of the school’s mysteries. What funereal things and monstrous creatures will Robert encounter at Lovecraft Middle School as he uncovers its secrets?

Themes: The problem of bullying is confronted right from the beginning as Robert enters his new school, yet still must deal with Glenn Torkells, the kid who has been bullying him for years. But when they both encounter the same strange occurrence together, their relationship might end up changing because of it.

Making new friends is always difficult, but seemingly more difficult when kids enter a new school. When another student goes out of their way to befriend another, it can be alarming, yet relieving in spite of their own quirks. Karina Ortiz does this for Robert as she talks to Robert when no one else does.

Living in a single-parent family can also be a struggle, especially when it is time for parent-teacher conferences and your mother works to support the family. When interactions between the parent and child are limited, those precious moments can mean a lot to both the parent and the child.

Pros: The cover has the cool factor of having a moving image showing the transformation of Professor Gargoyle. The story is fun and easy to read, especially as an introduction to the H.P. Lovecraft mythos, but also as a fast-paced action story for middle school kids. This first book manages to introduce some horror elements without being too scary. In fact, it is more humorous than anything, taking on common middle school problems with an element of peril. The action is pretty good and light enough for the intended younger audience. I think most H.P. Lovecraft fans will especially enjoy this more modern and lighthearted spin on his work. Did I mention the cover is cool?

Cons: Probably the most disturbing thing about Professor Gargoyle is the cover itself. While the cool moving image on the cover shows some depth to the namesake character, the demonic image will probably be a deterrent to parents letting their kids read this book, and for the younger end of the recommended age I think it is rightfully so. And on top of this, the cover is a terrible spoiler for the character. While the history behind the school is minimally explained in general terms, I assume more will be revealed in later books.

Recommendations: Professor Gargoyle is not only a good introduction to this series but also to the mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft. The neat cover alone was intriguing enough to pull me in, and what I found was a fun introduction of a mysterious new series where nothing is as it seems and danger can be averted through teamwork and ingenuity. With the demonic elements I would recommend that kids are a little older before reading Professor Gargoyle, and with some parental guidance. Don’t let the scary image on the cover keep you from giving it a shot, though I doubt that will be a problem for fans of the horror master. In this first book, just like Lovecraft Middle School itself, Gilman has created something new out of something old with Professor Gargoyle.

Lovecraft Middle School website
Professor Gargoyle on Goodreads
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle on Amazon
Download Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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Trucker Ghost Stories, edited by Annie Wilder

Trucker Ghost Stories: And Other True Tales of Haunted Highways, Weird Encounters, and Legends of the RoadPremise: Late at night on the long haul, a trucker sees many things on the road. With the deep darkness and lights reflecting off windows, combined with a lack of sleep, strange happenings can become reality. The sounds of wind and things banging on the sides of parked truck sleepers can be investigated to be the mind playing tricks or things much more insidious. Who knows what might happen when ghosts, UFOs, and creatures lurk at night? When these haunted highways and menacing creatures come out at night, the trucker is sometimes the only person around to witness them.

Themes: Trucker Ghost Stories is a collection of tales recording actual events (supposedly) as reported by truckers on the road, usually late at night. Is it a lack of sleep and tricks of light or the real thing?

With so many stories there are a number of themes that could be drawn out of them, but the most common for the ghost stories include revenge or redemption of spirits. For the UFO stories, it is curiosity and experimentation. And for monsters, more evil intentions are apparent.

Pros: There was more than one story that I thought was actually pretty spooky, especially if you consider the belief of the trucker writer in its authenticity. If you are on board with the idea that these events might have occurred, you might catch yourself or someone you read this to jumping at the slightest sounds afterwards.

Cons: Keeping in mind that each story is written by a trucker, the writing for many of the stories isn’t very good, and more than a few is downright abysmal. Some of the stories weren’t really all that scary.

Recommendations: Trucker Ghost stories is a fun and quick read of supposed actual events gathered into one collection. While not every story was compelling or believable, and some were just poorly written, many of these tales were interesting. Some were downright creepy. If you are looking for a fun collection to pick and choose stories from to tell around a campfire or an overnight sleepover, you wouldn’t have to look very hard to find some good ones in this book. I think the stories are more fun if you try reading them out loud to others in the dark.

Trucker Ghost Stories on Goodreads
Buy Trucker Ghost Stories on Amazon
Download Trucker Ghost Stories for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Horror, Short Story

 

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