Review of Cinder

I really enjoy when artists take old stories and give them a new twist. Especially when they do this to fairy tales. Take the television show Once Upon a Time for example. So when a friend suggested that I give Cinder by Marissa Meyer a try, I was all for it.

Cinder is the first in The Lunar Chronicles and takes place in the future after the Fourth World War. In this futuristic world, androids aid humans in their daily lives. Cyborgs, humans augmented by technology, are treated as second class citizens. One such cyborg, Cinder, is a gifted mechanic with a mysterious past. Not only is Cinder looked down upon by her stepmother and stepsister, she is also looked down upon by the rest of society as a cyborg. Ashamed of her robotic parts, she hides them in shame. This doesn’t stop Cinder’s family from depending on her to earn the family’s only source of income, the mechanic shop in downtown New Beijing.

However, Cinder’s life is thrown upside down due to a chance encounter with Prince Kai. After that encounter, Cinder is thrown into a deadly game of intergalactic Risk. If she wins, Cinder could gain everything. If she loses, it’s not just her that suffers. The world might also suffer.

The first thing about this Young Adult novel is that anyone can find it entertaining. The storyline, the dialogue, even the plot is appropriate for both younger and older audiences. The second thing about this title is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Marissa Meyer is truly an artisan at what she does.

The basic premise of Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella. An evil stepmother oppresses a poor orphan, a fairy godmother grants the wishes of the orphan, the orphan and prince fall in love, and the prince searches for his lost love, and eventually they all live happily ever after. What Meyer does is take that story and add a fun and interesting futuristic angle on it.

One such change is that of the protagonist, Cinder. She isn’t a helpless orphan that is granted everything she desires from her fairy godmother. Cinder has to struggle to overcome her weaknesses to prove not only to the prince and the “fairy godmother” that she’s worthy of her dreams, but she has to prove to herself that she’s able to do what must be done. Not stopping there, Meyer imbues Cinder with strength, courage, and stubborn determination to create an empowering character. Don’t enter this story expecting that it will be the prince that saves Cinder and the day.

Due to the fact that it is a retelling, there are positives and negatives. The one flaw that I had while quickly devouring this fantastic version of Cinderella was that, at times, it was predictable. I had predicted some of the end based on the prior knowledge of the fairy tale, but for the most part I was surprised. When there were elements of the fairytale that popped up into the novel I was pleasantly hit with nostalgia. I actually laughed out loud a few times when I realized what was happening.

If you have the capability, I would suggest listening to the audiobook version performed by Voice Actress Rebecca Soler. She did an amazing job bringing the characters to life. Each character had their own voice, she sped her reading when the action was kicked up, and you could feel the emotion in the scene through her voice.

If you enjoy popular fairytale retellings, then Cinder is one that you absolutely must pick up. If you did enjoy it then rejoice because it’s the first in The Lunar Chronicles, a series of books that put that same futuristic spin on popular fairytales.

Marissa Meyer creates a fantastic novel that will certainly entertain readers young and old. If you haven’t done it already, enchant your pumpkins, jump into that newly minted carriage, and get yourself to the nearest bookstore before the clock hits midnight.

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Review of Bird Box

bird boxI only picked up this book because of the Netflix film, of the same name. I’d seen the film and thoroughly enjoyed it. Having seen the Netflix film, I knew what I was getting into when I started the debut novel written by Josh Malerman. Having said that, I’m glad I picked it up. Both versions of the story are equally great.

The story begins with the main character, Malorie, standing in the kitchen thinking. It’s been four years since the apocalyptic event that swept across the earth killing untold millions. What follows is a forty-three chapter game of tennis. Malerman switches from the present to the past almost every chapter. In the present, Malorie is gearing up to travel on the river with her two children, Boy and Girl. The destination is a promise of a safe place from the insanity inducing creatures. In the flashbacks, the reader gets the full story of why Malorie is alone and why she has two children of the same age with her.

This is one of the charms of the novel because when a chapter ends, it’s typically a cliff hanger and the reader won’t figure out what happens until a few chapters later. There were moments when I would reach the end of a chapter, look at the clock knowing I need to be somewhere, but couldn’t wait so I continued reading.

Another charming thing that Malerman does in his novel is never show the monster. The apocalyptic event is this creature that causes insanity in those that view it. So, reasonably, the reader never gets even the hint of a description other than it might smell bad. Even when the characters see the creatures, they don’t see the creature. For some writers, that might be a hindrance, but for Malerman he writes it really well. The way characters live in the world where vision is a danger, they wear blindfolds. This natural isolation makes even a leaf falling on the characters shoulder spooky. Is it a leaf? Is it a crazy person taunting the character? Is it the creatures? The characters don’t know and that’s when their imagination is the enemy. Even though it’s a leaf or a random twig breaking is intense to a reader because they don’t know either. They are, literally, in the dark like the characters.

The one thing that bugged me about the story was the lack of technology it employed. Presumably set in 2014 when Malerman wrote it, there isn’t much use of technology. Characters use phone books to call numbers using a landline. They don’t access the internet even though their power is still on. There is no GPS and the characters have to use mileage on their cars to judge distance. It felt like I had picked up a book from the early 1990’s. Which isn’t a bad thing, but for younger readers it may not be a relatable literary experience.

Bird Box is an interesting tale of survival and what a mother would do to protect herself and her two children. It’s an intense novel that’s a true page turner. Even though you know the fates of the characters, you’ll be cheering for the ill-fated characters during the flashback chapters. If you’ve never seen the Netflix film, give it a watch because it’s really pretty good. If you’ve never read the novel written by Josh Malerman, give it a read because it’s equally as good.

If you want to read an apocalyptic novel that doesn’t include the normal amount of blood and gore that is commonplace in most books of this genre, Bird Box is the novel for you.

The Legends of Luke Skywalker

The_Legends_of_Luke_Skywalker_final_coverKen Liu writes an interesting anthology of tales that center around the myth of Luke Skywalker. The story is centered around some passengers on a transport barge on its way to Canto Bight. If you’ve seen the film Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) then this destination will be familiar. In fact, it really shouldn’t be a surprise because the book is included in part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

To pass the time, the passengers tell tales of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. This novel falls between Episode VI and Episode VIII as far as the timeline.

The first thing that I enjoyed about this book is the structure in which it was made. There are six stories about the Jedi Master with interludes in between. Also, the edition I read had fully colored illustrations of the story about to be told that were beautifully drawn by J.G. Jones.

The next thing that I enjoyed about the book was the fact that not all tales about Luke were true. Told by many different characters, the tales of Luke and the Rebellion vary from being saviors of the galaxy to just a bunch of con artists as told in the short story “The Myth Buster.”

If you’re a fan of Star Wars but have never really delved into the cannon/non-cannon books, then this one might be the one to try out. This book is considered cannon, but like I said earlier don’t really count on the legitimacy of what’s being said about Luke Skywalker.

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Just one example of the artwork in this book crafted by Artist J.G. Jones.

Overall, the book is great in terms of writing. Author Ken Liu does an amazing job crafting these stories and making each sound different in terms of the tones of the narrator that’s telling them. My favorite story is at the very end. It’s titled “Big Inside” and is about Luke and the narrator being trapped in the belly of gigantic monster. In order to get out, Luke and the narrator must accept the sacrifice from another trapped group. “Big Inside” contains the most wisdom in the anthology stating that:

“It was one thing to sacrifice yourself for something you believed in, but how much heavier was the burden of accepting someone else’s sacrifice?”

The genius of this concept for a Star Wars book is that since each story is told by different people, nothing can be considered “true” even if Luke did the things that he did in the book. The writing trick of “the unreliable narrator” is used here to make the reader ponder what really happened in each tale.

As far as what I didn’t like about the book, there wasn’t much. If I had to nitpick and find one negative in this book of positives, then I would have to say that one of the stories dragged on and didn’t really capture my attention. “The Tale of Lugubrious Mote” was about the true brains behind the comedic genius in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. That story didn’t quite accelerate until Luke showed up which wasn’t until thirteen pages into the story.

This book can be read by children of all ages. As far as swear words, I didn’t catch any. If you’re looking for a Star Wars book that doesn’t really add to the canon of the films, but does provide some good tales to read then The Legends of Luke Skywalker written by Ken Liu is your book.

If you’re wondering whether or not to purchase the book in hardback or ebook, I would recommend hardback. There is not a book sleeve on it and therefore is just a glossy cover, but the book is extremely durable and has a great feel to it.

Welcome back to the Crossroads

What happens when we die? 

It’s a question that cannot be answered by man, so far anyway. And until that riddle’s been solved all we’re left with are theories. Some believe that nothing happens and our memories, thoughts, and our personality just stop when our bodies finally give out. I’m not sure if I like that theory. Maybe it’s because I refuse to think all of my efforts and time, while insignificant in the larger scope of the universe, simply don’t matter.

Another theory is that death is but a door to another higher plane of existence. Call it what you like: Heaven, the afterlife, Valhalla, the void. Every religion has some place where the soul goes when the body perishes. Often, there’s a good place (heaven) and a bad place (hell) depending on the actions of the soul during its duration on earth. 

The final theory I’ll discuss (there are plenty more, but I don’t have all day) is a combination of the two above mentioned theories. If you take the idea of no plane of existence and combine it with the idea of a soul, what do you get?

Well, you actually get two things:

1. Ghosts

2. A good story.

The souls of those that died, released by the death of their mortal bodies, forever to wander the earth searching for the lives that they once cherished. Ghost stories can be found in every part of the world. Often, ghosts don’t travel far from where they lived when they still had physical bodies. Ghosts are sometimes sent as messengers to those in need of some guidance (Ebenezer Scrooge for example). Sometimes, ghosts are jealous entities that terrorize the living. Sometimes their friendly ghosts (I’m looking at you Casper). 

What I’m trying to get across to you is that whatever your comfort level is, there is a ghost story for you. There’s no better way to figure out what kind of ghost stories you like than purchasing the new anthology by Burning Willow Press.

Crossroads in the Dark IV: GHOSTS is a collection of short stories developed in hopes of bringing awareness to suicide prevention around the world. While the stories do not tell of suicide, they do tell of GHOSTS. For whom are the ghosts that haunt us daily? What are the remains of an otherwise perfect life ended far too soon? Which are the people who we find hardest to move forward from when we lose them? The easy answer is the ones we failed to save. 

For those that haven’t read the last three CRITD anthologies, welcome.

For those that have, welcome back to the crossroads.

• Forward by Lily Luchesi, author of the “Paranormal Detective” series.

Stories by:

Kerry Alan Denney

Alice J. Black

Michael Schutz

Kindra Sowder

James Master (that’s me)

Frank Martin

L. Bachman

Carol Browne

C.C. Adams

Mirren Hogan

Erin Yoshikawa

Peter Oliver Wonder

Rachel de la Fuente

W.T. Watson

Cindy Johnson

• James Crawford

Nikki Collins-Mewha

Kevin Wimer

Brian G. Murray

– Lloyd Kerns

Edd Sowder

Review of “Twilight of the Living Dead”

Peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, ice cream and chocolate syrup. Combinations as classic as those are things of legend. Think of some more, come on, I’ll wait.

Did you?

Great, but there’s probably one combination you may have overlooked. Nazis and zombies. Unless you’re a fan of horror and/or zompoc fiction. The Third Reich has been reanimating dead people in film, literature, and even video games. So with all of that out there in the open, how does the story written by Scott Baker stack up against the rest of the horde?

Really well. The story is based around a group of Nazi soldiers and civilians that sought refuge in a tower. It’s set during the final days of World War II. Beset on all sides by enemies (quite literally), the surviving Germans struggle with how to survive and whether or not being captured by the Allies would be better than being ripped apart by the undead.

In the same fashion as most zompoc, there is a power struggle between the human survivors. Unlike most zompoc literature, however, both sides are Nazis. What Baker does well in his tale is blur the lines of morality when bringing the Nazis to life. The reader will be rooting for the undead to tear the German soldiers apart, but will also feel sorry (slightly) while thinking that.

Baker also locks in the historical setting with excellent use of detail and dialogue that will make the reader visualize themselves in that tower with the Nazis.

The pace of the story is well timed as well. At no time does the story feels like it’s dragging. Either there’s vivid description about what is happening or there’s intense action that fuels the story right to the ending. The reader won’t fall asleep while reading Twilight of the Living Dead.

If I had to offer one criticism about this story, and that’s if my leg is being pulled, it would be about the ending of the story. While I will not spoil it for you, I will say it’s a bit predictable. Having said that I will also say that it in no way deters my feelings about this tale of Nazis and the undead.

Whether you’re a zompoc fan, an alternative history fan, or just a reader with an appreciation for the horror genre you’ll derive pleasure from reading Twilight of the Living Dead written by Scott Baker

I won’t guarantee that you’ll get as much pleasure as one of his zombies biting into the flesh of a member of the Luftwaffe. I’ve only read the Twilight of the Living Dead. I’ve never bitten into the flesh of a member of the Luftwaffe so I don’t have an accurate comparison. That doesn’t change the fact that you should definitely go out and find this literature gem and devour it (not literally).

The Devil’s Playground by Alice J. Black

Have you ever experienced a reoccurring dream or nightmare? If you haven’t then I find that odd. Most of everyone has experienced this type of dream. When I was a child, I had one such reoccurring nightmare. I would be walking to elementary school down the alley next to the house. With each step, the ground cracked like it was thin ice. I’d take off running, but it didn’t matter, the ground would disappear from under me and I’d fall. I’d fall on spikes and wake up just before they punctured my skin. It lasted until I graduated high school.

the devil's playgroundThe main character, Jake, in Alice J. Black’s The Devil’s Playground suffers from a reoccurring nightmare. It stems from the mysterious disappearance of his father, but it doesn’t stop at his high school graduation, it sticks with him throughout the rest of his life. The best thing in the character’s life happens: he gets engaged with the love of his life, Sam. Then the worst thing in Jake’s life happens: he suffers an accident that lands him in a coma. Even worse, he’s stuck inside that reoccurring nightmare, the Devil’s Playground.

What follows next is one of the most intense adventures that a character can experience. While Jake is in the playground, Sam also goes through the very real experience of dealing with the aftermath. Her fiancé is in a coma, there’s suddenly a void in her life. Black crafts such an interesting story that makes you want to read both character’s story arcs. Even though Jake’s fate will sometimes hang in the balance, the section changes and the reader is equally fascinated with the emotional journey of Sam.

Without giving anything away, one of the most interesting parts of the story is the Devil’s Playground itself. Jake awakens to find himself literally in a living Hell. The reaction after Jake realizes that he is not actually dreaming is priceless, but it’s just one of the many things that make this story memorable. The Playground is filled with grim versions of reality, sadistic hallucinations, and the bloodthirsty creatures that inhabit it. 

That’s where the book shines. When Jake’s section begins there is this buildup of tension and dread that will either payoff or cliff hang. The novel transitions to the emotional wreck that is Sam. This both allows the reader some time to calm themselves and to push Jake to the back of their minds while they sympathize with Sam and her feelings of utter hopelessness. Of course the novel will transition back to Jake’s story and the tension will begin to rise again. 

As a horror writer, even I had moments when I’d hear a noise outside and develop uneasy feelings. There was one such moment where I had to put aside the story and listen for the source of the noise. This was the first time in a very long time that I’ve been creeped out by a novel. 

The nice thing about this novel is that it doesn’t focus on blood, gore, foul language, or sexual content like most of the horror genre of our times. Yes, the Devil’s Playground does contain scenes where there is blood and gore, but it’s a practical use to them. Black isn’t excessive with the usage of them. 

If there was one thing that I did not like about The Devil’s Playground it’s that not everything is explained. The reader is wanting more. Which, admittedly, is not a terrible thing because there is definitely room for a sequel should the author desire to continue on with the story. 

If you’re a fan of horror, thriller, or dream novels then this is one for you to read. It can be found on Amazon.com as well as www.burningwillowpressllc.com.

Stephen King’s “The Outsider”

 

As a friend told me when I was trying to explain to her my fascination with this novel, she told me I was biased. And I guess I am biased because I’ve been reading Stephen King since I’ve been in the sixth grade starting with IT and then Gerald’s Game. In retrospect, I really shouldn’t have been reading those books when I was so young, almost twenty years ago mind you, but there it is. I am a fan of everything King has written. I’m not his #1 fan (Misery reference) but I’m close.

Having said that, the novel I’m now reviewing is one of my favorite of Kings. If I had to rank it among his other work, because everyone ranks everything these days, I’d have to rank it in my top ten King novels.

The novel centers around a police investigation into the brutal murder of a young male child. For those of literary weak stomached this might not be for you. In the early part of the first section there are police transcripts of the dialogue between the investigators and the eye witnesses. Each claim that the murder suspect was the one they spotted leaving or going to the scene of the crime. Then there is the forensic evidence that all points to that very same murder suspect. The problem is that once arrested, the suspect provides an iron clad alibi for his whereabouts that day, in particular to the time of the abduction and murder of the young boy. This, of course, is where King takes the readers on a different tangent where what the character’s faith in modern science is challenged by the supernatural force that is The Outsider.

There are just a few aspects of the novel that I would like to touch on. The first is the detail that King is famous for, and sometimes harshly criticized. The detail that King employs in this novel is necessary to paint a vivid picture for the readers. The brutally of the crime at the beginning, while grotesque and horrifically detailed, only serves to show what kind of monster the police believe the suspect to be. From that point on, there are moments that King has created such a clear picture in my head that I had to shut the book for a moment and watch a happy video on YouTube.

Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed were the character development throughout the novel. One of the main characters, Ralph Anderson, is such a set in his way type of detective that he couldn’t believe in the idea of the Outsider right up to the point of encountering the being. His world, universal, view on what is and what is not is constantly challenged and you see that change Ralph. Each character ranging from the minor characters all the way to the major characters are fleshed out to a degree that I felt empathy for the characters when they suffered and occasionally died.

King is never one to shy away from killing his darlings and when characters do bite the bullet, it’s always a surprise. Some of the deaths were such a shock that I had to cue up those happy YouTube videos again.

The last thing I’d like to touch on what I really liked about the novel was the surprise entrance of a character from one of King’s other novels. King typically involves characters, symbols, plots, and other aspects of his other novels. This one though was so major that I laughed out loud when I realized who he was crossing over into this tale. The crossover fit so naturally and so smoothly that King might as well of added a sub title for The Outsider with the title of the cross over character’s book but add a .5 at the end. I wouldn’t deprive what character or book(s) that King crossed over because that would ruin the surprise and joy the reader would get when he/she reaches that particular moment.

If I had to be critical of King for one thing in the novel, it would be that it was heavily influenced by Brian Stoker’s Dracula. Whether King intentionally planned it that way or not, the plot is essentially the same, modernity verse supernatural theme is present in both, and the use of letters in Dracula and the use of police witness interrogation transcripts in The Outsider is also similar. The vampire is even mentioned by name in King’s work. When friends ask what I thought of the book I call it the modern day Dracula. Now having said this, it is both a good and a bad thing towards the book. That’s all I’ll say on that.

Overall, the book is a must buy for both King fans and fans of horror. Or really for those that like a good supernatural who done it mystery novel. Kindle price is a bit high in my opinion which caused me to purchase the book in hardback at Walmart for about the same price. Believe me though, it’s worth the price tag. If you read one book during the summer, I’d suggest this book over any other. Just make sure that you have something handy to defend yourself when you open your front door and find a doppelgänger of yourself.

Have you read King’s new novel? What did you think of it? What do you think of King in general? Leave a comment below and make sure to share with all your King friends!