Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ARC Review: Undercurrent by Paul E. Blackwell

A shadowy figure. An intense roar. The sensation of falling—fast.
That's all Callum Harris remembers from his tumble over the waterfall. But when he wakes up in a hospital bed and finds his best friend trying to kill him, Callum knows something is seriously wrong. Unfortunately for him, the mysteries are just getting started.
Why are his parents acting like he's some big sports star all of a sudden? And why are all the buildings in town more run-down than Callum remembers? Worst of all . . . what happened to Callum's brother? Either Callum has gone seriously crazy or something happened when he went over the edge of the falls. Something impossible. Callum needs answers, and now. Because in this twisted new version of the life Callum knew, his former best friend isn't the only one who wants to see him dead.
*summary from HarperCollins*

*Admit turned your head sideways to look at the cover, didn't you??*

You know what sucked me in on this book? This blurb:
Tense and original, Undercurrent is a psychological thrill-ride with sci-fi elements that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman and Neal Shusterman.

Neil Gaiman/Neal Shusterman fan, reporting for duty!

The description "psychological thriller" also got me interested. I had a good experience with another book labeled this way (Insomnia by JR Johansson) so I had high hopes...

And for the most part, they were met. I read the book in one sitting, because I didn't want to put it down. The pacing was fast, and the writing felt authentic for a teenage boy.

Callum was a sympathetic lead, although there were times I felt like he was being a wee bit blind to some pretty obvious stuff that was going on. He has some troubling things happen to him, and watching him try to decide if he's crazy or not was fascinating. It makes you wonder, "What would I do if my once familiar life was altered in small but significant ways?"  People who were once his friends now seem afraid of him. Kids from school who never gave him the time of day act like they're best friends. He's kept off balance all the time, and so is the reader.

There are some pretty thought-provoking questions facing Callum, and I wish they had been covered in a little more depth, instead of just hinted at. Do the things that happen to us turn us down a dark path, or is the darkness already inside, waiting for a chance to come out? Is it a combination of both?

I figured out the big mystery well before Callum did, but that's fine. Most of the fun was following his journey to the same conclusions. (Part of the reason I figured things out was from skimming a review where just one key word  tipped me off. So I'm determined to keep this review spoiler free. :)

I enjoyed Undercurrent, but the ending wasn't entirely satisfying. I've read that the book was written as a standalone that could lead to a sequel. It really, really needs a sequel!! Because the fall-out from the last scene would be massive. In a LOT of ways. I worried about where the ending will leave certain characters that I'd come to care about. Hopefully, Paul Blackwell will get the green light for another book. There is much more of Callum's story to be told!

Profanity: quite a bit, would get an R-rating if it were a movie, I think. I prefer not to read books with lots of cursing, so I like to include this info in case other readers feel the same.
Sexual content: Kissing, reference to a party where characters made out in a closet as part of a game.
Violence: There were some pretty violent scenes, including a murder.

**Digital Review Copy provided by Edelweiss and publisher. Thank you!**

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

ARC Review: INK by Amanda Sun

Ink (Paper Gods, #1)
Publication date: June 25

Ink is in their blood. On the heels of a family tragedy, Katie Greene must move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn't know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks and she can't seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building. When Katie meets aloof but gorgeous Tomohiro, the star of the school's kendo team, she is intrigued by him…and a little scared. His tough attitude seems meant to keep her at a distance, and when they're near each other, strange things happen. Pens explode. Ink drips from nowhere. And unless Katie is seeing things, drawings come to life. Somehow Tomo is connected to the kami, powerful ancient beings who once ruled Japan—and as feelings develop between Katie and Tomo, things begin to spiral out of control. The wrong people are starting to ask questions, and if they discover the truth, no one will be safe.
Summary from Amazon

I was so excited for this book. SO excited! I featured it in a WoW post. I stalked ARCs around the internet before finally landing one from NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Here's the thing: In recent months, I decided to only review books I REALLY liked. I read about five books per month, but review a tiny portion of those.
 Geeking out levels of hardcore fangirl nonsense are required for me to review a book lately. I have a bazillion kids, and I'm desperately trying to squeeze, contort, and bludgeon my day into some shape that allows time for writing my own work. So to sum up: If I review it here, it's because I thought it was stupendous.
 And INK wasn't one of those for me. However, since I got it from NetGalley I feel like I owe them a review. And I should explain why the book wasn't a huge success with me, as a reader.
And let me kind of bracket all this with another disclaimer: for me as a WRITER, the book is great! Sun does some lovely things with words, creating ink drawings that live and are alternately ethereal and sinister. She brings them all to magical life, and when the fantasy elements of the story are at the front, Amanda Sun really shines. (Y'all, it is so late at night...I didn't even see that pun coming until it hit me between the eyes.) Plotting, structure, placing: all of it's solid.
So to close brackets, I will say my discontent with the book is based solely on 1) my misunderstanding of what its focus would be and 2) me being a thirtyish housewife who wanted to give these young whippersnappers a good sit-down, preferably with a glass of sweet tea, and talk real plain to them both. (That's primarily for my friend, Hannah, who has recently been treated to my Southernism with alarming frequency. And while we're doing sidebars and dancing around the actual review, I'm gonna take a moment to say that Hannah West, writer of YA amazingness, has a new blog and I think y'all should go over and say "HI!"
Hannah West Author's Blog

I went in thinking there would be more god activity. I was expecting lots of mythology and legend, with some romance on the side. Reverse those, and you'll get a better idea of what INK is like.
Is that bad? No, not necessarily. Just depends on what you're in the mood for.
The story itself is well-written, and I think Ms. Sun has done a great job with her debut. The scene with the cherry blossoms is particularly enchanting. My problem with the book was strictly because it wasn't what I was thinking it would be.
And to a certain extent, that's because I'm old. I told my  CP partner as I was reading INK, "I think I'm just too old for this book...I keep wanting to give Katie a "make good choices" speech and some motherly advice."
Because here's the thing:  Katie see this guy fighting with his girlfriend, who just found out he got another girl pregnant. He was cold and kind of cruel to her, like he didn't even care. Then Katie hears he put his best friend in the hospital a few years ago.
Now *MINOR SPOILERS* we find out none of the awful things everyone thinks about Tomo are true, that he's manufactured his badboy reputation to "protect" those he cares about ...BUT...Katie doesn't know this. She is so curious to know more about him, she's following the guy around town, trying to figure out his deal, and musing over his gorgeousness while most of the available evidence suggests he's a cheating dirtbag psycho. She doesn't believe it, and is determined to prove her theory that he's not bad.
Oh, but he really does have a friend who is affiliated with the Yakuza (the Japanese mob). Tomo continues to be his buddy and sometimes helps him rough people up? Me googling Yakuza led me into some weird parts of the internet, people....I don't want to hang out with people associated with the Yakuza, because some of their businesses are pretty bad news.
Therefore: Tomo, you are also in danger of Mama Sarah's "make good choices!" speech.
 For every questionable choice Katie made, I could see her own internal logic, and why she felt she had to do this. But I still felt like she shouldn't!
When the ink and it's mysterious powers are in play, that's when I was most interested in the story. The romance was less of a draw for me, and I would really love more lore and backstory on the Japanese gods, and what exactly Katie's connection is to them. I suspect this is all coming in the second book.
Content: Sexual situations-- A couple of kisses. Tomo makes Katie think he's only interested in her physically in an attempt to make her angry and push her away. (*Oh, hey there, Will Herondale...Just thought about that scene where you did the same thing to Tessa at the end of "Clockwork Angel"'d you sneak back into my mind? I'd made it a whole month without thinking about your wonderful Welsh self...*)
Language: I did a Kindle search on the word "sh**" because it struck me that the characters say this a lot more often than in any other book I've read. I think there were 112 instances highlighted? That might not be exactly right, but if you don't like cursing in books I felt like I should point it out. There are several f-bombs also.
Violence: Must not have been too much, because I can't remember any. But honestly, I can read some pretty violent stuff and not even notice.

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