Book Review: The City Of Woven Streets by Emmi Itaranta

emmiFinnish author Emmi Itaranta’s second novel came across my desk recently, and although I’ve become a little jaded with fantasy offerings of late, the gorgeous cover and interesting premise caught my attention.

The City Of Woven Streets is an elegant fantasy set in an intricately crafted world where dreams are outlawed and those without a craft are considered lessers, and left to fend for themselves. Eliana is a young weaver in the House of Webs, but has a shameful secret – she can dream.  If her secret were to be revealed, she would be banished to the House of the Tainted, a prison from which there would be little chance of return.

When an mysterious woman is discovered with her tongue cut off and Eliana’s name tattooed on her skin, she is taken in by  the House of Webs, and as Eliana tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her arrival, she discovers an invisible network of power behind the city’s facade, as the sea begins to slowly rise around them, threatening to drown the entire city.

Itaranta does a wonderful job of avoiding the usual tropes associated with the genre, keeping proceedings fresh with beautifully descriptive prose and immersive, richly textured landscapes. Her characterisations are detailed enough to engage without feeling too bloated or overdeveloped (a practice which seems to be rife in modern fantasy) and the character of Eliana herself is expertly understated initially, while at the same time, her predicament intrigues us enough to follow through, and observe her development into a much more complex individual as the narrative flows.

The City Of Woven streets is far more a work of literary fiction than just another mass-produced genre piece. There’s no setup to cash in on an epic series, just a single tale told expertly and eloquently, with compelling characters and a unique style, often thought-provoking and more importantly, entertaining.

Out now from Harper Collins




Review: ‘Til Death – Second Impressions by Jason Anspach

TilDeath2_FT_tempFINALOne of my favourite books from last year was Jason Anspach’s retro noir-ish spooky detective mystery ‘Til Death. It was a breath of fresh air, and a fun read, and now Jason’s back with a sequel.
Detective Sam Rockwell returns with his sassy fiance Amelia as they investigate more shady shenanigans, this time heading to San Francisco to track down a Return (a recently deceased ghost with unfinished business) who has outstayed it’s welcome.

As the investigation progresses, once again Sam finds himself mixed up in something far bigger than he could ever have expected, as he and Amelia are exposed to more danger than ever before.

Once again, Anspach does a commendable job of evoking the 50’s era, with wonderfully detailed descriptions and informed cultural references, as well as the snappy, movie-style banter between the various characters throughout, and the fact that it never takes itself too seriously is a big plus.

The Cold War backdrop, coupled with the vivid nostalgia balance each other nicely, and although there is the usual violence and mayhem involved with a murder mystery, and a ruthless villain to contend with, Anspach keeps proceedings as lighthearted and funny as possible, maintaining the all-important entertainment factor at all times.

Once again, M.S. Corley is on art duty, and his gorgeously retro cover is the icing on the cake.

If you haven’t checked out the original ‘Til Death, you can pick it up at a reduced price until April 29th as well as this sequel.

Witty, warm and decidedly old-school, this sequel delivers laughs and peril in equal measures with all the style and grace of an almost-forgotten era.

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Book Review: Compile:Quest by Ronel Van Tonder

compile ronelIt’s easy to become jaded with the plethora of Dystopian fiction knocking about right now. It feels like everything’s been done before, and a lot of newer authors seem reluctant to break the mould.
Enter South African author Ronel Van Tonder. Her novel Compile:Quest came across my desk recently, and having been hugely impressed with recent efforts from her fellow South Africans Lauren Beukes and Charlie Human, I was tempted to give this one a go.
Set in the distant future, Compile:Quest introduces a dystopian world where large numbers of the remaining population live in domed cities, segregated from those outside, largely controlled and manipulated by advanced technology and social media, seamlessly linking each “denizen” to each other, as well as the network owned by the mysterious SUN corporation.
When Peppermint, a denizen of the dome is called for what seems to be a routine medical exam, she is quickly ripped from her everyday life and subjected to testing in a secret facility. As she learns the reasons why, she makes a discovery that changes her life and unveils SUN’s dark plans.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the dome in a harsh wasteland where solar flares have forced survivors to live in squalor underground, Jinx, a soldier in the Rooivaik embarks on a mission to find the truth about her parents, while engaging in negotiations with another dangerous militia group.

The strength of Compile:Quest is in Van Tonder’s prolific prose, each carefully constructed set piece expertly described in impressive detail. The technological elements are both believable and practical, and the narrative is gently peppered with South African colloquialisms, giving it an authentic voice and feel throughout, without being too obvious, and although there is a glossary provided at the end, most readers should be able to figure them out by the time they reach the conclusion.

Compile:Quest’s combination of great storyline, edgy attitude and strong characterisations make for a riveting read, and will have the reader reaching straight for the next book in the series.

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Book Review: Blink by Will & Paul Swardstrom

 If you’re a fan of movies like Men In Black or shows like The X-Files and Fringe, then Blink should be right up your street. The Swardstrom brothers work flawlessly together to create a fun and exciting start to this series as Agent Smith and Co. investigate strange occurrences that lead to a huge conspiracy spanning entire dimensions.

Blink is frenetically paced and never lets up, and the main characters are well crafted with snappy dialogue to match the pace of the narrative. The authors have a lot of fun with the agents names, with lots of geeky references, and the story develops quickly enough to keep the reader’s interest, with a great finale.

While some of the concepts will have been seen before in the shows mentioned above, the Swardstroms add enough of their own concepts and personality to give it their own mark, and it sets the tone for other novels to come. Hugely enjoyable.
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Book Review: Lurk by Adam Vine

imageIt’s been a while since I delved into the horror world, so this debut from Adam Vine seemed like the perfect place to start!

Film student Drew Brady lives with his friends in a college house, where all the usual shenanigans associated with student life take place. His best friend/unrequited love, Bea lives close by and spends a lot of time there too. When Drew finds some polaroids of former tenants in the house’s suitably creepy basement, he soon finds that the photos reveal much more, and that a dark force is pushing the group towards something unimaginable.

The horror genre has become a little tedious of late, much of it repetitive rehashes or mass market slashfests, so Lurk was a pleasant surprise. While the premise of Lurk may seem straightforward, it is anything but. What follows is a deeply insightful look into not only the lives of young people and their most basest of emotions, but also the more complex problems associated with depression and self-image. While the others are all good-looking and popular, Drew is overweight and geeky – a trope you might think, but no. Drew’s journey here is the real story, and although he uses his encyclopedic knowledge of horror films to try and figure out what’s going on (a little nod to Scream), his real problems lie deep within his own mind, which makes his manipulation all the easier.

Lurk also benefits from a more subtle approach to horror. Graphic violence is used sparingly to great effect, relying much more on the intricately creepy atmosphere that is allowed to build slowly through the narrative, and the mysterious characters that Drew and his friends encounter as the story creeps towards its conclusion. It’s also an interesting study of cycles, and how sometimes we can so easily become trapped in our own reality to the extent where we doomed to make the same mistakes time and time again. Vine also paints a sometimes painfully accurate picture of the behaviour and culture associated with this generation, and how in many ways they have been failed by their predecessors, raised on pop culture and mass media to the point where they’ve become desensitized and disenchanted, existing in their own bubble of reality.

The final chapters are executed with expert precision, drawing the reader in with unbearable tension, while at the same time delivering a game-changing revelation that sets the scene for one of the most memorable endings I’ve read in quite some time.

Lurk is a taut, tense, brooding tale that grows beyond its influences to create a uniquely modern landscape for new horror, without resorting to gratuitous gore or ridiculous plot devices for shocks, instead preferring to creep inside the unsuspecting reader’s head and deliver its chills in all the right places.

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Book Review: Eleanor by Jason Gurley (Crown)

 One of my favourite books of all-time gets a new lease of life this week with the release of Jason Gurley’s Eleanor by Crown Publishing. Originally a self-published hit, this new version looks stunning and hopefully will bring Gurley’s talent to the masses.

Tragedy has a profound effect on any family. A decision made by a family member in the past reverberates throughout time, reshaping possibilities, closing doors that should have been left open and opening ones that should have never even existed. A young girl, struggling with these consequences, finds herself torn from reality by strange forces that will affect her life forever.

A mesmerising mix of surreal fantasy, science fiction and beautifully written drama, Eleanor is one of those rare moments in a reader’s lifetime when they start to remember why they love reading so much. A story that grips from the first chapter and never lets go. Exquisitely-crafted characters and breathtaking imagery fuse effortlessly with an ambitious and original plot, bringing to life a story so captivating it refuses to be put down.
While dealing with darker themes such as suicide and addiction, Gurley displays an empathy with his characters I’ve rarely seen, neither glamourising their decisions or preaching against them but allowing the characters and their actions to speak for themselves. Conventions of genre are refreshingly swept aside. Many will try to tie it down, to quantify it, to classify it, but this book defiantly refuses to be pigeonholed into some obscure sub-genre.
Fans of Jason Gurley’s other work will be pleasantly surprised. This is Jason as you’ve never seen him before. As brilliant as his other work is, this is his most confident and accomplished book yet, and being the culmination of almost 13 years work it rightfully demands and deserves an audience. Easily one of the best novels you’ll read this year.

Note: UK/Ireland release is March through Harper Collins.

Author Will Swardstrom’s Top 10 (Actually 12) Favorite Short Stories of 2015 (Including Me!)

Author Will Swardstrom reveals his favourite shorts of 2015, including Zero Hour. Many thanks for the inclusion Will! 

Incidentally, Will’s short Z-Ball was one of my favourites this year. If zombies are your thing, you should really check it out! Source: My Top 10 (Actually 12) Favorite Short Stories of 2015