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Book Review: Hang Wire by Adam Christopher

A red figure hangs like a puppet from red wires on a black background.Summary:
Ever since his birthday party when a fortune cookie exploded in his face, professional blogger of all things San Francisco, Ted Hall, has been passing out, sleeping 12 hours, and waking up exhausted.  It’s disconcerting, especially since there’s a serial killer on the loose.

The circus is in town, and the highwire workers are frustrated with the star of the act, who never rehearses and periodically disappears.  And no one understands why the manager isn’t reporting their missing highwire wire to the authorities, especially since the serial killer is stringing up his victims with a strong, thin wire that sounds an awful lot like a highwire wire.

Bob the beach-living, ballroom-dancing attraction, used to be the god Kanaloa, but the immortals have abandoned humans to their own devices, and he’s not supposed to interfere.  But he just may be the key to all the mysteries occurring in San Francisco.

Review:
I picked this up because it sounded like an urban fantasy serial killer mystery, which is just my speed.  Unfortunately, I found a book with a discombobulated world and plot that builds confusion rather than tension.

If my summary above seems disjointed and confusing that’s because that’s precisely what this book is.  Multiple different extremely odd plots are going on that ultimately do have some relation to each other, but the relation takes far too long to establish or understand.  The book starts with a flashback to the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and introduces us to Bob/Kanaloa.  It then jumps forward to the completely dull Ted and the exploding fortune cookie.  It then jumps backward in time again to an entirely different character, who is tied to the circus, eventually.  It takes quite a while to find out what his relation is.  These three disparate storylines that seems to have no relation to each other continue throughout the book.  Bob/Kanaloa’s journey from immortal god to just immortal beach bum would be an interesting book.  But his plot keeps getting abandoned for the other two plots, so all tension and interest is lost.  Similarly, the evil circus organizer would be interesting, but only if his plot was handled with more detail and finesse.  As it is, what he is doing and why he is evil is just confusing, not interesting.  Ted’s plot would not be interesting, even on its own with more detail, because Ted is a two-dimensional, boring character.

Beyond the three disjointed, confusing plots, nothing in this story is ever fully fleshed-out.  There’s the vague idea that immortals were once on Earth and involved but now have left, but the details of the hows, whys, and how this has affected Bob/Kanaloa is left out.  We’re told the organizer of the circus is evil, but we never see his fall from grace.  We see him as a poor pioneer then later as an evil circus worker.  The interesting part of how he got sucked into this evil is left out.  Similarly, two people ultimately become human hosts for gods, but this is basically just announced and moved on from.  The intricacies of how this feels for the human and for the god, why it might be effective or not, etc… is all left out.  This is a bare-bones, confusing plot with little development, which ruins all possible tension.

Just as the plot is created in broad, sloppy strokes, so are the characters.  The closest any come to being three-dimensional is Bob/Kanaloa, which at least made the story readable.  But the rest are quickly laid out with broad character traits, and the story moves on.  There is, for instance, no depth to Ted’s relationship with his girlfriend.  We’re told she’s his girlfriend and he loves her, but we never truly see them together and functioning as a couple.  We get no flashbacks to times prior to the supernatural craziness to see them in a non-stressful situation.  Ted’s girlfriend is there as a plot device, nothing more.

I understand that this is an advanced copy and there will be another editing pass, etc…, however this is the most errors I have ever seen in an ARC.  It was rife with typos, use of the wrong word, and format issues.  Most egregious to me is the Britishisms used by American characters, such as “prawns” for “shrimp.”  ARCs should have already had at least one editing pass.  A reasonable amount of errors could slip through, but not this many.  There were errors on approximately every other page.  Hopefully the final version received a heavy final edit.  Check reviews of the final version to be certain.

This book reads like an extremely rough first draft that badly needs an editor to come through and fix, not just minor typos and grammar, but also plot and characters problems.  It could be an interesting story if it was more fleshed-out, with some storylines dropped in favor of a more solid main one, and with at least a couple of three-dimensional characters the reader can really relate to and root for.  As it stands, there are certain scenes that are well-written and engaging, but together they do not make an engaging, readable mystery.  I normally love books published by Angry Robot, so I found this particularly disappointing.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm (Series, #1)

March 8, 2012 5 comments

Man shoving his hand into a person's chest against a blue background.Summary:
Sam sold his soul to the devil in the 1940s and ever since then he’s been hopping from body to body, possessing and utilizing them to perform his task–collect the souls of the dammed.  Although he can possess anyone, he prefers the recently dead.  His new assignment stops him dead in his tracks though when he touches the 17 year old girl’s soul, a girl who supposedly killed her mother, father, and brother in cold blood, and finds it untainted.  His refusal to collect her sends both angels and demons after him, eager to restore the balance, but Sam insists that collecting her soul will only bring about the Apocalypse.

Review:
I’m not sure why, but somewhere between my email from Angry Robot about this then upcoming book and actually reading it, I forgot what it was about and assumed from the title that it’s about zombies.  Um, not so much? Haha.  Actually, it is an urban fantasy film noir.  Instead of a detective we have a collector, who, a friend pointed out to me, is basically the same as Sam the Reaper on the tv show Reaper.  Our femme fatale is Lilith (you know, the first woman god made but she refused to be subservient to man so she got kicked out of the garden and went and hung out with demons.  I always liked her).  It all sounds super-cool, but I was left feeling very luke-warm about the whole thing.

First, there’s how Sam talks, which I get is supposed to come across as witty banter, but I myself didn’t find that amusing.  Perhaps I’m way too familiar with the classic works of film noir and to me this just didn’t measure up.  Perhaps I’m just a mismatch for it.  I feel like people with a slightly different sense of humor would enjoy it more, though.  Personally it just read as Sam trying too hard to sound suave, which I always find annoying.

My other big issue with the story is a couple of really unbelievable action sequences.  Ok, I get it that this is urban fantasy, but even within that we still need believability.  What do I mean by this?  Well, if something huge happens that affects the mortals, there should be discussion of how the immortals cover it up or deal with the fall-out.  This doesn’t really happen in this book.  One sequence in particular that bugged me involved Sam and the 17 year old hijacking a helicopter, flying it all over NYC, then crashing it in a park AND THEY GET AWAY.  Does anyone believe this could actually happen in a post 9/11 world unless some sort of otherworldly shielding was going on?  I don’t think so.  It was at this point that I knew the book was just not gonna work for me.

Does this mean that I think it’s a badly written book?  No.  It’s an interesting twist on urban fantasy and film noir simultaneously.  The characters are interesting, and the plot wraps-up fairly well.  I personally found it difficult to get into and found some sequences simply too ridiculous to believe.  However, I do think other people might enjoy it more, perhaps someone who has an intense love for urban fantasy and doesn’t mind ridiculous situations.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from publisher in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Point by Thomas Blackthorne (series, #2)

September 7, 2011 4 comments

Text-heavy black book cover.Summary:
Mysterious cutter circles are showing up in the Britain of the future.  Thirteen teenagers gather in a circle, then slice the wrist of the person next to them all the way around the circle.  The MI5 recruits a neuroscientist to help figure out the circles before they reach epidemic proportions.  Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Josh Cumberland, finds himself sucked back into his old special forces unit when a civilian job reaches a mysterious end.  Are the two events connected?

Review:
I received an ARC of this book through the Angry Robot Army, and I sort of wish I’d noticed it was the second in a series.  I just dislike reading books out of order.  Also, I think perhaps if I’d read the first book in the series, I wouldn’t have been so misled by the cover.

In case you can’t see the cover, it says, “Britain, tomorrow.  The latest craze: cutter circles.  Thirteen kids. Each has a blade. On a signal everybody cuts. What else is there when life has no point.”  This makes it seem like this will be a book about depression and suicide in a post-apocalyptic world, right?  In fact the people committing suicide have been brainwashed by music in an emotiphone to further a political power move.  Which has…..nothing to do with real suicide or depression.

There’s nothing wrong with being a political intrigue book, but I am a bit disturbed at how Blackthorne utilizes psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience in the book.  He makes it look like in the future we’ll be able to just….program people out of it or to do whatever we want them to do.  The brain is much more complex than that, and I just don’t like the message that such a plot device sends.

When looking at the book as the political espionage it actually is, as opposed to a book about mental illness in a dystopian world, it’s not a bad book.  I have the feeling that those who enjoy political intrigue books will enjoy it.  Josh is your typical wounded hero, and I did enjoy the scenes of him training.   Blackthorne creatively incorporates reality tv into the plot-line that many readers will enjoy.  The characters aren’t flat, but also aren’t particularly well-rounded.  That’s ok, though, because the focus of the book is the action and political intrigue.

Overall, the book seems to be an average future political intrigue action flick…in written form.  I recommend it to fans of that genre, but others will probably be bored.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: ARC from publisher

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