Book Review: The Sky: The World by Jessica McHugh

9453982Title: The Sky: The World
Author: Jessica McHugh
Genre: Adventure, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Tours.
Visit the author’s website | Goodreads

Who is Doctor Azaz? It is the 19th Century, and Azazian England is at it’s pinnacle. Aeroplanes rule the sky, and crystalline technology has transformed life itself. But for stunt pilot Jack Racine, life is little more than an endless tailspin into liquor, laudanum, and loose women. But all that is about to change. For Jack Racine is about to have an audience with the architect of the age, the mysterious Doctor Azaz…

As you all probably know, I’m a big fan of Jessica McHugh’s writing. I’ve previously read and reviewed two other books by her: Camelot Lost and Rabbits in the Garden, both whom I enjoyed a lot. I was thrilled to participate in the book tour for another novel of hers, The Sky: The World. Although this book is something entirely different from the two other ones I mentioned, it was a nice and interesting read as well.

The Sky: The World starts out promising enough with pilot Toby and his pregnant wife Sarah crashing down with their plane. Unfortunately, the EPS appears not to be working properly, something which is unheard of because the only two people who know the location of the EPS are the pilot himself and his engineer. When the authorities investigate the bodies of the deceased, they realize two things. Number one, Toby was on laudanum at the time of the crash, and number two…he was a triap. In a world where its normal for people to be born out of a Fertility Pool rather than out of two people making love to each other, being a triap means being discriminated against, laughed at and a lot more. If the Royal Air Force ever found out Toby was a triap, it would have cost him his job. Even after his passing, it costs him his reputation.

Although Toby’s brother Jack is painfully aware of his older brother’s triap-status, he isn’t eager to believe that Toby was on laudanum. Drugs and opium are Jack’s trademarks, not Toby’s. He’s responsible, ambitious, and a good man. He won’t do anything like that, especially not with a baby on the way. Jack realizes right away that something else must be going on. Accidents don’t happen and EPS’s don’t just quit working for no reason. And when the organisation Toby worked for tries contacting Jack as well, he knows that this is his one change to find out what exactly happened to Toby. But although Jack’s suspicions may be correct, he is in for a lot more than he bargained for. The mysterious doctor Azaz, the sole inventor of aircraft, the fertility pool and most of mankind’s inventions might have something to do with why Toby was in Egypt as well…

The Sky: The World is a book with a lot of levels. On the one hand, it shows us a world other than the one we’re familiar with, where every major invention can be accocounted to one man only: the mysterious Doctor Azaz, who has lived for over a hundred years and is apparently immortal and all-knowing. On the other hand, we meet Jack, a young man who struggles not only with himself and the fact that he’s a bit of a loose canon, drinking, sleeping with several women, etc. but also with the fact that he has spent his entire life in the shadow of his father and of his brother Toby. Whereas Toby was the ambitious one, the good and reliable brother, Jack always was the wild one, the irresponsible one. But losing first his father and then his brother several years later, brings Jack to the verge of depression. Determined to clear his brother’s name and to prove he wasn’t on laudanum at the moment of the crash, Jack is willing to do whatever it takes to find out more about the accident, including working for Mr. Pratt, who was Toby’s previous employer.

Jack’s inner struggle will porbably look familiar to a lot of us, and I could relate to it fairly well myself. I was not a fan of his behavior, his constant switching between women (choose one, already!) and his sometimes cruel behavior towards Kat, who has loved him since they were both very young. At times, I didn’t like his attitude at all, although it is in a way understable. Jack grabs booze and laudanum when he cannot longer handle the world, and he has trouble commiting to one person for the same reason as well: whenever it gets tough, he wants to escape. Throughout the book, he does grow as a character, which was all the more reasons for me to like him better. He has sort of this James Bond-esque/Indiana Jones-esque style and attitude, and with the addition of Egypt, ancient Amulets, century-old secrets and the mysterious Doctor Azaz I could not help but imagine him as looking like Indiana Jones as well.

I loved the many notions of aircraft. I’ve never been in an airplane before in my life, but it must feel great to fly through the sky like that, freedom at your fingertips. The mystery surrounding Toby’s death, and how the intrige builds with every passing scene is excellently done as well. Add the dystopian myth of Doctor Azaz, the references to ancient cultures, and you have an adventure novel I personally greatly enjoyed. On the downside though, the pace picked up quite slow, and it took me several chapters to really get into the story, especially as Jack first reminisced about his childhood and his relationship with his brother Toby. I do have to mention that the pace picks up significantly in the second half of the book.

If you like Indiana Jones style novels, then you’ll probably like The Sky: The World as well, although Jack has a lot more depth than Indiana ever had. Jessica McHugh’s writing style, as always, was flawless. A nice read, but I have to admit that I did like her other books better.

Book Review: Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

8843789Title: Ultraviolet
Author: R.J. Anderson
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Orchard Books
Publication Date: June 2nd 2011
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Rating: 5 stars
Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special.
This is not her story.
Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori — the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right?

Ultraviolet is the book that surprised me the most thus far this year, mainly because it turned out to be nothing like I had imagined. When I first heard about this novel, I was convinced it was just another young adult paranormal/supernatural book focusing on vampires, witches or – god forbid! – faeries. But then, I actually read the blurb (always a smart move) and discovered that I was, in all honesty, quite intrigued with what I was reading, but still I didn’t have high hopes for this book. I had some faint recollection of R.J. Anderson writing novels about faeries before, and I suspected Ultraviolet to be about this ingenious species as well. But the idea of a story told from the perspective of a person who allegedly killed the most popular girl in high school, well that premise was of course interesting enough to get me started. Lets conclude by saying that my assumptions about R.J. Anderson’s possible lack of imagination and continuous habit to write about faeries, were very, very, VERY wrong.

Ultraviolet surprised me in so many ways. First of all: the setting. Practically the entire novel (safe the last part) takes place in a mental institution. When we first meet our protagonist, Alison, she is strapped to a bed in a room in an asylum, and soon after she is somewhat questioned by a police officer who escorts her to another asylum, Pine Hills. And secondly, there is hardly any mention of something paranormal. Alison herself is convinced she’s a murderer, but cannot explain to anyone how exactly she murdered Miss Popular, because it simply sounds too strange to be true. Alison hears objects, tastes syllables and feels numbers, but that’s nothing all that paranormal either, because it’s actually a medical condition called synaesthesia. The originality of the setting and the fact that no one is a vampire, faerie, witch, or anything that can be added to that line while thinking logically, are two major bonus points for Ultraviolet.

As I already said, we first meet Alison while she is strapped to a bed in a mental institution. We learn that she is the last one who has seen Tori Beauregard the day she dissappeared and that, right after returning home from detention, Alison had a mental breakdown and exclaimed that she was the one who killed Tori. By the time Alison gets transpored to another asylum, Pine Hills, where she will spend the next couple of weeks, Alison has regained enough of her memory and consciousness to remember Tori just desentegrating in front of her. Of course, that’s impossible, because people don’t just do that, so Alison, traumatized by her mother’s reactions toward her synaesthesia in her childhood, does the only thing she can possibly do: she blames it all on herself, the freak of nature, the crazy person.

While at Pine Hills, Alison meets with a lot of extraordinary people, each with their own shares of bad luck in life and bottled-up emotions. But then there’s Sebastian Faraday, a psychology student who wants to do some tests on the patients of Pine Hills. Alison agrees, and is surprised to hear that she scored very high on Faraday’s test. The latter then finally manages to give Alison the answer she has been waiting on her whole life: she isn’t crazy, she is simply suffering from synaesthesia. Albeit a great relief, the young girl is not yet convinced of her own innocence. As her feelings for Faraday start to grow, her psychiatrist Dr. Mina gives her some shocking news that might make her lose her trust in humanity alltogether.

As you can see from my short, but more extended synopsis than what you get from the cover blurb, Ultraviolet has a totally unique setting and a most original storyline to accompany that. I was amazed as I turned page after page after page and tumbled into the world of mental institutions, people with problems rather than ‘crazy people’ and got to know more about Alison and her medical condition. I did a brief search, and the information the author uses to describe synaesthesia in this novel, is truthful, as far as I can tell, which makes it all the more interesting. Tasting numbers? Feeling syllables? It might seem amazing at first, but it has to be tough to live like that too.

Alison is a protagonist you’ll learn to love right away. She isn’t like ordinary fantasy heroines. She’s quiet, rather shy, with a lot of bottled-up feelings and a severe difficulty to express emotions. She has this mental condition that doesn’t make her life any easier, especially not since her mother acts like she’s going crazy, and seems more afraid of her than anything else. But apart from that, Alison seems like a normal high school girl, with a best friend Mel and a number one enemy Tori. But even though so, Alison tries to get along with Tori at first, despite the weird noise she hears when coming closer to the girl. Alison is so likeable because she’s such an honest, real and down-to-earth character. When she suspects herself of killing Tori, she doesn’t go on an alround-search looking for what exactly made the girl desintegrate, no, she actually feels guilty and let that guilt lead her for a while, which is the most plausible human reaction to that. She isn’t feisty or full of leadersihp-qualities (been there, done that) but she’s actually a lot like every other normal person out there. It was refreshing to see her interact with other characters. I loved Alison from the start, and it’s been a long while since I’ve liked a fictional character as much as I like her.

Furthermore, I think R.J. Anderson had a strike of brilliance when she decided to let this story take place in a mental institution. We meet a lot of girls and boys Alison’s age, who each have had their own difficulties in life that made them end up in an asylum. It could be that they were abandoned by their abusive parents, or that they hear voices talking to them, or that they suffer from anorexia. The bottom line is that by putting so many different people together, with each of them a different backstory and a different way of dealing with their emotions and the things that trouble them in life, the author succeeds in offering us a very wide specturm of characters, each of them unique and interesting in their own way, and that when she puts all these personalities together, it just works. Gone are the stereotypes of high-school jock, preppy prom queen wanna-be and misfits. Meet the social outcasts extraordinaire: the young adults in the mental institution. Sorry high-school stereotypes, but you will not be missed.

I wish I could express in words how much I want to praise Ultraviolet. I love the setting, the characters, the mention of an actual medical condition, the addition of atleast some paranormal-stuff near the end, etc. And you know what I loved most of all? There isn’t really any bad guy or villain around. Dr. Mina, Alison’s psychiatrist, isn’t an evil mastermind in disguise, waiting to pray on the weak and delusional. Not all nurses in Pine Hills are equally charming, but none of them is Cruella DeVille either. Although skeptical and quite afraid of her daughter at first, Alison’s mom isn’t really portrayed as a bad person either. We all make mistakes, we all do things we wish we shouldn’t have done. The uniqueness of this story is once again displayed as there really is no single bad guy or villain here. R.J. Anderson managed to write a story where we don’t need a villain or the epic battle between good and evil (again, been there, done that) to stay focused on the narrative and to keep on enjoying the storyline.

And might I add one thing more? Sebastian Faraday, you are the best. If I was still a teenager, I would so have a teenage crush on you. But now I’m all grown-up and I can’t fall in love with fictional characters anymore, but boy. In terms of love interest, Sebastian really has it all. He is kind, understanding, the listening ear for Alison when she needs it the most, intelligent, humorous and willing to sacrifice himself both for the people he loves as well as for the greater good. The only thing I can say that wasn’t utterly and completely perfect in this book was the lack of scenes featuring Sebastian. Sure, he was featured just about every chapter since half-way the book, but still! More! More! Give me more!

EVERYONE – and that includes you, your eighty-year-old grandmother, your pets, your little but severely annoying sister, your school teacher, your nextdoor neighbour, the President of the United States, Britney Spears and those space aliens who landed in Roswell in the 1950s – should read Ultraviolet. This is the most surprising, original, thrilling, suspenseful young adult book I have read all year, and trust me when I say I’ve read plenty so far. It might even be the most original book I’ve read in my entire life. It offers everything you can dream of in young adult fiction: characters you will fall in love with from page one, a storyline that is suspenseful enough to keep you reading at five am at night, intriguing plot twists, a highly original and unique setting and a writing style that will keep you in awe from page one till the very end. R.J. Anderson, I officially love you.

Book Review: Rook by J.C. Andrijeski

10276001Title: Rook (Allie’s War, Book One)
Author: J.C. Andrijeski
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: White Sun Press
Date of Publication: January 9th 2011
Goodreads | Amazon | Smashwords
Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by the author.

“You are the Bridge…”

Twenty-eight-year-old San Francisco native, Allie Taylor, knew she had issues…but she at least thought she was human. In her version of modern day Earth, a second race of human-like beings called seers were discovered in Asia in the early 1900s. Since then, they have fought in two world wars and live alongside humans as second-class citizens.

So when Allie meets her first, real, flesh-and-blood seer, she’s not exactly thrilled when he tells her that she’s a seer like him. Not only that, but according to him, all the other seers believe she’s going to end the world.

Worse, no matter what she does, everything that happens after that only seems to prove him right.

Allie Taylor has spent her entire life thinking she was human, but she’s about to find out that she’s not. In a world where Seers, human-like creatures with amazing abilities and the power to communicate with each other on a different level called The Barrier, are sold as slaves and forced to work for humans or are part of one of the few Seer Clans still existing, that’s terrible news to deal with. And like that isn’t worse enough, she also learns that she’s The Bridge, and according to what all other seers believe, she’s going to destroy the world. Allie realizes that her life, and the life of her new love interest Revik, might be in danger as she is now the number one target of the Rooks – a rogue seer group refusing to blend in with the seers working for humans – and of the human authorities, who want nothing more than to get their hands on one of the most powerful seers currently alive.

Rook, the first novel in the Allie’s War series, is quite the adventure to read. At first, the new world J.C. Andrijeski creates seems very unfamiliar, and it takes some getting used to, but once you get past that, you know that you’re in one of the most memorable, astonishing and original books currently out there. The world we are introduced to in this novel, is very much alike our own, but with the addition of a new race of creatures called seers, who were discovered in Asia in the early 1900s. Although the seers are far more powerful than humans, since they can communicate on a different thought-level called The Barrier, and some of them possess even more impressive qualities – like telekinesis or the ability to influence other people’s thoughts – they are treated like second-rate citizens. Some of them are sold as sex-slaves to expensive whorehouses, while others work for wealthy families who can afford their own seer, and thus gain even more power for themselves. The ones who are not bound by the rules of human society, are organised in the few remaining clans. But there is also a significant group of seers who are not pleased with the current world order, and who have gone rogue, calling themselves Rooks and operating in a pyramid-like structure on The Barrier.

As you may have noticed from my short introduction, Rook is nothing like other science-fiction/alternative universe novels out there. The world J.C. Andrijeski creates is original, entertaining and quite complicated – it took me a while to actually grasp the entire concept of it. The complexity of this world might scare potential readers, but once everything clicks into place, the amount of world-building done in this novel and the originality of the concepts introduced are really amazing and impressive, and it should not scare you away from reading this novel.

Allie is an interesting character, with a lot of depth and personality. In the beginning of this novel, she is still convinced of her own humanity, although there were some events during her childhood that occasionally made her question that. But when she is being stalked by Revik, a fellow seer, and he tells her of her own seer-heritage, everything seemingly clicks into place – but that doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t scare Allile tremendously. She is forced to leave her entire life behind, and to run away from Terrian, a seer who wants to make her become part of the Rook organisation. J.C. Andrijeski describes Allie’s growth as a character, from a person in the dark about her own history, heritage to a person trying to find out what this seer-thing actually means to The Bridge, the person capable of destroying the world. The evolution in her personality happens slowly and gradually, and is remarkably well written to say the least. I liked Allie’s personality. She is determined, strong, intelligent and willing to acknowledge her own failures and flaws, and to deal with them. I could easily relate to her and found that I really enjoyed reading her thoughts and opinions.

The other main characters, Revik – the good guy, the love interest – and Terrian – the bad guy – are equally as interesting and entertaining, although they both have very distinct personalities. It’s obvious from the start that the two of them have some history together, and I thought their interactions with each other were some of the most interesting scenes in this novel. Terrian makes an excellent bad guy as he is practically the representation of all the things we deem evil in this world. The fact that he has multiple bodies he can operate, makes him a very interesting opponent as well. I also liked Revik’s personality, with his moods switching quickly between happy, relaxed and cheerful and angry, confused and sad. Whereas Allie is more of a balanced person, I thought Revik’s moody personality made an excellent addition to that. I also liked the two of them together, as an item, since it somehow seemed very fitting.

But more even than the impressive world-building and the interesting, well-thought-through characters, I thorougly enjoyed the storyline. Starting off right in the middle of the action, only to bounce back to explain a couple of things and then right away get into the action again. The storyline is very original, as in the entire concept of the novel, and it’s filled with more backstabbing betrayal, twist and turns than I even thought possible. By the end, Allie hardly knows who to trust anymore besides herself – if she can even trust herself, being The Bridge and destroying the world and all – and she even questions the loyalty of the people she loves most: Revik, her own brother and her closest friend. While the world around them seems to be crashing down, the characters are forced to find strength and courage within themselves to do the impossible. The contrast between Allie’s relatively safe, human environment we meet her in at first, and the dire circumstances she finds herself in by the end of Rook is enormous. The storyline never gets predictable, and always mantains the fast pace and level of intensity we see from the start, and even when it slows down for a minute to explain something about Allie’s world, or to create some romance between characters, it never loses that intensity.

Another strong point of this novel was that Allie, although she is The Bridge and supposedly the destroyer of the world, doesn’t seem like an overpowered character at all. A lot of authors fall into the trap that they want their main character to be a part of a prophecy, or to have some amazing purpose in this life, and end up making them overpowered compared to the other characters, which makes them unbelievable, people can no longer relate to them and they become boring. Luckily for us readers, J.C. Andrijeski does not fall for that trap, which makes Rook an even more impressive book to read.

If I had to say one bad thing about Rook, then it would be its complexity. That’s the only reason why I rated this book a 4 and not a 5, and also the reason why I think the other novels in the series might be even better than this one – less explaining to do, more action and adventures. As I already stated, the world the author creates is very complex, multi-layered, and it takes a lot of explaining before the reader actually gets used to it, or grasps the concept. That might scare off potential readers, but I personally believe that the action-packed adventure and the entertaining characters this novel provides, more than make up for that. And after all, everyone knows that if you want an original storyline with an original setting, that it’s obvious there will be some explenation needed. It’s a sacrifice we have to make for originality, and it’s one I gladly make.

Rook is an excellent science-fiction/fantasy novel with an amazing storyline, strong characters and the most impressive display of world-building I have seen in a while. If you’re tired of reading fantasy novels with the same old concept over and over again, then you will definately find Rook innovating, remarkable and highly entertaining. And even if you’re happy with the way most contemporary fantasy novels work nowadays, then I think you’ll still find Rook to be a very entertaining novel in the genre, and one of the most well-written ones. Don’t hesitate to read this book: it will definately NOT dissapoint you.

Rook is the first book in the Allie’s War series, the second book being Shield, and the third Sword. I cannot wait to read the second part of this series, and to read more about Allie’s adventures.