Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

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Title: Back to Blackbrick
Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 272 pages
Publication Details: February 7th 2013 by Orion Children’s Books
Genre(s): YA; Sci-Fi
Disclosure? Nope! I borrowed it from Dora. Thanks Dora.

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Cosmo’s brother Brian died when he was ten years old. His mum hides her grief by working all the hours God sends and Cosmo lives with his grandparents. They’ve been carefree days as Granddad buys him a horse called John and teaches him all he knows about horses. But the good times have to come to an end and although he doesn’t want to admit it, Cosmo knows his Granddad is losing his mind. So on one of the rare occasions when Granddad seems to recognise him, Cosmo is bemused that he gives him a key to Blackbrick Abbey and urges him to go there. Cosmo shrugs it off, but gradually Blackbrick draws him in…

Cosmo arrives there, scared and lonely, and is dropped off at the crumbling gates of a huge house. As he goes in, the gates close, and when he turns to look, they’re rusty and padlocked as if they haven’t been opened in years. Cosmo finds himself face to face with his grandfather as a young man, and questions begin to form in his mind: can Cosmo change the course of his family’s future?

 Review

I really enjoyed Sarah’s second YA novel, The Apple Tart of Hope which I got through Netgalley, so I was eager to go back to her first offering, Back to Blackbrick.

Like The Apple Tart of Hope, Back to Blackbrick is a quirky read told in a unique voice. It seems to me that both of Sarah’s stories are full of juxtapositions; they are set in the real world yet have fantasy elements; they are humorous and light-hearted, yet also deal with serious subject matter.

I love that about Sarah’s writing. It feels real but magical at the same time.

Back to Blackbrick is narrated by Cosmo. He hates his name, the fact that his brother died in such a stupid manner (he fell out of a window), his mother for getting on a plane and never coming back, the school kids who call him Loser Boy, and that his granddad’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse by the day.

But Cosmo is a spirited boy. He doesn’t despair too much over these things and he definitely doesn’t dwell on them. Instead, he throws himself into helping his granddad to remember things.

When his granddad gives him a mysterious key, along with the name Blackbrick, and asks him to promise to go there, Cosmo sets off on his own adventure. Beyond his imagination, Cosmo opens the gates to Blackbrick and finds himself face-to-face with his granddad, only he’s 50 years younger….

Can Cosmo use this time lapse to his advantage? He wants to teach his granddad good mind practices, and stop his brother from falling out of the window, but that might not be so simple as it’s easy to get swept away with life at Blackbrick.

I thought this book was beautifully told, funny, and well, just cute. I can’t think of any better way to describe it than that. It was exciting in parts, sad in others, but Cosmo’s frank way of looking at the world really shone through and made the story what it is: Unique.

unicorn rating 4

Back to Blackbrick and The Apple Tart of Hope are available in paperback from Waterstones.

This is Endgame!

Endgame
Title: Endgame: The Calling
Author: James Frey & Nils Johnson-Shelton
Series: Endgame #1
Edition: ARC, 464 pages
Expected Publication: October 7th 2014 by HarperCollins
Genre(s): YA; Sci-Fi
Disclosure? Not really. I received a copy from the publisher/author but I was not obligated to write a review.

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Twelve thousand years ago, they came. They descended from the sky amid smoke and fire, and created humanity and gave us rules to live by. They needed gold and they built our earliest civilizations to mine it for them. When they had what they needed, they left. But before they left, they told us someday they would come back, and when they did, a game would be played. A game that would determine our future.

This is Endgame.

For ten thousand years the lines have existed in secret. The 12 original lines of humanity. Each had to have a Player prepared at all times. They have trained generation after generation after generation. In weapons, languages, history, tactics, disguise assassination. Together the players are everything: strong, kind, ruthless, loyal, smart, stupid, ugly, lustful, mean, fickle, beautiful, calculating, lazy, exuberant, weak. They are good and evil. Like you. Like all.

This is Endgame.

When the game starts, the players will have to find three keys. The keys are somewhere on earth. The only rule of their Endgame is that there are no rules. Whoever finds the keys first wins the game. Endgame: The Calling is about the hunt for the first key. And just as it tells the story of the hunt for a hidden key, written into the book is a puzzle. It invites readers to play their own Endgame and to try to solve the puzzle. Whoever does will open a case filled with gold. Alongside the puzzle will be a revolutionary mobile game built by Google’s Niantic Labs that will allow you to play a real-world version of Endgame where you can join one of the lines and do battle with people around you.
Will exuberance beat strength? Stupidity top kindness? Laziness thwart beauty? Will the winner be good or evil? There is only one way to find out.

Play.
Survive.
Solve.
People of Earth.
Endgame has begun.

Let’s face it, James Frey likes to fuck with people.

First there was A Million Little Pieces, a harrowing memoir of a self-destructive alcoholic going through rehab which turned out to be more fiction than fact, and then came The Final Testament of the Holy Bible in which The Messiah sleeps his way around New York with men and women, collecting followers along the way, and damning religion as he goes.

And now…well, now There’s Endgame.

I’ve already ranted about the barrage of shit people have been spouting about the book on Goodreads based solely on the synopsis (OMG it’s like SO Hunger Games… how dare he…etc), and their personal opinions of Frey – and the best thing is that it turns out that Endgame isn’t really very THG at all, he’s just fucking with you.

JOKE’S ON YOU.

In all seriousness, I can’t see any other reason why Frey and Johnson-Shelton decided there had to be twelve ancient lines, with one player chosen from each, or why protagonist Sarah Alopay had to have her hair in a braid… things pretty synonymous with The Hunger Games these days, but look at the bigger picture (or y’know, just read the book) and you may find something other than a passing resemblance to the popular dystopian franchise.

Endgame: The Calling is like nothing I’ve ever read before. As the 12 players of Endgame search across the globe for the first key to the puzzle, we too are given clues of our own to solve.

I absolutely love this concept. When I first heard about the Masquerade phenomenon of the 70s I was jealous I never got to experience it. I also used to really love those ‘choose your own path’ books, and Endgame felt a bit like those, but on a far bigger, more sophisticated scale.

As far as the story itself is concerned, I couldn’t put it down but I did feel like something was missing. I liked that it wasn’t a last-one-standing kind of deal, which was another element that set it aside from the likes of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale.

Instead, each player is playing for the survival of their lineage, so basically everyone they know and love. A clue is implanted into their heads by Kepler 22b, the ancient alien-being overseeing Endgame. This gives the players the chance to form unlikely alliances and work together to solve the clues and find the keys. Only one can win, but the objective isn’t simply to maim each other.

I thought that idea could be a great base for some intense character relationships and drama but it never really amounted to enough of a climax for me. I liked the alliance and growing romance between Sarah and aloof Jago, especially when Sarah’s non-player boyfriend Christopher is thrown into the mix, but I didn’t get very emotionally invested in any of them. Perhaps there’s just too many players to care about at this point, or maybe it’s that most of them were too focused and came across as cold.

I did like a lot of things about the book though. As with most of Frey’s work to date, Endgame is about more than it first appears. There’s a sense of a greater power at work, something ancient and spiritual which I look forward to exploring further in the series.

However, the thing I liked most of all is that every reader’s experience of Endgame will be different. I enjoyed looking up all the links and clues provided even if the whole thing hasn’t gone live yet (publication day, guys). Having to flick to the end of the book each chapter to get the link was a bit of an effort at first (I imagine this won’t be as much as an issue with digital editions), but I thought it was totally worth it in the end. Links to YouTube Videos, Wikipedia pages and google images, consisting of everything from Mongolian Warrior music, to watching a sunset changes the way you read and think about the story as you go along.

Overall, I thought Endgame was a fast-paced, fun, read, but not one that completely blew me away. What Frey and Johnson-Shelton have created here is a unique reading experience, and even if you have doubts about the synopsis (Yes Goodreads’ trolls I’m looking at you) you have to appreciate the innovation and scope of it.

Endgame will begin if the human race has shown that it doesn’t deserve to be human. That it has wasted the enlightenment They gave to us.”

unicorn rating 4

Endgame: The Calling is available to Pre-Order now.

Lazy Saturday Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

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Title: Cress
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3
Author: Marissa Meyer
Edition: Paperback, 550 pages
Published: February 6th 2014 by Puffin Books
Genre(s): YA; Fantasy; Sci-Fi
Disclosure? Nope, I bought it!

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In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

What can I say about Cress that hasn’t been said already? Very little probably! Is it amazing? YES. Is it a compelling, satisfying continuation of what I’ve already declared to be my favourite new series? YES. But is it too long? Hell YES.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved this book. I loved Meyer’s galactic take on Rapunzel, I loved the dynamics between Scarlet and Wolf, and Cress an Captain Thorne (bless her) but I do think it went on a bit in places, no?

To be fair, it might be because I was really busy at the time of reading it, so I was grabbing just a few minutes here and there to read, but sometimes I felt myself skimming parts.

However, that just makes me want to read it again in more substantial sittings because ahhhhhh, on the whole, I can’t stop fangirling over this series.

I still can’t get over how it shouldn’t work. Fairy-tale retellings meets Star Wars, with a bit of Dystopia thrown in…I mean it sounds ridiculous, but it’s just not. Cress, felt even more Star Wars-y to me than Cinder did, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m just trying to figure out who Darth Vader is, Sybil or Levana?

(Anywaaayyyyy) Towards the end of Cress, we’re introduced to Princess Winter. And wow, how batshit is she!? I’m quite upset how long we have to wait for the next book. I have no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be amazing.

I need to know what happens with Cinder and Kai RIGHT NOW!

unicorn rating 4

The Lunar Chronicles is now available in paperback from Waterstones. See how you can get 10% off here.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

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Title: The Mind’s Eye: The Art of Omni
Author: Edited by Jeremy Frommer & Rick Schwartz
Edition: Hardcover, 180 pages
Published: June 10th 2014 by powerHouse Books
Genre(s): Non-Fiction; Sci-Fi; Art

GOODREADS
PURCHASE

Omni was a jewel among popular science magazines of its era (1978–1998). Science Digest, Science News, Scientific America, and Discover may have all been selling well to armchair scientists, but Omni masterfully blended cutting edge science news and science fiction, flashy graphic design, a touch of sex, and the images of a generation of artists completely free and unburdened by the disciplines of the masters.

Created by the legendary Bob Guccione, better known for founding Penthouse than perhaps any of the other facets of his inspired career in business, art, and literature, Guccione handpicked the artists and illustrators that contributed to the Omni legacy—they in turn created works ignited by passion and intellect, two of Guccione’s principal ideals.

The Mind’s Eye: The Art of Omni is the very first publication to celebrate in stunning detail the exceptional science fiction imagery of this era in an oversized format. The Mind’s Eye contains 185 images from contributing Omni artists including John Berkey, Chris Moore, H.R. Giger, Rafal Olbinski, Rallé, Tsuneo Sanda, Hajime Sorayama, Robert McCall, and Colin Hay among many more, along with quotes from artists, contributors, writers, and critics. With an introduction by Ben Bova.

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My Thoughts

This isn’t a review as I know very little about the source material, and wouldn’t even really consider myself an art-lover. However, I am a fan of Science Fiction and recognised many of the names cited in the synopsis, so when I was approached about this book I jumped at the chance to see more.

Some of the images are recognisable, some are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, but they are all completely stunning different ways. Together with interesting quotes, The Mind’s Eye is a beautiful collection. I couldn’t stop looking at it and I feel like it’s a must-see for any Sci-Fi fan. It’s definitely one of the coolest ‘coffee table’ books I’ve ever seen, and I can’t help thinking about all the people who would love to be given it as a gift!

Meet the Editors

Jeremy Frommer, Wall Street financier and media industry investor, has been collecting art and pop culture memorabilia for over 20 years. In 2009, he retired from the financial services industry, where he was senior managing director and global head of The Royal Bank of Canada’s Global Prime Services division. Soon thereafter, Frommer and his business partner, producer Rick Schwartz, began acquiring a number of intellectual properties and media assets. In early 2012, they formed Jerrick Ventures. Jerrick Ventures acquired the assets of Omni magazine, including its vast art collection.

Rick Schwartz is an award-winning film producer and financier based in New York. Throughout his career, he has worked on a wide range of critically acclaimed and commercially successful films including The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Machete, and Black Swan. Schwartz has been involved with movies that have cumulatively grossed over one billion dollars in worldwide box office sales and earned 31 Academy Award nominations. He is a member of the Producers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild, as well as a published writer whose work has appeared in such outlets as The Times of London, The Huffington Post, The Washington Times, and Grantland.

A Litte More About Omni

Founded in 1978, Omni Magazine was, for 20 years, one of the most influential science magazine in existence. Publishing early works by such authors as Orson Scott Card, William Gibson, George R.R. Martin, William S. Burroughs, Stephen King, and Joyce Carol Oats, the magazine was pioneering in its focus on “an original if not controversial mixture of science fact, fiction, fantasy and the paranormal.” Along with speculative essay and fiction, Omni published lush art essays and “space art.”

Omni lived in a time well before the digital revolution. The images you see on the pages have taken years to track down and brought the editors in touch with many esteemed artists, amazing photographers and dusty storage lockers. Their quest is far from over; you’ll notice an almost decade-long gap in the material, the contents of which were either lost or destroyed. Efforts to search throughout the universe for any images will continue and will be shared with the world at the all-things-Omni website, omnireboot.com. Stay tuned…

“Omni is not a science magazine. It is a magazine about the future…Omni was sui generis. Although there were plenty of science magazines over the years…Omni was the first magazine to slant all its pieces toward the future. It was fun to read and gorgeous to look at.” —Ben Bova, six-time Hugo award winner

All images are subject to copyright, powerHouse Books. Not to be used without permission.

A Cyborg, A Red Head and Some Wolf-Men…

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

www1 Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder.

Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

I never expected to love this series as much as I do. I am a fan of fairy tale retellings and reimaginings, but I thought the idea of Cinderella being cyborg was going a bit far. Oh how wrong was I!? It’s not too far. It’s exactly far enough, and it’s amazing.

In this, the second book, we continue where Cinder left off – with Cinder captured and imprisoned – and so naturally the first port of call is for our head-strong protagonist to escape, which she does with the help of loveable if not slightly stupid Captain Thorne (not even a captain).

I really liked the introduction of Thorne. He’s one of those hopeless rogues with a good heart, and he bounces off Cinder well. I was so glad this didn’t turn into some kind of love triangle between him, Cinder and Prince Kai as well. There’s a bit of initial flirting, but I think we can always tell his attempts are going to be futile, and it’s amusing.

At the same time we are introduced to Scarlet, a feisty, humble farm girl who’s had a bit of a rough ride. Her mother died and her father left and now her grandma has disappeared. With the help of the mysterious Wolf, she sets out to find her and discovers that her grandma is not quite the person she thought she was, and maybe Wolf isn’t either.

Oh seriously guys, I just loved this. Meyer did such a great job at intertwining these two stories. I never felt annoyed about the changing POV like I usually do with multiple perspectives, probably because I was equally as in love with both of them.

The action in Scarlet is constant, the pace is fast and it’s written beautifully, I can’t find anything bad to say about it. I thought the Wolf-Men army was genius, the relationships are all so realistic and refreshing, and Queen Lavana – even with little page space is truly, truly evil.

I wanted more Kai action, but this wasn’t his story so it made sense that he had a smaller role. I think we needed that distance between Kai and Cinder to further the plot. This book reminded me a lot of Graceling in that way. The protagonist’s relationship is not what’s important in the plot, they are their own people, working on their own agendas and without that it wouldn’t be nearly as compelling.

Meyer also continues to do an amazing job at using fairy tale elements and completely turning them on their head. Scarlet in her red hoodie, being taken in by Wolf makes you think of Little Red Riding Hood in a different light, just as cyborg Cinder does with Cinderella; it’s genius. A lot of people have tried to retell fairy tales, but I’ve read none as successful as this series.

And seriously, how awesome is Wolf!? Being a fan of his is not without its ups and downs in this book, but…I can’t help it…LOVE!

I am champing at the bit to get my hands on Cress. Scarlet ends on a ‘arrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhh what’s going to happen now’ moment and I can’t wait to see what Cinder and Scarlet will do next! Will they stop the war? Will they save Kai from Levana? ARGH!

unicorn rating

Disclosure?: Nope, I bought it.
Title: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2)
Author: Merissa Meyer
Details: Paperback, 452 pages
Published: February 7th 2013 by Puffin Books
My Rating: 5/5

Orbital Kin by James E. Parsons

18206543After an unusual disease breaks out and begins to threaten the country, a group of postgraduate students at a British university focus their research upon it, aiming to find out the cause and the cure.
The experimentations move out to space stations soon enough, in hope of a cure being produced while more mysterious events take place. The two graduate students find success, breakthroughs and the sudden spreading illness takes them in directions they never expected.
Can university graduates Steven and Alan save the country from the spread of the disease? Only time will tell…

Orbital Kin was such a Rollercoaster of a read for me. One minute I loved it and the next I wanted it to end!

We start with Univeristy students Steven and Alan partying, finishing up their degrees and continuing their scientific research. When people suddenly begin falling ill with an unprecedented, deadly disease which results in violent attacks, Steven and Alan’s research is taken in a new direction.

There was good action from the start, but I found the first third of Orbital Kin a bit clunky and awkward, making it hard to get into. The dialogue started off pretty bad too (so many mate’s and man’s– whether it was supposed to be regional dialect I don’t know, but it didn’t work for me) but as I read on I realised that it was just a case of teething pains and after a couple of chapters it settled into a rhythm and really began to improve.

There were a lot of things in this story that intrigued and excited me, mainly centered around protagonist Steven. His strange visions of The Red Man, his father’s involvement in some pretty messed up scientific experiments who also uses his daughter Lucy as human guinea pig, and the secrets lurking between his whole family.

Lucy, Steven’s little sister, was really the only character I had any feelings about. The main disappointment for me was that I didn’t like any of the characters in this story so I found it hard to care about was happening until Lucy came along. She kind of reminded me of Abra in Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, in that she has some strange abilities. The difference here though was that it’s clear these abilities have been the result of some kind of experiment by her father.

When things move on to the space station I got a bit lost again. I felt that there were too many unnecessary sequences and even whole chapters that didn’t need to be there. Too much walking between zones with not a lot happening.

But then, (I told you it was a rollercoaster!) people begin to get sick, they discover one of the team can breathe on Mars and paranoia grows, insanity and alien visions spread and it’s all pretty good again.

There is no doubt in my mind that Orbital Kin needs another thorough edit, but there are some great moments. It is Science Fiction in the true, original sense of the term and I’d recommend it to any fans of the genre.

Disclosure: I received a copy from the Publisher/ Author for an HONEST review. Many Thanks!
Details: Paperback, 387 pages. Published July 31st 2013 by Austin Macauley
My Rating: 3 out of 5 Unicorns
If you liked this try: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Favourites Friday #12: Banned Books Edition – Slaughterhouse-Five

Red Epic Reads Badge

Banned Books Week was launched throughout America in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.

The 10 most challenged titles of 2012 were:

1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey (Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group)

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group)

3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group)

4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit)

5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. (Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group)

6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. (Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit)

7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green. (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group)

8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz (Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence)

9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit)

10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison (Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence)

In the UK public libraries are free from censorship, but there is always talk surrounding school reading criteria and censoring/banning books from school libraries so I still find the idea of Banned Books week important.

There is a really interesting list of famous/popular books (From the Canterbury Tales to Carrie) that have been banned around the world and why here.

Two of my favourite books of all time are on that list, Slaughterhouse-Five and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Today my spotlight is on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

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Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

I love EVERYTHING about this book. It is an anti-war commentary masking as a pretty insane Science Fiction story and it’s probably the most powerful piece of fiction I have ever read. READ IT. NOW!

Sources: Epic Reads, Banned Books.org.uk and as ever, Goodreads.