I Belong to the Earth, J A Ironside

I Belong to the Earth, J A Ironside

I Belong to the Earth: Unveiled, Book 1

A car smash was the turning point for all three sisters, and especially Emlynn, traumatised and with a head injury that apparently kick-started her on-again-off-again ability to perceive the dead. Isolated, and struggling with her own problems, there’s no-one Emlynn can tell about the cold patch on the stairs, or the figures she sees watching their house, or the sense of sheer menace she’s getting off her oldest sister’s new boyfriend. Each of the sisters has their role to play, and it seems the harder Emlynn tries to fight, the more ground she loses.

I Belong to the Earth is a complex story with a depth and richness far beyond most of the YA genre I’ve read. It’s welcomely free of stereotypes and miraculous solutions, and the fantasy elements are solidly thought-out and woven into the plot with a realism that chills. Author J. A. Ironside writes the side-effects of trauma with an understanding that adds dimensions to Emlynn’s struggle. With excellent pacing and incredibly convincing characterisation, this book totally earnt its five stars. I read it in a couple of sittings, and actually read all the teasers at the end looking for more (I never do that). I strongly recommend this read – one of the best fantasy books I’ve come across this year.

The Azrael Initiative, K Hanson

The Azrael Initiative, K Hanson

The Azrael Initiative (Kayla Falk Series Book 1)

Kayla Falk is an engineering student, whose biggest concern is her graduation project. Unlike most students, she even has a guaranteed job waiting for her at graduation: working for her best friend’s dad. Her plans are looking good, but sometimes the sayings about best-laid plans love to prove themselves, and an attack on her university throws Kayla, and her best friend Olivia, into the middle of something neither of them had ever considered. When two teens beat off a terrorist cell, it’s not only the news outlets that take notice…

The Azrael Initiative is a strong contender in the YA adventure field, picking two teens out of utterly normal lives and catapulting them into extraordinary circumstances. I found that the storyline was well-constructed, with enough breadcrumbs leading to the twist to make it plausible, but not enough to be a dead giveaway. However (without dropping a ton of spoilers) there were some elements that made suspending my disbelief tricky as I read, not least that neither of our two heroines apparently asked any more questions than ‘where do I sign?’ before involving themselves once the pivotal tragedy had struck. The convenient villain’s diary that gives away the whole background was another. On the whole, though, this was an entertaining, well-paced read, and the absence of useless females was a refreshing change.

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Caresaway, D J Cockburn

Caresaway, D J Cockburn

Caresaway

Edward Crofte has developed the ultimate cure for depression, the single most successful and most sought-after drug on the market, legal or otherwise. Its outstanding success makes it a must-have for anyone who needs a confidence boost, and despite the growing number of conspiracy theorists claiming a list of side-effects including pyschopathy, Caresaway sales are booming. It’s doing so well that Edward stops using Caresaway after his coup to take over the position of CEO is successful. After all, he has everything he wants in life – why does he need to keep taking an anti-depressant? However, as he’s about to discover, much in life depends on your attitude…

Caresaway is an original, well-written and well-developed dystopia novella, playing on the themes of modern society’s obsession with prescription medication and money to create a very realistic scenario. D. J. Cockburn’s characters are expertly developed and plausible, adding their own layers to the storyline as the plot unfolds. The real strength of this book for me, however, lay in the way each new development built on the preceding ones. There was no sudden save halfway through, just a continuous exposition leading to the final twist that managed to be more chilling than many abrupt exposés. Definitely one of the best-structured novellas I’ve read this year, with a thought-provoking plot.

The Eye of Nefertiti, Maria Luisa Lang

The Eye of Nefertiti, Maria Luisa Lang

The Eye of Nefertiti

The Eye of Nefertiti: A Pharoah’s Cat Novel is a fantasy story following the adventures of Wrappa-Hamen, a cat from ancient Egypt who, due to an encounter with the goddess Bastet of the Egyptian pantheon, has the ability to walk and talk (and eat) like a human. When he is forced to flee Egypt with his chief ally, Gato-Hamen, High Priest of Amun-Ra, after the death of the Pharoah, the invocation goes a little awry and lands them both in modern-day America, where a chance liaison between Gato-Hamen and a woman named Elena results in a second chance for both of them to serve their Pharoah.

This book plays into the classic stream of books with a lovable animal protagonist. Wrappa-Hamen is the ultimate spoiled housecat, but to the usual options of ‘nap on the keyboard’ or ‘knock the glassware onto the floor’ he adds the ability to speak and use door handles. I found this book something of a mix between a young-adult – most of the story is light-hearted, simply-written, and the protagonist is an ideal match for the genre – and a couple of darker, more adult themes that start to wrap in towards the end, leaving me with a somewhat odd contrast at the end of the book. Overall, though, this is a well-researched story, a very pleasant read.

Salt in the Water, S Cushaway and J Ray

Salt in the Water, S Cushaway and J Ray

Salt in the Water

In a setting with strong overtones of Mad Max, Salt in the Water is the kind of gritty, kick-ass sci-fi dystopia that punches you in the teeth to get your attention.

The political balance of the small enclaves was complex, nasty, and well-thought-out, and the results weren’t ever saved at the last moment by a deus ex machina moment. In addition, the contrast between the high-tech weapons so very rarely available against the predominance of knives, fists, and rocks was a nice accent to the setting.

While opting for a wide range of character viewpoints can be a recipe for disaster in terms of reader confusion and choppiness in the read, I found that authors J. Ray and S. Cushaway did a pretty good job of managing their plot through the various viewpoints. While to some extent the sympathy I built with each character was limited by the amount of time I spent with them, the individual characters carrying the viewpoint were, without exception, well-developed and strongly individual across the range of species – twisty, traumatised, and dark.

I did find that the background to the Toros shards could have used a bit more explanation. What comes through the story: These artifacts stud the landscape; they caused a disaster; they still do bad things – but that was really about the extent of the information. As the book is, pretty clearly, the preparation for a sequel, that may have been deliberate, but as a reader, it left me with a feeling that I’d arrived halfway through an important story.

Overall, this book definitely earnt its five stars, and I’m very stingy with those. I’m a sucker for intelligent anti-heroes and independent loners, not to mention solid writing skills and a realistic plot, and this book provided me with plenty of all the above. I’d strongly recommend this read.

Reviewed for Knockin’ Books Blog.