A Study in Scarlet Women

by Sherry Thomas
Reviewed by SA

I absolutely love the character of Sherlock Holmes. I grew up reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, watching the shows and movies that were inspired by the character, ever pretending I could solve a mystery like him, too. So when I got a hold of this new series, I was skeptical: I have read many ‘female Sherlock’ stories, and almost all of them disappointed me. But this time, I think we have a winner: because this Charlotte Holmes manages to take the Sherlock trope and somehow make it entirely new again. I loved the book, and I loved her.

Summary28588390

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society.  But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.
 
When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

Let me dismiss a few expectations right now: no, this is NOT a rehash of Study in Scarlet. Watson is not looking for a roommate and stumbling upon a genius detective and a case that needs cracking. This story is completely different, and completely new. The similarities are in some parts in name only, or incredibly subtle. In fact, if this book wasn’t being advertised as being Lady Sherlock, you wouldn’t see it all at once.  Right then, let’s move on!

The story opens with Charlotte Holmes being publicly humiliated, caught in the bed of a married man. Hello! She only intended to make herself ineligible for marriage, to force her family to pay for an education she could not be able to afford otherwise. But with the public shame, she’s now an outcast and a social pariah. If she wants to make her way as in independent woman in victorian London, she’s going to have to find herself a source of income, and fast. But with her genius mind, that shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

There seemed to be many stories going on here at once: the murders, which have left the inspectors baffled, and the story of Charlotte, a young woman trying to make her way in a world where women must know their place. I was fascinated by the steps she had to take, first to distance herself from the institution of marriage, and then just to get a job. It made me very glad to be living in the 21st century, where I can go to university to study physics and entirely fund my own education. And wear pants.

The mystery itself was a little slow paced, but I loved Charlotte’s insight as Sherlock. With the help Mrs. Watson, they establish a little scheme to allow Charlotte to take on cases while pretending her ‘brother’ Sherlock was ill. Every little deduction is incredibly clever, though required thinking as a victorian. In the end, the resolution of the crime came tumbling all at once, but it all made incredible sense, and tied in neatly with the ‘original’ Study in Scarlet. It was so clever!

While I loved Charlotte, I had to say that at times her character was a little inconsistent. She’s a genius, and yet doesn’t always see very far ahead. She’s a little stubborn and headstrong, rushing into some actions without thinking them through. And yet, she’s so relatable. Her love of food echoed my own.

So if you want historical fiction that will have you feeling like you’ve been plunged into the period, and a fantastic lady protagonist with genius intelligence, while at the same time a tribute to Sherlock Holmes? Then you’re going to want to read this book.

Only downside: we’re going to have to wait quite a while for the sequel to come out! Curses!

I received an Advance copy of this novel from Berkley Publishing. Thank you, BerkleyPub! 

Side Note: Charlotte’s story made me think a lot about The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Fowles), only with Sarah had been a little more proactive. 

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American Goth

by Cyn Mackley 
Reviewed by SA

I’ve been excited to read this book for ages. I fell in love with the cover, and the idea of a good mystery in farmland with a goth protagonist was too sweet to just walk by. I have to say, I devoured this novel so quickly:it was everything I wanted to read. It was perfect!

Summary31012513

When her grandfather dies mysteriously, New York City artist and goth chick Trinity Goode heads back to her small Ohio hometown to take over the farm and figure out what really happened to the man who always accepted her just as she was. Trinity’s ready to lace up her Doc Marten boots to be a church lady and bake pies for the county fair, but is her hometown ready to welcome her back?

With some help from her old friend Deputy Bobby Grace, she tries to solve the mystery of her Grandfather’s death and track down just who has been hell-bent on ruining her reputation. What she finds out could get her killed.

You can take the girl out of the country, put red streaks in her hair, and dress her all in black, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. Pitchfork in hand, this American Goth is ready to find a killer, save the farm, win a blue ribbon for jam, and just maybe snag herself a good ole country boy.

If I were to summarize this book in one word, it would be delightful. All that comes from Trin: Trinity is a remarkable woman and one I’m dying to know in person. She’s smart, she’s creative, and so wholly relatable that for a while I really thought she would walk off the page. And I really wished she would: I would die for some of her cookies.

Her character is just so complex. You can’t boil her down to just one personality point: yes, she’s a goth, but she’s also a good catholic girl, she loves her family, and she’s an artist with so many different mediums. It’s not every day your strong female character is a brilliant quilter too, now is it? Heck yes, we need more crafter protagonists.

I had assumed the mystery would take up more of the plot, but really the story revolved around the growing relationship between Trin and Bobby, the local deputy. Their chemistry is palpable, and their relationship is just so healthy I couldn’t be happier for them to have found each other. Watching them support each other, especially when some harsh secrets are revealed, reminds you that sometimes a good love story is about more than just the infatuation.  So if you’re a fan of romance, then you’re going to fall head over heels for this true love story.

The mystery itself is a slow cooker with a remarkably rich ending. I never saw it coming! A huge twist near the end totally changed my deductions before yet another twist changed them again. Serves me right for jumping to conclusions! The author peppered the story with enough clues that could lead you to finding the solution yourself, while still making the reveal shocking and incredibly exciting.

The ending was just perfect, and I absolutely need more. I loved this novel. Grab yourself a copy of American Goth, a hot mug of cocoa, and enjoy!

Fair warning: all the talk of baking seriously made me miss owning an oven. I can’t tell you how many store bought cookies I needed to get me through this book!  It had my stomach growling!

Iron Cast

by Destiny Soria
Reviewed by SA

One look. That’s all it took. One look at the cover, and it was love at first sight. I picked up this book and devoured it excitedly. Oh, my gosh. It’s so good. Not only is it diverse, but it has an iron tight female friendship, beautiful prose, and it combines all the best genres. It’s at the same time YA, Historical Fiction, and Fantasy, with mad scientists, secret clubs, gangs, and superpowers. All of that on the eve of prohibition. What’s not to love?

Summary28818313

It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

Ada and Corinne are hemopaths, able to manipulate people with their dangerous abilities. Ada charms your emotions to her will through her violin. Corinne can weave illusions with poetry. Together, they work for the Cast Iron, a nightclub which secretly holds illegal hemopath performances… and is the front for Jonny Dervish to run his hemopath cons from. After one con gets too big and goes bad, Ada is imprisoned in Haversham Asylum, a place designed to ‘rehabilitate’ hemopaths, and it’s up to Corinne to get her out.

I feel like the summary doesn’t do this book justice, because that’s where we actually start the novel: with a daring escape in the dead of night. Ada and Corinne make it back to the Cast Iron, their safe haven, only to learn that everything is now falling apart. More heists going wrong, fears of a mole, and now Jonny’s missing  and Ada’s still a wanted prisoner. And, to make matters worse, Corinne’s rich brother is marrying the daughter of the man who owns the hemopath institution she just broke Ada out of.

I absolutely loves Ada and Corinne. Their friendship was #ladygoals. They’re so close, able to tell each other everything and push each other to be better. They love each other in a way that makes you love them even more. And it’s not just them: all the secondary characters, the hemopaths and bodyguards working in the Cast Iron, all seem to form their own little family. They support each other through thick and thin, and it’s cool to see these complex characters working together.

Not only that, but the description of their abilities in use is just… lyrical. It’s beautiful. The author weaves together beautiful prose to tell just how the two women grip their audience. And they grip us, too, in the process. At the same time, we feel their fear of Iron. Hemopaths basically are allergic to it, repulsed by it: it burns their skin, and just being near it can make them feel ill. As a reader, we get both ends of hemopathy: the beautiful illusions and the awful pain.

The pacing of the novel is a little off. It starts out strong, with the break out, but then is a lot more easy going for a while. There’s a lot of mystery going on: there’s this feeling of cold, as everyone is trying to keep on running their own lives as things go south around them. But I almost, almost put this book down halfway through. I’m so glad I stuck through, because that’s when things really hit the fan and it’s gets crazy fast and exciting. So if you’re thinking of putting this book down, don’t! It has one of the most brilliant endings I have ever read!

You’re definitely going to want to read this book, when it comes out on October 11th. Thank you NetGalley and Amulet books for letting me read this amazing novel.

Looking for some Urban Fantasy? My novel Inside Out is available for free – no signup or anything required – for a limited time only. If you like the X-files, you’re going to like this! While supplies last. 

Dream Stalker

by Amy Hopkins
Reviewed by SA

It’s Saturday! Which means I’m going to share with you a fantastic self published book and give you your next favorite binge read. This week, we all need a little more magic in out lives, so I’m going to tell you about a series I adore: Talented, by Amy Hopkins. The first installment, Dream Stalker, perfectly blends a murder mystery with a divided magical world.

Summarydreamstalkernewblack

All Emma wanted was to sell her enchanted teas in peace; instead, she’s caught up in the chase for a killer who’s stalking the streets of London. He’s targeting half-bloods, people with limited magical ability. People just like Emma. The police are baffled by the long string of deaths, but they’re not willing to put in the legwork to make an arrest. After all, magic users can take care of themselves, right? Except, those with real power don’t give a damn about half-bloods. So, when Emma wakes from a strange dream that nearly gets her killed in the waking world, she knows she has to deal with it herself. With only her boggart shop-assistant and the two strange men who have offered to help, can she thwart the killer and make the city safe again?

In universe of Talented is just like ours, only with one small change: some people have magic. Oh, and there are the Fae. There are those with magic – the eponymous Talented – those without – mere mortals like us – and finally, the half-bloods, or half talents. With one magical parent, they have enough magic in their system to be considered above the mortals, but are shunned by the elitist Talented society. Caught in the middle, it’s hard to make do.

Emma is a fantastic character who captures this divide in society. She integrates herself in the community by fashioning magical teas, which she sells to mortals, fae, and talented alike. She’s got her trusty dog by her side, as well as Gibble, a boggart indentured to her family. So when she’s almost murdered in her sleep, she takes it upon herself to find who’s been trying to kill half-bloods before it’s too late.

What I love about her is just how darn relatable she is. At moments I felt like I was looking in a mirror. She’s kind, but a bit of a badass when she has to be brave. She loves her dog more than anything and is ruthless when it comes to finding the truth. Even when the secrets she needs to uncover have something to do with her…

The mystery is really fascinating and gripping. You really get pulled along for a wild ride, spanning across the city and another universe as well! Like a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, you can put the pieces together yourself if you’re paying close attention, and yet the ending and the reveal still manage to surprise you.

Hopkins has really managed to create a universe which feels real and plausible while at the same time capturing that little sense of wonder that made Harry Potter so much fun to read as a kid (and even now). A world in which Magic and Mortals walk side by side, but maybe not always with such enthusiasm. A world in which people born into both belong in none.

This is a strong start to what I feel is going to be a fantastic series. A lot of questions are answered but many are not, relationships are formed and may grow stronger, secrets are revealed that makes you wonder what’s going to happen next.

All books are available online, starting with the first one, right here!

 

The Dark Side

By Anthony O’Neill
Reviewed by SA

Give me a fantastic Sci Fi any day, and I wont be able to move until I’ve finished reading it. With The Dark Side, I physically could not put it down, or else I would be stuck thinking about it every second until it was in my hands again. This book was gripping, thrilling, clever, and even funny, with such amazing science that I was completely engrossed from page one.

Summary27276286

In this dark and gripping sci-fi noir, an exiled police detective arrives at a lunar penal colony just as a psychotic android begins a murderous odyssey across the far side of the moon.

Purgatory is the lawless moon colony of eccentric billionaire, Fletcher Brass: a mecca for war criminals, murderers, sex fiends, and adventurous tourists. You can’t find better drugs, cheaper plastic surgery, or a more ominous travel advisory anywhere in the universe. But trouble is brewing in Brass’s black-market heaven. When an exiled cop arrives in this wild new frontier, he immediately finds himself investigating a string of ruthless assassinations in which Brass himself—and his equally ambitious daughter—are the chief suspects.

Meanwhile, two-thousand kilometers away, an amnesiac android, Leonardo Black, rampages across the lunar surface. Programmed with only the notorious “Brass Code”—a compendium of corporate laws that would make Ayn Rand blush—Black has only one goal in mind: to find Purgatory and conquer it.

The name Anthony O’Neill is going to soon become synonymous with impeccable world building. This author evokes a rich, complex world that follows the laws of science themselves. As a science geek, I absolutely loved how he infused the novel with the small details: like the large rain you would get in a humid hab on a rock where the gravity is so much lighter. Or the beautiful dust clouds created where the night meets day on the moon’s surface. Those beautiful, evocative details create a believable world you could almost imagine being in.

Not only that, but before each encounter with Leonardo Black, the Android walking the moon just to follow a set of programmed motivationals, the author details the life of the character who’s about to come into play. He shows us what it’s like back on earth, what it is to be a criminal in this near future. What line of thought can bring a person to live on the moon. The complexity of his background characters is astounding, and I honestly think he could write an entire book about each of them.

I myself could have read an entire book about Leonardo Black. This android was hilarious, even in his murderous rampage. His Brass code sounds like something out of the mouth of Donald Trump or Ann Rand. For example, he literally cannot spell surrender. He is motivated by a need to “Find Oz” and “become the wizard.” He’s a psycho, and yet he was my favorite character.

The main plot revolves around an Exiled cop, detective Justus, who’s trying to stop a wave of murders int he city of Purgatory. At first, I didn’t see how this storyline met  with that of Leonardo Black, but it all came together in the end in a really creative way. I loved how it felt like a noir detective novel from the 1950s, only set on the moon in a scientifically accurate future.

This book was pure FUN. I loved it. Think “The Martian” crossed over with a 1950s Noir novel. Fun for fans of thrillers and science fiction alike!

This novel comes out June 28th from Simon & Schuster.

The Casquette Girls

by Alys Arden

Reviewed by SA

Having read nothing but fast books these days, I wanted a novel I could really ‘sink my teeth into’ (as my grandmother says). I didn’t know what to expect from The Casquette Girls, as I was first drawn in by the gorgeous cover rather than the blurb, but I was amazingly surprised. This novel is a simmering pot of mystery and magic in a setting that will blow you away.

25917801Summary

Seven girls tied by time.
Five powers that bind.
One curse to lock the horror away.
One attic to keep the monsters at bay.

After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne wants nothing more than her now silent city to return to normal. But with home resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.

As the city murder rate soars, Adele finds herself tangled in a web of magic that weaves back to her own ancestors. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, who can she trust when everyone has a secret and keeping them can mean life or death? Unless . . . you’re immortal.

Adele returns to New Orleans after its quasi-total destruction by a hurricane without equal. Nothing is the same: her city looks like something out of an apocalypse film, the people are almost all gone, her best friend moved away and seems to have no plans to ever return, and strange things are happening all around her. Is it possible that she can do… things?

This novel started slow, and yet I was captured all the same. The writing is beautiful and unique: the destroyed New Orleans setting gives it all an eerie, isolated feeling, and I was blown away by its depth. It’s a place of mystery and magic, but also of growing romance, which blossoms from its destruction. That juxtaposition really worked for me.

Adele herself isn’t just kind of sticker character: she’s got a depth that I rarely see in YA novels. She loves her father, her city; she’s smart and sophisticated in many ways, but also still learning, still trying, in others. She’s always caught between two worlds, the sophisticated french side of her mother, and of her new school,  and the down to earth, honest side of her, with comes from her father, and the city where she was raised. And that side is pretty badass.

The other characters are just as interesting. Admittedly, though, at first I had a bit of trouble keeping all their names straight. There definitely are  a whole slew of possible love interest characters.

When I first saw the word Vampires, though, I groaned and almost put the book down. I am not a fan. But I am more than glad I hung in there. The story that arrises is spooky, and takes you back in time to when the city was only just beginning, to the 18th century, and to ancestors with dark secrets.

Magic, mystery, and a twist on an amazing city. What else could you possibly want from a novel? I highly recommend picking it up!

Grave Beginnings

By R.R. Virdi

Reviewed by SA

This week has been crazy! I’ve had my wisdom teeth out, which has made me less productive, which is weird because I thought it would give me more time to read. Thankfully, though, I have JUST the book to recommend to you all: the first book I ever reviewed, or at least, seriously reviewed; a fantastic, self published novel which deserves the spotlight. I’m talking, of course, about the amazing first novel of R.R. Virdi, “Grave Beginnings,” a unique urban fantasy story which grips you and won’t let you go.

Summary

Thirteen…
As far as numbers go, it isn’t a great one. Hell, it’s not even a good one and Vincent Graves is going to find out just how unlucky of a number it can be.
Because someone, or something, is killing people in the Empire state, and whatever it is, it gives people everything they ever desired and more. And it’s the more that’s the problem!
Well…it’s one of the problems.
Vincent’s investigation also seems to have drawn the attention of a relentless FBI agent and then there’s the little bit where he has only thirteen hours to solve the case, or he dies.
Talk about your literal deadlines…
…No pressure.
By the end of this case Vincent will come to understand the meaning of an age old proverb: Be careful what you wish for – because you just might get it!

Full disclosure, I love supernatural detective novels, but I have a hard time finding ones that are actually intelligent books. A lot pander to the reader, and have no true essence, no meat. They start to blend together, becoming boring, repetitive, copies of one another.

Not so for Grave Beginnings. Right from the the beginning, the reader is dragged into the story and clings on tight for the thrill ride. It’s almost impossible to put down – as a matter of fact, I read almost the entire book in one sitting. it’s addicting, catchy, and it’s one of those books you want to shove into your friends hands as soon as you can.

The story centers around a soul who wakes up in the body of a dead man. This soul, Vincent Graves, is somehow caught between this world and the next, and to move on, must solve supernatural murders by inhabiting the recently deceased. The man he is now walking around as – Norman – recently came about an extreme bout of luck, which left him looking younger, thinner, and with a lot more money in his pocket. But it didn’t last long, because something put him in the ground quite soon after. Our hero has thirteen hours to solve his murder, before he must move on again.

Virdi masterfully plays with the myths of the supernatural, introducing us to a whole new host of characters, drawn from the most unlikely of folklore. It’s always great to see a fresh take on the supernatural: too often these days authors limit themselves to taking old myths and making them sexy for a general audience. You won’t find that here – no sexy vampires or werewolves, thankfully! Instead, some intriguing myths that I don’t want to spoil for anyone. Also, gnomes. There are gnomes, and not in the way that you might think.

Graves is a character with a lot of spunk and sass. He’s witty, and sometimes uses pop culture references to help deal with an impossible situation. It makes it a whole lot of fun to read his point of view: as serious and deadly his situation may be, he always has time for a funny remark. It adds so much depth to his character: as weird as it might be for him to be trapped in between bodies like this, he’s still a fascinating person in and of himself.

Seriously, this book should be a TV show. Or a movie. The plot is just so fun, so compelling! Ask anyone who’s read this novel, they’ll all tell you just how much they adored it, or how they devoured it. It’s pure , intelligent, fun. If you like the Dresden files, Supernatural, or Castle, then you’ll adore this novel.

Now here’s the awesome news: it comes out in print TOMORROW. As in, starting tomorrow, you’ll be able to buy this fantastic novel and hold it in your hands; you’ll be able to put it on your bookshelf, sure, but more importantly, you’ll be able to shove it into all of your friends hands. because you know that’s what I’ll be doing.

Alive

By Scott Sigler

Reviewed by SA

Looking for your new favorite book this summer? Summer fast and fun that will stay with you forever? Then I would seriously recommend Alive, Scott Sigler’s new book coming out today. It’s a fun, fast paced thrill ride that will leave you breathless and asking for more, offering you questions upon questions of mystery and intrigue. You’ll never want to put it down.

Summary

When she breaks free from the coffin shaped box that was holding her, our protagonist has no idea who she is. She knows only one thing: it is her twelfth birthday. But her clothes are too tight, her body too large for being twelve; and what is that strange circular mark on her forehead? As people begin to emerge from the coffins, each claiming it to be their twelfth birthday, none fitting the bill, and with no other memories, our hero takes on a name: Em, for the M. Savage on her coffin. She will lead her crew into the corridors of their strange prison – if it even is a prison – where every hallway is strewn with the remains of the dead, and rooms hold horrors they would never want to see.  As their questions get answered, more questions are asked. Who are they, and what are they doing here? What do the marks mean? And are they alone?

The second I read “its my twelfth birthday”, I groaned internally. ‘ I assumed much too quickly that this was just another YA*… I was wrong, thank goodness! In less than a chapter, Sigler had managed to get me completely hooked. Already, every question that was out there made us want, no, need an answer. And he wasn’t going to just give it to us, no!

Now the difficult thing about this book is writing a review with no spoilers: the answers to the questions our heroes ask are astounding, and something you could not have anticipated at all. The best of all, however, is that the answers do not let you down. Frequently, a good book or show will ride on the intrigue to keep you reading, but when all is revealed, you feel cheated. For some, think Lost. What’s fantastic about Alive is that the answers enrich the novel and give it a whole other dimension. You don’t learn anything until near the very end, so the reveal actually leaves you asking more, wanting more.

Em herself is a fantastic lead. She’s smart, she’s insightful, and she’s flawed. It’s an incredible amount of growth for a character with no memories. She watches and judges, plans and fights, all the while trying to keep everyone together and proving herself to be an incredible leader. In her mind, she is still twelve, which means she has some quite interesting insights (mainly on modesty, she’s not a fan of her tight clothes) and remarks (she’s confused by white people skin for a while). I absolutely loved her. The internal turmoil after a defining moment is something you don’t get a lot of in novels these days: it’s either brushed over, or brought up every five minutes. Em is a great person to follow, and get to know.

Alive strikes balance in everything: it finds the balance between asking hundreds of questions and answering them, balance in a fast paced plot and internal turmoil, balance between good and evil. It’s bother horror survival and human growth. It may not be ‘the perfect novel’ (does it even exist?), but I could find nothing wrong with it, nothing negative to say at all. It was gripping and fun! It was surprisingly fast to read – possibly because I couldn’t put it down – and I loved piecing everything together with Em. This is definitely my favorite YA science fiction novel in a long, long time. First time I’ve read something as good in year! It was… awesome, for lack of a better word..

So if you’re looking for a great, fun, fast read this summer, you’re going to love Alive. Drop everything and start it now! Comes out today on amazon.

N.B. I just found out that this is the first in a trilogy. It ends in such a way that I had no idea! I’m super excited for the sequel, when do we get it?

*Not that I have anything against YA! It’s the whole “Cash Cow” mentally that’s bugging me these days. You can tell when a book is written just for the money of it, taking everything that appeals to the key demographic and shoving it together for optimum readership. Thankfully, this is not that book.

Dreams of Shreds and Tatters

by Amanda Downum

Reviewed by S.A.

(Quick note from S.A. : I am so sorry I haven’t posted a review in a while! Finals really took it out of me and I simply ran out of time. I barely read anything new this month! In any case, I am back, and will hopefully share good books with you on a more regular basis. I’m going to review some other books I read on our Tumblr, so we get more reviews in a week! – Sarah)

Every once and a while you find yourself reading a book, and before you know it, it’s got its hooks sunk deep into you. You try to put it down, but it calls you back: it doesn’t scream “find out what happens next,” but slowly whispers, “come, you must read more.” And Dreams of Shreds and Tatters  did exactly that: it beckoned me to read more, enticing me with an intriguing plot, compelling characters, and a nice dose of magic.

Summary

Blake has vanished: Liz Drake knows this, she saw it in a dream. Her dreams have always been more on the nightmare side, dangerously real, definitely not natural. As they steadily frighten her more, she knows she has to drop everything to find her closest friend, never expecting to see him in a coma, all the way in Vancouver. 

Slowly she uncovers strange aspects of her friend’s life: his close circle of friends, calling themselves artists when in fact they are much more, hiding dangerous secrets; snippets of the night of the accident that put Blake in a coma, which took his lover’s life; a drug which affects everyone differently, and no one wants to talk about… and magic.

As the nightmares grip her tighter, Liz finds herself caught between two worlds: the real, waking world, and the mysterious city of her dreams, the real of the monstrous Yellow king and his minions, who are seeping through doors into the waking realm. Knowing Blake’s life is on the line, she must fight her way through the dreamlands, saving her friend, and maybe the world.

What instantly caught me with this novel was the unique style: it’s like a distinctive style of art. The slow pace with the mystery bubbling to the top; the cold, dark undertones, that go between the real world and the dream ; the distinctive magic, and magical beings. None of them seem dramatic, which makes none of them out of place: they feel natural in the novel. AT some points, it does feel a little Lovecraftian, though it still stands its own. It’s an impressive feat.

The characters themselves also defeat the stereotypes. I am almost certain that Liz is Asexual (it may be outright said, but I may have missed it), and it’s completely natural. Kudos to the author! Actually, there is a diversity in the characters you don’t usually see, and none of the characters seem be be ‘tokens’. It’s an honest book, even if there is magic.

Even with all the magic in the forefront, relationships themselves may be the main focus of the novel. Liz and Blake’s friendship is so close, they’re almost siblings: she would go to the ends of the earth to save him. The relationships between Alex and Liz. We have people who care deeply about each other, with different forms of love.

But even with all this love, we can feel Liz’s cold isolation, which ads to the darkness of the novel. And she’s not the only POV character: the mystery deepens as we see the other players in the game, and each of them is as fascinating as the next. The artists, the magicians. The drugs and the secrets. Will Liz find them all out in time?

However, one thing that annoyed me was the symbolism that was shoved in your face. the idea of masks, the ties with greek mythology: a little bit of “show, don’t tell” could have gone a long way. It irked me, but only for a little bit. It’s probably just me. It doesn’t distract from the main plot.

So if you’re looking for a slow, bubbling plot, that will grip you in a gorgeous dark world of magic and intrigue, you should try Dreams of Shreds and Tatters. It will leave you wanting for more.

Searching for Chintak

The Key to Chintak by John Howard

Reviewed by SA

The year was 2006. For my birthday, my parents bought me a handful of books, 51QbId1cWgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_and one of them was a signed copy of “The Key to Chintak.” This surprised me for a couple of reasons: one, I had never held a signed book before. I thought it was a fake. And two, because I had never heard of the author or series before.

The odd thing is that neither of my parents can remember where they bought it. I had asked them at the time what it was like to meet the author, and they had surprisingly little to say. Now, neither of them even remember buying me any of the books that year.

This is how “The Key to Chintak,” by John Howard, came into my life. And it was about to change it.

The novel follows a young female protagonist, Millie, who discovers that only she can read a two thousand year book. She, and her grandfather, decide to follow the instructions laid on the seemingly bare pages, which leads them on an adventure across the entire planet, as they search for the key to Chintak.

I was hooked from the first page. Millie, our protagonist, is a twelve year old girl who is a stubborn as she is smart, able to think on her feet and hold her own in terrifying situations.  In a great first for me, this was a girl, in a science fiction novel! Up to that point in my life, every sci-fi novel I had ever read followed male heroes, and the women were always either the sidekick or the main goal/prize to be desired or won. I related with Millie, was drawn into her story; She was strong, smart, a hero in her own right. The story is clever and fast paced, set in places I could only dream of visiting. There are spaceships and aliens, gadgets and dodo (Yes, dodos!), underwater cities and secret passages in the world’s most famous monuments. And… superpowers. Really, really cool, super enviable superpowers. And it has tons of fascinating tidbits of history and geography that I remember sprouting to my family and friends at every possible occasion.

I read the book cover to cover, over and over again. I wrote my own (albeit terrible) fiction, pushed by waves of inspiration. It made me want to write, made me want to learn about science (and I’m now a physics student at university, on my way to becoming an astrophysicist) And I waited eagerly for the sequel to come out, checking the website every day, then every week, every month…

Once every year… every two…

Eventually, the book receded from my mind. I moved through the years with new books, growing from Artemis Fowl, to Percy Jackson, to The Hunger Games, to a shelf full of ‘classic’ science fiction and ‘serious’ science novels. But every once and a while, the memory of my long time favorite book swam back to me, and I would look it up online, wondering if the next novel was finally going to be released.

In 2010, I sent a message on his contact page on the book’s website. I never heard back from him, but I told myself it was because I probably misspelled my email address.

It is now 2014, and the urge is back. It’s just like that feeling you have to read Harry Potter again, or that you should re-read A Wrinkle In Time; the books that fueled your addiction to reading have a real impact on you, and you have to have a dose every once and a while. I got up this morning with a voice in my head practically shouting to pick it up again.

This time, however, I realized that I really wanted to know more. And this is where it gets kinda strange.

The Key to Chintak exists; it is well reviewed, even made it to the top of some bestsellers lists, but online… it’s a shadow. A ghost of a book. US Amazon sells only second hand copies; ebay sells a few first editions for well over $500; Though both amazon.co.uk and Waterstones still seems to sell the paperback. On Goodreads, the author’s page leads to the prime minister of Australia. There’s barely a review, except “I liked this, can’t wait for the next one” (you and me both, random reviewer).

So where is Chintak? What happened to this book that I loved so much? Why did it never make it big? It should have: the plot itself was (in my opinion as an 11 year old as well as now) at the same level as Harry Potter. So why is it no one has heard of it?

41-vQY+0TiLThe author’s webpage still stands; no information on the sequels, still marked as coming soon, and an empty spot for the film trailer, waiting to be filled. There had been no news since 2008; until a post dated 2013 where Howard to promises “to be back at [his] keyboard working on the next installment in the not too distant future” with apologies for the delay.

The webpage also hosts a pile of quotes from kids and teachers, thanking him for a fantastic book. I read through them and was surprised to see my own thought reflected in their thoughtful notes.

So I dove deeper.

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2006, and Howard is being interviewed by netribution. The article is old, and some of the pictures have gone the way of the 404. It tells a funny story about Howard’s previous misadventures with publishing, where, after a series of painful rejection letters from major publishing houses, he typed up the contents of his washing machine manual, called it “ The Tin Drum,” and sent it to the same publishers as he had before. When the rejection letters he received showed no change in their wording at all from the last ones, Howard decided to go for it, and publish himself.

Later in 2006, Howard writes an article for Tesco at Tesconnect about his self publishing adventure. Then there’s an article in The Telegraph, which starts by talking about Howard’s self publishing, but then moves away to talk about the future of buying books (and they’re pretty close).

In March 2007, Howard and his Key to Chintak were mentioned in ‘The bookseller’‘s “flagship feature”, in an article about big publishing houses trying to snatch up future bestsellers.

This explains a lot, for starters why I can’t seem to find much about him online, or find his books at Waterstones, even if it did make it in their top ten bestsellers. The article continues to say that he wasn’t picked up by bigger publishing houses because of the amount of work they said needed done, but that didn’t stop Howard from doing quite well on his own. And supposedly – again, supposedly – the royalties from self publishing are MUCH higher than he would have gotten with a publishing house.

10,000 copies; Howard promoted his book by going to schools and libraries across the UK, promoting through a series of readings (and it appears writing talks at schools?). It seems, from the sparse details I have seen online, that he was incredibly charismatic, and encouraged many of the students to read as well.

Also in March 2007, an article appeared on Me and My Big Mouth, which describes the author’s success. And it sums up the saddening failure as well: Chintak has the kick to be a bestseller, and yet… nobody wants it.

I finally found a picture of Howard, on… well, a mug you can purchase on Amazon. Or you could, but it’s out of stock. Possibly the oddest moment of my search.

But my question still stands: why didn’t this book become a hit? By all accounts, it should be. Sure, it can do for some editing (there is an abundance of out of place exclamation marks), maybe a flashier cover, but did that stop me from reading it? Nope. Big publishers did not know what they were missing. And, obviously, they still don’t, for some reason I can’t put my finger on.

You read about Rowling’s success, about her many rejections before Harry Potter became a household name and you wonder – how many other unsung gems never made it that far? I can list a few self published novels that are destined to become a hit (Pick up “The Grave Report” series by R.R. Virdi, for example) that I just want to tell the world about. There are some fantastic books that deserve notoriety.

And it hit me – I’m part of the problem. On the last page of the book, after the cliffhanger and the bold faced “THE END”, the author leaves you the website address. And then, right below, says, “Please, Please tell your friends about it.”

Self-published authors don’t have the resources of great publishing houses. They don’t have the marketing power and connections that get books to spread before they even leave the printing press. John Howard needed me, and the tons of other children who ADORED his book, to spread the word, to tell our friends, to let them know we had a fantastic novel in our hands that could quite possibly change their lives.

No book blogger catalogued its greatness. So here I am, doing it now, doing what I never did eight years ago: I’m telling you about this book.

The Key to Chintak is a fantastic novel. I loved it as a kid, and love it now. I am STILL waiting for the next one. No, time has not made me want it less; it has only made me anticipate its arrival even more. I sincerely recommend you pick up this book. It is the perfect novel for a pre-teen, fun, action packed, smart… Let’s give it the love it deserves!

Buy it. Share it. Spread it around. Let’s make it the success it should have been – and was on its way to becoming – nine years ago.

And John Howard, if you are reading this – thank you. Thank you for writing a book that pushed me into writing. Thank you for publishing, even through all the constraints.

And please, please let me know what happens next?

UPDATE: The author responded! Check out what John Howard has to say here.