Review: Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Courtney Alameda

Feiwel & Friends
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Published February 3, 2015
384 pages
YA / Horror / Nightmare Fuel

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Horror has a new name: introducing Courtney Alameda.

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She's aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera's technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn't exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she's faced before . . . or die trying.

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.

I hate this cover. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why since I first saw it months and months ago, but I didn’t even try to get a copy at Comic Con because the cover made me think it would be… I don’t know, super silly or over-the-top crazy full of bad horror clichés? I don’t know. Something about it was just very off-putting to me.

Well, people-who-say-don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover, you were right. This book is awesome. I couldn’t read it right before bed because it freaked me out, but in an awesome, all-the-right-ways sort of way. It’s full of scary things and great characters with complicated lives fighting ghosties and ghoulies and all it’s missing are some Winchester brothers and a 1967 Impala.

In Shutter, a Homeland Security-type division called Helsing fights the daily monsters that creep out of mirrors and woodwork each night. Micheline is the daughter of the head of Helsing, a star pupil being shaped to take the organization over and conveniently a great-great-great-etc. granddaughter of the original Van Helsing that formed the organization. Together with a few of the other top students in her class, including a great-great… grandson of Jonathan Harker, a distant relative of a group experimented on with vampirism and a transplant Aussie badass, Micheline finds herself fighting big bads all around San Francisco.

Shutter opens with Micheline breaking the rules to exorcise a ghost taunting a San Francisco hospital, and it doesn’t go so well. This sets up a plot as she and her friends fight not only the big bad, but also Micheline’s father and the Helsing team trying to “protect” them. There’s lots of action and big set pieces with fighting. There’s adventures with ghosts and other dimensions and plenty of gore.

Micheline is a soldier with tetrachromat, which allows her to see the ghost light emanating from all the creepy things she hunts with unaided eyes. She exorcises ghosts with special cameras created for her, allowing her to trap these things on old-school film. She’s amazing at what she does, but her personal family history has left her with PTSD and a fierce need to protect the people in her life. This pushes her to make rash choices, but she never becomes a stupid protagonist. She’s determined and blinded by her objectives, but also isn’t above feeling fear and emotions that humanize her beyond her soldier life.

The three boys in her life are each a different but pretty standard hero type. Ryder is the strong silent bodyguard, who loves Micheline but won’t give into his feelings because it’s against protocol. Oliver is the super genius computer wizard that doesn’t much go out into the field. Jude is the smart alec with a mouth that happens to also be able to see potential ways people may die when he has skin-to-skin contact.

Okay, maybe not all standard qualities, but these three guys only get a little bit of fleshing out as characters, mostly in how their relationship with Micheline develops. A few hints are dropped here and there to fill them in more, but this is Micheline’s show and everyone else is just filling their parts. But that’s okay because Micheline is such a compelling heroine that she doesn’t need anyone taking up her spotlight.

The writing flows very well, even over the more complicated fight sequences and the gory bits where there are a lot of moving parts. Courtney Alameda is already a master of suspense and freaking me out, so I didn’t mind much when the twists ended up being pretty predictable. The journey was far too much fun to care that the ending was easily seen from hundreds of pages away. I just wanted more adventures with this crew of characters.

I don’t know if I can honestly express how I feel about Shutter in simple words. This is the first book this year where I just want to Muppet flail and tell everyone to read it. Just keep the lights on if you have an overactive imagination and tend to have nightmares.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Opinions are my own. Muppet flailing was gif-ed by someone somewhere at some point and probably a hundred other people too.


Review: How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe
Charles Yu

Released September 7, 2010
233 pages
Science Fiction / Philosophical

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National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Award winner Charles Yu delivers his debut novel, a razor-sharp, ridiculously funny, and utterly touching story of a son searching for his father . . . through quantum space–time.

Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market, lonely sexbots beckon failed protagonists, and time travel is serious business. Every day, people get into time machines and try to do the one thing they should never do: change the past. That’s where Charles Yu, time travel technician—part counselor, part gadget repair man—steps in. He helps save people from themselves. Literally. When he’s not taking client calls or consoling his boss, Phil, who could really use an upgrade, Yu visits his mother (stuck in a one-hour cycle of time, she makes dinner over and over and over) and searches for his father, who invented time travel and then vanished. Accompanied by TAMMY, an operating system with low self-esteem, and Ed, a nonexistent but ontologically valid dog, Yu sets out, and back, and beyond, in order to find the one day where he and his father can meet in memory. He learns that the key may be found in a book he got from his future self. It’s called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and he’s the author. And somewhere inside it is the information that could help him—in fact it may even save his life.

Wildly new and adventurous, Yu’s debut is certain to send shock waves of wonder through literary space–time.

This book is not what is advertised. If this book wasn’t advertised as funny, hilarious, compared to Hitchhiker’s Guide and all around touted as a super meta comedy adventure, I probably wouldn’t have found myself so down on it when it was over. This book is not funny. There are a few moments of levity, but instead I found How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe more of a philosophical triste on how a child’s relationship to a parent changes throughout a lifetime than anything involving action, adventure or hilarity.

The nameless narrator, who I guess based on the blurb is supposed to be Charles Yu himself, is a time travel technician, helping people who get stuck when time traveling. There are so many possibilities for action and adventure and fun with this concept, so it’s unfortunate that none of those possibilities are used. The narrator brings in his time travel machine in for maintenance after hanging out in the time stream for nearly 10 years only to find himself getting stuck in a time loop when he returns to pick up his ship the next day. Memories of his father, who has been missing for a long time and sorta, kinda developed time travel, haunt him as he relives key moments of his life and wonders if he will ever find his lost father.

This book is philosophical meanderings on family and lost and growing up. There are small illusions to interesting science fictional concepts as part of the world building, but they never feed into the larger story. There is little to no action and the plot is very simple as the narrator relives memories after getting stuck in a time loop and re-examines who his parents, especially his father, were as people while he was a child, but now from an adult perspective. There’s wandering thoughts on the nature of loneliness and what ifs and parallel universes created by making different choices. Wu goes heavy meta on language and high sci-fi concepts that twist your brain into a noodle-y mess by the end. In the end it all just kind of made me sad.

What there isn’t is much in the way of action or comedy or anything to ramp up pacing. This book really should be advertised in as more of relational book about family that happens to take place within the constraints of a science fiction world. Had that been what I was expecting, I probably wouldn’t have felt so jipped by the time I had finished it, and I probably would have enjoyed it more instead of getting bored while I waited for the fun to start.


Trailer Park Friday: Crimson Peak, Pitch Perfect 2, Orphan Black Season 3 & The Man from UNCLE

It's been another long week of unpleasantness. Let's watch some videos and forget about it, shall we?

I was really tempted to put this trailer for Crimson Peak and just walk away. I mean, it's a gothic Tim Hiddleston movie directed by Guillermo del Toro with Jessica Chastain and Bobby from Supernatural. What else do you need to get your weekend started off right? It looks creepy and will probably give me nightmares, but it will be awesome. It comes to theatres October 16.

Speaking of awesome, you know what's super awesome? Pitch Perfect. What's going to be me awesome? Pitch Perfect 2. Unlike the previous trailer, this one gives some bits of the plot away. It comes out May 15 and that makes me very happy.

I'm not exactly particularly invested in The Man from UNCLE due to the actors. I don't really have feelings one way or another for Henry Cavill or Arnie Hammer, but this trailer is pretty action packed and I like spy thrillers with gadgets. It's directed by Guy Ritchie, so it's probably going to have some cool stylistic elements to it as well. It comes out August 14.

Somehow the Big Hero 6 dvd came out and I don't own it yet. This makes me sad, so I will have to remedy that this weekend. This is an io9 exclusive, so I can't embed the video, but if you go here you will find a clip of some of the bonus features where Baymax shares some Easter eggs hidden in the film.

And finally have a very brief teaser for season 3 of Orphan Black. Because Tatiana Maslaney is awesome and can do no wrong. It comes back to BBC America on April 18.


So anyone planning to watch a good movie this weekend? We might finally go see The Theory of Everything or Birdman at the indie theatre. What will you be watching this weekend?



Review: Lailah by Nikki Kelly

Nikki Kelly

Feiwel & Friends
I received an ARC from the publisher.
Released October 7, 2014
416 pages
YA / Fantasy / Angels & Vampires

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The girl knows she’s different. She doesn’t age. She has no family. She has visions of a past life, but no clear clues as to what she is, or where she comes from. But there is a face in her dreams – a light that breaks through the darkness. She knows his name is Gabriel.

On her way home from work, the girl encounters an injured stranger whose name is Jonah. Soon, she will understand that Jonah belongs to a generation of Vampires that serve even darker forces. Jonah and the few like him, are fighting with help from an unlikely ally – a rogue Angel, named Gabriel.

In the crossfire between good and evil, love and hate, and life and death, the girl learns her name: Lailah. But when the lines between black and white begin to blur, where in the spectrum will she find her place? And with whom?

Gabriel and Jonah both want to protect her. But Lailah will have to fight her own battle to find out who she truly is.

So they can’t all be winners, can they? When I was younger, I used to hate things that were popular just to be contrarian. I would eventually give in and read the popular book series or watch the popular movie or listen to the popular band and would make an opinion based on merit, but I would hold out longer than any reasonable person would. I’d like to think I’ve outgrown that kneejerk desire to hate popular things, so the fact that this has a bajillion million readers prior to publishing didn’t sway my feelings one way or the other. I went into Lailah just knowing that apparently a lot of people enjoyed it and it had angels in it.

Well, a lot of people liked Twilight and you all know how I felt about that book (if you don’t, well, click here).

I could not wait until this book was over. There was a part of me hoping it would get better, that I would stop wanting everyone to just kill each other already, and the story would start being interesting. It didn’t happen. The main, terrible flaw in this book is that the big key moment in the protagonist’s life, the turning point that is supposed to be a slap in the face to Lailah’s person self-discovery and change her entire life, is the prologue. As the reader, I knew this big dramatic reveal and there was no fun in waiting for everyone else to figure it out. There were no other twists or turns for me as the reader to revel in alongside the characters. No, it was just that one thing I learned on page 3 and waiting.

It also doesn’t help that this all reads like glorified Twilight fan fiction, except instead of a werewolf and a vampire, you have an angel and a vampire. You also have a “written in the starts” forever kind of made-for-each-other nonsense that sucks out any of the interest in the love triangle.

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Review: Cut Me Free by JR Johansson

Cut Me Free
JR Johansson

Farrar, Straus, Giroux
I received an ARC from the publisher.
Released January 27, 2015
YA / Real Life / Thriller

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Seventeen-year-old Charlotte barely escaped from her abusive parents. Her little brother, Sam, wasn't as lucky. Now she's trying to begin the new life she always dreamed of for them, but never thought she'd have to experience alone. She's hired a techie-genius with a knack for forgery to remove the last ties to her old life. But while she can erase her former identity, she can’t rid herself of the memories. And her troubled history won’t let her ignore the little girl she sees one day in the park. The girl with the bruises and burn marks.

That’s when Charlotte begins to receive the messages. Threatening notes left in her apartment--without a trace of entry. And they’re addressed to Piper, her old name. As the messages grow in frequency, she doesn’t just need to uncover who is leaving them; she needs to stop whoever it is before anyone else she loves ends up dead.

Oh man, this was not the follow up book I needed after The Rule of Three: Fight for Power. I was already paranoid and hating humanity. Then I start reading this story about a 17-year-old girl, who was running from her abusive past only for it to continuously hunt her down. By the end I just wanted all of the world to die in a fire. Cut Me Free is a brutal book to get through for someone with a highly sensitive empathy switch. There were several times I had to put the book down and walk away, but that’s more a testament to the rawness of Johansson’s writing.

Charlotte spent most of her life locked in an attic, physically and mentally abused by her parents and not even existing as far as the rest of the world was concerned. After one particularly traumatic incident, she managed to escape and run halfway across the country to start a life in a world she’s never known. She contacts a forgery expert who is conveniently a very attractive teenage boy to help her start her new life and hide away from any remnants of her past that might track her down.

After saving a small girl from a similar situation, Charlotte finds her new life quickly falling to pieces as threatening notes start arriving at her apartment. Rather than run and give up the life she has built for herself, Charlotte faces the terrors of her past and the unknown horrors that might be surrounding her.

Johannson doesn’t shy away from details of child abuse. While she doesn’t relish in them either, there’s enough setup and enough implied that I felt physically ill from time to time, especially in any real-time scenes. It’s all pretty horrifying, real-life stuff that my brain can only handle a little bit at a time. Once everyone’s background is out in the open, the more thriller-based aspects of the story start roaring along and Cut Me Free becomes more of a general thriller story with a creepy bad guy.

This was one of my attempt to read outside my preferred genre and while it was a difficult read due to subject matter, it’s a well-crafted story with characters that I genuinely feared for and a plot that moves rapidly from bleak to bleaker before everything explodes into one massively heart-pounding scene. Everything was a little too “it happens in real life” for my comfort, but it’s a well-written book that easily put me out of my comfort zone. If you’re into contemporary crime thrillers, Cut Me Free is worth giving a shot.


I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Thoughts are all my own.