Review of Siberian Shadows, by I.W. Zilke

I won a copy of I. W. Zilke‘s Siberian Shadows through Goodreads.

Description:
A collection of 3 short stories inspired by true events in Siberia during the last century.

These stories, directly taken from I. W. Zilke’s immediate family history, present a special world in a gripping and unforgettable manner. With an unflinching insight into the dark depths of the human soul, the author portrays the entire palette of human suffering through an inverted mirror: from cannibalism as an act of courage (in Tabula Rasa) to a rapist with an honourable heart (in Emma), and a stuttering child who overcomes his predicament for the first time in an act of violence (in Feathers). And while all of the stories are set in Siberia, they encompass the full human experience and due to Zilke’s eye for detail, like a surgeon’s knife, they can hit closer to home than expected.

The 3 stories are brought to life by powerful artistic visions. All drawn by hand, the 9 illustrations complete the collection and create a unique literary treasure.

Review:
This is a collection of 3 very short stories from the author’s family’s history and it’s an interesting read. In the book’s synopsis, there is a sentence that reads, ” With an unflinching insight into the dark depths of the human soul, the author portrays the entire palette of human suffering through an inverted mirror…” And that’s what the stories actually manage to do in very few pages. They ask you to consider cannibalism as an act of courage and sacrifice. It presents a rapist as being responsible and therefore honorable. It allows a child cursing an adult out as a success and validation. These are obviously perversions of reality, but for 5 or 10 pages Zilkes makes you wonder if maybe, just maybe…

Review of Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (Dead Things #1), by Martina McAtee

I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not sure where I got my copy of Martina McAtee‘s Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. I don’t think I bought it, so I either picked up as an Instafreebie or won it somewhere. If I won it from you or your blog, thank you.

Description from Goodreads:
17 year old Ember Denning has made an art of isolating herself. She prefers the dead. She spends her days skipping school in old cemeteries and her nights hiding from her alcoholic father at the funeral home where she works. When her own father dies, Ember learns her whole life is a lie. Standing in the cemetery that’s been her sanctuary, she’s threatened by the most beautiful boy she’s ever seen and rescued by two people who claim to be her family. They say she’s special, that she has a supernatural gift like them…they just don’t know exactly what it is.

They take her to a small Florida town, where Ember’s life takes a turn for the weird. She’s living with her reaper cousins, an orphaned werewolf pack, a faery and a human genius. Ember’s powers are growing stronger, morphing into something bigger than anything anybody anticipated. Ember has questions but nobody has answers. Nobody knows what she is. They only know her mysterious magical gift is trying to kill them and that beautiful dangerous boy from the cemetery may be the only thing standing between her and death.

As Ember’s talents are revealed so are the secrets her father hid and those in power who would seek to destroy her. What’s worse, saving Ember has put her cousins in danger and turned her friend’s lives upside down. Ember must learn to embrace her magic or risk losing the family she’s pieced together.

Review: 
I have a really odd relationship with YA books. 9 times out of 10, I read them and dislike the book. But there’s that 10th one, the one I read that makes me wonder why I say I dislike the genre. (Then I read the next one, which I dislike, and the whole cycle starts again.) But that occasional YA book that I so enjoy is what keeps me coming back hoping the next one will be the good one, even if it’s usually not.

Well, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is the unicorn, the random and rare YA book that I truly enjoy. It was witty and funny and diverse. Not all the characters are white and there are both het and gay romances (even a poly among some side characters). It’s suspenseful and irreverent, playing with and making fun of YA characters and tropes, even as it used some of them.

The book could use a tad more copy editing (though it’s not too distracting, just the occasional double comma and such), it’s a little too long and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, or at least doesn’t wrap up most of the threads. But it’s definitely one I’d recommend picking up and I look forward to more.

Review of Neutral Space, by Rebecca Tran

I won a copy of Rebecca Tran‘s Neutral Space through Goodreads. This was especially exciting for me because she turns out to be a local author and I have been trying to read more books by authors who live in my region.

Description from Goodreads:
Lieutenant Jackson Peterson thought he knew who the enemy was. A bitter war with the Kelsairans made it abundantly clear. When Jackson saves a Kelsairan woman from a wrecked ship, the line is suddenly blurred. The enemy isn’t what the government said they were and he can no longer blindly follow orders. A shocking discovery leads Jackson down a sinister path of intrigue that could change the fate of two races. But, both the Kelsairan and the Human governments will kill him to keep their secrets. Jackson will risk everything to stop them. Will it be enough? Or will he die in the process?

Review:
This wasn’t bad, just simple. Simple in it’s writing and narration style and simple in it’s plotting. By this I mean the writing is readable, but not elaborate (and it REALLY needs another editing pass, especially to look a punctuation), the narration is a straight forward first person, past tense monologue and the plotting is….well, here’s where it all falls apart really. It’s simple and not deeply thought out.

For example, in all the universe the two characters get put in the same single prison. The male lead is already there and anticipates the female lead will be placed there when he hears she’s to be jailed. (Is there only one such prison in all the universe?) There was no mention of other women (except for a single staff nurse), so I don’t know if this was a co-ed prison. But when she arrived, she seemed able to wander at will and sleep wherever she wanted. She was never actually locked up at any point. That doesn’t seem very prison-like to me, but it sure was convenient for the plot.

Most of the book is a romance in space, which I don’t mind. I like those. But the plot is basically them running around talking to people that they already knew and somehow, miraculously uncovering, in some small amount of time, a secret that had gone undiscovered for 200 years. One of the clues they find is a copy of the original treaty, the breach of which started the war. You guys, if a war starts because someone is said to have broken a treaty, I really think someone would have thought to look at the darned thing before 200 years passed.

That war is basically just a background prop. You never feel the tension of it. The characters met ON VACATION. Yes, I know it’s the space-fairing equivalent of shore leave. But it’s hard to be concerned about a war when the main character trots off to go fishing and throughout the whole book they go wherever they want, including to their families, and no one ever stops them, there is never a battle, or a front, or any evidence of war.

While I appreciate that female lead was meant to be the more elite soldier, she spent the whole book being girly—changing clothes, putting on perfume, angsting about her virginity, and eventually marrying and having babies. She could have been a baker or a politician and been far more believable. Her character was too shallow and simple to actually carry what it was supposed to.

Lastly, there’s the humans and kelsairans, who were less different from one another than the Americans are from the Chinese. They shared the same mores and values. Their languages must not have even been that different, because the characters learned to speak alien languages in months, in one case without anyone to even teach him. He picked it up from listening to the guards talk to one another. So again, the cultures and universe are simple and not as diverse as they need to be. 

I know I sound like I’ve trashed this book. I was admittedly disappointed to find it as flat as it is. But it is entertaining in it’s own ways, has a lovely theme, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it. I’d even be willing to read another of Tran’s books.