Book Reviews: Ink by Alice Broadway and Back Roads by William Bitner, Daniel Boyd and Jason Pell

Ink
The Skin Books #1
Alice Broadway
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-19699-3
Hardcover

In Saintstone, the destiny of the soul is determined not by a deity, but by the government. From birth until demise, the body is marked to illustrate the life being lived. At death, the skin is flayed, then bound into a book. If the soul is worthy, the book goes home with the family. If not, it is obliterated by fire and the person is forgotten forever–as if everyone’s collective memories merge with the smoke, dissipate, then disappear.

Leora easily understands this definitive divide and especially embraces it when she loses a loved one. An absence so overwhelming can bring even the staunchest believers to rock bottom. Surfacing secrets shove the bottom away, resulting in a figurative free-fall of uncertainty and doubt.

Hearing something often, particularly from people most admired, certainly makes that thing seem true. Perhaps Leora has been purely parroting the comfort and confidence contrived by her firm trust in her faith. As Obel’s new intern, she is shaken when she attempts to answer his apparently innocuous questions, but finds herself floundering.

His queries feel bold, almost blasphemous. Leora has never had reason to doubt the separation of the despicable blank people from the marked, but when called to support her stance with facts and logic, she is speechless, then stunned. Seeing every single thing in a new light can be disconcerting. No longer knowing who to trust or what to believe, terrifying.

Looking at life through Leora’s eyes is humbling. As she adamantly, albeit ignorantly, explains why the evil White Witch, the first blank, does not deserve to be remembered; it begins to be easier to see what actually is, as opposed to what Leora has always been told. Accepting that real knowledge is indeed power, Leora learns, then she plans. The young girl’s tremendous growth, against all odds is enlightening and empowering.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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Back Roads
William Bitner, Daniel Boyd & Jason Pell
CreateSpace, March 2017
ISBN 978-1544194806
Trade Paperback

Definitely distinct, yet stitched with a common dark thread, these short stories flow with an inexplicably familiar feel while featuring fresh frights.  Each author seems to settle back and spin yarns with a natural knack for story-telling that evokes an avalanche of emotions. A strong, soft, somber voice speaks.  Instinctively, I am in.  I felt the crisp cold of the mountain air instantly freeze the inside of my nose, heard the ripples and rush of the rivers and felt my heart in my throat and my body tense as turning the page felt like taking a hairpin curve at high speed on a steep mountain road.

Creatures creep from the dark, formative…to spark a spooky image, while monsters mangle with brilliantly bold detail that may make you squeeze your eyes shut.   Substance makes these shorts stand out, as if the writer has wrung a bit of his soul into the words to sneakily seep into the reader.  In some instances, real-life-right-now social, environmental and health issues blur the line between sci-fi and reality, bringing a chilling sense of foreboding along with the ugly, unfiltered view of cruelty and corruption.

I love that these stories show scenic, wild, West Virginia and portray the people honestly; quietly quashing inaccurate stereotypes; humbly highlighting the genuine good.  To me, this book is a treasure chest filled with rare, remarkable jewels that will bring me pleasure every single time I open it.  I enthusiastically recommend it to voracious readers, as well as reluctant ones.  In merely minutes, engage in a tumultuous, terrifying escape….and I mean that in the best way possible.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Review: Marked by Laura Williams McCaffrey

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Title: Marked
Author: Laura Williams McCaffrey
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult

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MarkedMarked
Laura Williams McCaffrey
Clarion Books, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-547-23556-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sixteen-year-old Lyla lives in a bleak, controlling society where only the brightest and most favored students succeed. When she is caught buying cheats in an underground shadow market, she is tattooed—marked—as a criminal. Then she is offered redemption and she jumps at the chance . . . but it comes at a cost. Doing what is right means betraying the boy she has come to love, and, perhaps, losing even more than she thought possible. Graphic novel–style vignettes revealing the history of this world provide Lyla with guidance and clues to a possible way out of the double bind she finds herself in.

Marked has been the cause of me losing a bit of sleep and the reason is simple—I can’t quite figure out whether I like it or not. Actually, there are aspects of it that I do like but some that I really don’t and what I can’t figure out is where the balance lies between the two sides.

On the plus side, I’m intrigued first by the idea that, in this dystopian society, someone from the lower class can better herself simply through education. That in itself elevates the story above all the dystopians that rely on fighting and manipulation to improve status and the fact that Lyla blows her chance doesn’t take away from the premise that the value of education is recognized, even though in limited form.

Thanks be, we have an intact, loving family, not a teenager trying to survive on her own. Families in dystopian novels are few and far between so I truly am grateful to the author for this.

I also like the notion of Lyla becoming a C.I., a confidential informant. Call her a spy or what have you, she’s a C.I. and I think she’s a good representation of what such a person has to deal with. Yes, she’s a snitch and her reason for doing it is totally selfish; that makes her highly suspect but we also get to see her begin to understand what’s really at stake if she carries out her assignment.

I can’t say I had a good understanding about whether the rebellion is entirely a positive thing because there seem to be some gray areas. That probably is the way of most real struggles between ideologies and I appreciate the author’s adding that confusion to the mix but I think a little more certainty might have been helpful.

The biggest weakness, to my way of thinking, is the almost complete lack of worldbuilding. I want to know how we got here, why the people in power do the things they do, what caused the severe schism between the classes, what changes the rebellion might bring about, and so much more, but none of that is in this story.

Finally, Ms. McCaffrey includes pages of what we think of as graphic novels that sort of correlate to Lyla’s own existence. That’s an interesting approach and is most likely quite effective in a print edition of the book but it didn’t work so well on my Nook because the artwork isn’t there. It shows up in versions I look at on my computer but I read on my Nook. Whatever is going on, I didn’t have the benefit of the artwork, only the words, so I can’t really say how much it adds to the story.

Bottomline, I do like Marked despite its few failings and will be interested to see if Ms. McCaffrey will follow up with a sequel. I’d like to know more about Lyla and her world.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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Sneak peek — the first episode of Threatened Alchemyks,
the serialized story Lyla reads in Marked.

Illustrations by Sally Cantirino

 

Laura Williams McCaffrey Graphic Novel Page

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About the Author

Laura Williams McCaffreyI read, I write, I teach. I’ve published short stories in Cicada, YA Review Network, Solstice Literary Magazine, and Soundings Review. Clarion Books will release Marked, my YA dystopian fantasy, in February 2016. My other fantasy novels are Water Shaper and Alia Waking (both published by Clarion Books). For more information, it’s best to visit my website: http://www.laurawilliamsmccaffrey.com

Author Links:

Website: http://www.laurawilliamsmccaffrey.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/169493.Laura_Williams_McCaffrey

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LauraWMcCaffrey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lwmccaffrey

Tumblr: http://laurawmccaffrey.tumblr.com/

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Book Review: The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver

The Skin CollectorThe Skin Collector
A Lincoln Rhyme Novel
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing, May 2014
ISBN 978-1-4555-1713-8
Hardcover

Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic criminalist and his highly trained team are faced with a killer that has studied Rhyme’s methods and has learned how to cover up evidence and leave Rhyme’s team reaching for clues. The killer has located a book about serial killers that includes a chapter written by Lincoln Rhyme on The Bone Collector. The book is where he got his knowledge of how to avoid leaving evidence.

The killer who has been dubbed The Skin Collector tends to work underground and tattoos messages on his victims. However, these tattoos are not the ordinary type the tattoo gun is loaded with poison and the victim dies a horrifying death.

Rhyme’s team is working at top speed to locate The Skin Collector and stop the killing. The Skin Collector is a tricky individual and really had me fooled. I was down to the last page before I realized what the tattoo artist was really after.

I have enjoyed all Deaver‘s Lincoln Rhyme books but I think this one tops the list. I totally enjoy reading about Rhyme’s staff and their loyalty.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2014.