Book Review: A Single Light by Tosca Lee

A Single Light by Tosca Lee
Review by Stephanie Ellis

Rating: 4/5 stars

This book is the sequel to The Line Between

singlelightSix months after vanishing into an underground silo with sixty others, Wynter and Chase emerge to find the area abandoned. There is no sign of Noah and the rest of the group that was supposed to greet them when they emerged—the same people Wynter was counting on to help her locate the IV antibiotics her gravely ill friend, Julie, needs in order to live.

As the clock ticks down on Julie’s life, Wynter and Chase embark on a desperate search for medicine and answers. But what they find is not a nation on the cusp of recovery thanks to the promising new vaccine Wynter herself had a hand in creating, but one decimated by disease. What happened while they were underground?

With food and water in limited supply and their own survival in question, Chase and Wynter must venture further and further from the silo. Aided by an enigmatic mute named Otto, they come face-to-face with a society radically changed by a global pandemic, where communities scrabble to survive under rogue leaders and cities are war zones. As hope fades by the hour and Wynter learns the terrible truth of the last six months, she is called upon once again to help save the nation she no longer recognizes—a place so dark she’s no longer sure it can even survive.

The follow-up to The Line Between brings me the apocalyptic feeling that appeared to be slightly lacking in the first book and as a result, gave a more satisfying read in that respect. The book starts off with pretty much a recap of what had happened previously and so allows anyone who hasn’t read the first book to get to grips with the storyline. Unfortunately, if you have read the prequel, it does come across somewhat heavy-handed and I found it rather annoying as it took a while to move the story further along. Once the author had brought everyone ‘up to speed’ however, the story did move along quite nicely and became a book that I didn’t really want to put down.

The safe-haven Wynter and Chase found for themselves has become anything but. Accusations lead to life-or-death situations, and the once united community splinters and suspicion becomes rife as the clock counts down to ‘Open Day’ in an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere. Even when the silo opens, nothing goes to plan and there follows a desperate race against time for Wynter to find the necessary medicine to save a close friend’s life. They travel through damaged townships and into dangerous cityscapes, discover the extent of hunger and lack of medication, and the spread of the disease wiping out the human race. Through all this, Wynter’s ability to trust those around her is challenged by an apparent betrayal and her relationship with Chase falters as a result. The book develops into a nicely-paced page-turner, keeping you going to see if Wynter has the happy ending you would like for her or not. As someone who generally backs off from books with a ‘romance’ element, this aspect was sufficiently well done not to make me cringe and kept me reading.

The only reason I did not give this book 5 stars, was the opening ‘catch up’ chapter.

This book is for you if you like an apocalyptic thriller with a dash of romance.

Book Review: The Night Weaver by Monique Snyman

Review by Stephanie Ellis

Rating: 4/ 5 stars

‘SHADOW GROVE IS A PERFECTLY PLEASANT TOWN …

Shadow Grove isn’t a typical town. Bad things happen here. Children disappear, one after the other, and nobody is doing anything about it. Parents don’t grieve, missing posters don’t line the streets, and the sheriff seems unconcerned.

Seventeen-year-old Rachel Cleary lives on the outskirts of Shadow Grove, next to the creepy forest everyone pretends doesn’t exist. Usually, the forest is filled with an eerie calm, an unmistakable graveyard solemnity. But the trees have started whispering, forgotten creatures are stirring, and the nights feel darker than ever.

Something is stalking the residents of Shadow Grove, changing them into brain-dead caricatures of themselves. It’s up to Rachel to stop the devouring of her hometown before all is destroyed and everyone she loves is forever lost.’

When the nights begin to draw in early, a spooky read is a must and The Night Weaver does not disappoint. The main character, Rachel, is a terrific role model for young female readers, someone who is different but is strong enough to go her own way and pretty much not care what the ‘popular’ crowd say or do. No stranger to loss with the death of her best friend some years before and then the loss of her father, she has become fiercely independent, although sadly much of this is due to the emotional distance that has grown between Rachel and her mother as a result of the latter’s difficulty in dealing with her grief.

Whilst the rest of the town is strangely reluctant to explore the forest, Rachel is convinced that is where the children have gone. With the support of her neighbour’s grandson, the two cross the border into the woods and experience the ‘other world’ of the Fae. As Rachel fights to rescue the children, she becomes involved both with a Fae prince and with the very human Greg Pearson. The pacing is good and whilst it discusses Rachel’s relationship with her mother and her own memories of her father, it does not become mawkish and allows the magic of the story to keep the pages turning.

As someone who tends to avoid books featuring the Fae (usually because the author has made them too ‘sparkly’ or twee for me), I found this was a hugely entertaining YA romp with Snyman keeping the balance between darkness and romance perfectly. As a secondary school librarian, this is a book that may yet find its way onto my workplace shelves.

Book Review: The Line Between by Tosca Lee

The Line Between by Tosca Lee

Reviewed by Stephanie Ellis

4/5 stars

“In this frighteningly believable thriller from New York Times bestselling author and master storyteller Tosca Lee, an extinct disease re-emerges from the melting Alaskan permafrost and causes madness in its victims. For recent apocalyptic cult escapee Wynter Roth, it’s the end she’d always been told was coming.”

I jumped at the chance to read this book because of the word ‘apocalyptic’. I love doomsday type scenarios and as it was described as a thriller, it was something I felt I’d naturally go for. As I read on, however, I got the strongest sense that in truth this was really a YA romance set against an apocalyptic backdrop. Initially disappointed in that respect, I continued to read and make my judgment on it firstly as a story, and then as a YA book (as a librarian in a secondary school I read a lot of YA).

The cult of New Earth is a truly chilling place to be, where the leader, Magnus, appears to manipulate his followers with ease. Disposing of a first wife for Wynter’s sister, and then preparing to take Wynter herself as a second spouse, he appears cruel and even perverted. Wynter’s escape, or expulsion, is manipulated by her sister and initially, she is safe in the house of an old friend of her late mother’s. The growing dementia epidemic however soon undermines that feeling and she discovers Magnus had no small part to play in that. Lee paces the story well, interweaving present day with flashbacks but without confusing the reader. She brings out the angst and anxiety of a young woman undergoing extreme mental stress in a thoughtful manner without turning her into a lunatic. The twists and turns, of finding, and losing, friends and helpers on her journey to save the world, keep you turning the page. The ending is somewhat unsatisfactory as it is clearly set up for the follow-up, A Single Light. Having read the blurb for that, it appears to be more of the apocalyptic book I so wanted this to be. I look forward to reading this sequel.

Book Review: Coyote Rage by Owl Goingback

5/5 stars

My first introduction to Owl Goingback’s writings was his collection Tribal Screams, which I loved. This book also contained a taster to Coyote Rage and I was pretty certain I would read the novel when it came out. Here I am, some months later and the book lies finished at my side. Goingback weave’s his story between the modern world and Native American mythology, creating a unique blend of fantasy and horror.

Kindle EditionAs the last human member of the Great Council of Galun’lati lives out his remaining days in a nursing home, Coyote hatches a plot to eliminate him and also the daughter who would take his place. He tells the other creatures it is time for those of ‘fur and feather’ to take back control of their world. His target, Luther Watie, evades him and so the hunt begins for both Watie and his daughter. Not all creatures are on Coyote’s side, man has some friends, in this instance Raven and Mouse, but are they enough? This is a wonderful tale of shape-shifting and magic and the prose is pure poetry when the story slips into the otherworld of Galun’lati. Owl Goingback is a writer of quality and one I know I will return to.

Book Review: Broken on the Inside by Phil Sloman

Broken on the Inside by Phil Sloman

4/5 stars!

Broken on the Inside (Black Shuck Books) is a collection of five very dark short stories by Phil Sloman. All start from a point of psychological turmoil, the mind building its own madness which then manifests into something physically and disturbingly real.

The lead story, “Broken on the Inside, is an example of the power of mind control and the unintended consequences of the manipulation of others, in this case murder. “Discomfort Food will probably put you off your burger and chips. “The Man Who Fed the Foxes and “There Was an Old Man (be warned, there are some gross moments!) are accounts of mental breakdown in the starkest detail whilst “Virtually Famous flips and distorts reality.

Yes, it is a small collection, but Broken on the Inside packs a big punch. Strong, powerful and wonderfully dark, this is high quality writing and I would happily recommend it to anyone and everyone. 

Book Review: It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life
Ed. Joe Myhnardt and Eugene Johnson, Crystal Lake Publishing

4/5 stars

What If? That’s how this collection of essays opens. What if some of the best authors in the business decide to pass on their expertise to those following in their path? Answer: You get this book, an invaluable selection of hints, tips and sometimes, demands on everything from character creation to plotting to submission. For me, as well as the writing tips, I enjoyed the sections dealing with creating and editing anthologies and also how NOT to speak to an editor.

Advice is given and yes, some conflicts as writers have different methods, eg plot v character, one or two drafts or multiple. It’s up to you to take what you want from this – or not, although there is one golden rule that ALL promote – show not tell.

With each essay, it was as if the author(s) were sat in the room with you, chatting about their craft as to an equal. All remember where they came from in writing terms, there is no superiority, no patronising or condescension. They are us and hopefully, those who read this will one day become them.

Book Review: Tribal Screams

Tribal Screams by Owl Goingback (Independent Legions Publishing)

5/5 stars

I have never read anything by this author before but after reading this collection, that will almost certainly change. His stories span the centuries, from the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in America, to the days of the American Civil War, to Vietnam and the present. There are stories of Native American Indian beliefs and Voodoo magic, unwary pacts with the Devil and the consequences of lives ill-spent.

I enjoyed all the stories and had more-or-less decided to award the book 4/5 stars and then I read Grass Dancer, Goingback’s Nebula Award nomination. This is a story of two brothers from the Kiowa. One goes to fight in Vietnam, the other, only 11-years-old waits for him at home. Confined to a wheelchair, he is tasked with looking after Roger’s dance regalia. I am not giving any spoilers here, but the emotion that poured out of these pages towards the end of the story was powerful. I choked up then, and am doing so now as I think about it. Very few stories have this effect on me and shows how skilful the author is. It was this story that turned the collection into one worthy of 5 stars.

Another favourite, but one chosen because of its humour, is Animal Sounds. Snapping Turtle is a medicine man fearing his power is waning as the animals disappear and his people starve. A trip to the Spirit Mountain to discover the cause of their misfortune sees him encounter cannibal skeletons. The part where he persuades each skeleton to donate a leg so he make a ladder and they then have to spend their time hopping about was wonderful.

Want a ghost story? Look no further than Last Man In Line, where a fraternity initiation ceremony leads to an encounter with the ghosts of the past in Andersonville, site of Camp Sumpter, prison to forty thousand Union soldiers.

In addition to the short stories, Goingback includes the first four chapters of his novel Coyote Rage, which is due to be published in 2019. Coyote gets up to mischief on the Great Council, intending to remove its last remaining human member, a frail old man, Luther Watie, in order to restore the supremacy of the animal kingdom. Tracking the Cherokee down to an old people’s home, Coyote is recognised by Luther …

And that’s where Goingback left it. I look forward to reading the completed version when it comes out next year.

Owl Goingback is a skilful and accomplished storyteller, a true master of his art. I will most certainly be looking out for more of his work in future.