Friday, 24 May 2013

Undreamed by Paul Western-Pittard

***SBRs 9th Best Read for 2013***

Publication date: 5th September 2012
Published by: Self-published
Genre: Psychological Thriller (Adult)

When I came across Undreamed and read the synopsis I knew instantly that I wanted to read and review it. As you can see, I certainly have a lot to say about it. (This may well be my longest review to date!)

The novel starts with a young woman in a New York night club. Her name is Alice and she has green eyes.  The first chapter gives you a real insight into Alice’s character.  She clearly likes to flirt with danger and she is reckless, to the point that putting herself in danger is not a major concern to her.  Events lead to an altercation with a couple that causes her to run out of the club into the street where it is snowing.  For reasons I won’t go into she has a deep cut on the palm of her hand.  By the end of the chapter Alice has gone to sleep.  

When Alice wakes up she is somewhere else.  It is morning and the sun is shining.  It is summer and there is a heat-wave.  She glances at herself in the mirror and her eyes are blue.  There is no cut on her hand.  None of this is a shock to her because Alice knows where she is; at home in Sydney, Australia, where she lives with her sister, Jen.  

When Alice is asleep in New York she is awake in Sydney living this other life, and vice-versa.  She knows one of her lives is real and the other is a dream.  What she does not know is which life is the dream …

This novel reads very well. The plot is well thought out with lots of twists and turns.  It really does keep you guessing and there was so much I liked about it. 

Each character seems to represent a different side to Alice.  It is clear that Real-Alice (whoever she may be) is traumatised and is suffering these dreams as a result. NY-Alice is her angry, frustrated, dark side and these characteristics manifest themselves through her reckless behaviour.  She is a borderline junkie who self-harms.  She is the unsympathetic side: ruthless in her treatment of those around her and showing little remorse for her behaviour.  She is a fighter and regards Sydney-Alice with contempt.  Sydney-Alice is her opposite.  She appears confused and, to some extent, helpless. She is a psychiatric patient who is trying to put her life back together but is haunted by her dreams.  She is the sympathetic side: although passive, she is also inquisitive and is determined to get to the bottom of things.  Although she does not like her, she seems to regard NY-Alice with awe.  

In NYC it is constantly snowing and in Sydney there is a constant sweltering heat-wave, creating opposing atmospheres that are symbolic to Alice's situation.  The contrast also helps to create tension and drama that enhances the plot as it unravels.  She has never known anything to cross-over in these parallel worlds - and then things start to.  (The Donald Duck t-shirt scene was quite dramatic and I felt a chill along with NY-Alice at that point.)

I liked the way surreal events would occur in both worlds (e.g. the random appearance of toys), which is part of the reason you are left guessing what is real.

The dramatic irony of Sydney-Alice’s situation is skillfully shown.  Her behaviour is strange and (for want of a better word) abnormal for those observing her, but from her POV you can see how normal it all seems.  You can see why she needs to see things through and take the risks she does, even though you can also see things are moving in a downward spiral.  

Sydney-Alice may be borderline crazy but NY-Alice is no better off.  She is estranged from her parents and the closest thing she has to a friend is her drug-dealer.  She has an on-off relationship with a guy called Gabe who is clearly devoted to her but she doesn’t feel the same way about him.  She sees him as her 'bit of rough’.  She likes ‘slumming it’ with him because she knows it is something that would piss her parents off severely, and she likes pissing her parents off.   When she has had enough of Gabe she swots him, and by extension his son, away like they are flies bugging her.  She knows she is using him but she doesn’t care.   Her description of Gabe is also telling of the kind of person she is.  We learn from her that Gabe is a single parent who is bringing his son, Jordie, up in a rough area in NY.  Her description of Gabe alludes to him being of African descent and, by NY-Alice's standards, poor.  The only other person connected to him (besides Jordie) is someone called Latisha who takes care of Jordie when required.  Alice looks down on Latisha, referring to her as a prostitute. I liked the way Gabe’s defense of Latisha read like a sarcastic retort at Alice’s small-minded stereotyping.   In fact, if you were to follow Alice’s rules of stereotyping and hazard a guess at what Gabe does for a living (assuming he has a job) it would be a pimp maybe, or a drug dealer.  But actually Gabe is an artist.  He is an artist who is successful enough to be able to put on exhibitions in NY, but not successful enough to live in a ‘nice’ residential area.  I take this to mean nice by Alice’s standards (and she’s filthy rich!). We know he is not poor (that much is clarified). This revealed to me that NY-Alice is basically a rich bitch with racist tendencies.  In contrast Sydney-Alice is outraged by NY-Alice’s treatment of Gabe.  She might even genuinely have a thing for him. The Jekyll & Hyde portrayal of Alice is well written.  Incidentally, it was the character development of NY-Alice and Sydney-Alice that brought me to my conclusion as to which life was real and which was not (I won’t tell you what conclusion that was).  

 The plot is not without clichés - such as the scene where Sydney-Alice visits a clairvoyant and the scene where NY-Alice is lying in the bath.  Even so, I didn't mind the clichés so much.

I did however have a problem with the scene when NY-Alice waltzes into Gabe’s apartment, lectures him about taking care of his son and hands him a shit load of money. (Thanks to NY-Alice, Gabe and Jordie can finally get out of that poor neighbourhood.)  Supposedly she was trying to redeem herself, and may have been convincing if she had not been quite so patronising.  

Gabe isn’t entirely American; he’s also a bit French, which presumably is why he keeps ending every sentence with ‘eh’ (Is that French??).  

Some events that occur read like a recurring dream – such as the scenes where Sydney-Alice chases the girl in the green dress and the events play out the same, over and over.  Problem is it did get a bit tedious.  Also, I found myself shouting at her, telling her who the girl was (I can’t believe neither of them could work it out). 

Crazy things happen that make no sense - but that’s what dreams are like, right?  The problem is when it becomes clear which is the ‘real world,’ the surreal stuff, such as the unexplained random appearance of toys, become flaws.   

The plot seemed to drag on a bit before it got to the climax, the revelation as to why this all happened in the first place, and the resolution. 

That said, I was actually blown away by the standard of writing for much of the novel and it seemed to me that it was better than some of the conventionally published books I have read. 

Is Undreamed a hidden treasure?  In truth, the jury is out.  But it certainly is well worth a read so I would highly recommend it.

My appeal to readers

Friday, 17 May 2013

Finding Summerland by Paige Bleu

Publication date: 1st January 2012
Published by: Self-published
Genre: Fantasy Romance (YA)

If you skipped the prologue of Finding Summerland and started at Chapter 1, you might not realise that it is a fantasy novel since there is very little to suggest that this is the case for the first half of the book. Of course, it is unlikely that the prologue would be skipped. It takes place one year ahead of the rest of the story and in contrast to the first half of the book is packed with paranormal activity. What I got from these two contrasting approaches was that it allowed me get a better understanding of what it would be like to be awakened to the existence of mystical beings. It made it more real. I’ve only come across this once before: when I read the beginning of Philip Pullman’s ‘The Subtle Knife’ - good company to be in ;)

The protagonist is Wesley Rochester, a 17 year old boy who doesn’t fit in - not at school or at home. He has learning difficulties, is an under-achiever and has trouble integrating at school. He has lived in the shadow of his older brother Channing, whom he loves. Channing is missing and presumed dead - although Wes does not believe this - and he is trying to come to terms with his disappearance. His life takes a turn for the better when he meets Olivia, a mystical girl who remains mysterious throughout (hence the cover). They fall in love. I would say the love story is Twilightesque with the roles reversed.

Wes is a nice guy but he isn’t perfect. He spends a lot of time observing what goes on in the lives of the popular teenage girls at his school and giving us an account of this. It is clear that he doesn’t like them and he is sometimes uncharitable in his opinion of them, while placing Olivia on a pedestal. On the plus side, he comes across as intelligent and wise and he is a likeable character. Some may say that there is too much of the daily routine of high school in the novel and one could argue that Wes’ fixation on the girls at his school is unrealistic (i.e. boys don’t care about that stuff). It would have been different if he were a girl.  It can be challenging for a writer of one gender to write from the POV of the opposite gender.  (I say this as a female writer well past her teens who often writes from a teenage male POV and has found it challenging.) I was thinking maybe Paige could have gotten a little more in touch with her masculine side.

Without giving too much away, the back story to how the Ameryn society came into existence (the paranormal stuff) comes in the form of documented information which Wes is able to read. The history is complex and there are a number of key players, each with a key part to play - so my advice is pay attention when you get to this part. I had to read it twice to get to grips with it and it maintains an air of mystery so you are still left with questions. The plot is well thought out and intriguing, with hints of good things to come in future books in the series.

I believe Paige Bleu has raw talent and is a storyteller with great promise. Finding Summerland is a really good read and I look forward to the next instalment.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Discovery of Socket Greeny by Tony Bertauski

Publication date: 13th July 2010
Published by: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-fi (YA)

This is one of the first reviews I wrote and I'd like to think my skills have developed since - so apologies in advance.  I just had to include it because it's such a great book.

Sci-fi has been a favourite genre of mine since childhood (mostly TV and film). Where books are concerned until recently I'd not read that much, and mostly older stuff, such as Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles & Fahrenheit 451) and Frank Herbert (Dune series). More recently I read Wool by Hugh Howey, a former self-published author.  It was great to discover another sci-fi story I could really enjoy in The Discovery of Socket Greeny. [NB: I should clarify that the only similarity between the above mentioned books and this one was my enjoyment of them.]

Socket is the 16 year old son of a hard-working lone parent.  His Mum is hardly ever around and he is pretty much left to fend for himself.  He has no idea what she does for a living, and he hasn't had much success getting her to tell him, so he has stopped asking.  He spends his leisure time playing virtual reality video games with his girlfriend Chute and best friend Streeter.  Streeter's gaming tactics take Socket and Chute into a virtual world that feels real to Socket.  While in the game he starts to demonstrate supernatural abilities and he meets a specter-like creature that appears to be his father, who died 11 years previously.  Later, his mother turns up and takes him to the place where she works, The Paladin Agency ...

The protagonist, Socket is a likeable guy and so are Chute and Streeter. I liked that the teen characters were portrayed realistically but also positively. I am interested in human relationships in stories and I liked that aspect, especially between Socket and his mother. It was nice to see a parent-teen relationship that didn't make the parent out to be the villain for a change - but instead an imperfect human being who clearly loved her son.

Okay, the villain, Broak, was a bit caricature in places - like a teenage Bond villain, or even an Austen Powers villain. I kept imagining him doing the laugh ... mwhaaa hha haa.

I found the futuristic story imaginative and intriguing (as sci-fi should be).  The Discovery of Socket Greeny is currently free to download on Amazon.  I already have the next instalment and I look forward to reading about what happens to Socket next.

This book has gone straight to my hidden treasure bookshelf.

Tony Bertauski is an author to look out for.  He has quite a few sci-fi novels under his belt and I would recommend you check them out if you like this genre.  As well as this one I've read The Annihilation of Foreverland and Halfskin which, I must admit I didn't enjoy as much, but they are imaginative and well written.