Alexander Gordon Smith

Archive for the Category Book Review

 
 

Book Review: SHUTTER

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Just look at that cover!!! *ShutterShudder*

 

One of my favourite video games when I was younger was Fatal Frame, a Japanese survival horror where you fended off ghosts by capturing them with your camera. I never actually used to play it, I just watched my sister play it, but I loved the atmosphere, the horror, and the idea that you can fight evil with something other then a gun. To be honest, it wasn’t an amazing game. The plot was pretty unimaginative, and the action got tedious after a while, and I’m not sure if we ever actually finished it or not. But the lasting feeling the game left me with was that this was a concept I wanted to see more of: I thought the idea would make an amazing movie, and an even more amazing book.

Which is why I was SO excited about Courtney Alameda’s SHUTTER! Now, a quick declaration: I know Courtney. We met a few years back when I was in Utah and she worked for the library. We did a tour of schools together (during which, when she found out I had never eaten a Twinkie, she ran out and grabbed me one, so I will love her forever), and in the downtime between events we talked non-stop about writing and stories and the things we enjoyed. I remember her telling me about SHUTTER back then, and knowing immediately that this was a book I wanted to read. I saw her again last year when I was back in the US, and I finally got my hands on a copy (thanks Courtney!). And it does not disappoint.

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SHUTTER may share a superficial similarity to Fatal Frame, but the plot is completely different, and infinitely superior. It tells the story of Micheline Helsing, the teenage descendent of Abraham Van Helsing (yep, the guy who killed vampires). Micheline is a cadet member of the Helsing Corp, which is essentially an army dedicated to protecting the world from evil. And in this world, evil is everywhere. Ghosts and monsters are real, and they are dangerous. Very, very dangerous. It quickly becomes clear just how treacherous this world is when Micheline and her fellow cadets answer an emergency call at an old hospital (which is pretty much the creepiest location you can imagine). What should be a routine exorcism turns out to be something far worse, something unimaginably awful…

From there, the story is relentless. It barrels along at a brutal pace as Micheline and her friends try to undo the damage that was caused in the hospital, and discover who is responsible. The action scenes are brilliantly written, they flow with an effortless energy and read like a movie. But it’s the horror that I love most. And be under no illusion, this is a horror novel. The ghosts and the monsters are genuinely terrifying, they gave me goosebumps and I am a hardened horror fan. There were moments, reading this, when I was checking over my shoulder, and when I had to flick on the lights at night just to be sure

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With the intense action and furious horror it would be easy to have a central character that fades into the background. But that’s the real genius of SHUTTER – Micheline is a fantastic hero, a beautifully strong presence who effortlessly holds the world of the story together. A teenage girl with a tragic past and a responsibility to her powerful family, Micheline is real and believable, torn by her sense of duty and her loyalty to her family (including her thuggish, overpowering father) and her friends. There’s a love interest there too, of course, but it never takes centre stage at the expense of the story, it isn’t there just because the author feels it should be. It’s just a natural part of Micheline’s conflicted and complicated home life. But characters are conflict, and Micheline’s backstory is what makes her such a force of awesomeness. She is a total badass, but she’s vulnerable too. We care about her.

The plot, too, is perfect. I won’t say too much, for fear of spoilers, but in SHUTTER there exists a world beyond ours, a ghostly plane called the Obscura (a generous nod to Fatal Frame). This was one of my favourite parts of the novel, and I had a mantra while I was reading – please let them go into the Obscura, please let them go into the Obscura – and bam! My wish was granted. It’s one of the absolute best parts of reading (as a writer), when an author thinks along the same lines as you, when the story drives in the exact same direction that you would have taken it (not that I wasn’t shocked and surprised along the way, there are some amazing twists here). It makes it such a pleasurable experience. This is a book that I totally wish I had written myself, because it really is such a fast-paced, scary, action-packed ride. I loved it!!

So, in short, if you’re a fan of horror, of video games, of action movies, of shows like Supernatural and the Avengers, of survival horror, of classics like Dracula, of gore, of super-cool tech, of kick-ass heroes, of the excitement of books like Divergent and The Hunger Games, then READ THIS BOOK!!!

Just one question, Courtney, when will we see the sequel?

:-)

Book Recommendation: The Rule of Three

Rule of Three: Find this book, buy this book, read this book!

One of the coolest things about being an author is that you get sent books to read all the time! I love getting the chance to read things before they’re published (although saying that, I’m quite a slow reader, so even though I often get them before they’re published they’re usually out by the time I finish).

Just before Christmas I got sent a proof copy of The Rule of Three, the new book by Eric Walters. It’s an absolutely fantastic read, I couldn’t put it down. Eric is also a really cool guy who does some important work with orphans and disadvantaged children in Kenya, which is another reason why you should buy this book!

Anyway, this is what I thought about the book:

The Rule of Three is a fantastic, compelling, unforgettable book! Its simple premise—what if one day all modern technology stopped working—becomes a blisteringly fast tale of survival in a world gone to hell.

The genius of the novel isn’t its likeable, reluctant hero, teenage pilot Adam, or its explosive, bullet-ridden, nail-biting action scenes—it’s howbelievable it is. Walters perfectly captures the fragile nature of civilisation, and how easily that veneer can shatter in times of crisis. The escalation of the plot—the way society implodes as quickly and as violently as a black hole—leaves you breathless.

This book makes The Walking Dead look like a walk in the park, because in The Rule of Three the monsters howling outside your gates aren’t the undead but your friends, your fellow students, your coworkers. It will leave you looking over your shoulder to try to work out who would be your friend after the world ends, and who would very quickly become your enemy.

Combined with some deft humour, a carefully handled love story, and some white-knuckle plane rides over the growing chaos, The Rule of Three is one of my favourite books of 2014. I just hope there’s a sequel!”

Go read it!

:-)

Book Review: The Hunt

I was really lazy with reading last year, I’m ashamed to admit. There was just so much cool stuff on telly (I blame you, Walter White). But I wanted to get back into reading and reviewing this year, because books are awesome and I miss them. So I’ve started off the year with a book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while now, The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda.

The Hunt

The Hunt has a great premise: our world has been taken over by vampires (not that the V word is ever mentioned, but there’s no doubt about what these sun-hating bloodsuckers are), with humankind hunted almost to the point of extinction. Those humans who remain survive by hiding in plain sight – living amongst their predators and in constant terror that their true identity will be revealed. Don’t smile. Don’t blush. Don’t sweat. Don’t cry. If you’re found out then your life ends in the most brutal fashion imaginable, because human blood is like a drug to the vampires, driving them into a frenzy and causing them to tear their poor victims to shreds before devouring them.

One of the surviving humans – or hepers, as they are known – is Gene, a 17-year-old boy who does his best to fit in at a school full of vampires. Admittedly it’s a bit of a stretch that nobody has discovered him for what he truly is – given that hepers smell extremely potent to vampires – but this is where the excitement of the book lies. Fukuda does an amazing job of ratcheting up the tension, because if Gene makes the slightest mistake then it’s game over. It’s palpable, and it keeps you right on the edge of your seat.

The book steps into Hunger Games territory with the concept of the titular Hunt. In order to keep the population content, the Ruler arranges a Neroesque annual tournament where vampires are selected by lottery to hunt, kill and eat a handful of unfortunate humans. Inevitably, Gene’s number comes up, and together with a bunch of bloodthirsty vampires he is brought to the hunt headquarters to begin his training. What follows are some absolutely nailbiting moments of anxiety and horror as Gene tries to keep his identity a secret with the walls rapidly closing in around him. It’s here that Gene also discovers some unexpected truths about the surviving hepers and the society he lives in…

The Hunt is a fast-paced, action-packed thrill ride that boys and girls will love. Gene is a great character, and Fukuda’s world building is fantastic. He obviously spent a great deal of time getting to know his vampires because their odd mannerisms are believable and disturbing – the scratching of wrists as a substitute for laughter was incredibly creepy! You feel immersed, which isn’t always a good thing when the world you’re immersed in is so terrifying.

I also love the fact that these are proper vampires – there’s no sparklyness going on here. These guys will tear you to strips and suck the marrow from your bones. It’s my favourite thing about the novel – the concept of a bloodlust so overpowering that vampires will run to their deaths in the sunshine if they so much as catch a whiff of heper blood. It is genuinely terrifying. It’s also the one thing that threatened to ruin the book for me, because (and this is a minor spoiler), at one point Fukuda overrides his vampire’s bloodlust, allowing them to control it in order to get his heroes out of a bad situation. I’m pretty sure you can’t change the rules like that when it comes to bad guys!! It was a disappointing moment in an otherwise faultless book, though, and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

Highly recommended! Four out of five skulls.