Friday, December 19, 2014

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Asylum is a thrilling and creepy photo-novel perfect for fans of the New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it's a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.

As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it's no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.

Featuring found photos of unsettling history and real abandoned asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Madeleine Roux's teen debut, Asylum, is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity.

Review:  I came across this book last year but never got around to purchasing it until recently.  I've always been intrigued by historical buildings and places and when combined with paranormal or haunted themes, you've got me.  Also, I thought the cover was really creepy and designed perfectly.

The story was intriguing right from the beginning and I thought the writing was smooth and easy to follow along.  This was actually one book though where I wish it were a little bit more descriptive and detailed in its imagery.  The scenes of Dan and his friends exploring the asylum just didn't fulfill my curiosity enough.  I wanted them to explore every nook and cranny and describe what they were seeing in each and every room, so that was a bit of a let down.  The dark atmosphere was decent and the found photos that were in the book were amazing.  The story was slightly creepy but not enough to give me the goosebumps and I'm not sure if this was intentional since the book is considered a YA horror, mystery novel and not adult fiction.  I also liked the short chapters and the wallpaper background used for the chapter title page.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys haunted places, paranormal, and mysteries.  


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

The futuristic hardboiled noir that Lauren Beukes calls "sharp as a paper-cut" about a garbage man turned kill-for-hire. 

Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a blown-out shell of its former self.  Now he's a hitman. 

In a near-future New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to "tap in" to a sophisticated virtual reality, and those who are left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. His new job is not that different from his old one: waste disposal is waste disposal. He doesn't ask questions, he works quickly, and he's handy with a box cutter. But when his latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist, his unadorned life is upended: his mark has a shocking secret and his client has a sordid agenda far beyond a simple kill. Spademan must navigate between these two worlds--the wasteland reality and the slick fantasy--to finish his job, clear his conscience, and make sure he's not the one who winds up in the ground. Adam Sternbergh has written a dynamite debut: gritty, violent, funny, riveting, tender, and brilliant.  "From the Hardcover edition."

Review:  This isn't the type of book I would normally veer towards but the story seemed interesting enough so I thought I'd give it a chance.  I like the futuristic aspect, the intrigue behind the dirty bombing of Times Square and how it was abandoned by half the population in all its radioactive glory.  The other interesting side of the book was the act of "limning", where people would escape into these virtual reality worlds, some people becoming addicted to it like it was a drug.

The main character, Spademan, is a tough-guy former garbageman turned killer for hire.  He doesn't ask too many questions, just gets the job done.  In this case, the woman he's hired to kill, isn't such a simple kill.  He grows fond of her through the story and eventually finds out who hired him to kill this woman who seems so lost and is definitely running away from something.

The writing is outstanding, the author has a way with words, making great use of metaphor and imagery.  There were some instances in which I could imagine a poem sprinkled here and there, in-between the violent, gritty storyline.  This book is written without a lot of periods, so the conversation between different people blends into each other line by line.  This made it difficult sometimes to distinguish who was talking, it reminded me of another book I read, Fiend by Peter Stenson. which was written the same way.

I really tried to get into this book but found that I just wasn't as excited about reading it as other books.  I know it's due to personal preference and as I said earlier, it's not a genre that I would typically read.  However, I would still recommend this book, especially for those who enjoy mysteries with elements of sci-fi and witty banter.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir

Apollo 13 meets Cast Away in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller, set on the surface of Mars.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Review:  Ever since I can remember, I've always been a fan of survival stories, whether in books, movies, or tv shows.  I've also had this strange fascination with survival stories that take place in space, not sure why, but it's always been that way.  When I read the premise to this book, I knew I had to read it.  Luckily, I came across it just in time at Blogging for Books, the first time I was too late and there weren't any print review copies available.  Finally, after a month or two, I checked back again and there were extra print copies there.

The main character, Mark Watney, is a likable character.  He's highly intelligent, efficient, and has a smart-alecky sense of humor with an upbeat attitude.  He never seemed to let any obstacles get in the way or bring him down.  Definitely a McGyver type which ultimately helped him survive alone on Mars for over a year.

The story is fascinating and you actually feel as though this is a real person and you are reading his diary entries, rooting for him every step of the way.  The only dry moments for me in the story were when he was doing his scientific calculations, vital to the storyline, but I quickly sort of skimmed through those sections.  The end of the book is nail-biting as you read along, wondering if Mark is going to make it off Mars or end up dying there as his crew tries to rescue him by doing a dangerous maneuver.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys sci-fi or like me, just stories of survival.  I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Secret Journal of Ichabod Crane by Alex Irvine

From Fox’s breakout hit “Sleepy Hollow,” an unprecedented look inside the mind of one of TV’s hottest new characters.

Review:  When I saw this book available at Blogging for Books, I knew that I had to read it.  I've been watching the series on tv along with my entire family ever since the show debuted.  What I like about it is that it's suitable for all ages and to find a show that everyone in the family likes is rare.

The book didn't let me down.  As you're reading it, you can hear the voice of Ichabod (from the tv series) speaking the words.  The journal seems very authentic and keeps the reader's interest by including drawings, puzzles, police files, ancient writings, maps, etc.  It was mesmerizing and you couldn't wait to keep reading to see what the next "artifact" would be.

You also get a glimpse of  the first few episodes as the book goes into brief summaries about what Ichabod and Abigail have experienced.  It was cool to go back and relive the past episodes and re-explore the situations they were in and in some cases, the creatures they fought against

I also enjoyed reading Ichabod's witty observations about the 21st century.  In one of his lists, he mentions things like:  water in the shower gets really hot and really cold and will run out, images on the television might be real, coffee shops are everywhere, skinny jeans are terrible, and taxes are really high.

I would recommend this book to anyone who's a fan of the tv series Sleepy Hollow.  I received this book free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Poet #36 at Houseboat

~ Today, I'm the featured poet over at Houseboat, a dynamic poetry and photography journal edited by Rose Mary Boehm.  Thank you Rose for inviting me to send some poems your way, I've been enjoying both the poems and photos and feel honored to be a part of this wonderful endeavor.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where the Dead Become Diamonds


A Swiss company wants to change the way people mourn by transforming the remains of their loved ones into gems.

Rinaldo Willy displays one of his diamonds.

“When a man of 80 kilos is cremated, he becomes 2.5 kilos of ashes,” Rinaldo Willy explained. “With these ashes, we make a diamond of 0.2 grams, smaller than a button on your shirt. How heavy is the soul—if we have a soul?”

In its coupling of the tangible and intangible, it is a question that epitomizes Willy’s work. Every year, Algordanza, the company he founded in 2004, receives more than 800 urns filled with human ashes. For between $5,000 and $20,000, the contents of each parcel are transformed into a diamond.

It is also more than a diamond. “Maybe ‘soul’ is too strong of a word,” Willy continued, still struggling to define the essence of his product. “Our process is purely physical—but if the deceased had blue eyes, and the diamond turns out blue, you can be sure that the family will say, ‘Oh, it’s exactly the color of his eyes.’”

We were sitting on the cool leather couches of Algordanza’s simple reception room in the sleepy town of Chur, Switzerland. Tucked away high in the Alps, the town seems isolated, and yet events as diverse as the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Chilean earthquake, the Fukushima meltdown, and the terror bombings in Madrid have all sent ripples through Algordanza’s halls. Within weeks of a major incident the parcels begin to arrive. “We had a British soldier from Afghanistan recently,” Willy mentioned. “He came home and then he came to us. His body—not him, of course.”

The route from the train station in Chur to the company’s facility passes through medieval cobblestone streets, a golf course, and wildflower fields. It is a journey that many grieving clients make. “We ask that the family either brings the ashes or picks up the diamond in person,” explained Willy, 34. “For us, it’s important that they see who the people taking care of their loved ones are.” The pilgrimage to Chur is just one part of a choreography that Willy has designed around the six-month gem-making process. As one of the first companies to enter the memorial diamond business a decade ago, Algordanza, whose name means “remembrance” in the local Romansh language, has developed a tradition all its own.

“I told my staff that they are not allowed to make condolences at the beginning,” Willy said. “You don’t know the people. You don’t know their story. It’s not honest. During this process, however, we inform the clients every time we do something—for example, when the chemical analysis is done, or when we start the growing process. So, if you start to form a certain relationship—if you make chitchat, and you start to learn who the deceased was, how he died, and who the relatives are—if you feel that you want to make a condolence then, you may, because it’s honest.”

Other protocols include standing outside as the family departs until they are out of view, and delivering the finished diamond by hand inside of a polished wooden box like the one on the table before me. I watched as Willy slowly donned white cotton gloves and in a series of precise gestures unfolded the box without a sound. It opened like a flower to reveal the diamond inside on a little pyramid. “It is special to me when I am able to deliver a diamond in person,” he confided. “We do it in the living room or the kitchen with everyone around the table. It’s a very emotional moment when you are returning a family member who was away for six months. The diamonds always bring back beautiful memories. If there are tears, they are tears of happiness.”

In the laboratory down the hall, the gloves came out again. “We never touch the ashes or the diamonds with our hands,” Willy explained. “It’s too intimate for us.” He gestured towards a row of white canvas covers. “During the process when we’re waiting for the next step, we always cover the remains so that they’re not naked. We do this because we believe that’s how we would like to be treated—not as a material.”

Each set of remains is assigned a reference number, both for discretion and for the emotional health of the employees. “It helps the people working with the ashes to have a certain distance,” Willy said. “For me, the French are the most difficult. They have this philosophy to send a photograph of the deceased along with the urn. It’s difficult to see a girl of nine years. What has she seen of this life?”

To read the continuation of this article, click here.