Chameleon by Zoe Kalo

ChameleonChameleon

by Zoe Kalo

Kindle Edition
Zoe Kalo, 2017

Read: January 27 – 28, 2016


Paloma is a few months shy of turning 18, graduating high school, and moving on with her life when people at her old school have had enough — she’s expelled from school and home. Her mother and step-father deposit her in a convent school with a mix of the privileged and orphans. Isolated, rejected, and defiant, Paloma determines that she’ll endure the experience no matter what it takes.

At that time however, she hadn’t considered the types of nuns she’ll meet, the kind of peers she has — and the very real possibility that she’ll meet a ghost (and maybe more than one). The nuns are a mix of judgmental and prejudiced against her; and welcoming and encouraging Her peers are largely a different assortment — some seem to be conscientious and studious, spiritual and compassionate, or spiteful and catty; most turn out to be everything they seem not to be. Paloma quickly (and despite herself becomes part of a group and finds that to be both a comfort and a source of distress. The ghost seems to be . . . well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

Paloma’s life up to this point hasn’t been that easy — there are some dark things in her past, and your idea of what some of those are is constantly evolving and you understand her better and she reveals more about herself. As you learn about her, she learns about her friends and “friends.” There’s more going on at the convent than many would guess, and many of those things will be exposed in one way or another before the reader finishes Chameleon.

My wife and kids have been watching a lot of Chopped lately, so you’ll have to forgive me for this metaphor: but Chameleon does a good job of using all the ingredients in the basket — paranormal elements (or are they?); complex female characters; even more complex relationships between them; a handful of mysteries; complicated family dynamics; and so on — combines them in some interesting ways, but the end result is a little undercooked. Yeah, it’s a stretch, but as I’ve thought about this book the last few days, that’s what kept coming to mind — if Kalo had given this another revision or two to smooth out some of the rough spots, better develop a few scenes, characters and relationships, this could’ve been much better. It’s a good, enjoyable book — but it’s not as good as it could have been.

I’m not sure what the point of setting the story in 1973 was — other than it being safely on the other side of PCs, the Internet, etc., I guess. It doesn’t hurt or help the story — I just think that for a setting as specific as that, there should be a clear advantage.

It’s a touch melodramatic for me with characters that need a little more time in the oven — but it did what it set out to do. Chameleon tells the story of this group of girls in a way that keeps you guessing, on your toes and turning pages. I anticipate the target audience will respond to things I didn’t here, but even for those of us a couple of decades past that target, this is an enjoyable read.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks Ms. Kalo.

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3 Stars

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn Book Tour

I’ve been a fan of Carrie Vaughn for over a decade now — if she’s published a novel, I’ve read it (which doesn’t mean I’ve loved them all. Naturally, I jumped at the invitation to be a part of this Book Tour. My take on the book will be posted in a few, but for now, read a little bit about this book, and then keep scrolling so you can learn how to score yourself a free copy. Or go buy a copy and let someone else get it for free. 🙂

MARTIANS ABROAD
Carrie Vaughn

“It is Polly’s teen snarkiness and strong sense of self that will have readers rooting for her to get to the bottom of the mystery. … this easygoing adventure has an affable appeal.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“This is a classic ‘fish-out-of-water’ boarding-school story, focused on an adventurous, good-hearted heroine, with retro SF twists that nod to Heinlein’s oeuvre.”
—Booklist

Inverse’s 11 Science Fiction Books That Will Define 2017 List


From the author of the New York Times bestselling Kitty Norville series and the highly praised After the Golden Age and Discord’s Apple, MARTIANS ABROAD (A Tor Hardcover; $24.99; On-Sale: January 17, 2017) is a modern feminist update of the classic juvenile science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein, Podkayne of Mars. Classic science fiction authors such as Vernor Vinge, Gregory Benford, and Jack McDevitt have already lauded this new take from Carrie Vaughn, which will appeal to both YA and adult audiences looking for an optimistic view of the future.

Teenage Polly Newton has one single-minded dream: to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. But her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly’s plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—-the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.

Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. But when strange, unexplained, and dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

A versatile author, Vaughn has earned acclaim in multiple genres even as she continues to hit the bestseller lists. Fans know that she can entertain even while telling challenging and empowering stories about women finding their place in the world. RT VIP Salon describes “the excitement of reading a new story by Vaughn that’s set in a world that is so fascinating.” MARTIANS ABROAD will find fans in adult science fiction readers, young adult fans, and anyone looking for a new take on a classic science fiction adventure.

“Her breezy, convincing teenage heroine brings this familiar material to life: an
excellent retro-SF story retold for a new generation of aspiring starship pilots.”
—Gwyneth Jones (Ann Halam), author of Life

“This fun adventure echoes classic space cadet themes with a
bright finish. It’s in conversation with much of Heinlein’s
legacy with twists to keep it interesting-—a brisk read.”
—Gregory Benford, author of Timescape

About the Author

Carrie VaughnCARRIE VAUGHN, the New York Times bestselling author of the Kitty Norville books, is also the author of the stand-alone novels After the Golden Age and Discord’s Apple, and the young adult books Voice of Dragons and Steel. She holds a Masters in English Literature and collects hobbies—-fencing and sewing are currently high on the list. You can visit her online at www.carrievaughn.com.

Giveaway!

The good people over at Tor Books want to give one of my readers a Hardcover Copy of this book — and who am I to argue? We’re going to keep this simple: if you want the book, between now and 11:59PM MST on 1/30/17, leave a comment on this post. Make it amusing, if you please — it won’t help you get the book, but it’ll make things nicer for me.

Sometime next Tuesday, I’ll use some sort of random number generator to pick a winner, and notify the winner to get your address. Sound easy enough?

Not to take anything away from my upcoming review-ish post, but trust me on this folks, you want this one.

Cover Reveal: Chameleon by Zoe Kalo

Premise

Kicked out of school, 17-year old Paloma finds herself in an isolated convent in the tropical forests of 1970s Puerto Rico, where she must overcome her psychosis in order to help a spirit and unveil a killer

Blurb:

An isolated convent, a supernatural presence, a dark secret…

17-year-old Paloma only wanted to hold a séance to contact her dead father. She never thought she would be kicked out of school and end up in an isolated convent. Now, all she wants is to be left alone. But slowly, she develops a bond with a group of girls: kind-hearted Maria, insolent Silvy, pathological liar Adelita, and their charismatic leader Rubia. When, yet again, Paloma holds a séance in the hope of contacting her father, she awakens an entity that has been dormant for years. And then, the body count begins. Someone doesn’t want the secret out…

Are the ghost and Paloma’s suspicions real—or only part of her growing paranoia and delusions?

Genre: YA/Gothic/Ghost/Multicultural
Word Count: 55,000
Release Date: February 2017

About the Author:

A certified bookworm, Zoe Kalo has always been obsessed with books and reading. Reading led to writing—compulsively. No surprise that at 16, she wrote her first novel, which her classmates read and passed around secretly. The pleasure of writing and sharing her fantasy worlds has stayed with her, so now she wants to pass her stories to you with no secrecy—but with lots of mystery…

A daughter of adventurous expats, she’s had the good fortune of living on 3 continents, learning 4 languages, and experiencing a multicultural life. Currently, she’s working on a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature, which she balances between writing, taking care of her clowder of cats, and searching for the perfect bottle of pinot noir.

Connect with Zoe Kalo on the web: www.ZoeKalo.com / Facebook / Twitter

Oasis in the Clouds by C. Esther

Oasis in the CloudsOasis in the Clouds

by C. Esther

Kindle Edition, 248 pg.
Createspace, 2016

Read: December 27 – 28, 2016


I started this with a degree of trepidation — I’ve been burned lately by sub-par fantasy novels, and try as I might, I couldn’t ignore that when I pulled this up. Thankfully, it took less than a chapter to dispel the trepidation, and not much longer to win me over.

Niri is the Crown Princess and the subject of prophecy. Which is why she’s been kidnapped, imprisoned in an idyllic floating island, and had her memory wiped. Or so she’s been told by a rescuer. She’s really not sure, because, well, that whole memory wipe thing.

Why don’t bad guys, misguided people’s champions, pranksters, etc. ever learn what prophecy means before trying to defeat it? We’re not talking weather forecasting, punditry, or statistical analysis — we’re talking prophecy. It’s going to happen. (not really a spoiler, here) Sure, we’d lose out on some good stories if not for this stubborn refusal to pay attention to definition — or self-deception. And, it needs to be remembered, not every prophecy is going to be interpreted correctly.

Anyway, I need to jump off of that particular rabbit trail . . . her rescuer helps her start to retrieve her memories, as well as to develop magical abilities she didn’t know she had (even before the memory wipe), in an effort to confront her kidnapper, fulfill the prophecy and save the kingdom.

The book blurbs give away less than most, and I’m going to try to honor that here, so that’s it for plot from me.

I liked the characters — the King and Queen aren’t as useless as most authors would make them, Niri’s kid sister is a pretty good character, Love Interest Guy seems pretty decent, too. Niri’s allies are great (I wouldn’t have minded the snarky one being snarkier). I liked Niri and started rooting for her almost instantly. The villain of the story is believable and fairly sympathetic. Really well-drawn.

The writing is warm and engaging — it could be better, some of the dialogue is stilted; there are goofs like using “implicated” instead of “implemented” (just a guess, but given context, I’m betting that’s what she was going for); commas out of place, someone having a “photo” in a fantasy kingdom — minor, and relatively rare, goofs. The story and people C. Esther has wrapped around these flubs are entertaining and compelling enough that you shake them off and move on.

This is a fun book — it could’ve used a little more polishing, sharpening up some plot points and character beats a little. But it’s good enough as it is to recommend it. Fun, a little out of the norm, with a satisfying conclusion. That’s good enough for me. Check this one out.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. Honest, not punctual. Really sorry for the delay, C. Esther.

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3 Stars

Lost in Wonderland by Nicky Peacock

Lost in WonderlandLost in Wonderland

by Nicky Peacock
Series: The Twisted and The Brave, #1

Kindle Edition, 124 pg.
Evernight Teen, 2016

Read: November 30, 2016


This story focuses on Kayla — a young woman who looks years younger than she is (young enough to be appealing to the Humbert Humberts of the world as well as old enough to come across as a young co-ed), which is helpful in her vocation. She’s basically bait for serial predators (who the authorities can’t/haven’t done anything to) as part of her work with Wonderland. Wonderland is a group run by former federal agents bankrolled by a largely mysterious billionaire. Each “Wonderlander” goes by a code name derived from the Lewis Carroll book, and can quote sections relevant to their moniker (and recognize others quoting their parts). She and her colleagues — Rabbit and Chesire (Kayla’s Mouse) — lure the killers/molesters somewhere, take them out and then have someone come in clean up after them.

Her brother, Shilo, is locked up in a Mental Health facility for a handful of reasons, but the largest is his insistence that a man who dresses in orange is his constant companion who tells him what he should do. No one else can see or hear Mr. Custard, naturally, so Shilo is on the receiving end of all sorts of treatments. Neither the drugs, the talk therapy, or anything else seems to be working — Mr. Custard is still there, as much as Shilo might try to pretend he’s not.

Both siblings are reacting to the disappearance/abandonment of their mother while they were young and the suicide of their father not long after in very different ways, but both of their atypical lives can be traced to these incidents. Now it seems that someone is killing women near their childhood home, and there’s something drawing both of them back their to confront the killer.

The story is an interesting mix of Supernatural and Thriller stories, and once I saw that’s where she was going, I wasn’t sure that Peacock was going to be that successful with it — very few are. I’m not talking straight-up Urban Fantasy, I’m talking about a Suspense/Thriller that mixes in some sort of magic/monster where bullets and explosions should be. The last time I read a mystery where the author tried this, it ruined the book — it’s tricky. The heightened reality that she was using already helps, but it doesn’t guarantee success, Peacock tried a tricky thing and made it work, that’s no small feat.

Still, there’s only a little supernatural to this — there’s a human villain, human protagonists, human costs, human relationships at the core of this novel. Peacock’s up to the challenge of writing them, no doubt about it.

I liked the characters — especially Kayla. The story moved along well, the action was convincing — and the predators were just horrible enough that you didn’t really care that much that vigilante action took care of them rather than the law. Sure, the book could really have used one more thorough edit. More importantly, the facility that Shilo lives in draws more from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Gotham‘s depiction of Arkham than reality — and as annoying as that is, really, if you’re looking for realism, you’ve dropped this book before it gets to that.

Can she follow this up with an equally successful sequel? That might be trickier, but I’m looking forward to seeing her try.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinions.

—–

3 Stars

Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn

I wanted to nail this one, and I don’t think I did — just so I’m clear — you want to read this. Any of your kids over 13 (and maybe some under) will likely enjoy this. Don’t be put off by the labels attached: “Post-apocalyptic,” “YA,” or whatever — this is a good story about kids in the nearish future.

Children of the Different Children of the Different

by S.C. Flynn
Kindle Edition, 316 pg.
The Hive, 2016

Read: September 12 – 13, 2016

I’m going to get this quotation wrong, so remember it’s just a paraphrase: William Gibson’s early works were said to be set “Fifteen minutes into our future” — they’re futuristic SF, but only barely. Using that as a basis, I think you’d be safe saying that this book is set 20 minutes into our future — when Gibson’s cyberpunk present falls apart. Yes, it’s technically post-apocalyptic, but so is The Sword of Shannara, but that doesn’t mean you can walk in with any idea of what its’ going to be like. Think of this as a fantasy world very much like our own (but with cooler accents) — but where almost nothing works and teenagers are threats to their own health and safety, but also to pretty much the entire world’s health and safety.

We meet the twins Arika and Narrah just as Arika is beginning her time in the Changeland. Which is a stressful time for everyone in her life — but her brother Narrah does something quite out of the ordinary, he takes advantage of their inherent psychic link and enters the Changeland with her. By doing so, they set down on a path that could change the world forever. Not that they knew this. These aren’t a couple of Promised Children, Children of Destiny or whatever — they’re just a couple of kids in the right place and the right time to become the Children of Destiny. Arika’s the strongest character, the best fleshed out and it’s her reactions to everything that inform the readers’. Not to discount anyone else, but it’s her fears, her hopes, her determination that set things in motion (even Narrah will defer to her). Before I leave Arika — her friend, who I see as a combination of Luna Lovegood and Sybill Trelawney, but far less chatty — is such a great character. She’d have been easy to use wrongly, but Flynn gets is just right. She’s very likely my favorite part of the whole book.

While in her Changeland, Arika finds an enemy and Narrah finds a potential ally. Both show up later when Arika returns the favor and comes to Narrah’s rescue in his Changeland. It’s really kind of hard to describe, read it yourself. His is radically different and more hazardous — as are the conditions he finds himself in. I don’t want to get into the story beyond that, but let me just say that nothing in the story worked out the way I expected, and I’m so glad for it. The novel ended in such a way as to be initially dissatisfying, but with just a little thought, it was perfect — you don’t want more than you’re given, really — it seems like you do, but after a little time and thought, you get why he doesn’t the way he ended it the way he does, and actually end up pretty satisfied with the whole novel.

Oh yeah, there’s this great part that turns out to be a description of Echolocation. That was cool — I know I was wearing a big grin for a few paragraphs once I figured out that’s what was going on. That’s just an aside and your results my vary, but I really dug that scene. Almost as nifty are Narrah’s new abilities, and I’ll just leave it at that.

Flynn gives us clear, well-defined, and distinct characters here. I can’t say that I got too emotionally attached to any of them — but I was very curious about all of them. I imagined more of what life was like for the twins and their friends growing up in their circumstances, what made the various people who left their settlement do so, and just what might happen after the book ends. At the end of the day, these are people you want to see succeed, even if you don’t have that big emotional bond with them.

Once you get your bearings (which took a little longer for me than it should’ve, I think I had an off day), you can really get into this world and get an idea how things function (or don’t) on the Australian continent — and you can guess what’s going on in the rest of the world, too. Between the powers, the hard life and the machinations of the leaders — there’s plenty going on to keep you turning the pages — some is exciting, some is rich in imagery, some is tense and all is entertaining.

A heckuva debut novel — I can’t look forward to more enough.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my participation in the Book Tour and my honest post.

—–

4 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…S. C. Flynn

You’ve maybe seen him here and there in the feedback for various and sundry posts, I know I have. S. C. Flynn’s been all over this blog — and I appreciate it. Thankfully, his book was good enough that I didn’t have to feel awkward (because it’s all about me, right?) Here’s a lil’ Q&A that S.C. and I did this week. I didn’t actually ask him more questions than usual — he edited my questions to make the answers better.

1. Why Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy (I didn’t even know that was a thing)?.
It is rare; I can hardly think of any examples of this sub-genre, and those are a long way from CHILDREN OF THE DIFFERENT. I suppose post-apocalyptic fantasy is rare because, as I see it, it is a mix of science fiction and fantasy. SF provides the background – in my case, an epidemic that affects the human brain such that by adolescence the second generation of survivors are already in part a new human species with enhanced abilities. Then the fantasy comes in, based on science and a little bit of magic!
I found this a neat way to let my imagination go where it wanted, while still having a plausible basis in our world.
2. Why YA?
I have written various other novels – all fantasy, but very different from this one – and been close to breaking into conventional publishing via professional literary agents over a period of many years. I had never written Young Adult before, though, so it was something new to try, together with the new strategy of quality self-publishing that I am carrying out, with an all-pro support team.
Writing YA has been a really enjoyable challenge. A Young Adult novel must have all the things that any good novel must have: strong plot, well-developed characters and convincing setting. By definition, the writer is limited in how much sex, coarse language and graphic violence can be included in a YA novel. That means that you have to work harder with those basic components I mentioned – plot, characters and setting, in order to achieve your effects you need.
Once I had the basic idea – namely, following the brain disease epidemic that destroyed civilisation, adolescents go into a coma and emerge either with special powers or as dangerous Ferals – the choice of YA was made for me. The logical time for this Changing to occur was at the onset of puberty, so the main characters (twins Arika and Narrah – a girl and a boy) are 13 years old. Arika and Narrah can read and write, but they have always lived in a small, isolated non-industrial settlement, and their language and thoughts are conditioned by their limited knowledge of the world. In CHILDREN, we see everything from the twins’ viewpoint, so the style in which their story is told necessarily had to be simple and clear. That fits perfectly with the Young Adult audience.
3. What was it about this story that made you say — yup, this is the one?
CHILDREN OF THE DIFFERENT leaped into my mind almost fully formed once I had the basic idea. Of all my novels, CHILDREN was by far the easiest and quickest to write, at least as far as the first draft was concerned.

I am an obsessive reviser, so that was four years ago, during which time there have been long pauses while I was revising other novels, or even – surprisingly enough – taking some time off from revision. Still, the first draft of CHILDREN virtually wrote itself – every day when I needed a scene, it was there ready-made.
I had never written about Australia before, so probably, without realising it, I had a great amount of background knowledge ready to use. My other novels are quasi-historical fantasy and required a lot of research.

I think the main characters really wanted to tell their story, as well.

4. You’ve been doing the SF/F blog thing for a while now — how has that helped you as a novelist??
The style of writing that works on a blog is completely different from what fiction requires, so I see them as two separate skills. As I said before, I have written novels for many years, so my fiction style was probably formed in large part before I started blogging.

Blogging certainly keeps you up with the latest books and what people are saying about them, and the skills of writing blog posts is essential for trying to publicise your fiction. Setting up a blog also brought me out of my corner, where I had been writing for years, and got me into contact with lots of cool people who have helped and encouraged me.

5. What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that?”
Wool by Hugh Howey. A very clever dystopian idea, and also a book that helped to revolutionise the self-publishing industry.
6. Aside from a burning desire to buy copies to give away as gifts, what are you hoping your readers take away from this book?
An optimistic post-apocalyptic story like CHILDREN is an important one to tell, for me. It contains a warning about the dangers of technology, together with hope for what our society could achieve if technology were used for good purposes.

CHILDREN also contains a hopeful message that our very young people can achieve great things. Like the twins, adolescents are not stupid, but just lacking in experience, exposed to dangerous influences and struggling to work out who or what they are turning into. It is up to us to give them the best chance we can and leave them the best world we possibly can./td>

7. What’s next for S. C. Flynn?
There has so far been a fair bit of interest from reviewers in seeing more of the world of CHILDREN OF THE DIFFERENT. So, one possibility would be to write a sequel.
The alternative would be to publish one of the completed novels I referred to before. Three of those are of publishable quality, in my opinion, having been through years of editing by professional literary agents, as well as my own fanatical revision.For now, I will wait and see what happens with CHILDREN.
Thanks so much for your time, and I hope your launch week meets with a lot of success.