Story Blip: A Review of The Light Keepers by Mande Matthews

Astrid is a young woman with incredible power, isolated from all save her mother, Isla, and her protector, Balin. Even her voice escapes her, which is where the trouble lies.  Astrid can enter the shadowwalk and view people in other locations. Because she is mute, Astrid cannot sing to the Mother – the source for the power of light – for protection against the evil Shadow. Without that protection the Shadow will know Astrid’s location and could destroy her easily when she to enters the shadowwalk. But entering the shadowwalk is the only thing that comes naturally to young Astrid, and the visions provide the closest thing to companionship she can have. Isla’s strength is waning and soon she will be unable to conjure the ward. Astrid must learn to sing to the Mother despite her physical inhibition or face the danger of the shadowwalk alone.

The Light Keepers is a short story proceeding Mande Matthews’ ShadowLight Saga. Calling it a short story may be an exaggeration, though; I’d say it’s more of a teaser. The story ends before a full plot can develop. Instead, this prequel sets the stage for the saga by introducing the world and providing history on a principal character. It does its job, though. I was intrigued enough to be indignant when it ended.

Matthews spins the tale as if we are already familiar with her world and yet does not leave the reader confused. She introduces unfamiliar concepts but provides enough information in the next paragraphs to explain them. Similarly, most questions brought up in the text are answered. The ones that are not will most likely be answered in the saga. The overall quality of her writing is above average, but not impressive, and here’s why:

Hiccups occur with characterization. Astrid is not as deep as I would hope for a protagonist. I know that she is lonely, but I don’t feel it. Isla, Astrid’s mother, is also flat because there is not much interaction between mother and daughter. Balin, Isla’s warrior, is the easiest to understand. He lives for one purpose: to love and protect Isla, which extends to protecting Astrid.

Because of the generally smooth storytelling and my interest in the saga, I give this prequel 3.5 stars. Well done, Matthews.

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Another Reason Why You Ought to Visit the Underworld: A Review of Disconnect by Imran Siddiq

cover-for-disconnectWhen I say “Underworld” I’m not actually talking about life after death, but the depressing underground world of Imran Siddiq’s novel Disconnect.  It’s a place where families grow up in darkness and dependent on the refuse of those who live in Overworld.  Right away I want to let you know that this book is not written in “American” English; some readers like that, some don’t.  I’ve never minded as long as I could understand the structure, and I was able to follow Siddiq’s writing just fine.  Now, on to the good stuff:

Disconnect clocks in at a light 279 pages and is told from the point of view of Zachary, the only son of single-father Marcus.  Zachary and his dad live on a space base orbiting Jupiter and they reside in the ghetto underground district known as Underworld.  Overworld and Underworld rarely interact, but Zachary happens to find a working Intercom while scavenging.  Thus his adventures begin.

Through the intercom, Zachary talks to a girl named Rosa.  She’s the only child of Ambassador Kade.  Zachary and Rosa talk several times, and even meet in person.  In their time together, however, the teens discover a sinister plot by the ruling council to clean out Underworld—of everyone and everything.

I liked this book for several reasons, one being that the main character is a boy.  I like female main characters a LOT, but it was refreshing to read something from a male perspective and especially from one that was so genuine.  Zachary grew up simply, and so he thought about things simply.  For example, when he overheard some sketchy communications between soldiers, I (the reader) understood what was going on, but Zachary didn’t—and of course he wouldn’t!  He grew up in Underworld where there was no politics!  I’m glad Siddiq maintained the integrity of Zachary’s voice no matter what happened.

What I found lacking in Siddiq’s writing was overall fluidity.  His story was very interesting and had many exciting parts, but it really, really, really needed work with a fine-toothed comb to smooth out phrasing and compositional issues.  Verb agreement, sentence structure, and so on needed some serious work.  I don’t say that to be rude, just straightforward—if you enjoy a good story and can power through somewhat novice writing, then Disconnect is for you.  I give it 3.5 stars.

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Why You REALLY Need the 12-Step Program: A Review of The Cure by Athol Dickson

the-cure-cover-athol-dicksonFriends and family know I’m addicted to reading, but the blame for my addiction lies solely with fabulous writers like Athol Dickson. While I ought to be taking responsibility for my obsessive reading habit, I’d rather tell you about how awesome The Cure is and why you should lose a few hours’ sleep reading it.

The Cure is a novel batting at 336 pages and chock full of literary goodness. I’ll point out right away that this book is not an easy read, and I mean that in the best possible way: the writing flows but the content is deep, causing many stop-and-think-about-it moments and frequent emotional overloads. It’s definitely something that feeds the reading addiction, so I’m warning you now: BE CAREFUL BECAUSE IT’S THAT GOOD!! Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s get to the good stuff:

Riley Keep is an alcoholic who’s let his life go to pot and abandoned his wife, Hope, and only daughter, Bree, for life on the street. He is constantly haunted by his pre-alcoholic life as a Christian missionary in Brazil and stint as a college professor. He’s several states away when he hears rumors of a cure for alcoholism in the town of Dublin, Maine, his old hometown. Riley drags his nearly-dead homeless friend Brice there to seek out the cure, positive that by now his wife and child have moved on.

Riley is shocked to find that there really is a cure for alcoholism. Once he’s got it, however, Riley learns that a lot of people—from desperate alcoholics to shady pharmaceutical companies—will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. Death, mayhem, and violence ensue in an incredible story of fear and redemption.

While reading this book I sometimes loved the characters and sometimes wanted to slap them with a frying pan. Even if I didn’t agree with a character’s choices, like Riley’s, and even detested him for it, I was totally stuck in his head. I was aware of the many (and often painful) influences and horrific past events that directed his actions. I think the only thing that hung me up was the frequent references to Riley’s time in Brazil, the importance of which wasn’t revealed until near the end of the book. Overall, I give this book five stars and make them gold! Read Dickson’s work and you won’t be disappointed.