Tag Archives: st martins press

The In-Between

9 Jan

Today’s book review is for The In-Between, by Barbara Stewart, published by St. Martin’s Press. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The In-Between book cover

Elanor Moss is a 14-year old girl moving to a new town with her parents for a fresh start after a suicide attempt. On the way she’s in a terrible car accident that nearly ends her life once more. Her near death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by bold and beautiful Madeline Torus. Madeline is everything Elanor has wanted in a best friend–and most of all, Madeline needs Elanor just as much as Elanor needs her. But Madeline isn’t like other girls and if Elanor talks about her, she could be labeled as crazy. Soon, Elanor finds her life spinning out of control. Is she having a paranormal experience, or is her damaged brain having a psychotic break?

As a middle grade student, paranormal and psychological thrillers were a staple of my literary diet. Hauntings, mediums, astral projection, dissociative personalities–I couldn’t get enough of this stuff. Reading The In-Between felt like a return to those roots. It was a wonderful reminder of how gripping a well-written thriller can be. Once I got into the story, I couldn’t stop reading.

Stewart does an amazing job at keeping her writing ambiguous. There is always the question of whether Madeline is a ghost or a construction of a damaged mind. This question builds amazing tension throughout the book. Even when you’ve convinced yourself that one answer is true, something will happen which throws all your assumptions into question. It’s surprising to discover, that with this amount of skill, this is Stewart’s writing debut.

Probably my favorite part of the book, though, was the narrative discourse and structure. I loved that it was written as though it were Elanor’s journals. This lent itself well to a variety of chapter lengths, including one-liners or the obsessive repetition of Madeline’s name. It felt authentic as a result. It reminded me a little of my own journal-writing as a teenager–the reflection, the self-absorption, the addressing of an imagined audience. I liked how it gave such rich psychological insight to the protagonist.

I’m giving this book 4 stars. It was creepy and captivating. One star is held in reserve because I wanted the “in-between” to be developed a bit more clearly. Still, that’s a pretty minor quibble. This is a great book for teens who like paranormal fiction or thrillers. It’s also excellent for anyone who has felt like an outcast, who has questioned their sanity, or is curious about what it might feel like. Since the book does discuss suicide, sleeping pill abuse, and self-harm, it is recommended for mature readers.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.


The Severed Tower: Review and Giveaway

26 Nov

Today’s book review is for The Severed Tower, by J. Barton Mitchell, published by St. Martin’s Press. I received this book directly from the publisher, for free, in exchange for an honest review. I also received an extra copy, which I’ll be giving away in a raffle. Keep reading after the review for details on how to enter to win.

The Severed Tower book cover

The Severed Tower is the second novel in J. Barton Mitchell’s Conquered Earth series. Earlier this month, I reviewed the first book of the series, Midnight City. The second installment didn’t let me down.

The book picks up with Holt, Mira, Zoey and Max journeying to the the Severed Tower in the center of the Strange Lands so that Zoey can fulfill the prophecy revealed to her by the Oracle. They know that reaching the tower will be difficult, but it proves to be more than they expected. To begin with, the Strange Lands, a dangerous region where the laws of physics don’t always apply, seems to be expanding. Then, the Assembly aliens, who usually avoid the Strange Lands, continue their pursuit of Zoey. At the same time, the pirate group that has a bounty on Holt arrives on the scene. And as the team gets closer to the tower, Zoey grows progressively weaker. Fortunately they’ll find unexpected help along the way: Mira’s old Freebooter associates, the White Helix (a cult that reveres the Strange Lands), a reluctant Menagerie team, and even a mysterious Assembly walker who has been stripped of its colors. Will it be enough? Holt and Mira don’t know, but they’re willing to sacrifice everything to ensure that Zoey reaches the Severed Tower–not just to fulfill their promise to her, but because they’re starting to believe that she just might be the key to overthrowing the Assembly once and for all.

As before, Mitchell has crafted an action-packed novel that keeps you on your toes from beginning to end. Since that was one of the things I loved about Midnight City, I was pleased to see that the pacing didn’t suffer from the sequel slump. Instead, he presented even more sources of danger to keep readers on the edge of their seat. I especially loved the introduction of the Anomalies in the Strange Lands, which were presented as puzzles that could kill. They definitely added a new level of suspense, especially since their appearance was unpredictable.

I also liked how Holt and Mira were forced to confront their pasts–and how it brought old weaknesses and self-doubt to the surface. They could easily have ridden high on the confidence of their victory at Midnight City. Instead, we were given more opportunity to see complex emotions and character development. By introducing people from their pasts, Mitchell also provided the audience a window onto why they behave as they do. And I especially liked the parallel development, that Holt and Mira are both confronting their issues at the same time.

Most of all, I enjoyed getting some more points of view in the narration. The first book was mostly from the perspective of Holt and Mira. Technically, this one might have been, too. However, this time we got much more from Zoey, as well as sections told from the perspective of the Assembly Hunter, Avril (from the White Helix), and an Assembly walker called “Ambassador”. This inclusion of more perspectives helped to flesh out Mitchell’s Conquered Earth world even more.

There were a couple of minor issues with the book. First, there were some flashback chapters that I found a bit jarring. The first time that I encountered one, I wasn’t sure what was going on–if it was the result of a Strange Lands anomaly or what. They could have been set up a little more effectively, so that readers didn’t have to expend so much energy trying to figure it out (since there are so many more interesting things to speculate about). Second, I was a little unsure about how well the book stands alone. As someone who enthusiastically read and enjoyed the first novel in the series, I was able to follow along with no problem. Names, place, and terms specific to the series were already familiar. I do think that people who haven’t read the first book will be able to read and enjoy this one; I just wonder if it might be a bit confusing at times. It’s always a challenging situation, though. Too much rehashing alienates established fans, too little alienates new readers.

Overall, I loved it. I’m a fan of the blending of dystopia, sci-fi and fantasy elements. I like the themes of alien invasion, survival, friendship, social organization, and morality. It’s not only one of the most unique stories I’ve read, it’s also one of the most exciting. The Severed Tower earns 4 stars and my enthusiastic encouragement that you get out there and read it, so I have someone with whom to discuss it!

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads. And, if you have a US or Canadian shipping address, you can enter to win a copy of your very own!

Click the following link to find out how to enter: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Midnight City

6 Nov

Today’s book review is for Midnight City, the first book in the Conquered Earth series by J. Barton Mitchell, published by St. Martin’s Press. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, through the Goodreads First Reads program, in exchange for an honest review. The second book in the series, The Severed Tower, is scheduled to be released later this month.

Midnight City is a science-fantasy novel set in a dystopian future where aliens have conquered earth. When the aliens invaded, they were able to subdue the human population through the use of a strong telepathic signal called the Tone. However, the signal only works on people once they’ve reached adulthood. The result is that children have organized themselves into a new society, doing what they can to survive until they finally succumb to the Tone. The story follows Holt Hawkins, a loner bounty hunter, whose only companion is his dog Max. But when Holt and his target, wanted treasure hunter Mira Toombs, discover a young girl in a crashed Assembly ship, his life is turned upside down. As the three companions make their way to Midnight City, they must evade feuding alien armies, deal with pirates, and escape mutants. Meanwhile the mysterious young girl, Zoey, starts to display amazing powers that just might be the key to defeating the Assembly once and for all. Holt must decide: is he going to continue to go it alone–or will he work with his newfound companions for something greater than mere survival?

Mitchell’s debut novel starts in the middle of action and never relents. It is a fast-paced and gripping story that I didn’t want to put down. The plot and pacing were both masterfully executed. And, yet, for as much action as there is, there are some wonderfully executed characters. Not only do they feel dynamic and real, but they also grow over the course of the story. It’s nice to see that sort of development in a work that is so heavy on plot and action.

I was especially drawn in by Mitchell’s world building. I loved the empty landscapes, the crumbling remnants of civilization, and the strange new settlements built by the surviving children. I liked the descriptions of the Assembly, cloaked in spindly-legged walkers, true forms always obscured. Even the descriptions of the Strange Lands, which are never visited in the course of this novel, still pop with life and energy. This world is broad and complete–especially the descriptions of the expansive cave metropolis known as Midnight City.

This is a compelling young adult read with elements of dystopia, science fiction, and fantasy. It explores themes of alien invasion, survival, friendship, social organization, and morality, among others. Although the descriptions of the aliens were reminiscent of War of the Worlds, the overall story is refreshingly original. I give it 4 out of 5 stars for being such a strong and engaging novel. I can’t wait to read the sequel.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.