The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau (Book of Ember #4)

Book of Ember

<–The Prophet of Yonwood (BOE #3)

Note: Since this is a sequel there are spoilers for the prior book even in the blurb.  Something to keep in mind if you haven’t read the prior books and don’t want to be spoiled.

Second Note:  TSN gets (US) political for comparison.


Title: The Diamond of Darkhold
Series Title: Book of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Date Added: September 17, 2017
Date Started: January 14, 2018
Date Finished: February 19, 2018
Reading Duration: 36 days
Genre: Mid-grade/Young Adult (YA), Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian

The Diamond of Darkhold coverPages: 285
Publication Date: August 26, 2008
Publisher: Yearling Adventure
Media: Paperback


It’s been several months since Lina and Doon escaped the dying city of Ember and, along with the rest of their people, joined the town of Sparks. Lina knows they are lucky to be there, but life aboveground is hard. Instead of opening a can for dinner, they must plant and harvest their food. And while there was no sun or moon in Ember’s sky, neither was there rain, sleet, or wind. Now, in the middle of their first winter, Lin finds herself feeling homesick for her old city.

It’s during this dark time that Doon finds an unusual book. Torn up and missing most of its pages, it alludes to a mysterious device, a piece of technology from before the Disaster. Doon becomes convinced that the Builders of Ember meant for them to find the device when they left the city, to help them in their new lives. Together, Lina and Doon must go back underground to retrieve what was lost and bring light to a dark world.

In the fourth Book of Ember, bestselling author Jeanne DuPrau juxtaposes yet another action-packed adventure with powerful themes of hope, learning, and the search for truth. 


The final installment to the series finds Lina, Doon, and the other Emberites fully integrated into Sparks so they all live as one people, but times are hard, and Lina finds herself longing for the warm familiarity of her underground home.  Doon’s discovery of the blurb’s mentioned book gives them a reason to return to the now dark and dying Ember where things don’t go quite according to plan.  There are people living there, but if squatting were still a thing in this post-Disaster world then the Trogg family would be squatters.

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Stone & Iris by Jonathan Ballagh

Title: Stone & Iris
Author: Jonathan Ballagh
Illustrator: Ben J. Adams
Date Added: May 25, 2017
Date Started: July 1, 2017
Date Finished: July 5, 2017
Reading Duration: 4 days
Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction

Pages: 32
Publication Date: January 10, 2016
Publisher: Self
Media: Paperback

Shares Paradigms With: SOMA, The Matrix


A mysterious breakthrough brings Alison Shaw to the edge of her vanishing world. Everything she knows will soon be gone—everything except the memory of an unlikely friend. But is their bond strong enough for her to hold on to? And is a memory worth living for when nothing else is left?

This book was gifted to me personally by the author, but I still write my review with critical awareness and in good faith, though I suppose it remains entirely possible, if not probable, that I have some unconscious biases based on our cordial rapport and friendly correspondences.  I believe writers need to support one another, giving critiques when necessary and giving credit when and where it’s due.
I had to read Stone & Iris twice in order to understand it.  This is one of the best things any story can force me to do in regards to being ingenious enough to require knowledge of the end in order to comprehend the underlying intricacies of the plot.  I hesitate to divulge too much detail, since uncovering the truth about Alison, Jeremy, and David is the core revelation that leaves you reeling, and it more than likely will require at least two reads.  Since the story is only 32 pages, it’s not a lengthy foray per se, but if you want to understand what really happened, it will require more than just a pondering skim.
Though it doesn’t take place within Ballagh’s Quantum Worlds Series, Stone nevertheless lays a foundation for it, and it could be considered the precursor to the artifex (the androids in his fore mentioned Quantum Worlds duology) and AI technology.  The narrative appears to be confusing, because it’s supposed to be.  Certain characters switch roles in seemingly nonsensical ways that nevertheless have valid reasons.  Writing a story that is purposely haphazard is no easy feat, because you’re seeking to deliberately confuse the reader so that they will wonder why they’re confused.
The author told me that Stone & Iris is the work he’s most proud of, and that pride is more than warranted.  It’s a calculated yet bittersweet story about consciousness and reality that shows the lengths to which we will cling to what we truly love.
5 stars.

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The Quantum Ghost by Jonathan Ballagh (The Quantum Worlds #2)

The Quantum Worlds

<–The Quantum Door (TQW #1)

Title: The Quantum Ghost
Series Title: Quantum World
Author: Jonathan Ballagh
Illustrator: Ben J. Adams
Date Added: April 14, 2017
Date Started: April 29, 2017
Date Finished: May 20, 2017
Reading Duration: 21 days
Genre: Young Adult (YA), Mid-grade, Science Fiction, Post Apocalyptic/Dystopian, Speculative Fiction

Pages: 206
Publication Date: April 29, 2017
Publisher: Self-Published
Media: eBook/Kindle

Shares Paradigms With: The Matrix, Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger

On a cold autumn night, twelve-year-old Remi Cobb makes a startling discovery—a mysterious object floating on the pond in her backyard. With no idea where it came from, or how it got there, Remi is compelled to unravel its secrets. Her quest for answers takes her on a perilous journey across realities, where she finds a crumbling world—and the dark forces behind its ruin. Here she learns the truth about her connection with the strange object, and of those that will stop at nothing to destroy them both.

But even if she can find a way to survive, can she find a way home?


Mr. Ballagh not only does it again with this second foray into his Quantum Worlds, but he manages to do it better.  Any of the minor issues I had with The Quantum Door were utterly absent from novel.  The author doesn’t waste any time with the narrative.  He jumps right into the action of the book, and it’s instantly engaging.

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The Quantum Door by Jonathan Ballagh (The Quantum Worlds #1)

The Quantum Worlds

The Quantum Ghost (TQW #2)–>

Title: The Quantum Door
Series Title: Quantum World
Author: Jonathan Ballagh
Illustrator: Ben J. Adams
Date Added: February 18, 2016
Date Started: March 3, 2017
Date Finished: March 31, 2017
Reading Duration: 28 days
Genre: Mid-Grade/Young Adult, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Post Apocalyptic/Dystopian

Pages: 255
Publication Date: August 14, 2015
Publisher: Self-Published
Media: eBook/Kindle

Shares Paradigms With: Stranger Things, The Matrix

Discover what lies beyond the Quantum Door. The mysterious woods behind Brady and Felix’s house have been deserted for years. But things change when a fence goes up and the brothers notice strange things happening at night. From the moment they dare cross the fence, the brothers enter a world of dark technological secrets that will rock the foundation of everything they know to be true. And once they enter, there’s no turning back. *Some places are better left alone…*


This was a decent mid-grade/YA science fiction novel with excellent pacing, non-stop action, and relatable characters.  Often when you have two (especially same gender) sibling characters, their descriptions will start to run together, but this wasn’t the case with Brady and Felix.  The older Brady is more cautious and a bit shier, while his younger brother Felix is bolder, almost reckless, and an inventive genius.

The story reminded me of Stranger Things right off the bat with its “mysterious girl in the woods,” and “strange power outages,” but that’s about as deep as it goes with that particular narrative.  The Matrix-y parts have to do with the neurogeists (“brain ghosts”), which are terrifying antagonists similar looking to the sentinels that the boys and their new friend Nova have to face beyond the titular door where she comes from.  There are more Matrix-like paradigms, but I’d be wading into spoiler territory if I revealed them.  There’s also an interesting God motif insofar as all powerful beings choose not to intervene, and humans pay the (potentially deserved) price for our own hubris, but even deities can regret their choices.

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Spectrum by Aidan J. Reid

Title: Spectrum
Author: Aidan J. Reid
Genre: Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction

Pages: 35
Publication Date: June 18, 2016
Media Type: Kindle

“The human brain decodes only 0.0035% of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. A tiny fraction which our eyes recognise as ‘visible light’.

BioLuminary Enterprises conduct early clinical trials and breakthrough medical research for pharmaceutical companies. Pushing the boundaries of science, they have developed a controversial new study and are actively seeking volunteers.

As far as the eye can see…”


Though I finished Patrick Rothfuss’s The Slow Regard of Silent Things prior to reading Spectrum, I decided to review the latter first as Mr. Rothfuss’s first Kingkiller Chronicle book has over 20k reviews, but Mr. Reid’s brief masterpiece has seven.  This needs to be remedied.

I discovered this story on the author’s own blog, and added it accordingly.  Briefly…it’s phenomenal.  I was hooked by the opening line.  To say too much would be to give the story away, but the main character is an unnamed young woman with a slew of problems (drugs, alcohol, and homelessness more than likely due to the prior) is offered an opportunity by a medical research company.  She takes it and the story is a record of her experiences.

Reid flawlessly shows us how certain people are considered expendable, which is especially evinced by an extremely chilling section at the end.  The limited point of view forces the reader to look outside of what the narrator can see (if you read the story, you’ll understand the meta in this description) and realize just how much she’s being taken advantage of as a marginalized member of society.  Even though she’s been living on the streets and comes off a bit rough around the edges, she has an almost childlike trust of what this company’s representatives are telling her.  The end is an absolute gut punch made more brutal by how quickly the drop occurs.

At 35 pages Spectrum was an incredibly quick read, which was facilitated by my inability to put it down.  It is a brief but powerful commentary on bioethics, and it forces us to question what may very well be going on right now.

I’ve added Mr. Reid’s other books, Pathfinder and Sigil to my to-read list, and if Spectrum is any indication, I will thoroughly enjoy both reads.

5 stars.

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The Devil’s Alphabet by Daryl Gregory

This is one of the many articles/review that I have reblogged from Caffeine Crew, the collaborative geek blog I write for.  I am in the process of truly posting these here on my personal blog.  While they will be edited for any prior missed errors, I will not be really updating them beyond that so some information could potentially be outdated, erroneous, or defunct.

Content Warning: Discussions of abortion and suicide.

Spoilers

A few years ago I was in the Chester County Book and Music Store (which I sadly believe is now defunct going the way of many brick and mortar bookstores) just browsing/wandering as I often do in such places. Bookstores have fantastic energies that feed my writerly soul so if I’m feeling drained or listless I’ll often venture there to recharge. It’s free energy. In that particular venture I thought a key line of dialogue near the end of my original paranormal romance, and I also ended up picking up a book by a hitherto unknown author by the name of Daryl Gregory called The Devil’s Alphabet.

The Devil's Alphabet

Pretty much any title having to do with angels, demons, devils, or gods will catch my attention and deserves at least a quick glance. Most of the time they’re usually metaphors, which I am more than fine with, and sometimes I get really lucky and I find a story that’s actually about such religious figures. This book fell into the former category, but the blurb piqued my interest as did the first few pages..

“Switchcreek was a normal town in eastern Tennessee until a mysterious disease killed a third of its residents and mutated most of the rest into monstrous oddities. Then, as quickly and inexplicably as it had struck, the disease–dubbed Transcription Divergence Syndrome (TDS)–vanished, leaving behind a population divided into three new branches of humanity: giant gray-skinned argos, hairless seal-like betas, and grotesquely obese charlies.

Paxton Abel Martin was fourteen when TDS struck, killing his mother, transforming his preacher father into a charlie, and changing one of his best friends, Jo Lynn, into a beta. But Pax was one of the few who didn’t change. He remained as normal as ever. At least on the outside.

Having fled shortly after the pandemic, Pax now returns to Switchcreek fifteen years later, following the suicide of Jo Lynn. What he finds is a town seething with secrets, among which murder may well be numbered. But there are even darker–and far weirder–mysteries hiding below the surface that will threaten not only Pax’s future but the future of the whole human race.”

How the hell I didn’t buy this book immediately when it’s about a virulent force that either kills or mutates you is truly beyond me given my fandom background on the subject…at the time my financial situation was not well enough to warrant purchasing another book (this was quite a few years ago when I was far less stable in that regard) so I waited until I could download it on my Kindle.

Prior to the events of the story, the prior named “disease” (if it can even be  called that) comes in waves, the first of which left argos, giant 11-12 foot tall people with chalky colored flesh; the second produced betas, hairless, dark red skinned people who resemble seals; and the final changed people into immensely obese charlies.

The main character Paxton Martin is what they call a “skip,” one of the few that both survived and remained unchanged by the virus. He left the town 13 or 14 years ago after the changes occurred and the quarantine was finally lifted, fleeing to Chicago to escape the legacy of a dead mother and charlie turned preacher father. The story opens with him returning to attend the funeral of his once best friend Jo Lynn Whitehall who turned beta, had twin girls, and purportedly committed suicide. Only expecting to remain through the funeral and aftermath before returning to Chicago and his pretty crappy life as a restaurant server, Pax is pulled into the mystery and intrigue of the town where the “clades” as they call themselves have in many ways become segregated, but still coexist and are held together by Aunt Rhonda, a charlie woman and self-proclaimed mayor.

The clades are as different from each other as they are from the rest of humanity, because TDS essentially rewrote their genetic code and DNA structuring. Argos, betas, and charlies are not technically human, and there is some speculation about the condition being an invader from an alternative universe. Betas can become spontaneously pregnant and always produce girls, often two. This is both a relief and despair to Pax when he realizes that neither he nor his (now argo) best friend Deke are the father of Jo’s twin girls, since the three of them had a very strange/interesting sexual relationship after the changes.

Conversely argos for the most part appear to be sterile, which is discovered with Deke and Donna, his argo wife, who are going through expensive fertility treatments in order to prove this isn’t so. As for charlies, once the men of that clade reach a certain age they start producing what’s known as “vintage,” a secretion from their skins that is in high demand from younger charlie males since it makes women sexually attracted to them,  but it also makes Pax insanely empathetic and addicted to the secreted substance.  That…was definitely one of the weirder almost incestuous parts of the story where the reverend’s son is essentially getting high off of his bodily secretions. Kinda gross. And through all of this is Rhonda who has a home for the older charlie men where she collects the it.  Gross.

The running plot of the story is Pax trying to figure out what really happened to Jo.  Whether or not she actually committed suicide or if she was murdered. He’s able to find her laptop, but it’s password locked, and a good portion of the book is spent with her twin daughters trying to figure out a way into it.

Honestly, Pax sucked as main character.  (Maybe his name was too “peaceful.”  Ah language puns…) He spent most of his time being strung out or getting beaten up by the huge younger charlie males for trying to sneak his father out of Rhonda’s home. The vintage made him very empathetic, but it was hard to empathize with him.  He was also not very intelligent, which I hate in main characters. Jo, who’s dead throughout the entire story, is much more interesting.

What I did like is all of the issues this novel brings up. Because betas become pregnant asexually, there was a huge question of pro-choice vs. pro-life. This was ultimately what lead to Jo Lynn’s demise. She was kicked out of the beta co-op for having an abortion and then getting a hysterectomy. There was a faction within there of girls wearing white scarves on their heads who believed themselves to be “purer” betas since they went through the change before puberty, had never had sex with a man, and were therefore having virgin births. Jo’s daughters were the first of the second generation betas who look “more beta” than humans changed to beta, as if the invading cells grow stronger in later generations. They were revered because of this, but also hated because of what their mother did.

To the betas, an abortion was the worst possible thing anyone could do. It was as if their bodies were wired to produce children and nothing else and they wholeheartedly believed this like a cult. The issue of drug use and abuse was brought up, as well, but I feel more glossed over whereas the whole abortion thing was very heavily drilled. Paxton is little more than a junkie who almost gets abducted himself in a plot to kidnap his father (who produces the best vintage) by a couple of younger charlie males who are annoyed that Rhonda is reaping all of the profits from this.

I’m also not quite sure where the author falls on the pro-choice vs. pro-birth argument.  Whether or not he was presenting the “white scarf” betas as a fanatical cult or as a beacon of righteousness, and since it’s been years since I read the story, I can’t remember all of the nuances.  While I obviously do not and will not advocate suicide, I still find it poignantly fitting that Jo took her destiny and body into her own hands in choosing to have a hysterectomy.  I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same.  It’s a shame she was driven to that ultimate decision because her right to choose could not be accepted.

I really wish the novel had come to some resolution as to what really did cause the changes, deaths, or lack thereof in the people of Switchcreek. It felt like Gregory was building up to it. Each chapter/section was written in such a way to keep you reading more and more because you were waiting for that big reveal, but the novel falls flat in this. We never find out what caused TDS or why certain people changed, why certain people didn’t, why certain people died. If the answer was supposed to remain obscure, I feel that the author could’ve done a better job of keeping it that way. Don’t introduce all of these possibilities and then leave them to blow away in the wind. It feels like he presented a ton of ideas to get your mind racing, but then left you in top gear with nowhere to go. I would’ve even been satisfied with a rumor or a clue of resolution. Nothing big or conclusive. Many scientific mystery novels do such a thing. Throw something in that is possibly the answer, but that’s never confirmed. I don’t think Gregory wanted to commit to anything, but when you have such a marked change in human physiology, you need to make a decision. I was more than willing to accept the parallel universe idea; that honestly was fascinating. I think that would’ve worked very well for this story. Cells from one dimension competing with the others for survival taking the ultimate change/sacrifice and throwing themselves into another universe our universe and taking over human bodies. This novel could’ve drawn on an almost Cthulhu like mythos, while still keeping its steady, southern slow tempo. That would’ve been amazing to see such a thing from that lens of view.

I’d say 3 stars for this one for the ability to hold my attention for the length. I’m not entirely disappointed because as I mentioned above the pro-life/pro-choice issue was very well done, but the main question of the novel was never resolved.

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Dreamsongs: Volume II by George R. R. Martin (Dreamsongs #2)

This is a review off the second volume of George R R Martin’s Dreamsongs compendium where many of his earlier works are catalogued.  The review of the first Dreamsongs can be found here.

The continuation of Martin’s short story compendium had less stories I liked as compared to his first, but it also had less stories overall, and the ones I enjoyed were phenomenal.  A Taste of Tuf introduced me to cat loving protagonist Tuf Haviland who I believe could be an avatar for Martin himself (though GRRM insists he’s more like the Turtle of the Wild Card series) in addition to adding more books to my reading list.  I entirely skipped over The Siren Song of Hollywood after losing interest in the first story.  It was okay, but the screenplay style threw me off.  Doing the Wild Card Shuffle was 50/50.  The story I disliked was my least favorite of the entire volume, and in fact hung me up on reading it for about a month, but the story I loved is my favorite in the entire collection.  What an appropriate unity of opposites.  This section also had me adding books to my reading list. The Heart in Conflict section was a nice round out.  I wasn’t over the moon about any of the stories in it, but there was a draw to them still.  Two of them factor greatly into something major recently introduced in the television series.

As with Volume I, this is not going to be a review of the entire collection, but rather a commentary and brief analysis on the stories that struck a chord.

Dreamsongs Volume II

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