Cambions, demons, and distals, oh my! — A review of Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

Servants of the Storm book cover

“…the whole reason I got out of the fog was to go back to the Paper Moon Coffee Shop and look for signs of Carly. When I saw her last week, I was on my pills. Without them what will I see tonight?”

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

Since Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah Georgia, life hasn’t been the same. Leaving behind nothing but death and destruction, there is little brightness to the lives of Savannah residents, especially for Dovey after witnessing her best friend, Carly, being swept away in the torrential swamp waters. Since then Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything and everyone around her…that is until the day she sees Carly at their favourite café. Dovey begins to think that she is seeing things that can’t be real and, determined to know the difference between what is real and what is fake, she stops taking her pills. Suddenly Dovey is seeing the real Savannah, the darker Savannah full of fear-feeding demons. She learns that the storm that took Carly away from her was no act of mother nature but a demon takeover that hasn’t ended yet but is about to.

Desperate to save her friend, Carly, Dovey teams up with an alluring stranger named Isaac, who is also wrapped up in this demon infestation. However, as Dovey continues to search for Carly in the shadowy corners of Savannah where nightmares are real, she begins to realize that this hunt she is on may be a dangerous trap that she had always been meant to fall into.

At the beginning of the book, I was hooked. Dawson gave you little time to ease into the story with the sudden arrival of Hurricane Josephine that leaves Dovey’s life torn asunder. The reader is immediately caught up in the action, also swept away by the hurricane. You feel the emptiness Dovey is left with in the aftermath, and you also feel her sudden rise in hope when she catches a glimpse of Carly leaving their favourite café in the same outfit she last saw her in. Through the majority of the book, the action continues to happen at this fast and invigorating pace. I found myself always tensing at the turn of every page and the beginning of each chapter, unsure of what dark and ghoulish being Dawson would pull from the childhood closet next.

The one up-side to this suspenseful structure is that it leaves the reader little time to notice the flaws. While this book was full of excitement and intrigue, the characters are, for the most part, one-dimensional. The only character with some actual depth is Isaac, and this is because he has an interesting and mysterious background that is revealed to us in only small tidbits at a time. In comparison, Dovey and her friend Baker are very superficial. Baker is the cute dork who grew up to be a handsome dork who has fallen (unprecedentedly) in love with Dovey, and Dovey is the once-drugged-now-seeing-demons girl who won’t give up on Carly. That about sums it up. However, you can happily ignore the limitations of these characters simply by being caught up in the pure creativity of this plot line. I mean, how did Dawson come up with the whole phenomena of demons eating the tips of people’s pinkie fingers (i.e. distals) thereby making them distal servants now and in death to that said demon? Pretty creepy stuff, and fascinating!

Unfortunately the action started to slow down in the latter half of the book and suddenly the details, or lack there of, became more obvious. Due to the consistent lack of character development, I had trouble becoming wholly invested in Dovey’s story apart from her search for Carly. Her conflicted emotions regarding Baker and Isaac felt irrelevant and unsubstantiated. Dovey also has a very dull way of reacting to all the crazy shit that goes down in this book. I mean, the amount of fear and disbelief Dovey displayed paled in comparison to my own. I felt like Dovey needed to take some lessons from the reader, because she obviously wasn’t seeing what I was reading.

Also, not to spoil anything, but the ending was very unexpected. It was a sad attempt at the unresolved literary ending that instead became one of those cliché endings in horror films (you know the ones I’m talking about). Upon closing the book, I kind of just sat there with my lips pursed thinking, “Yup…that happened. Alrighty then.”

While Servants of the Storm has its faults, I will admit that I did initially get caught up in the story. It was an unusual read for me, a southern Gothic, which is what made it enjoyable. I still responded to the book’s content, therefore, the book was never an entire loss for me. While it may not have been a challenging read, it is definitely of the young adult genre and something any demon-loving, science-fiction fan would enjoy.

3 out of 5 book thumbs up

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First Reads copy via Goodreads provided to me by Simon and Schuster Canada.

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson, Simon and Schuster Canada © 2014.

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere August 5, 2014.

Saying hello to being twelve again: A review of Something Wiki by Suzanne Sutherland

something wiki

“…I put all my ideas and feelings out there online, everything I’m thinking and wondering about, and then some other geek in some other corner of cyberspace a million miles away sees what I’ve done and deletes it.”

Something Wiki by Suzanne Sutherland

When we’re young and impressionable preteens, we are always ready to think the world is out to get us (frankly, I don’t think it changes all that much when you’re an adult). We struggle with fitting in, with making friends, and with keeping those friends. Suzanne Sutherland’s second book Something Wiki is all about that childhood drama we all go through at one point or another, maybe more than once (speaking from experience).

Jo Waller is a geeky twelve years old, who has a cool older brother named Z (at least according to her), three friends, a bad complexion, and wears over-sized hand-me-down band t-shirts her brother left behind in his room. She also has a secret: She edits Wikipedia. However, she doesn’t just edit it, she makes it her own online journal of random scrawls on different pages, which also immediately get deleted, or sometimes even responded to, although in a rude manner (Three friends is plenty, Jo. Ignore the cyber troll). Being twelve is rough, and Jo thinks she has the worst luck when everything goes from normal to all wrong in a small span of time. Her friend list shortens to one, her brother comes back home to live with his pregnant girlfriend in the basement, and Jo’s face won’t cooperate with her hormones. Jo can’t seem to see a silver lining in all the drama, or if she can survive it.

I probably could have read this book a lot faster than I did, but I received the ARC from Net Galley, and I don’t have an e-reading device. I also stupidly opened it on Adobe Digital Editions at work without realizing that that was where it would stay until I finished it. Needless to say, due to these lovely limitations, I was reading Something Wiki on my 30-minute lunch breaks (when time allowed).

If I was a decade younger, I would have given this book five out of five book thumbs up. It is a simple and easy read for someone my age, which is why it is a young adult/children’s book . This book is absolutely relevant for that younger demographic. I know I sure could have used a book like this growing up, as Jo goes through many of the same problems I experienced myself with problematic friends, troublesome hormones, and the whole unrequited crush-thing. It is no picnic going through this alone, and if you’re reading about Jo’s life, you might not have to (fictional or not, it’s relevant).

Jo is a very believable character. Sutherland’s characterization is spot on. Writing from a younger person’s perspective is a difficult task, but Sutherland does it with ease, and a bit of personal “dorky” flair. Besides identifying with Jo on basically EVERYTHING she goes through, I found myself chuckling at her quirky behaviour and her honest responses to the topics of sex and pregnancy.

The layout of the book was a great style choice as well. Having Wikipedia entries at the start of every chapter not only highlighted the book’s title, it also gave us an in-depth look at how Jo expresses herself. Humorous and upfront, she says what she feels without sugarcoating it.

If you want to meet your twelve-year-old self again, I definitely recommend giving this quick-and-easy read a chance. Or, if you have someone you know currently occupying that difficult age, perhaps suggest Something Wiki to them, because deep down, we are all insecure and unsure at that age, at all ages really, but we are also unique, incomparable beings — our own brand of dork.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

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e-Galley provided to me by Dundurn via NetGalley

Something Wiki by Suzanne Sutherland, published in Canada by Dundurn © 2015

Available at Dundurn, Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere January 3, 2015.

 

Life after loss: A review of Wake by Anna Hope

Wake“Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep. 2) Ritual for the dead. 3) Consequences or aftermath”

Wake by Anna Hope

London, post World War I, 1920. Three women, each marred by her own disparate loss, try to come to terms with what life after war really means.

Always a fan of historical fiction, I was immediately drawn to this book. On first impression, Wake‘s cover gives one the illusion that this book is a typical war love story. Wrong. Hope’s richly enthralling story is so much more than that, as it explores the complicated layers of human grief, casting a very real and honest light. The three women of the novel are all from different walks of life with different stories. Hettie is a young dance instructress at the Palais. Ready to start living again (she has lost her father to the Spanish flu and her brother to shell shock), Hettie can’t understand why the rest of London won’t move on with her. It is not until she meets a wealthy yet strange young man at an underground dance club that her eyes truly open to the often inconsolable scars left by the chaos and destruction of war and that, perhaps, it isn’t a door so easily closed. Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange coming into contact with thousands of men looking to claim benefits from mentally and physically debilitating wounds. Embittered by the loss of a lover, she has little empathy to offer them and looks to find comfort in the company of her brother. But her brother hasn’t been the same since his return from the front, and he may be just as lost as herself, if not more so. Finally, Ada is beset by visions of her son, convinced he is still alive without solid proof otherwise. As a result, she finds herself becoming further estranged from her husband.

Wake focuses on the emotional turmoil of these women’s lives while at the same time weaving in the journey of the Unknown Soldier, from his excavation in France to his arrival on Armistice Day to be entombed at Westminster Abbey. The brief interludes where the reader witnesses the body’s journey to London are stock full of symbolism, giving the reader a sense of the necessity for this healing act, to console and bring the people together again.

The book develops over a span of only five days, expertly braiding the women’s stories together, uniting them in a gradual revelation that is beautifully fulfilled by the end of the book, linking Evelyn’s brother to Ada’s son. Hope does fairly well in balancing her four interchanging plot lines. Evelyn and Ada are heartbreakingly, and sometimes brutally, real in grappling with their grief. Evelyn is not easy to love, and I often found myself put off by her abrupt manner and lack of sympathy for the plight of others, such as when a man in the office experiences “shell shock,” and she simply waits for the fit to pass without offering any sort of help. But that is also the point. Hope isn’t trying to make these characters one-dimensional or easy to love—they are complicated. Experiencing and dealing with loss is not an easy task and neither does it have one unanimous response, as we are all well aware of.

The one thing I find that Wake falls short on is its characterization of Hettie. Unfortunately, she is less compelling than Evelyn or Ada, possibly because of her disconnect with loss. I often found her falling into the role of a secondary character, especially after she meets Evelyn’s brother, Ed, who manages to “steal” the scene with his tortured mannerisms, plagued by memories of war. I definitely would have liked to see more of Hettie interacting with her own brother, which would have only helped to solidify the book’s predominant themes and allowed Hettie to have more of a voice. Aside from this slight lapse, Hope allows her characters to speak for themselves with engaging dialogue and indicative actions.

A brilliant debut, Wake is in the end well researched, vividly illustrating time and place for the reader. London is depicted as broken yet vibrant as people pick up the pieces and begin to allow themselves one dance or one fleeting smile. Hope offers no easy solutions in her book, but she does end with a hopeful promise of the human ability to “wake” in war’s aftermath and carry on.

I definitely recommend picking this book up. It has the potential to resonate with its readers and stay with them long after the last breath-taking sentence, which leaves you to your own conclusions of what will become of these true-to-life women.

5 out of 5 book thumbs up

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Review copy provided to me by McClelland & Stewart

Wake by Anna Hope, published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart,  © 2014

Available at McClelland & Stewart, Amazon, Indigo, and independent bookstores everywhere February 11, 2014.