The Perfect Do-Over: Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

Reincarnation Blues coverReincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

Published: August 22nd, 2017
Publisher: Random House Audio
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Fantasy
Format: Audiobook
Length: 13 hrs and 3 mins

In Reincarnation Blues, Milo is the ultimate slacker. He’s lived thousands of lives, but he still hasn’t reached perfection. Instead, he just wants to spend his time in the afterlife with his girlfriend, Susie, who also happens to be one of the incarnations of death. They’ve been together for more than eight thousand years, give or take, and Milo’s primary goal in the afterlife is avoiding transcending to the oversoul so that he can spend eternity watching TV on a couch with Susie.

Things get complicated, as they often do, when Mama and Nan, the caretakers of the afterlife, explain to him that he is about to run out of lives. Every soul gets no more than ten thousand reincarnations, and he’s down to his last five. If he can’t reach perfection and join the oversoul, Mama and Nan will push him off a floating sidewalk into nothingness and oblivion.

Milo thought that all he needed to do was be a wise man, which is why he’d spent his most recent life dispensing wisdom from fishing boat, but it turns out that perfection isn’t that simple. Part of the problem is that every life he lives feels more like killing time until he dies and gets to go back to Susie. Even still, Mama and Nan’s warning scares him into action, and he decides that he’ll do anything he can to reach perfection and avoid dissolving into nothingness.

The conceit of this book means that we follow Milo over the course of a dozen or so lives, each stranger than the last. It’s a bit like reading a collection of short stories with a through-line and common main character. The tone of the book is drily funny throughout, which is helpful because several of Milo’s lives are bleak or downright horrifying.

I will say that there is a point about halfway through the book where it almost lost me. Milo reincarnates somewhere far in the future as a young man with a promising future, but he is falsely accused of rape and sent to a nightmarish prison where the other prisoners rape and torture him.

If the trope of a false rape accusation wasn’t bad enough, the sheer unpleasantness of Milo’s life in prison started to drag the book down for me. However, I hung in to see how things played out, and I’m glad I did, because the end of the chapter redeemed itself. That said, several of Milo’s lives do happen in dystopias, so don’t go into this book expecting a happy time.

Reincarnation Blues is hilarious, moving, shocking and occasionally disturbing. The result is a wonderful coming-of-age story if those can happen to someone after they’ve lived close to ten thousand lives. Maybe a coming-to-wisdom story? Highly recommended.

LOVED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley, but I listened to the audiobook from the library.

Amazon | Audible | Book Soup | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

My Month in Reading, April 2019

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jason Kottke’s monthly media diet posts, so I decided to try something similar with my monthly reading for this year. I thought it would be a good writing challenge and help keep me fresh between longer reviews.


Spellbound, Volume 3 by Jean Dufaux – Despite the faux-Disney character designs, this is a pitch-black story about a young woman who murders her mother in self defense only to realize that she enjoys the power that comes with royalty. REALLY LIKED IT

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin – This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I have very strong memories of reading and re-reading it, even if the details of the book slipped my memory after more than two decades. The only thing that stuck with me was the reveal at the end of the book, so re-reading it this time was like uncovering buried memories. The audiobook version also gave it a new dimension that I never experienced as a kid. One thing that surprised me about this book is that the adult characters get as much stage time as the teenage girl who would be the more traditional YA heroine these days. This book doesn’t talk down to kids, if only because there’s so much going on thematically that the story works on multiple levels. It’s also held up very well despite being published in 1978. LOVED IT

Loverboys by Gilbert Hernández – I keep reading these standalone stories that exist tangentially in the Love & Rockets universe because I’m in the mood for a quick read, but I’ve only really liked one or two of them, and one I flat-out hated. This one fell somewhere in the middle. It was elliptical and weird and not much happened. One of these days I’m going to give the series proper another go – I do like the art style, after all. LIKED IT

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde – I think it’s fair to say the Fforde is one of my favorite authors. He’s got such a bizarre sensibility and manages to keep things fresh and weird with every new book. The Thursday Next books are probably my favorites of his work, but this standalone story was just as good as the best of those, and didn’t end with the promise of future installments like Shades of Grey, which is feeling more and more like an unintentional standalone with every passing year. Early Riser takes a basic premise – that humans have always hibernated – and runs with it, building whole new societal structures around this biological necessity. Much like most of his other works, this results in a dystopian society. Early Riser is a very funny book, but it’s also one of his darker dystopias, with hibernation resulting in potential zombification, cannibalism, “farming” for repopulation or being “parted out” for transplants. I really enjoyed the ride, with all of its weird little details and digressions, although the climax did feel like it wrapped things up very quickly. I’m always glad to read new Fforde, and look forward to the next of his books, whatever and whenever that might be. LOVED IT

The Boys, Omnibus Volume 1 by Garth Ennis – Watching the trailer for the upcoming Amazon series made me decide to finally pick up and read this series, which I’ve heard about here and there over the years. I ended up really liking this volume, although I wasn’t entirely sure what to think at points. It feels like a book from the 80s or 90s, but it was first published in the early 2000s and is set around the same time. Parts of the book are pretty gruesome, and it seems like series isn’t going to shy away from depicting the gore and perversion. I’m not sure how well that will work in a live-action setting, but I’ll give it a chance if I can find time to watch it without my girlfriend. Worth checking out for its combination of misanthropy crossed with inverted tropes. REALLY LIKED IT

Vacationland by John Hodgman – I really love Hodgman’s work. He’s got a great comedic sensibility, and he’s the perfect narrator for his own stories. This is his first book without made-up facts, focusing instead on short memoirs of his life on vacation and how things changed for him after his sudden fame. These aren’t particularly eventful stories, and they probably won’t blow your mind with their unique insights, but they’re well-told and entertaining, and I loved every minute of the audio version. I just hope he decides to write a novel some day, if only because I love him best when he takes flights of fancy. LOVED IT

My Month in Reading, March 2019

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jason Kottke’s monthly media diet posts, so I decided to try something similar with my monthly reading for this year. I thought it would be a good writing challenge and help keep me fresh between longer reviews.

I’m going to start by catching up on the months I missed, so this is the third installment of 2019.


An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender – I read this at the same time I listened to The Bell Jar, and they felt cut from similar thematic cloth, even though this wasn’t nearly as harrowing as The Bell Jar and was also surreal and magically realist instead of a lightly fictionalized memoir. It’s mostly just that both books are about young women struggling with depression and having a hard time dealing with adulthood and modern life. This one had a happy ending if only because the author is still alive. REALLY LIKED IT

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders – Man, this was a tough one for me. I LOVED Anders’ debut, All the Birds in the Sky, and bought this, her follow-up, on that reputation alone. Anders is a master of world building, and that is by far the strongest aspect of this book, but I wasn’t as much a fan of the narrative here. When you boil it down, this book is about toxic relationships, but it’s also about people making stupid, frustrating decisions because they can’t get out of their own heads. For whatever reason, reading this felt like a bit of a slog, and I think it’s because I couldn’t stand the object of the main character’s affection, who was a terrible person that she pined after long past when it was reasonable. I’m still all-in on future Anders books, but this one wasn’t my jam. LIKED IT

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski – I read this back in 2011 and loved it, but I never read the rest of the trilogy for whatever reason. I decided it was time to make up for that, so I started by re-reading this book, which I loved just as much the second time around. All three books were quick reads, so it wasn’t hard for me to plow through the series in no time flat. LOVED IT

Damned by Steven Grant – This was another Kindle Unlimited borrow. It’s a crime novel with your standard archetypes – man fallen on hard times, femme fatale, etc., and it was so archetypical that I don’t remember a damn thing about it. I think the art was decent enough, but mostly it was forgettable. DISLIKED IT

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher – Continuing my slow but steady progress on the Dresden Files books, which are always a good time and always marvelously narrated by James Marsters (except for the one temporarily released with another narrator until the fan outcry). This one introduces Molly Carpenter, Dresden’s apprentice, as a major character. I felt like Butcher engaged in a bit of unnecessary leering in Molly’s first character descriptions, but you could argue that they set up a plot development at the end of the book that defines clear boundaries and a line that Dresden will not cross with his new apprentice. That said, I wonder if he’d make the same creative choice today. REALLY LIKED IT

Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski – Finally on to new ground with the Charlie Hardie trilogy. This one wasn’t as slam-bang awesome as the first book, but it had some great characters, cool twists, and a bizarre setting in an underground prison where it isn’t clear who is an inmate and who is a guard. As these books continued, they just got weirder and weirder… REALLY LIKED IT

Point & Shoot by Duane Swierczynski – … which brings me to the last book in the trilogy, which starts with Hardie in space (because how else do you top a mysterious underground prison?) I had mixed feelings about this book. The more this trilogy continued, the more I grew frustrated by Hardie’s passivity and his constant idiotic decisions. I wanted him to take charge and finally do something right for a change, but this book sidelines him for a long time (most of the last third, in fact) and has someone else save the day in his place. This was a disappointing end to the trilogy. Fun & Games is by far the best of the three and I didn’t miss a lot by not reading the rest until now. LIKED IT

Isabellae Volume 3: Daughters of Eriu by Raule – I continue to enjoy this series. This volume had a nicely choreographed fight scene with a golem. REALLY LIKED IT

Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett – A WW2 sci-fi adventure slightly too much in love with its own attention to detail, but still a rollicking good time. REALLY LIKED IT

My Month in Reading, February 2019

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jason Kottke’s monthly media diet posts, so I decided to try something similar with my monthly reading for this year. I thought it would be a good writing challenge and help keep me fresh between longer reviews.

I’m going to start by catching up on the months I missed, so this is the second installment of 2019.


The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird – On one hand, listening to this book was a good way to immerse myself in the craft of writing so that I could brainstorm and problem-solve, but on the other hand, this is mostly just clichés in listicle form. The author has no other credits to his name (as far as I can tell) and uses negative examples of movies he didn’t like to prove his points, which I found tacky. DISLIKED IT

Breakneck #1 by Duane Swierczynski – This is just the first issue of four in this series, but it’s a double-length setup for a doomed crime story. Honestly, it wasn’t memorable, and I probably won’t read the rest. I do like Swierczynski a lot, but none of his comics work has grabbed me as much as his novels. LIKED IT

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – The first thing that surprised me about this book was that it was so funny, at least for a little while. It’s beautifully written, sharply observed, incredibly harrowing, and deeply tragic. It’s such a goddamn shame that Plath didn’t stick around to tell more stories. This one is a masterpiece, and I’m glad I finally read it. I listened to an audiobook narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was a perfect fit. LOVED IT

Mystery Society by Steve Niles – I read this because it was available on Kindle Unlimited. It’s a story about a team of misfit heroes who get vilified as criminals. I liked the art, but I’ve always been a fan of Fiona Staples, and some of the character concepts are weird in a fun way. Unfortunately, this felt like the first volume in an apparently canceled series that never got past the setup. LIKED IT

Black Charity by Bal Speer – This was another Kindle Unlimited borrow. It’s British crime caper that felt like it had a bit of Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore’s stylings although the story was fairly grounded. The art was a decent change of pace but the book wasn’t memorable. LIKED IT

Murena Volume #2: Of Sand and Blood by Jean Dufaux – I read the first volume in January, and the second volume continues in the same vein. I like it well enough that I’ll probably keep reading it (especially since it’s free), but it’s nothing to phone home about. LIKED IT

Spellbound Volume #2 by Jean Dufaux – The continuing adventures of Princess Blanche, betrayed by her own mother and in love with the exiled lord of hell. REALLY LIKED IT

Isabellae Volume 2: A Sea of Corpses by Raule – I read the first volume of this series late in 2018. It’s a samurai adventure about a woman who is half-Irish and half-Japanese, so the story and its mythology pull from her ancestry on both sides. Also, this volume features pirates AND zombies. REALLY LIKED IT

Madness is Better than Defeat by Ned Beauman – Ned Beauman is a fascinating author. I love his books, but I just couldn’t get into Boxer, Beetle for some reason, even though it has a similar feel to both this and The Teleportation Accident. Beauman seems to alternate between madcap ensemble pieces and solo adventures, all populated with weirdos and scumbags. Madness is Better than Defeat is an ensemble piece with a generous helping of metafiction thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. It’s a novel about an investigation into a failed expedition to make a movie about a failed expedition, and the layers of self-reference only increase from there. Considering Beauman’s batting average so far, I’ll probably give Boxer, Beetle another chance some day. LOVED IT

My Month in Reading, January 2019

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jason Kottke’s monthly media diet posts, so I decided to try something similar with my monthly reading for this year. I thought it would be a good writing challenge and help keep me fresh between longer reviews.

I’m going to start by catching up on the months I missed, so this is the first installment of 2019.


LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff – A bit too much muchness, and I wasn’t a fan of the ending. DISLIKED IT

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak – A wonderful nostalgia trip through hobbyist computer programming in the eighties. LOVED IT

Murena Volume #1: Purple and Gold by Jean Dufaux – This is one of many graphic novels that I’ve checked out from Hoopla because they’re free and available. Hoopla seems to have a lot of French or Belgian comics, so I’m reading a lot of those, especially when I can work my way through an entire series. This one is about political machinations in Roman times. It’s a fictionalized retelling of actual events, with real historical figures in the cast. This series is interesting enough that I’ve read a few volumes, but I definitely had trouble keeping track of all the characters, several of whom look almost identical. I could never remember who was the son of the emperor and who was the son of his mistress and why some poor bastard was just murdered. LIKED IT

Spellbound Volume #1 by Jean Dufaux – Also checked out from Hoopla. About a fight for succession in a medieval fantasy world. Some shades of Game of Thrones, perhaps, but the character designs look like they’re from a 90s Disney cartoon, with outsized eyes and exaggerated chins, and the story is full of witchcraft and underworld creatures. The art style was an interesting juxtaposition with all the dark deeds and skullduggery, so it definitely kept my interest. REALLY LIKED IT

Dead Beat by Jim Butcher – I always enjoy the Dresden Files books, and the series only gets better with each installment. These are like comfort food for me, so it’s nice to have another one to read now and then. I’ve definitely been taking my sweet time reading them, but they’re also fairly self-contained, so it’s not like I’m getting only part of a story. This installment introduces some new characters and puts Harry on a collision course with the wardens. He also rides a resurrected dinosaur to fight evil wizards, so it’s got a lot going for it. REALLY LIKED IT

Ménage à 3, Volume 6 by Gisèle Lagacé – I’ve never watched Three’s Company, but I’m assuming it was a fairly horny show for its time. This webcomic is like an even hornier version of my mental image of that show, full of nudity, bisexuality and Canadians. It isn’t particularly funny, but it’s an easy, entertaining read, and I’ve read enough volumes at this point that I’m invested in whatever shenanigans happen next. REALLY LIKED IT

The House With a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs – I read this thanks to the movie adaptation with Jack Black and a convenient daily deal at Audible. It was an interesting change of pace because it doesn’t fit the norms and tropes of modern young adult books. The main character isn’t super-capable or the chosen one – he’s just a normal kid caught up in supernatural weirdness who makes the occasional disastrous mistake. Apparently it’s the first in a series of a dozen or so books, so I might have to pick up the next volume sometime soon. REALLY LIKED IT

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie – This was also an Audible daily deal. I already owned a used paperback copy, but someone thoroughly marked it up, which I hate (and did not notice before buying.) I thought the audiobook version would be a good alternative, especially since it’s a fairly short book. Rushdie pitched the book a little younger than I was expecting, but I didn’t mind that so much. It was a fun adventure that reminded me a bit of Catherine Valente’s Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own (presumably the influence flowed the other way, but still.) REALLY LIKED IT

Man-Eaters, Volume 1 by Chelsea Cain – Saw this in a comic shop and thought the premise sounded intriguing, so I picked up single issues of the first story arc. Mostly it just felt abbreviated. The story stops after three issues and the fourth issue is an only mildly successful satirical magazine for boys with helpful tips on defending yourself from murderous women. Apparently the satirical one-offs are a recurring gag, so this might be a bumpy series to follow. I don’t have much confidence in this as an ongoing series after a first arc that was all setup for a last-minute reveal. This felt like one issue of story padded for length, not a full volume. LIKED IT

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames – I picked this up at Vroman’s, my favorite local bookstore, because I liked the cover and the story sounded like fun. The basic premise is that mercenary bands are like rock stars and the main character has to “get the band back together” to save his friend’s daughter from a siege. The book is funny but not silly; one pull-quote on the cover compared it to Terry Pratchett’s work, which is a gross exaggeration, but did convince me to pick it up, so I suppose I can forgive the inaccuracy. Ultimately this is just a fun adventure. It takes the edge off of grimdark without feeling free of consequences. LOVED IT

A Detailed Mirage: Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett and Ken Mitchroney

Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett and Ken Mitchroney

Published: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Genre(s): Adventure, War, Science Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Length: 12 hrs and 9 mins

I think what drew me to Fata Morgana was the promise of an old-fashioned adventure with a bit of romance: a WW2 bomber plane flies through a portal to another world and the crew has to learn how to deal with extreme culture shock while their captain falls in love with a mysterious woman. However, I wasn’t expecting that it would also include an obsessive attention to detail about the intricacies of flying and crewing a bomber.

Fata Morgana does deliver on that initial promise of adventure, but I have to admit that it required a bit of patience on my part to get invested in the story. I don’t generally enjoy it when an author has clearly gone out of their way to get every little detail right and wants to make for damn sure that you know about it. If you want to read an exhaustive catalog of the US Army Air Force bomber crew experience during WW2, you’ll probably love this book, but if you aren’t into that level of minutiae, you might have to give it some room to grow on you.

It doesn’t help that the characters are all fairly one-dimensional archetypes and they never rise above their first impressions. They wisecrack, they make earnest speeches, they sacrifice for the good of the crew, they’re generally stand-up guys. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, per se, because the story well-executed and there isn’t a false note throughout, but I can barely remember any of their names.

There is one interesting sequence late in the book where reality comes unstuck and things get a little surreal, but it goes on for long enough that it started feeling repetitive. The best parts of the book are when the crew has to do their job and fight back against their enemies, be they Nazis or otherwise. These sequences are thrilling and evocative, and are part of what brought the book home for me. There are a few action sequences full of heart-pounding moments and thrills, especially late in the book.

I did like Fata Morgana, but it feels like this review landed a bit more on the negative side than I intended. I think this a book for a certain type of reader laser-focused on verisimilitude, even in their science fiction. I don’t generally fall into that category, but I can still appreciate a story well-told.

REALLY LIKED IT

Amazon | Audible | Vroman’s | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

My Year in Reading: 2018

My totals for 2018 were as follows:

87 total books

52 by male authors
35 by female authors

27 audiobooks
41 graphic novels

16 physical
71 digital

I feel like the best year-end wrap-up posts arrive a few months into the next year to make sure that they are totally relevant. That’s why I’m dropping this post about 2018 halfway through March of 2019 – to strike while the iron is warm but not so hot that it might burn me because who wants that?

Read moreMy Year in Reading: 2018

10 PRINT “Heart of Code: The Impossible Fortress”

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Published: February 7th, 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fiction, Coming-of-age
Format: Audiobook
Length: 7 hrs and 23 mins

The Impossible Fortress hits the exact right notes of eighties nostalgia without turning into a catalog of bygone pop culture. It definitely opened a flood of memories for me. I wasn’t a teenager in 1987, but I did spend my childhood teaching myself BASIC on my Apple IIGS and keying in machine language programs printed in the backs of my dad’s computer magazines.

Billy, Alf and Clark just want to see Vanna White in the May 1987 issue of Playboy, and they’ll try just about any harebrained scheme to get it. When they go into a local typewriter repair store and try to convince the owner that they look like serious businessmen who are definitely old enough to buy it, Billy meets Mary, an overweight social outcast who not only shares his love of computer programming but also his interest in making games, not to mention the fact that she has talent to spare.

Mary tells Billy about a contest judged by their personal game design hero, and it isn’t long before they’re heads-down, working feverishly to finish the titular game – an unfinished, unpolished concept created by Billy in his free time – all while Alf and Clark think he’s working a scam to get the Playboy.

The characters are so sharply drawn that they leap off the page. Rekaluk makes them both relatable and unique with only a few key details as well as a strong sense of the time and place. I fell in love with these characters, rooting for them to figure things out and make something out of themselves.

That’s why I was especially invested when the book took a turn for the dramatic and the stakes became much higher. Suddenly The Impossible Fortress wasn’t just a teenage sex comedy filled to the brim with programming nostalgia; it was also a story about how one wrong choice can ruin your life and how easy it is to watch your dreams slip through your hands. When things started going south for Billy, my stomach dropped, and I didn’t want to stop reading.

In fact, I listened to most of this book in one long sitting while I cleaned and packed for my holiday travel. I rarely get the chance to listen for such a long, uninterrupted period, so it’s especially nice to find a book compelling enough to warrant the attention. I highly recommend The Impossible Fortress, and can’t wait to read Jason Rekaluk’s follow-up, whatever it might be.

LOVED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley, but I listened to the audiobook version instead.

Amazon | Audible | Book Soup | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

The Girl Who Wasn’t: LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

Published: May 29th 2018
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre(s): Young Adult, Science Fiction
Format: eBook
Length: 402 pages

LIFEL1K3 is the rare book that I mostly enjoyed until the end soured me on the whole thing. It’s a mash-up of a lot of genres and tropes, which gives it a certain amount of madcap charm, but it squanders that good will with some draggy pacing, an overload of teenage angst, and a final twist that feels like a gotcha moment designed only for shock value. It’s also overstuffed with plot and world-building, so it’s almost impossible to summarize succinctly.

When you live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, you have to make ends meet in whatever way possible. Eve builds and pilots homegrown battle-bots from spare parts and pits them against challengers in gladiator battles with the help of her trusty little robot, Cricket, and her best friend, Lemon Fresh. She has a cybernetic eye and a “memdrive” installed in her brain to help her remember her past life, cut short when she was shot and left for dead.

When the book opens, she’s about to fight a malfunctioning corporate bot to get medicine for her ailing grandfather, Silas. The battle goes south, but she’s saved at the last minute when she unleashes some kind of telekinetic power that fries the malfunctioning bot.

Only problem is, gladiator battles are broadcast throughout the local area, and her performance brings her to the attention of some unsavory types, including a religious sect who kill “deviates” on sight and a corporate bounty hunter who wants to capture her for nefarious purposes.

Lucky for her, she’s saved by a beautiful “lifelike” robot named Ezekiel, designed to resemble a handsome young man with super-strength, who she salvaged when his ship crashed nearby. When they try to make their getaway, another lifelike named Faith captures her grandfather, so Eve and her friends have to save him while also running from the bounty hunter hot on their tails. Complicating things is the fact that Ezekiel and Faith both seem to recognize her and call her by another name, Ana.

Now, it’s kind of hard to explain my criticisms of the book without spoilers, so I’m going to warn you now that the rest of this review will be full of them. When Faith damages Eve’s memdrive in a fight, Eve starts having flashes of another life different from the hardscrabble one she thinks she knows. It turns out that Eve isn’t who she thinks she is, which becomes a running theme.

Eve begins remembering her life as Ana, who lived in a corporate tower with her father, the inventor of the lifelikes. She knows the lifelikes and has a shared, tragic history with them! Also, her grandfather isn’t her grandfather. Instead, he’s an engineer who gave her fake memories so that she could have a fresh start.

Ezekiel was the boy of her dreams, Faith was her best friend, and the lifelikes (except possibly Ezekiel) betrayed her family and killed them in a revolution. The angst and the drama build as Eve tries to reconcile her identities and histories, deal with her buried feelings for Ezekiel, and fumes about people lying to her.

You might think that everything I’ve summarized up above is more than enough for one book, and you’d be right. However, Kristoff still has a few twists left up his sleeve. The first few twists just stir up more drama and angst, but the final twist is what soured me on the book.

It turns out that Eve isn’t even the real Ana – she’s secretly a lifelike designed to think she was Ana. After she was shot, Silas installed the memdrive to give her a fresh start as someone new. This revelation puts her over the edge, and she pushes her friends away and slides into apparent villainy in the final sentence of the book.

By that point, I’d already lost a little bit of patience with the number of plot twists and the angsty in-fighting characters, but I wouldn’t have minded the final twist so much if Eve’s decision was less black-and-white. If she’d gone out into the world to find herself with mysterious motivations, I’d at least want to find out more about who she decides to become. Instead, she seeks out another lifelike with clearly villainous motivations and tells him that they have a lot of work to do.

It felt like Kristoff was trying to force Eve’s decision to BE EVIL, and it made me not care about her journey. LIFEL1K3 was a bit of an exhausting read thanks to its everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink storytelling, but that final twist just felt like it sold out the main character for a cheap shock.

DISLIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

Amazon | Audible | Book Soup | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

Devil Music: We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Published: September 18th 2018
Publisher: Quirk Books
Genre(s): Horror, Rock and Roll
Format: E-Book
Length: 336 pages

We Sold Our Souls is sort of like a heavy metal concept album in novel form, but that doesn’t mean it’s the kind of slapdash narrative you would normally find on a long-player. Instead, it’s a propulsive read that rides on the momentum of a lost album full of revolutionary rock songs.

The author of that lost album, Kris Pulaski, is a washed-up former rock guitarist riding the desk at a Best Western. She’s stuck in that customer-service wasteland because Terry Hunt, the lead singer of her old band, Dürt Würk, sold her out, stole her music, and sued her into oblivion. It doesn’t help that the rest of the band hates her because of something terrible she did on “contract night” – the night the band fell apart in spectacular fashion.

When Kris sees a billboard for Koffin, Terry’s sell-out cash-grab nu metal band formed in the ashes of Dürt Würk, she’s at absolute rock bottom. She’s broke, friendless and soon-to-be homeless after her brother kicks her out of her dead mother’s house.

The billboard is the catalyst that sets off a bottomless store of anger she’d kept tamped deep down inside. She decides that it’s time to confront the former members of Dürt Würk and ask them why the events of contract night don’t line up in her memory.

This is a horror novel called We Sold Our Souls, though, so I’m sure it isn’t surprising to learn that something bizarre is going on behind the scenes and Kris gets caught up in its wake as soon as she gets back in touch with her old band.

I was so caught up in this book that I read the last 2/3rds in one marathon sitting, which I think is a pretty resounding endorsement. There are also two harrowing set-pieces that kept me on the edge of my seat and wincing.

I’ve read a few of Grady Hendrix’s novels now, and although this one isn’t as good as My Best Friend’s Exorcism, it delivers some solid scares while also painting a compelling picture of how music can save your life.

REALLY LIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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