Oh boy, this was exactly the kind of book I needed in my life.
Not that my current to-read list is lacking by any means, being well stocked with all kinds of offerings from mind-blowing cerebral science fiction to sweeping epic fantasies. But sometimes you just gotta kick back with some giant rampaging shark action, you know?
Hence, the Meg, short for Megalodon or Carcharodon megalodon, a species of prehistoric shark that lived more than 2.6 million years ago and makes its extant cousin the Great White look like a precious little baby.
Thank all that is good and holy that these guys are extinct.
Steve Alten’s MEG series, the first book of which is soon to be adapted into a movie, follows the exciting and oftentimes terrifying underwater adventures of former US Navy deep sea diver Jonas Taylor and his family. Meg: Nightstalkers is the fifth novel of the sequence, though like all the other books it can be read perfectly fine on its own as a standalone. Being new to the series, I was grateful for the plentiful background information provided by the author which gently eased me back into this next chapter of the story. The first part technically began in the previous installment Meg: Hell’s Aquarium, and considering that it was published a little more than seven years ago, I am likely not the only reader who would appreciate all the recap details. Regardless, whether you’re a newcomer or just continuing the series, you shouldn’t have any problems at all.
The book starts off following a nightmare situation already underway, with Lizzy and Bela, the two massive Megalodon sisters, having been set loose from the marine facility owned by the Taylor and Tanaka families. They’ve been storming up the coast ever since, ultimately winding up in the Salish Sea off British Columbia. But while Jonas has his hands full trying to figure out how to recapture or kill the Megs, his son David is also dealing with some prehistoric sea monster problems of his own. After witnessing his girlfriend die in a gruesome attack, David has agreed to join the hunt for the creature responsible—a 120-foot, hundred-ton Liopleurodon which had escaped from its refuge in the Panthalassa Sea.
Because giant sharks obviously aren’t enough.
I’m not even going to try and pretend these books are anything more than they appear to be, nor will I deny the fact I read this simply out of pure guilty pleasure. The writing isn’t going to be raking in any awards. The plot is laughably absurd. The violence and gore is flagrantly gratuitous, the science lacks any kind of logic or credibility, and most of the characters are stupid arrogant blowhards with more balls than brains (plenty of shark fodder, yay!)
But man, did I have a helluva fun time with this one.
I’ll be the first to admit a weakness for the kinds of creature features made popular during the 70s and 80s, or those cheesy made-for-TV horror films featuring animals running amok or going on killing sprees. Meg: Nightstalkers felt a lot like the book version of that, and to be honest, I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to read about gigantic prehistoric sea monsters swimming around wreaking havoc on quaint seaside properties, sinking a bunch of boats, and devouring a crap ton of people.
Every once in a while I’ll find myself in a mood for an unassuming and shamelessly pulpy novel like this one, just to let loose and have fun. And I have to say, I was extremely satisfied to get my five hours of guts-splattering, blood-spewing terror and entertainment out of this book. From its fascinating intro to that explosive ending worthy of Jurassic World, I enjoyed every moment. Will it be for everyone? Probably not. But as the old saying goes, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. With books like these, what you see is what you get, which can be unbelievably refreshing and cathartic. I feel that my reading routine is made much richer by mixing in light and fun offerings on occasion, the sort of stuff that doesn’t take itself too seriously. When I get the chance to sneak them in between my longer heavier reads, they can be a real treat. After my experience with Nightstalkers, I would definitely read more MEG books. In fact, I’ve already placed a hold on the first one at my library.
So, when you’re heading out to the beach this summer, to hell with the other beach-goers who’ll probably give you and this book funny looks! Consider packing along a copy in your day bag. You’ll have a great time…even if you’ll want to stay out of the water....more
What a fun little time travel book! As someone who frequently goes trawling through Audible’s site looking for sci-fi and fantasy releases, I often see the audiobooks in this series pop up in my recommendations and I’ve always been curious about them. Now the first book is finally being released in the US in print (seven volumes are already available in the UK, where the series has become quite a sensation) and when the publisher Night Shade Books offered me a review copy, I absolutely couldn’t resist.
Just One Damned Thing After Another is a novel that wastes no time getting to the good stuff. The story stars our plucky narrator Madeleine “Max” Maxwell, a historian who gets recruited by a group of time travelers working undercover behind the façade of St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. After the most hilariously bizarre interview process, Max join up with them and the adventures—and the disasters—immediately begin. There’s a rigorous training program required for all newbies where they learn all the dos and don’ts of time travel, and they also have to pass a series of tests, including a physical component because you never know what can happen during a trip back in time. After a while, it’s clear that Murphy’s Law generally applies to all missions at St. Mary’s.
The plot is very entertaining and filled with boisterous, comedic hijinks (and perfect if you like British humor). I for one love the fact that the historians prefer to call it “investigating major historical events in contemporary time” instead of using the term “time travel” because the latter is just “so sci-fi”. Due to the methods used to prepare new recruits, the beginning of the book also has a distinct “training school” vibe, though I have to say this is one of only a handful of stories I’ve encountered where a section like this feels just as good as or even better than the actual time traveling. When it comes to the evaluations at St. Mary’s, cheating is not only excused but sometimes even encouraged, a system that favors the historians who can “think outside the box”, allowing genuinely interesting characters like Max to shine.
Like many time travel books though, this one had its ups and downs. My main criticism is that, for a novel featuring time traveling academics who label themselves historians (and who also work at an institute for historical research), there was in fact disappointingly little history involved. I don’t consider myself to be a huge history buff or anything, but for me one of the biggest perks of reading time travel stories is being able to absorb interesting historical details and facts behind past events, people, and places. I thought this would be a book like that, but it turned out not to be the case. While the publisher blurb says “From eleventh-century London to World War I, from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria”, the truth is, the most exciting time period Max gets to visit will probably appeal more to dinosaur enthusiasts or paleontologists rather than history fans.
Still, if character-driven stories are your cup of tea, then you’ll find plenty to like. Max is hilarious, and I love her spirited and crafty nature. Working with a bunch of time traveling historians is pretty much as fun and crazy as you’d expect, and even the missions that end in complete disasters seem to have a humorous side. There’s also a strong romantic component, and I loved the irresistible attraction that sizzled between Max and Chief Farrell.
That said, not everything is light and fluffy either; every now and then a grim pall will settle over some of the plot’s events. There’s violence, there’s death, and there’s lots and lots of dismemberment. It can be jarring sometimes, especially when there’s a tendency for all this gruesomeness to come on suddenly. Same goes for the sex, and the random emotional displays that seem to drop in and explode out of nowhere. I certainly don’t mind the darkness and brutal themes, but as with all good things, timing is everything. Maybe this book just needed some extra editing, or maybe it was just a consequence of the author’s personal unique style. Whatever it was, I found it somewhat distracting.
So, here’s the deal. If you’re into history, and was hoping to get lots of it out of this book, then be prepare to dial back on your expectations. This book is also not heavy on the “science fiction” side of time travel. Doing it is as simple and straightforward as getting into a pod, setting the dial, and hitting the jump button. To be fair, the science and tech of it is not the point of this series, so Taylor probably did the right thing in glossing over the process. There are some general attempts to explain how the timeline is preserved and why the historians can’t mess with certain things, but my point is, if you want detailed explanations, quantum theory and the whole nine yards in your time travel fiction, then this book isn’t going to be for you.
This book IS for you though, if you enjoy 1) fun, adventurous stories about time travel, 2) books that make you laugh, especially when there’s just a touch of darkness in its sense of humor, 3) strong, memorable characters with quirky personalities, and 4) simply relaxing and having a good time with a light, entertaining book. I can see now why this series is such a hit, and knowing more about what to expect in future books, I’m definitely interested in continuing with Max’s fantastic exploits through time!...more
Quantum Break: Zero State is the tie-in novel to the action video game developed by Remedy Entertainment, the same folks who also brought us cinematic masterpieces such as Max Payne and Alan Wake. While it’s clearly marketed to fans of the game—and yes, I too did my stint in Quantum Break and consider myself one—I urge you not to write off this book just because you haven’t played it, or because you don’t think a “video game book” would be for you. Often these kinds of books get a bad rap (and goodness knows they deserve it sometimes) but I promise you this one is different.
From the very first page, I was floored by the stellar quality of this novel. I don’t want to sound like a book snob, especially since I consider myself a diehard tie-in junkie, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact this is a book based on a video game. I mean, it’s almost too good to be one? Needless to say, Quantum Break: Zero State surprised the hell out of me. Tie-in novel or not, it can easily stand on its own against any of the more mainstream or popular sci-fi thrillers out there.
The story stars Jack Joyce, a maverick who follows where his feet take him—as long as it’s away from his hometown of Riverport, Massachusetts where six years ago he cut ties with his older brother, the brilliant scientist William Joyce. Will is a genius, but his mind is also very disturbed. Growing up with him as a legal guardian was difficult, after their parents died in an accident when Jack was just a child. Will was withdrawn and consumed by his research, so his younger brother actually ended up being the one to support them both. It got even worse once Jack discovered that Will had secretly taken all the money their parents left them to use on his work after his own funding and research grants ran out, not to mention the massive debts with the local gangs and loan sharks. After years of cleaning up his brother’s messes, Jack finally said enough is enough. He packed up and left Riverport, washing his hands clean of Will and his crazy theories and problems.
But now, an email from Jack’s childhood friend Paul Serene has brought him back. As it turns out, Will’s theories weren’t so crazy after all. As a pioneer and top scientist in the field of chronon technology, Will has been consulting on a top secret project spearheaded by mega-corporation Monarch Solutions at Riverport University. Paul is one of the research leads on the project, and for some reason he wants Jack to come meet him at the Physics building so he can show him something that will change the face of the planet. Curiosity piqued, Jack agrees to go see his friend and thoroughly gets his mind blown when he realizes what is in the lab where Paul brings him. It appears that with Will’s help, Monarch had created a time machine…
You can definitely read this without knowing a single thing about the game, but some background information will probably give more context. In Quantum Break you play Jack, who gains time manipulation powers and uses them to fight the diabolical authorities behind Monarch. The flow of time breaks down and all hell breaks loose, creating all kinds of insane effects with the environment, including time stutters, time stops, time slowing down or speeding up, etc. As well, one of the game’s “hooks” include a live-action component. After each act in the game, an episode of a TV show will play out onscreen letting you see how your gameplay decisions have affected events and other characters in the story. As noted in the book’s foreword, there really is no “canon” version of Quantum Break, since you are going to be making a lot of in-game choices and in doing so create your own version of events. The game is about time travel and branching timelines, so your own playthrough will likely be completely different from another player’s.
This is why the idea behind this book is so brilliant. When I first read its description, I was initially worried that it would be a straight-up novelization—and who would want that, when you have the choice to actually immerse yourself in the cinematic experience that is the game itself? But here’s the cool part: Quantum Break: Zero State isn’t a true novelization because it is actually a combination of what’s in the game along with a lot more stuff that never made it in—think early story concepts, discarded ideas, or other elements that either weren’t used or abandoned because the developers couldn’t make them work for what they had in mind for the final product. It’s like an alternate timeline novel. As a result, you can read this book on its own without having even heard of Quantum Break! And if you have played it, you can also read this without feeling like it’s just a rehash of everything you did in game.
Like I said, the writing is superb and Cam Rogers’ prose is smart, punchy, and electrifying. As Remedy’s game writer and narrative designer, Rogers knows exactly how to capture the suspenseful atmosphere of Quantum Break, following through on the promise of action and thrilling fight scenes. The big theme here is also the time traveling aspect of course, and it is extremely cool, as are the powers that Jack possesses in game which are outstandingly described and utilized here in text. The story was indeed very different from my gameplay experience, but I found the version in this novel to be no less intense and exciting. I even liked that it gave me the chance to know some of the other characters better, most notably Beth Wilder.
Just for a second, forget that this book is based on a game, even if you are a fan of Quantum Break. If you enjoy sci-fi thrillers in general, and the idea of time traveling and superpowers sounds like a good time to you, then you must pick up this book. And if you happened to enjoy the video game too, then that goes double. This was all kinds of awesome, easily one of the best game tie-ins I’ve ever read, and heck, just a great time travel thriller all-around....more
I’ll admit, as cool as its cover looked, Peter Tieryas’ United States of Japan did not initially grab my interest. Mind you, it’s not that I’m averse to the prospect of a 150-foot-tall Mecha wreaking havoc in my science fiction, but at the time I just wasn’t sure if I was in the mood for that sort of bombast and action. Thing is though, it turned out I was completely wrong, both on the nature of this book and on my early skepticism that the story might not be for me – because, as you’ll see, it absolutely was. There’s a depth to USJ that I did not expect, and it was this mix of profundity and thrilling suspense that made the book such a great read and audio listen.
Described as a spiritual successor to The Man in the High Castle, even if you have not read the Philip K. Dick classic, one can immediately surmise a certain set of expectations from United States of Japan. Yes, it is an alternate history novel, and it takes place approximately four decades after World War II in a world where Japan won the conflict and conquered America. History has been rewritten to praise Japan’s exemplary conduct in the war and most Americans now also worship the Emperor as a god. Anyone who disagrees or does otherwise is looked upon with suspicion, or disappeared altogether. Resistance has been reduced to a small group of rebels called the “George Washingtons”, freedom fighters who are continuing to find new ways to subvert the Japanese rule. Their latest tactic is a video game called “USA” that depicts what the world might be like if the Allied forces had won the war instead.
Eventually, the illegal game reaches to the attention of Captain Beniko Ishimura, the son of two refugees who were freed from the Japanese American internment camps at the end of the war. Ben’s role to censor video games ultimately leads him on a journey to investigate USA’s origins, putting him on a path of secrets, dangers and lies. Together with Agent Akiko Tsukino of the secret police, Ben goes looking for the rebels and discovers a whole lot more than he bargained for.
What I found most interesting about this book is its protagonist, a 39-year-old underachiever who has hit a dead end in his military career. He’s also indolent, cowardly, the worst kind of womanizer, and not even those closest to him will trust Ben as far as they can throw him. After all, this is a man who turned in his own parents for being traitors to the Japanese Empire. What kind of heartless monster does that?
But of course, there’s always more to the story. As events unfold, and we get to know Ben better, it becomes clear he is not the cold-blooded and deceitful snake his actions paint him out to be. In fact, he feels downright human, living an unambitious life and preferring to stay under the radar. In this world where the secret police can come knocking at your door anytime, when even the slightest or non-existent hint of dissension is suspected, Ben’s approach might in truth be the safest, smartest way to live. And after a while, our protagonist doesn’t actually seem like such a bad guy. Sure, Ben might be apathetic and faint-hearted, but he doesn’t seem capable of directly harming anyone. In time though, his character will develop further and make great strides, especially after he starts teaming up with Akiko. I was impressed at how both of them felt genuinely fleshed-out with complex, believable personalities. What’s on the surface is not always indicative of what’s on the inside.
At its heart, United States of Japan is also a political mystery-thriller. I enjoyed how the world was gradually revealed to us in all its horror and unpleasantness. It’s a dark tale, but fast-paced because of the perfect balance of action and suspense. The story holds an incredibly ambitious blend of concepts and themes, but never once did I feel that it was too much, or that any one element overshadowed another. I liked how the towering robots came into play and how video games had a significant role. Simply put, the plot came together like a well-oiled machine. Once you’re drawn into the intrigue, it’s hard to pull yourself out again.
My experience with the audiobook was interesting as well. This is the first time I’ve listened to a book read by Adam Sims, and I admit my first impression was not very favorable. However, either I got used to the narration or the performance eventually improved, because by the end, Sims’ reading didn’t feel as flat and there were more variations in the rhythm and inflection of his voices. It’s not the best performance I’ve ever heard in an audiobook, but it was more than satisfactory and I also thought Sims also did a good job with his accents and acting.
All told, United States of Japan is a fascinating venture into alternate history, and it is not to be underestimated. Highly recommended....more
A couple years ago I picked up NOS4R2. It was the first novel I’ve ever read by Joe Hill, and I enjoyed it so much afterwards that I told myself it ceA couple years ago I picked up NOS4R2. It was the first novel I’ve ever read by Joe Hill, and I enjoyed it so much afterwards that I told myself it certainly wasn’t going to be the last. And see, I’m one to hold to promises. When I found out about The Fireman, it went straight onto my reading list.
I’ll admit though, I didn’t know what to expect at first. I went into the book completely blind on purpose, having read no reviews and not even the full description. I wanted to be completely surprised, the way I was with NOS4R2, which ended up being a supernatural horror that cleverly blurred the lines between our world of reality and imagination. I think part of me believed The Fireman would be similar, but in fact, the book turned out to be less of a horror novel and more like a science fiction dystopian suspense-thriller, the kind that usually goes hand-in-hand with an impending apocalypse.
This time, it’s a pandemic caused by a deadly infection called Draco Incendia Trychophyton, though most folks know it by its more common name, Dragonscale—so called because of the swirls of black and gold that appear on the skin of its victims. But the most interesting thing about this plague is the way it behaves, first infecting its host with its spores, incubating in the body for some amount of time before causing them to burst into flames. What follows is spontaneous combustion by the millions, with cities rapidly being consumed by blazing infernos. There is no cure, and all measures to contain Dragonscale have failed. People are afraid, both the healthy and the sick. In a very short time, the world has become a ruin.
In the midst of all this is our protagonist Harper Grayson, a former school nurse who volunteers to help treat patients with Dragonscale after the hospitals become overcrowded and short-staffed. Despite adhering to the most stringent of anti-infection procedures however, Harper wakes up one day to the telltale black and gold streaks on her skin. And what’s even more troubling, this occurs just a few short weeks after she discovered she was pregnant. Believing himself to be infected as well, Harper’s husband Jakob snaps and blames her for everything, going as far as to attempt to kill her, thus forcing her to go on the run. Out in the world though, it is a dangerous place, with vigilantes gunning down those with Dragonscale in broad daylight with no fear of reprisal. Harper ends up being rescued by a mysterious stranger known as The Fireman, who brings her to a secret community of Dragonscale sufferers who appear to have learned how to keep their fiery deaths at bay. Harper finds safety with this group for a while, but of course the peace does not last.
While I don’t typically like making comparisons between books in my reviews, I feel like I have to make an exception here. And anyway, it’s not like doing so automatically means any negative connotations. In fact, for this particular case, I can’t think of a better way to pay this book a compliment. For you see, The Fireman totally reminded me of The Stand by Stephen King. You’ve got a pregnant young woman. A deaf character named Nick. A kindly old leader called Father Tom in the former, and a Mother Abigail in the latter. And oh yeah, mustn’t forget there’s also that whole end of the world thing, with the human race being ravaged by a killer plague. Later, I learned from a Wired article that these similarities and more were something Joe Hill realized himself, partway into writing his novel. Instead of running away from the parallels though, he decided to embrace them, writing what he calls his own fiery, gasoline-soaked version of his dad’s classic. When I read that, I actually thought it was kind of…well, sweet.
Granted, I’m sure there were other influences, as there are quite a few dystopian tropes on display here. A commune led by a tyrannical ideologue who just wants to see people yield and conform. Brainwashed followers to help them do it. Dissenters told to sit down and shut up, fall in line or else. The injustice of watching bad guys get the upper hand on good people. The mass hysteria and violence that occurs when you dehumanization what you fear. The ultimate quest by the characters for their promised land, a safe haven. All these themes are here, and so are the emotions they instill. Ergo I can’t help but think The Fireman feels like a story I’ve seen before, or that these characters (or their archetypes) are those I’ve met before in the past.
But you know what? That’s okay. There are plenty of dystopians out there, tales that serve to rip away civilization’s thin veneer, but this is Joe Hill and he does it better than most. I really liked the idea of Dragonscale, a very unique and very frightening plague in how it spreads, infects, and kills. We’d all like to think we would do the right thing in the face of such horror, but the author mercilessly bares the truth on such naivete. Would you help a stranger in need, if it meant risking the life of your own child? Could you live with yourself for turning away someone sick and dying, even if you knew that single act of kindness towards one individual might mean the death of thousands down the road? The Fireman makes you confront these tough questions, and yes, they should make you feel uncomfortable. I pray the world never finds itself in such dire straits, because I think Joe Hill has it right: things would get very ugly.
Honestly, my only real criticism is that I think this book could have benefited from some tighter writing, maybe shave a bunch of pages off of this hulking 700+ page monster. While it never bored me, there were still plenty of sections in the middle that consisted of nothing but talk, adding little to the story or to the characters. Any extra words would have been better served developing the main protagonist. Harper is a strong and kind-hearted person, but I also felt she had the least depth of the entire cast. All the major actions I can think of were undertaken by other characters, and her overall personality remained relatively static and bland, much of it summed up with Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, or Narnia allusions (which grated on my nerves after a while).
I also didn’t think there was anything too innovative or original about the plot, and the writing was so unsubtle I could spot all the big “twists” coming a mile away. I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy this book though, because all in all it was great. However, if you’re no stranger to dystopian novels, it might just give you a sense of déjà vu. The story felt almost restrained, with none of the weird developments and mind-bending surprises I found in NOS4R2. Compared to that one, The Fireman was practically a calm, quiet stroll through the park.
When it comes to the two Joe Hill novels I’ve read so far though, each of them has its strengths in very different areas. While The Fireman is more grounded in well-established themes and ideas, I also enjoyed it for what it was, and I certainly appreciated it for its entertainment value. Not once did my enthusiasm flag even as we treaded familiar ground, thanks to the fascinating nature of the premise and the high levels of suspense kept the pages turning. I had a good time with this one, and would highly recommend....more
3-3.5 of 5 stars. Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon is a tale about Bazine Netal, a character who made an appearance in a quick scene in Maz's Castle from3-3.5 of 5 stars. Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon is a tale about Bazine Netal, a character who made an appearance in a quick scene in Maz's Castle from The Force Awakens. She was the creepy black-lipsticked female informant who we first saw sharing a couch with that huge Dowutin alien. This short story provides a bit of background for her, with a focus around one of her past missions. On the whole a fun and fast read, but in the end, probably one that you can take or leave. It's not vital to the overall scheme of things in any way, and if you replace the names and places it could probably even work just fine as a non-Star Wars-y story. Unless you like to speculate...in which case you can have a bit of fun with the last few lines of the book. ...more
I’ll admit, I was somewhat torn on this one. On the one hand, there were parts in this book that gave me a real struggle, but on the other, there’s no doubt Ninefox Gambit is one of the most fascinating sci-fi novels I’ve ever read.
Step into the incredible universe of Yoon Ha Lee’s Hexarchate, a civilization whose way of life is entirely dictated by an intricate calendar system. Mathematics is king, the governing force behind everything in this reality including physics and warfare. However, there’s also another side to this— and here’s where the lines between science fiction and fantasy start to blur—because in order for the calendar to function, the Hexarchate also requires belief. Throw enough calendrical heretics into the mix who observe a slightly different calendar, for example, and reality can suddenly go all awry. Say, the people might start acting erratically. Or your weapons might not work. As a result, the Hexarchate enforces its calendar with the utmost ruthlessness, bent on preventing such unpredictability from wreaking all kinds of havoc.
Thus explains how a Kel soldier named Cheris receives her next assignment. Expecting to be dismissed after a misconduct on the battlefield, Cheris is instead given the mission to recapture the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star base recently taken over by a population of heretics. To aid her in breaking the siege, Kel Command has extracted the digital ghost of a brilliant general and tactician named Shuos Jedao, grafting his consciousness to hers so that the two can work as one to deal with the situation. The only problem is, in life Jedao was a madman, recognized for his victories but also notorious for having killed more than a million people including his own soldiers. While the general has never lost a battle, can Cheris really trust this manipulative genius not to make her his next victim?
First, just let me first state unequivocally that this book contains some of the freshest, most inventive ideas I’ve ever encountered in sci-fi. Story concepts rooted in mathematics are often tricky, and they’ve never really been my strong point. But when your math is virtually indistinguishable from magic? Then yeah, I can definitely get behind that. Ninefox Gambit is no doubt breaking new ground in combining elements from multiple genres, and it is extremely clever.
However, I also mentioned feeling conflicted about the novel, and this is in large part due to its inconsistent pacing. In the beginning, the reader is dropped into this strange universe and left to flounder, and it’s easy to become confused and overwhelmed if you’re not paying close attention. It makes this one a rather challenging read, especially since the story goes nowhere fast. After all, we are talking about a siege here, and the fact that it happens in space doesn’t change the basis of this long and drawn out process. Still, bursts of action occur do here and there, probably just enough to keep me going, so that in the end I found myself in the awkward position of alternating between not wanting to put the book down and wanting it to be over already.
Still, irked as I was with this book at times, I have to say both Cheris and Jedao were brilliant. In my opinion, their relationship is where this novel shines, and not least because of their unique psychic connection; both characters come from interesting backgrounds, and their combined strengths and talents make them a force to be reckoned with. However, by that same token, their individual foibles also result in multiple clashes. As a Kel soldier, Cheris has been trained from the start to follow her “formation instinct”, an urge that encourages obedience, loyalty, and conformity. Giving up that compulsion in favor to another authority like Jedao is a challenge to everything she feels is natural and right, and it’s a struggle that gradually threatens her sanity.
Then there’s Jedao, whose mind I find both alluring and downright frightening. It’s no surprise that the story got interesting as soon as he entered the picture. He may spout things about war that make a lot of sense in a twisted and horrible kind of way, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s a merciless, stone cold-hearted bastard. And yet, despite being a complete psycho, the general’s character is also delightfully intriguing and complex. Many of my favorite scenes involve the conversations between him and Cheris, and perhaps against my better judgement, I wanted her to let him in.
Overall, I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if the beginning had eased me into the setting more gently, as opposed to throwing all its confusing concepts in my face. While I enjoyed the story itself, my patience was also tested by the pacing, which was all over the place. These issues aside though, I have to applaud the fantastic world-building and character development. Both these aspects were extraordinarily well put together, not to mention the concept of a Hexarchate that uses mathematical calculations and a calendar to govern itself is one of those things that make you gawp in wide-eyed wonder at its ingenuity. Ninefox Gambit might not be an easy read, but there’s also a lot to like if you’re willing to invest in it. As such, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, but if you’re a sci-fi fan interested in something more innovative and unusual, then this might be exactly what you’re looking for....more
Julia Verne St. John’s fantasy steampunk alternate history novel The Transference Engine became one of my most anticipated releases of 2016 when The BiblioSanctum hosted the cover reveal for it earlier this year. The first time I glimpsed that beautiful cover was also the first time I’d heard of this book, and both the protagonist and the world sounded fascinating to me. A mystery involving necromancy, set in an alternate 1830s London that’s run on magic and machines? No way I wasn’t going to love this. In spite of my excitement though, by the time I was through the first few chapters, I realized I was probably going to have to adjust my expectations.
These first few dozen pages or so introduced us to Madame Magdala, the proprietress of the Book View Café, a magical library where patrons can sit and read while enjoying a cup of coffee and freshly baked pastries. However, the café’s centerpiece is a magical book sorting contraption designed by Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, a literal search engine that can find any book you ask for in the library’s collection. Magdala and Lovelace—the woman who will one day become the world’s first computer programmer—go way back, from the time Magdala was first hired by Ada’s mother to be a governess and protector for her daughter.
That’s because Ada’s father is also the notorious Lord Byron, the famous poet and depraved necromancer. Even after his death, Lady Byron feared that her husband’s followers would try to resurrect him in a new body using a soul-transferal machine called the Transference Engine. While the original machine was destroyed ten years ago, there’s no telling how far the necromancers will go to complete their task. Now, with reports of young men and women disappearing all around London (and several of the missing being employees of the Book View Café), Magdala is concerned that someone might be attempting to repair the Transference Engine by collecting enough innocent souls to bring back the one of Lord Byron.
In truth, I actually liked this novel. If I was a little disappointed, it’s only insofar because I thought I was going to love it. My main issue with the book was how slowly it started. For a 300-page novel, I typically expect things to be moving long by page 50, but this story didn’t pick up in earnest until more than halfway through, which is quite a lot to ask of your readers. I was feeling much more generous with The Transference Engine and kept reading because I genuinely was taken in by the world, but I think others might not be so patient. Not that the plot didn’t interest me, but I would have liked this a lot more if the major developments were presented sooner.
The number of confusing flashbacks was also another factor that played into the pacing issue. Part of the problem is that this book almost reads like a sequel, with the heroine constantly referring to events in the past like I should be aware of them already. This feeling of “sequel-ness” was so strong, I did some research after finishing The Transference Engine to see what I could find. It turned out, I was right—sort of. The character of Madame Magdala was actually first introduced in a collection of short stories called Steampunk Voyages, published by the author in 2013 under her name Irene Radford. Many of the past adventures Magdala mentions in The Transference Engine are apparently from this anthology, including her experiences involving her past clients, Mary Godwin and Percy Shelley (the latter was a necromancer too). Knowing all this, I understood the reason I felt so lost and confused was because I was effectively starting this story from behind.
That said, I really liked some of the characters and world-building elements. I actually wish these aspects could have been developed more, but the truth is this book was probably too short to fit all the ideas the author wanted. The narrative also spends way too much time on things I didn’t find as interesting, such as Magdala’s constant congratulating of herself for taking in orphans and other street children (almost like she has to remind us all every few minutes what a kind, magnanimous soul she is). In actuality, what I really wanted to know was more about the amazing technology in this world, like her little tiny clockwork hummingbird, or her awesome book finding machine. I’d also hoped that Ada Lovelace would feature more prominently in this book; I think she’s an incredible historical figure and it was such a shame that she didn’t play a bigger role in the story.
Once this book got going though, it really moved. All the set up in the first half of the novel paid off in the second, and I breezed through the story’s climax and conclusion. I don’t know if I can wholeheartedly recommend this since the beginning was so confusing and somewhat dull, but at least the ending was satisfying, even if it did wrap up a little too quickly and neatly. The pacing issues really hurt this novel, robbing this mystery story of its full potential, but there’s also plenty to like here if you’re a fan of the steampunk genre and enjoy reading about cool world-building ideas. If there’s a sequel, I can see pacing improving since the foundation has already been established, and I would be very curious to continue the story....more
I had a feeling I was really going to enjoy this book. A light, breezy read with a wildly entertaining premise, The Big Sheep deserves high marks for humor and excellent characterization, plus major bonus points for creativity. This was a truly unexpected but enjoyable sci-fi mystery which reminded me very strongly of Sherlock Holmes, with shades of Philip K. Dick and a nice heavy injection of bizarre twists.
It is the year 2039, and our story takes place in Los Angeles, opening with our main character Blake Fowler and his business partner, the great detective—er, I mean, the great “phenomenological inquisitor”—Erasmus Keane, investigating into a case about a missing sheep. But this sheep isn’t any ordinary sheep. Mary, as the wooly ruminant is called, stands about as tall as a grown man, weighs 300 pounds, and was specifically bioengineered by a genetic research company for an uncanny purpose. And now she has been stolen, presumably by a rival company for her secrets.
But Keane and Fowler aren’t so sure, especially when it’s clear that the company isn’t telling them the whole truth. The waters are further muddied when another case shows up on their office doorstep in the form of Priya Mistry, the hottest TV star in the country, who has come to hire the duo because she suspects someone is trying to kill her. Her evidence is a mysterious note sent to warn her, signed “Noogus”, the name of her childhood teddy bear. At first, Fowler is skeptical, thinking that the beautiful young celebrity has come unhinged or is just being paranoid, mistaking the usual attention for something more sinister. However, it soon becomes clear that something much stranger is going on, when Priya starts exhibiting troubling behavior like memory loss and confusion. Fowler and Keane do their best to protect her while also juggling the case of the stolen sheep, eventually coming to the realization that the two cases might have more to do with each other than they thought.
I’m so glad that I went into this book without knowing much more beyond the publisher’s description. It was a lot of fun discovering all of its unique charms and merits. As sci-fi novels go, The Big Sheep was very readable, and at first glance, it might even seem like your typical light and fluffy fare (I swear, no pun intended) but ultimately a number of deeper themes started emerging. Not to give away too much, but as with many of the works that inspired this book, you can expect to see some existentialist questions explored in here, as well as thought-provoking discussions of ethics in science and technology. Definitely not something I expected when I first picked up this book, which I thought would be a pretty standard detective story, about the hunt for a missing giant sheep no less.
The world-building is also fantastic. Though we don’t get to venture much outside Los Angeles where the bulk of this story takes place, what Robert Kroese does show us of the setting is extraordinary and well-constructed. His world of 2039 Los Angeles is a surreal place, a city still trying to recover from a catastrophic event called the Collapse which happened a little more than ten years ago. The disaster caused a big section of LA to be cordoned off, creating an area called the Disincorporated Zone where law, order, and infrastructure swiftly degenerated. After a while it became clear to government that the only way forward was to cut its losses, so the DZ was officially disowned by the city, creating a district that is separate from any other jurisdiction. In spite of this, the people who were inside the DZ before the Collapse managed to survive, living under crime bosses who are constantly vying for power.
I had a good time with the characters as well, enjoying Fowler’s personality and snarky narration. He is essentially the Watson to Erasmus Keane’s Sherlock Holmes, hired on by investigator to be his tether to reality. Keane is portrayed as something of a savant, but virtually hopeless in social interactions or any situation requiring a gunfight, which is why Fowler also provides security services and protection. The two of them have a very interesting relationship, which makes for great dialogue as well as a number of downright hilarious scenes.
Of course, at the heart of this novel is a mystery, and the duo intrigues of the missing sheep and paranoid TV star cases were what kept me reading. Even as the investigation went from ordinary to insane, I enjoyed following the clues and watching the brilliant Keane piece the whole puzzle together. I do appreciate a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, touching briefly upon heavy topics while still endeavoring to be entertaining. Comedic elements are also handled deftly, so that the humor never became too campy.
All in all, The Big Sheep was a pleasure to read. I picked it up expecting a straightforward sci-fi detective story, but instead I got pulled into this genuinely fun and bizarre tale filled with humor and wild twists, which nonetheless tackled some deeper themes. Given the way the final chapter ended, there’s a good chance this is intended to be the first book of a series, and from what I’ve seen of the creative world-building and excellent characters, I can already see the potential for more great sequels....more
I was so excited to finally get my hands on Company Town, a book which had been on my to-read list for years going back to the days since it was first announced by Angry Robot. While the original publisher’s sale followed by the novel’s move to Tor resulted in a significant delay for its release, I have to say the wait was absolutely worth it. I was already a fan of the author, having read her seriously imaginative and seriously twisted novel vN set in an age of self-replicating synthetic humans, but with Company Town Madeline Ashby delivers a whole other level of storytelling genius.
The book takes place in New Arcadia, a city of floating towers surrounding a dilapidated oil rig in the North Atlantic just off the east coast of Canada. Three years after a major accident shook up its residents, new life has returned to town in the form of Zachariah Lynch, patriarch of a wealthy family of energy barons who buys up the place and begins development of an alternative reactor under the waves.
Our protagonist Go Jung-Hwa works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada, accompanying her charges to appointments with their clients. The sex trade may be a highly regulated industry in New Arcadia, but that doesn’t mean the girls don’t need protection. Because Hwa was born with Sturge-Weber Syndrome, her mother deemed it “a waste” to invest in any augmentations for her daughter, so as a result, Hwa is one of the few people in the city completely free of bio-engineered enhancements. In spite of this, she is adept at self-defense and is no stranger to getting into scraps, making her very good at her job.
Eventually, her talents come to the attention of Zachariah Lynch himself, whose fifteen-year-old heir Joel has been receiving death threats. Taking an immediate liking to the kid, Hwa agrees to work for the Lynches, becoming Joel’s personal bodyguard. However, her sudden career change could not have come at a worse time. Women from around town, all sex workers and Hwa’s old friends, are turning up murdered. The timing of these incidences are just way too uncanny to be coincidental, making Hwa wonder if the killings and the threats against Joel might be all related.
This was a highly addictive read, literally a book I couldn’t put down. I kept making excuses for myself not to stop reading (“Sleep? Who needs sleep?”), and as a result I ended up finishing this over two or three sessions in a little more than a day. I enjoyed everything about this novel, from the phenomenal world-building to the irresistible mystery surrounding the story. I also found the characters likeable, especially the protagonist Hwa, whose personality was positively magnetic. She’s definitely not one to hide her feelings about her condition and the associated port-wine stain on her face, wearing her fears and insecurity on her sleeve. However, she is also emotionally and physically strong, having weathered all kinds of challenges on her own without any help. Knowing that she’s different and living with a disorder that could incapacitate her anytime has not slowed her down. She’s a character you can sympathize with but not pity, someone whose self-doubt does not inhibit her from doing what she knows is best for herself. Despite having a rough life, she can still see the humor in things, as well as the good in people. It is this that ultimately leads her to accept the job protecting Joel Lynch, who is nothing like the “rich kid” stereotype. His personality appealed to me immediately as well, winning me over with earnest charm and innocence.
Then there was Daniel Síofra. Mere words cannot describe how much I love this character! As head of Joel’s security detail, he’s also Hwa’s boss. There’s actually a thread of romance here that took me by surprise; it is not strong nor is it a big part of the story, but nevertheless it’s one of the most satisfying romance arcs I have ever read. That incredibly intense moment where Hwa finally opens up emotionally to Síofra, the first time she has ever done that with anybody, practically had me melting into a puddle on the floor.
But while characterization was by far the strongest point, the story didn’t disappoint either. Sure, at times there was a bit too much going on, and I’m still trying to sort out my feelings about the ending (which had a mind-blowing twist!), but overall there’s no denying the allure of this mystery. The suspense was what kept me reading long into the night.
All told, I loved this book and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to fans of futuristic sci-fi and mystery. Hwa’s not your typical sleuth but she’s brilliant and accomplished in her own way, protecting those who can’t defend themselves. A fascinating setting along with an amazing cast of characters made Company Town an unforgettable read....more
The publisher description for Bite is pretty vague, but I actually think this works in favor of the novel. When you pick up a book set in a post-nuclear apocalypse wasteland and speculate on what the story might be about, probably a whole slew of other things will enter your mind before you think, “cannibals”. But it does make a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
In this ruined world after the bombs fell, survival ain’t easy. Lack of food and lack of clean water can kill you as easily as raiders and crazies. Especially if you’re all alone. Our protagonist, known only as “Kid”, has been traveling by herself ever since her father died a few years back. On a lonely stretch of road, she finds herself weakening due to hunger and thirst, unsure if she’ll make it long enough to reach the next town where she can replenish her supplies. Desperation can make people do stupid things, she thinks to herself as she accepts a ride from two scary strangers who stop when they see her walking and offer her a ride in their truck. It’s probably a really bad idea, but Kid would rather take her chances with Wolf and Dolly than die alone in the desert wasteland.
There was little reason for Kid to suspect that her chance meeting with the two of them would lead to an insane journey of many wild and bloody adventures. Soon, they meet up with Tank and Pretty Boy, who make up the rest of the team. Few people ask for or give real names in this world, as that would make it too easy to get attached, but regardless, the team sees something they like in Kid and decide to welcome her into their fold. That, however, was before Kid learns the truth about her new adopted ragtag family. Known as “Sharks”, they’re despised throughout the wasteland for a certain lifestyle choice they’ve decided to make—like dining upon their fellow human beings. By the time Kid finds out though, she’s already accepted her place in the crew, and cannibals or not, when a new enemy threatens her friends, she will do what she can to fight back beside them.
Author K.S. Merbeth takes us into what would be a familiar setting for sci-fi and fantasy readers, but she also peppers her post-apocalyptic world with some flair of her own. The wasteland is a haunting, desolate, and grey place, but there is also a strange beauty to it, which if you’ve ever played the games in the Fallout series you could probably understand. From savage raiders and paranoid townies to the lonesome wastelanders and megalomaniacs in radio towers, I was getting major Fallout and Mad Max vibes from this one (which is awesome, obviously.)
Bite also does a fine job obliterating the lines between the “good” and “bad” guys, painting our little group of cannibals as the unlikely heroes of this gory tale. Yes, they eat human flesh, but…but…but…they’re just so lovable! Wait, did I really just say that? The character development is excellent in this novel, and I guess it really had to be in order to convince us that these people and their abhorrent dietary preferences are worthy of our time and attention. Merbeth succeeded marvelously, creating a cast of engaging characters that I just couldn’t help but cheer for. Each individual had their irresistible quirks, like Wolf and his devil-may-care approach to leadership, Dolly and her taciturn badass persona, Tank and his surprisingly gentle devotion to his friends, Pretty Boy and the emotional scars he hides under his self-interest and false bravado. And finally, there’s Kid, who certainly isn’t the boldest or strongest of protagonists, but her resourcefulness has kept her alive in this rough world for a long time. She won me over quickly, the same way Wolf and the others were charmed by her honesty and good heart so that even her blundering inexperience and mistakes were tolerated, albeit with some exasperation. In most other books, this rough group of cannibals and killers would be the villains, but thanks to clever use of humor and a healthy dose of surreal sardonic fun, I found it remarkably easy to love and care about these characters and appreciate the fresh dynamics between them.
The plot was entertaining, but also relatively uncomplicated as these types of stories often are. Pacing does seem off in a few places, which can be felt in the rushed ending, or in the glossing over of a major character’s death, plus a few minor hiccups like the sparse characterizations of big baddies like the Queen or the Saint. But are these deal breakers? Certainly not. My overall enjoyment was unaffected despite some of these weaknesses. This book delivered exactly what I was expecting: a fast, fun, explosive adventure.
Audiobook comments: I was fortunate be given the opportunity to review the audio edition of Bite. This is the first audiobook I’ve listened to narrated by Stephanie Willis, and I was very impressed by her performance. At first, I worried that her voice might be a little too mature and feminine for Kid, who is supposed to be a small, mousy sixteen-year-old girl frequently mistaken for a boy. However, all my doubts were erased within the first hour. Willis has an incredible talent for portraying a wide range of emotions, and her narration added a poignant, extra layer to the story. When Kid was trudging through the desert wasteland on her own, I could sense the desperation and hopelessness. During the action scenes, the panic and confusion really came through. Willis also did a phenomenal job on the dialogue, giving each character a voice to match their personality. She was able to emphasize the humor and other nuances in the back-and-forth conversations as well, and there was never a problem distinguishing which character was speaking. I ended up really enjoying this audiobook. If Bite sounds like a book you’d like to check out, I would recommend giving this version a go....more
To kick off this review, I just want to say that I actually didn’t think the first Aftermath was all that bad. As you’d recall all the hubbub, the criticism over that book was harsh, perhaps more so than I thought was warranted. That said, for a Star Wars novel I also thought this book’s predecessor was mediocre to okay at best—especially when compared to such gems in the new canon like Lost Stars by Claudia Gray or Dark Disciple by Christie Golden. While flavorful and entertaining, the story of Aftermath and its characters were completely forgettable. This was evidenced by my chagrin when, as I started reading the first few pages of Life Debt, I realized I could barely recall anything that happened in the first book, or remember any of the main characters’ names.
The good news though, is that Life Debt is a much better book. In my opinion, this sequel improves upon many of the problems that plagued the first novel, giving me a lot more reasons to care about the story and what happens to these characters.
Taking place in the “aftermath” of Aftermath, Life Debt follows the adventures of Norra Wexley and her band of mercenaries across the galaxy, as they continue to doggedly hunt down the remnants of Imperial leadership. The main prize is Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, with whom the team has had run-ins with before. Sloane, however, is trying to hatch up a plan of her own, keeping a low profile as she tries to rally the remaining Imperial forces who regard her as the new de facto leader of the Empire. But behind the scenes, there is another shadowy operator pulling the strings, manipulating both the Imperials and the fledgling New Republic, and his agenda is a lot less clear. Meanwhile, Princess Leia receives a disturbing message from Han Solo before the transmission was cut off, making her fear the worst for her husband. She beseeches Norra and her crew to track him down, which leads them to a prison complex on Kashyyyk where the Wookiees are currently locked in conflict with the Empire over their home world.
I’ve long been a fan of Chuck Wendig’s urban fantasy, a genre which perfectly suits his raw, gritty writing style. But when it came to Star Wars, the fit did not seem quite right. This was made obvious in Aftermath with his use of short, bursty sentences and tendency to include many modern colloquialisms and awkward terms that jolted me right out of the immersion. Thankfully, he’s a lot more sparing with these in Life Debt, which was only the first of many other steps in the right direction. When Wendig isn’t trying so hard to force Star Wars to match his style, instead making it the other way around so that he adapts his writing to the Star Wars universe, the results are actually much, much better.
Another issue I had with the first book was how far removed it felt from the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, especially when the publisher was pushing it as the “bridge novel” between the two movies. To be fair, I don’t really fault the book for the hype created by marketing, but I was a little disappointed by the bare-bones structure of Aftermath, with its fluffy story and what felt like throwaway characters that had no impact on the universe whatsoever. Going into Life Debt, I didn’t have that many expectations, and I ended up being pleasantly surprised. We no longer have to sit through any more origin stories for the characters, so we’re diving straight into the action and getting more opportunities to learn about their personalities and relationships.
The inclusion of original trilogy characters, both major and minor, also helped. For example, Leia and Han were only bit players in this book, but their presence created a palpable connection between Norra Wexley, Temmin Wexley, Jas Emari, Sinjir Rath Velus, Jom Barell, and Mr. Bones with the rest of the Star Wars universe. Watching Wedge Antilles try to romance Norra was also hilarious. The point is, the Aftermath team has finally made their mark on the New Republic through their actions, and it’ll be harder to forget them now. The story on the Empire side was also a lot more interesting this time around, with Admiral Rae Sloane fighting her own secret war within the Imperial ranks. She is the sole beacon of competence amidst the remains of a weakened and crumbling Empire, but she probably has less authority than anyone, including herself, realizes. Her character has come a long way for me since she was first introduced in A New Dawn, and now she’s one of my favorites.
There were some lingering issues, of course. These pesky interludes continue to vex me, packing on a lot more bulk than was necessary without really adding much substance. Clearly, they’re meant to be a defining feature of this trilogy though, so I had suspected that they weren’t going to go away. Certain characters are also very derivative of other Star Wars personalities we’ve seen before. The villain revealed here feels like a new Thrawn, for instance, and reading parts of this book gave me flashbacks to certain episodes of Star Wars Rebels, with their team dynamics being somewhat similar, right down to the mother figure, bounty hunter, a boy and his crazy droid, etc. Not all of these parallels were necessarily bad though, especially when they actually helped me get into the story.
All told, I’m glad I gave this trilogy another chance, though in truth, I probably would have read it anyway, considering my ongoing quest to read and review all the adult novels in the new Star Wars canon. No surprise then that I would recommend this to other Star Wars completionists. But now, I would say even if you don’t consider yourself a hardcore Star Wars fan, but maybe you’re still interested in checking out some the tie-in fiction, then you might wish to take a look at this series. I don’t think I would have said the same after reading just Aftermath, but Life Debt has shown me there is going to be more to this trilogy, and I find myself looking forward to see how everything will play out in book three, Empire’s End....more
If nothing else, this novel gets high marks from me because of how unbelievably addictive it was. On a week night, with an early wake up time the next day, I was still reading with my heart pounding in my chest at 2am refusing to quit this puppy until I was finished. Even though I’ve known about the author’s Wayward Pines series years now, I’ve never read it nor have I watched the TV show based on it. But if those books are anything like Dark Matter, I just might have to go check them out now because Mr. Crouch has a new fan.
But first, how to describe Dark Matter? This is definitely one of those “the less you know going in, the better” kind of novels. It’s enough to say that I was hooked from the first page, and the story’s premise was both intriguing and a punch in the gut. Imagine yourself in protagonist Jason Dessen’s shoes. It’s family night. Jason’s heading out to see a friend, then to pick up some ice cream from the store for his wife and son. All of a sudden, a masked man comes out of nowhere, brandishing a gun and threatening to kill Jason unless he does exactly as he’s told. The abductor makes him take them to an isolated area, then knocks him out by injecting him with some kind of drug. The next thing Jason knows he’s waking up strapped to a gurney, in a sterile room, surrounded by people he’s never met. And it’s the weirdest thing, but all these strangers seem to have been expecting him.
Then Jason returns to his house and discovers everything about it is different. He was never married to his wife. They never had a son. He’s not a college professor, but an award winning physicist responsible for the biggest scientific breakthrough the world has ever known. Years ago, before he met his wife and became a dad, this was the life Jason always dreamed of, but now, alone in a world he doesn’t recognize, all he wants is his family back.
This story was both thrilling and terrifying. Its premise reminded me so much of a recurring nightmare I still have sometimes, in which find myself waking up in the crappy old apartment I had in college and learn that the last six or seven years never happened. The thought that my husband, my kids, my whole life since getting married could be all a dream is the most devastating feeling I could ever imagine, and I’m always filled with a breathless kind of relief when I wake up for real and get all my senses back. It’s probably no surprise then, that I felt an immediate connection to the main protagonist Jason Dessen. The opening scenario in this book really struck a chord with my deepest fears, and I found myself unable to tear my eyes away, wondering what might have happened to Jason, and hoping against hope that he will find the answers he seeks.
Of course, we eventually find out the truth. But since it’ll be difficult to discuss this book further without spoiling, I’m just going to describe my experience with the rest of the story in the broadest of terms. The pacing was great, and other than just a slight slowdown in the middle, Dark Matter was pretty much perfect in its execution. Even in his darkest moments, Jason was a protagonist I found I could root for, because Crouch made it easy for me to sympathize with the character’s desperation and anguish. The best part of the book was probably the last section, with its incredible mind-bending twist. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to call a book “unputdownable”, but in this case, I really can’t think of a better way to describe the ending. Not even the late hour or the unpleasant prospect of spending the next day as a sleep-deprived zombie could stop me from devouring the last few chapters.
It’s been a long time since a book has filled me so much excitement, or that amazing feeling of “Just one more page, just one more I swear…” This was simply fantastic. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, exhilarating read for the summer, look no further than Dark Matter, a flawless blend of science fiction, mystery, and thrilling suspense....more
While Into the Dim is not without its flaws (like calling it “an Outlander for teens" might be a bit of a stretch),4 of 5 stars at the BiblioSanctum
While Into the Dim is not without its flaws (like calling it “an Outlander for teens" might be a bit of a stretch), there’s still no denying this book has its charms. The story is impressively robust for a YA time traveling book, and what it lacks in world-building and logistical explanations, it makes up for with pure entertainment and plenty of fun twists along the way. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed myself.
Most of this story actually takes place in the twelfth century, but first there’s a considerable introduction to establish our main protagonist and her circumstances. We begin with sixteen-year-old Hope Walton at the funeral for her mother Sarah, an academic who was lecturing overseas when an earthquake struck and brought the building down around her. Eight months later, her family has finally given up the search for her body and accepted that she is gone. To help deal with the grief, Sarah’s sister has invited Hope to spend the summer with her in Scotland, and after much reluctance, Hope eventually realizes she has nowhere else to go and accepts.
Now this is where the adventure truly begins. Hope arrives in Scotland and learns more about her family than she’d ever bargained for. Turns out, her aunt is a leader of a group of time traveling agents who are battling another group of rival time travelers to locate a powerful gem lost somewhere in history. That, and Hope finds out that her mother Sarah might be still alive, but trapped in the past. There may be a way to bring her back, but only a small window of opportunity to make that happen, and Hope will need all the training she can get to prepare her for the mission of her life.
Hope and her new friends, fellow time travelers Collum and Phoebe, end up journeying back almost a thousand years to 1154, the year of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s coronation as queen consort of England. As the focal historical figure for this novel, I thought she was a most fascinating choice. One of the most powerful women of her age, Eleanor led an incredible life and was appropriately portrayed as an important character in Into the Dim. Also, the High Middle Ages was a period of much significance and change in Western Europe, creating an intriguing backdrop for the novel. We’re plunged into this world to experience the social, political and religious climate of the times, and author Janet B. Taylor certainly does not skimp on details of the sights, sounds, and–unfortunately—the smells.
For me, there were only two major weaknesses, and they kind of go hand-in-hand with each other. The first is Hope herself. A poster child for “book smart, street stupid” if I ever saw one, our protagonist was born was a photographic memory, but her brilliance is also offset by her staggering social ineptitude. Kept out of “that inbred travesty they call an education system” by her snobby and overprotective mother, Hope grew up completely clueless, which would perfectly explain the scene where she meets Bran Cameron for the first time. This segues into my second gripe: the romance. I’m still appalled by Hope’s reaction to Bran at their first meeting, where she catches him taking stalkerish photos of her with his camera without her knowledge. But instead of running for the hills to the closest police station, what does Hope do? She flirts with the creepy creeperish creeper, and finds his behavior totally adorable and flattering. Ew, no. Sadly, this soured the rest of the relationship for me.
While engaging, the plot is also nothing too deep. The historical aspects and “science” behind the time traveling will not hold up to heavy scrutiny, though to be fair, that’s not really what this book is about. Yes, you’ll definitely have to roll with some punches, but the story is entertaining and holds up well. I liked the fast-pacing, as well as the no-nonsense way Hope and her friends come up with creative ways to solve problems.
It’s worth mentioning too that I listened to the audiobook version, which was amazing. Before this, I had never listened to anything read by Amanda Ronconi, but her performance for Into the Dim made me an instant fan. They couldn’t have chosen a better narrator. With her wide range of accents, she was perfect for a book like this, which features characters from the US and from Scotland. Then, there are those characters from the past. Ronconi’s Olde English accents are convincing, as is the slight French lilt she gives Eleanor of Aquitaine when she reads her lines. I can see how listening to this book might be more immersive experience, compared to reading the dialogue as it is written.
All in all, Into the Dim is quite a lovely novel, even with its flaws. It’s a simple, straightforward book, which serves its purposes to be fun and light-hearted, but that’s not to say there aren’t a couple of unexpected surprises thrown in as well. I found it very refreshing, given the string of bad luck I’ve had with the YA genre lately, and I ended up enjoying this a lot more than I expected....more
This was my first book by Keri Arthur, and I was completely unprepared for how good it was. I don’t even know why I was caught so flat-footed! After all, I know friends who have been fans of the author’s for years and they all absolutely adore her work, which is what convinced me to give City of Light a try in the first place. I’ve been curious about her books for a long time, and this being the first book of a new series seemed like the perfect place to start, so I went in with pretty high expectations. It ended up exceeding all of them.
Of course, I was skeptical at first, especially right after I opened the book and was almost immediately overwhelmed by a huge solid wave of info-dumps. To be fair, I understood the reasons for this, especially after I finished the book. There’s a tremendous amount of world building and a lot of amazing wonders and mysteries to discover, but the fun can’t start until after we’ve all taken the crash course, so to speak. After the story gets moving though, things really heat up.
This series opener introduces us to Tiger, a genetically hybrid soldier known as a “déchet”—a word that translates to “waste product” and speaks volumes about their makers’ attitudes towards their creations. But all that happened more than a hundred years ago, during the war between this world and the one beyond the veil. Those alive now live a precarious existence in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with humans and shifters alike occupying highly-secured cities lit perpetually with artificial light meant to keep all the monsters like demons, wraiths and vampires out.
Tig is the last of her kind, after the shifters eradicated all déchet at the end of the war. She lives in the remnants of a military bunker filled with the ghosts of her people, whose energies she can sense and interact with. For the past century she has been in hiding, until one day she rescues a little girl on the outskirts of Central City and learns of a disturbing string of child abductions. Wraith-like beings are snatching kids in broad daylight—which should be impossible—and after what happened to her people, Tig has sworn never to stand by and let another child be harmed again.
I admit it’s a lot to take in, and I was initially confused given the staggering amount of information I had to process about Tig’s world. I almost thought City of Light might have been a spinoff from another series, and had to double-check to make sure this wasn’t the case. The world building is simply phenomenal, with a very robust and established feel, blending sci-fi futuristic elements with magic and other aspects from the fantasy genre. Even creatures like wraiths and vampires feel very different from the kind I usually read about in urban fantasy.
And for some reason, I went into City of Light expecting it to be a full-blown paranormal romance, probably since most of Keri Arthur’s other books have that tag. I was wrong, but I was also far from being disappointed. With Tig being a déchet created specifically for espionage and seduction, I admit was prepared for nothing but romance and sexual tension, but in the end the heavier emphasis was on the mystery of the abducted children rather than Tig’s relationships. On the whole, this book read more like a well-crafted UF with some PNR elements and a couple of smoking hot sex scenes thrown in, and it was a balance that struck the perfect note.
I also loved Tig as a protagonist. Her kind was created by humans to be a mix of animal, shifter, and vampire—the ultimate weapon. But after the war, the déchet were completely killed off, and even after all these years, Tig still remembers the day when the military bunker she was in was gassed with poisons. Everyone else inside was killed, including the young déchet in the nursery. Tig herself barely managed to survive thanks to her genetically modified DNA, but two of the children, Bear and Cat, died horribly in her arms. Today, their ghosts are her loyal companions, playfully following Tig wherever she goes, but the story of their tragic deaths haunted me and shattered my heart to pieces. It made me see why Tig is so protective of her little ones, and why she would go so far to help the kidnapped shifter children. I also gained a deeper appreciation for her strength and resolve, knowing the terrible things she witnessed back during the war. And finally, being able to connect with Tig made the ending more poignant, because it underscored the sacrifice behind Tig’s decision. Ultimately, nothing can ever come between her and her responsibility to those she has sworn to protect.
All told, City of Light is exciting and well-written, its story containing a remarkable mix of intrigue and action punctuated with sizzling melt-your-mind love scenes. The book’s main character is a sympathetic and lion-hearted (or rather should I say, tiger-hearted?) heroine you just can’t help but root for. Now I am waiting on pins and needles for the sequel to see what she’ll do next! I simply couldn’t have been more pleased at how this experience with my first Keri Arthur novel turned out. If I loved it, I have no doubt her fans will as well....more
2015 was a great year for YA fiction, with lots of new ideas and debut authors breaking onto the scene. When S. Harrison’s Infinity Lost popped up on my radar late in the fall, I thought it sounded like an interesting book to check out.
The story takes place in the near future, following the life of a girl named Infinity “Finn” Blackstone. Her father, CEO of Blackstone Technologies, is one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, but while his company’s world-changing services and products are nearly ubiquitous, Richard Blackstone himself remains a highly reclusive figure. Not even Finn has ever met him. Raised by her father’s staff, all she knows about the man is what others have told her and what she sees on the news.
Finn is seventeen when she and her classmates from boarding school are taken on a field trip to visit the Blackstone headquarters. Elated, Finn believes this could finally be her chance to meet her father and confront him with all her questions. Lately, she has been having strange dreams, even though a part of her knows they are more than that. The visions feel like memories, but how can that be when she cannot remember actually experiencing them herself? Finn is determined to find some answers, and she believes Richard Blackstone is the key.
Beyond that, I really can’t say more; suffice to say, the plot takes a surprising number of turns and ends up in a place I never saw coming, and if I give away anything else I would be hovering dangerously close to spoiler territory. What I can say is that Infinity Lost was a really quick read due to its relatively modest page count, which along with being jam-packed with action and tight storytelling made this one a really fast-pace and entertaining read. I also thoroughly enjoyed the future setting which featured some innovative tech, some of which were pretty farfetched but nonetheless very cool. The book also stood out to me because of its departure from certain YA norms, such as downplaying any romance (at least in this first book) though quite honestly, the plot moves along so quickly that there’s hardly any room for unnecessary drama.
That said, while a lot of things in Infinity Lost worked for me, there were a few issues that tripped me up as well. First, you should know that technically, the “real story” doesn’t start until late in the novel, because the first half contains almost nothing but random and sometimes confusing flashbacks. Finn has these dream-memories, and the time jumps can get very jarring and tiresome after a while. Second, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the wider world, though this is mainly due to the limitations of looking through Finn’s eyes in the first-person. She’s being kept in the dark, and so by extension, we are as well.
Third—though this is not a problem for me personally, I still figured I should mention it—reading this book was a little like watching a movie that starts off PG-13, but then ends with a full-blown R rating. The final chapters are a veritable bloodbath, with heads popping off, bodies being blown into red mist, etc. all brutally described in vivid and graphic detail. I’ve read a lot worse of course, but I was still shocked at the lack of warning; the beginning held absolutely no clue that this book would end in such over-the-top, indiscriminate violence. If that kind of content turns you off, I would approach this with caution.
But my biggest issue was the cliffhanger. In this day and age of seemingly nothing but YA trilogies and series, I grudgingly accept the need for them, but at the very least I think each book should still contain the resolution to its main conflict. I don’t like it when a book ends abruptly in the middle of a scene; it’s clumsy and awkward and I end up with more questions than answers, which is not a good feeling. Unfortunately, this was the case here. There were too many loose ends, and the book did not in any way feel complete.
Even in the face of all these issues though, I liked the book well enough that I would be open to continuing the series, if nothing else to find out what happens to Finn. Infinity Lost felt very much like a long intro, and I feel confident that the meat of the story will be in the sequel Infinity Rises, out January 5, 2016....more
Nature is scary. Books that remind us of this fact are always enlightening, and that’s what I loved about Invasive Species. When your story involves science and ecological elements—and especially when your focus is on nasty, icky bugs—even a novel in the Suspense/Thriller category can easily read like a Horror.
From the book’s description alone though, it was hard to tell what it would be about. All we know is that an unknown breed of predator has emerged, and humans are its favorite prey. This new enemy is faster, stronger, and far deadlier than anything we’ve seen before. Right away, my brain started working on constructing this hypothetical creature, and I couldn’t help it—films like Predator, Alien, and other movies featuring science fiction’s most terrifying killing machines immediately sprang to mind. After all, we’ve seen these types of plots so many times before; it’s difficult to imagine that a threat of this nature could be anything other than a malevolent, extraterrestrial monster.
Turns out, I was totally wrong. The “monsters” in Invasive Species turn out to be wasps. Sure, they may be wasps on steroids, having evolved to be become larger, smarter, and more poisonous than the norm. But still…just wasps. Does it make this book any less scary, though? Nope. Actually, it just made me feel even more creeped out and unsettled. If you’ve ever been stung by a wasp, you know what I’m talking about. Wasps are pure evil.
Certainly, if you’re an entomophobe, you’re going to have a really tough time with this book. While it’s a science fiction story that also gets a bit far-fetched here and there, the premise has just enough science in it to make you squirm. Our protagonist Trey Gilliard is a modern explorer of sorts, literally taking the road less traveled. His life’s work is all about heading into the least known regions of the planet. There are still areas on earth relatively untouched by humanity, and some of these are in the deep jungles of Africa. You don’t have to suspend reality too much to believe that a new species could evolve separate in such a place, unknown to the rest of the world. It’s here where Trey first encounters his first “thief”, a new kind of parasitoid wasp. The locals call them that because of the way they steal your mind, your body, and your life. They’re also referred to as “slavemakers” because of the way adult wasps can attach their stingers to hosts and take over their bodies.
The thieves are deadlier than regular wasps for many reasons, but first and foremost it is because they have developed an intricate hive mind, allowing them to communicate long distances and also to recognize and “remember” those who have done them harm. Primates are also their preferred host, including human beings. They breed by injecting their larvae into the abdomens of their unsuspecting prey, and neurotoxins in their venom also scramble and befuddle their victims’ minds, making them unaware that they are pregnant with a baby wasp until it is too late. That’s some messed up, creepy stuff.
The thieves are also great at survival. Deforestation and hunting practices have diminished their natural habitat and available hosts, but instead of dying out, they’ve become even more opportunistic, hitching rides on cars, boats, and planes in order to spread to the rest of the world. In the United States where it’s an election year, their presence eventually sparks a political storm.
Remember my review earlier this year of Bat out of Hell, a so-called “eco-thriller”? That one didn’t work out so well for me. And well, after reading Invasive Species, I realized this is how I wished that book had turned out! Invasive Species is a far better book because author Joseph Wallace did the right thing and focused on the disaster at multiple levels. He focused on the individual victims. He also focused on the threat of the thieves themselves. He emphasized the way these insect invaders fueled the fear and panic, ratcheting up the suspense to a fever pitch. The book is also a frightening reminder of just how fragile we are when science and technology fails us, and how quickly a civilization can come apart at the seams without the proper infrastructure and resources to maintain it.
I won’t spoil the ending, because you’ll just have to read this for yourself to see how the conflict resolves. However, I will say Invasive Species finishes on a bittersweet, melancholy note. After the roller coaster ride this story gave me, I thought it was ominously appropriate. For a book I knew next to nothing about when I first started it, I ended up really enjoying myself. Gripping, suspenseful, and delightfully chilling, this is a novel that will really get under your skin! A fine blend of drama and action for fans of sci-fi thrillers and horror. The follow-up titled Slavemakers is actually on the horizon, due out later this winter, and I’m looking forward to picking it up now more than ever....more
If you enjoy gritty and dark, violent futuristic sci-fi mystery thrillers, then The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neill will be just the book for you. O’Neill works crime, sex, drugs, and a psychotic murdering android into a full-on non-stop plot, and that’s just to name a handful of the topics covered in this book.
In The Dark Side, two key narrative threads can be discerned, but even though they are fundamentally related to each other, the connections won’t become clear until later on. In one storyline, Lieutenant Damien Justus has come to Purgatory, a lunar territory founded by megalomaniac billionaire-in-exile Fletcher Brass. Its capital, appropriately called Sin, has been turned into a haven for fugitives and other undesirables from Earth who have come to the moon to escape their old lives. It is the only place where the shadier your record is, the better the chance you’ll be let in. Even the police here have dodgy backgrounds.
Justus, however, is the patently incorruptible good cop who has just arrived from Earth, and he’s just the kind of guy Purgatory needs to clean things up. To him, no one is above the law—and no exceptions. He is immediately given the lead role in the investigation of a string of assassinations targeting the movers and shakers of lunar society. Fletcher Brass quickly shoots to the top of the list of prime suspects, naturally. So does his daughter, the manipulative and magnetic woman known as QT Brass. But while PPD is content to just look the other way, Justus most definitely is not.
Meanwhile, far from Purgatory in the Seidel Crater, the second storyline has begun. A black-haired, black-eyed, black-tied, black-suited homicidal droid takes his first steps towards self-discovery and a two-thousand kilometer journey of death and destruction, all the while spewing forth such mottos as “It’s good to have a rival. It’s even better to crack his skull”, “Friends help you get there. Everyone else is vermin” or “Smile. Smile. Smile. Kill. Smile.”
Those damn creepy androids.
All in all I really enjoyed this fresh and addictive mystery, notwithstanding a few stylistic choices that I found peculiar, such as the frequent cutaway shots to a second-person narrative mode—a form used here I believe for the sole purpose of giving the audience a quick-and-dirty overview of the big picture. And you know what? I liked what I saw, in spite of myself. The setting in which all of these characters pound away is an incredibly rich and vivid one, considering this story takes place entirely on the desolate surface of the moon. Reading about Sin in Purgatory made me think of a city a lot like Vegas—that is, if all the hotels and casinos on the Strip were to replace their individual themes with ancient Babylonian motifs and you dialed up the seediness to 11. This is pure noir, set in a world drenched in lawlessness and “wild frontier” vibes.
I also found this blend of styles at once interesting and effective at creating a palpable sense of foreboding. The book alternates between very different atmospheres, from the extremely sordid, extremely loud streets of Sin to the deep, dark, chilling emptiness of the lunar wasteland. Justus’s perspective made for some very tense, anticipatory chapters that got the gears in my head grinding, while the android Leonardo Black’s chapters were straight-up gorefests that were so shocking and freaky that they sometimes got too hard to read. O’Neill is really good at writing scenes that capture the sheer intensity of the moment, not to mention the ruthless and demented manner of the rogue android. The book was also well-paced, drawing the reader into the story by degrees. Before I knew it, I was sweeping through the pages. The story was fun to read and it was a joy to watch all its elements fall into place in the end.
Dark humor, uncanny science, futuristic tech noir and full-throttle tensions are all deftly married together in this wild and thrilling ride. The Dark Side would be a perfect choice for fans of sci-fi who might also be looking for a hard-boiled detective mystery with an edge sharp enough to cut. O’Neill proves inventive in his prose style, and there is a curious artfulness and elegance to his characters even when they are written to be fodder for a killer robot. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more by this author!...more
I fell in love with Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Lost Stars last year, and so you can imagine my excitement when I learned that she would be penning a second book in the new canon, this time an adult novel about Princess Leia herself. And Gray certainly does not disappoint. With Star Wars: Bloodline, she has established herself as a new powerhouse author in the world of Star Wars fiction and become one of my favorite tie-in writers.
Taking place approximately five to six years before The Force Awakens, Bloodline is a novel of watershed moments, featuring our protagonist at a somewhat confusing time in her life. After decades of dealing with politics, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed princess is all but gone, replaced with a more mature and world-weary Leia. The New Republic Senate has proven itself ineffectual in the wake of Mon Mothma’s departure; without the charismatic former chancellor to guide them, endless bickering and rigid faction lines have led to paralyzing gridlock within the government. But while all that is enough to turn even the staunchest senator into a jaded cynic, it should come as no surprise that where matters of peace are concerned, Leia remains wholeheartedly committed to her cause.
New concerns arise when a burgeoning criminal organization comes to the Senate’s attention. A mysterious underworld kingpin has emerged to fill the power vacuum left by the Hutts, and apparently he has friends in high places. Struck by a sudden rush of inspiration, Leia volunteers for a mission to investigate the corruption and ends up being partnered up with another senator from the Centrist faction, rival to her own Populist party. Despite getting off to a rough start, the two eventually learn to work with one another, even earning each other’s friendship and respect, but sadly the same cannot be said for their own political factions. As the relationship between the Populists and Centrists continue to deteriorate, those who want change are calling for the election of a First Senator, a position that would grant one person a great deal of influence and power. Considering her own personal history, that idea does not sit right with Leia at all, even as her own party is pushing her to run for the job.
I like reading tie-ins because of the opportunities they offer, a chance to explore the wider spheres of a universe or meet new characters. Still, it’s also tremendously satisfying now and again to return to the central figures and read about events that are directly related to the Star Wars movies. The Force Awakens was a rollicking adventure and action-driven—but it was also utterly devoid of much political or historical context. Good news, though; if you were one of the many fan who left the theater with questions, then Bloodline just might be the book you’re looking for. This novel manages to fill in quite a few blanks, giving us a glimpse into the political atmosphere in the time between the end of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. See how the first seeds of dissent were sown, which later gave rise to the First Order. Learn all about the dramatic events which ultimately led to the formation of the Resistance, Leia Organa’s answer to tyranny.
However, that’s just the dressings. There’s no doubt that the relationship dynamics between Leia and her fellow senator from across the aisle, Ransolm Casterfo, is what constitutes the real meat of the story here. In her previous Star Wars novel Lost Stars, Claudia Gray gave readers an epic love story between an Imperial officer and a Rebel pilot, two kindred spirits who had to deal with being on opposites sides during the war. In Bloodline, she pulls off something very similar, though this time we’re talking political ideology instead of romance, a Populist versus a Centrist rather than the Empire versus the Rebel Alliance. And yet, the parallels are there. Gray has an incredible talent for giving a balanced portrayal of each side of a conflict, with her Star Wars characters showing that nothing is ever black and white, that friendships can indeed bloom across faction lines, and just because someone is your “enemy” doesn’t mean that you both can’t fight for a common goal. In Bloodline, Leia and Casterfo share one of the deepest, most complex relationships I’ve ever read about in any Star Wars novel.
I also want to take a moment to just geek out over the cover. Stylistically, it’s beautiful and I’ve loved it from the moment I saw it, but after reading this novel, I have to say my appreciation for it has only grown. Without delving too far into spoiler territory, the figure of Leia standing in the “shadow” of her father is one of the most powerful and significant pieces of imagery I’ve ever seen, and it’s simply perfect for this particular story. Leia’s not-so-secret origins have been known to readers for years, belying her deep struggle to come to terms with where she came from, her bloodline. What happens in this books will have far-reaching repercussions for the galaxy and for her family.
What more can I say, other than brava, Claudia Gray! Between her and Christie Golden though, the two of them may have just ruined me forever with Star Wars novels, because I doubt I’ll ever be able to read one again without measuring it up against Lost Stars, Bloodline or Dark Disciple. This was another brilliant book in the new canon, and the last line gave me so many feels. Recommended for all Star Wars fans....more
This has been an amazing year for YA fiction, and to be honest my bar has been raised so high I’m surprised anything can still blow me away at this late stage in 2015. Still, I knew I had a good feeling about Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf, an alternate history novel set in a world where the Axis powers rule the world. Enter the Resistance’s only hope, a teenage girl who needs to win a motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo in order to assassinate Hitler.
At the risk of sounding frivolous in light of the novel’s dark themes, I still remember the first time I heard about this book. For a few astonished minutes, I sat and stared at the publisher’s description thinking, Are you kidding me? This sounds like the most awesome premise ever.
It is 1956, eleven years after Yael first escaped from the Nazi death camp where she was subjected to horrific human experimentation. Side effects from those experiments left her with an uncanny ability to skinshift—with just one thought, she can take on the appearance of someone else. This has made her central to the Resistance’s plans. Yael’s mission: to win the Axis Tour, the annual intercontinental motorcycle race, by impersonating Adele Wolfe, the only female to have ever entered. As last year’s winner, Adele was granted an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball. But this year when she wins and dances with Hitler again, it will be Yael behind Adele’s face instead, ready with a blade to sink between his ribs.
That’s if everything goes as planned, of course. Yael has spent the last year training, learning how to race motorcycles, and studying all the footage and files on Adele Wolfe that the Resistance can get their hands on. But then the unexpected happens. Felix Wolfe, Adele’s twin brother, joins the race last minute, putting the whole plan at risk. Then there’s Luka, another past victor who is determined to win his second Axis Tour. Apparently, Luka and Adele had a romantic history, but it was in none of the files Yael studied and she knows nothing about the relationship. The race is hard enough with the cutthroat competition and more than twenty thousand kilometers of harsh road to the finish line, but now Yael will have to carry out her deception in the presence of the two people who knew Adele best. The odds are long, but Yael has to win—the world is depending on her success so that the Resistance can launch the next phase of their operation.
As intrigued as I was by the story, at first I had my doubts that Ryan Graudin could pull it off, since a good book is more than just a great premise. However, I needn’t have worried. The blurb pitches Wolf by Wolf as Code Name Verity meets Inglourious Basterds, but I’d say throw in a little bit of Survivor and The Amazing Race too. We get the gist of the plot in the first fifty pages, but the rest of the book—the race itself—is the masterpiece, checkpoint after checkpoint of dangerous adventure and exciting alliances and rivalries. I’m so impressed with how much action is packed into what could have been pages of tedium over the course of this long journey, but the story turned out to be as twisty as the road to Tokyo, full of unexpected surprises and memorable experiences.
This book would have been a quick read had real life not gotten so busy lately, and believe you me I had a difficult time putting it down when all I wanted to do was to curl up with it for a few undisturbed hours, learning all of Yael’s secrets. She’s such a complex character, having survived so much horror. Flashbacks from her past are woven into the narrative of the race, revealing how she and her mother were sent to the concentration camp, how Yael eventually escaped, and how she ended up with the Resistance. We learn how Yael was shaped by the important people in her life. After all the years and all the identities, Yael has forgotten her real face, but she will never forget her loved ones and how their lives made a difference in hers.
Also, while we don’t get to see much of the real Adele Wolfe, the girl Yael is tasked to impersonate is an intriguing question mark in her own way. There are many gaps in Yael’s knowledge about the other girl, a fact made painfully obvious whenever Felix or Luka bring up past events that she has no knowledge of. We’re piecing things together along with Yael, trying to pick out clues from snatches of conversation. Wolf by Wolf is full of action, but it’s also one giant intriguing puzzle, and I loved how the adventurous and suspenseful elements came together.
I was really surprised to discover halfway through reading Wolf by Wolf that there will be a sequel (which clued me in to a not-so-tidy ending) but after finishing the book you can bet I’ll be reading the next one too. Ryan Graudin created something phenomenally unique and amazing here; so many things could have worked out poorly but the end result turned out to be almost flawless. I can’t wait to see what other surprises the author has in store....more
As sci-fi spoofs and humorous novels go, Mechanical Failure was a lot of fun. When I read parts of this book aloud to my husband, he chuckled and said, “Kinda feels like Terry Pratchett in space.” Trust me, coming from him, that’s a great compliment. Personally, I think I would liken this more to something like Spaceballs, which just goes to show what a tricky genre it is. What’s funny and what’s not can be so subjective, and picking up a book like this always holds a risk because you never know whether the style or the tone of humor will work for you. If I’m to be honest, overall I felt this novel might’ve been just a tad too heavy on the goofball side to suit my tastes, but author Joe Zieja is also to be commended for finding a balance to ensure that the shtick never got too old.
The story begins by introducing its protagonist, former military engineer turned smuggler Sergeant R. Wilson Rogers, captain of the Awesome (yes, that’s really the name of his spaceship). After his latest deal involving space pirates goes horribly wrong, Rogers unexpectedly finds himself pulled back into his old unit with the Meridan Patrol Fleet.
At first, Rogers thinks it couldn’t be that bad. The activities he and the old 331st used to get up to are the kind of stuff that would make someone like Sgt. Bilko weep tears of joy—gambling, drinking, partying, and generally goofing off while trying to look busy. He figures everything will be the same once he gets back.
Unfortunately, before agreeing to this he had no idea that the MPF is actually preparing for war. Rogers arrives at the flagship to find that the entire atmosphere of the fleet has changed, but it just doesn’t make sense! Considering the Two Hundred Years (and Counting) Peace is still holding strong, and all the treaties protecting it are airtight, there’s simply no evidence of conflict anywhere, but that’s sure not stopping the fleet from shoring up their position, drilling the troops, and bolstering morale. Aghast as he is to be doing actual military work, Rogers has to admit though, something here doesn’t feel quite right.
For anyone who feels military science fiction might be too serious, too gung ho for them, you should consider giving this book a try. Mechanical Failure almost feels like a parody of the genre, subverting the image of the hardass space marine with a character like Rogers, a happy-go-lucky smooth-talking scoundrel whose goal in life is to attract the least amount of responsibility as possible. There’s a running joke in here where the more he screws up or tries to dodge his duties, the further he gets promoted, until he eventually becomes the personal assistant of the grossly incompetent admiral himself, making Rogers the de facto commander of the entire fleet. Rogers never wanted to be a hero, but sometimes you just gotta fake it till you make it.
Zieja also pokes fun at a lot of sci-fi tropes, riffing on the ideas like the dangers of droid armies or the ineffectualness of military bureaucracy. I had mentioned Spaceballs in comparison, and indeed this novel felt like it had a similar “pastiche” feel of a parody film that takes elements and styles from many different works and seeks to imitate or mock them. Granted, much of the humor is campy and sophomoric, driven mostly by slapstick, but you have to hand it to Zieja—he knows how to hold back enough so that it all remained just shy of overdone. While it’s pretty much all throwaway stunts or one-liners, every so often I would find something truly laugh-out-loud funny, and I have to admit this book had its moments. The plot also isn’t terribly deep, but I wasn’t really expecting it to be, knowing the nature of this book beforehand. A funny, light adventure is the order of the day, and that’s what Mechanical Failure delivers.
All told, this book was very enjoyable, though as usual, I must warn that when it comes to this kind of humor, your mileage may vary. Mechanical Failure probably sits right at the threshold of my own tolerance for quirky and absurd humor (I prefer dry and subtle, personally) but I also liked it much more than many novels of its type. It’s so easy for authors to get carried away, overdoing a certain kind of comedy, but happily this is not the case here. If what I’ve described here sounds like something that would interest you, I strongly urge you to give this one a try. I have no doubt this book will find plenty of fans....more
Dark Run by Mike Brooks is a sci-fi adventure novel that first made its debut in the UK in the summer of 2015 to some pretty good reviews, and I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed that the book and its sequel Dark Sky were both made available in the US in audio format last month. I ended up deciding to give it a shot because a) I’ve never met a swashbuckling space romp audiobook I didn’t like, and b) the book stole my attention the moment I saw many a reviewer compare it to Firefly.
After finishing the book myself, I have to say the comparisons are somewhat accurate. Dark Run follows the exploits of the crew of the Keiko, led by its daring captain Ichabod Drift. One day, an old friend comes a-knocking and Drift is unexpectedly presented with a mission he cannot refuse—literally. On pain of death, he is forced to pick up a mysterious cargo and deliver it to a location on old Earth at a very specific time and date. The whole smuggling run smells fishy, but what choice does Drift have? In order to protect his friends from his past, he’ll also have to keep his employer’s identity a secret. Of course, that doesn’t sit right with the crew of the Keiko at all, though with the amount of money they’re being paid, Drift knows they’ll happily let it go…for now.
The calm doesn’t last. As the Keiko makes its approach towards their drop-off point on Earth, their carefully laid out plans suddenly go awry, and the crew find themselves in a serious dilemma. Not only does Drift have to come clean about their mission, he may have just put them all in grave danger. Tensions spark as old histories come to the surface, but can the crew of the Keiko get past them in order to exact vengeance on a new ruthless enemy?
Admittedly, both the plot and characters of Dark Run feel rather formulaic, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, certain formulas are successful for a reason, and this book falls squarely in the “Space Western” sub-category of science fiction, borrowing heavily from its themes and tropes. You have your pirates and smugglers and slicers, gun-slinging action and daring space maneuvers. Most of the story also takes place in gritty, lawless settings like information broker dens, seedy bars, mercenary markets, and even underground fight clubs.
However, the characters are the main draw. Despite being your typical heist team archetypes, they were also interesting and fun. Ichabod Drift is the captain, an enigmatic man with a devil-may-care attitude who nevertheless runs a tight ship. He’s trying to escape a dark personal history, but then so are most of his crew on the Keiko. They even have a rule on board: No talking about your past.
That suits their newest slicer just fine, a young woman named Jenna who was recruited for her incredible tech skills and talent for being able to break into any system. After Drift, she had the most POV sections. Next is Tamara Rourke, an experienced spacer who guards her past more fiercely than anyone else on board, including their captain. Where Rourke came from is a mystery, but having worked together on many jobs after all these years, Drift trusts her implicitly. She is also highly intelligent, frequently overseeing the details behind all their operations. If Rourke is the brains, then Apirana is the muscle, a big Maori man with a soft heart who lives in constant fear that one day his intense and terrible temper will take him over and make him do something he’ll regret. Next up are the siblings Jia and Kuai; one is an ace pilot while the other is a master mechanic. Finally, we have our weapons expert, a mercenary named Micah who loves all things that go boom.
This feels like the sort of ensemble cast I’ve seen many times before, but thankfully their individual quirks also make them very endearing. Each person brings something unique to the story, which is fast-paced and full of excitement. Still, I think I preferred the first half of the book a lot more than the second, because whereas the beginning held all the mystery and tension, the later parts held more of the talking, planning, and avenging. The entire story is solid, but personally I’ve always felt an inclination towards the parts with more anticipation rather than the actual action.
In terms of audiobook comments, I can find no cause to complain about anything in its production or the narrator. In fact, I was very impressed with the reading by Damien Lynch. Due to the diverse background of the crew, Lynch had to narrate with an accent through pretty much the entire book, constantly switching to the appropriate one depending on which character was speaking. He is very good with voices, and even with such a large cast there was never a problem with identifying who was speaking. I enjoyed his narration so much that I’ll likely to stick with the audiobook format for the sequel.
Speaking of which, I am very interested in the future adventures of the crew of the Keiko. I’d love to revisit these character again and learn more about their backgrounds. All told, Dark Run was an entertaining and fast read, filled with fun sci-fi action. ...more
Has a book ever made you feel completely uncertain of how you’ll rate it? Like, what if you’re blown away by its ideas, but at the same time they make you feel utterly out of your depth? Or maybe, a book that you didn’t think would fit your tastes actually ends up surprising the hell out of you. Truth be told, it’s not often that I experience such conflict with a novel, but I’m also not surprised to find myself feeling like this about Too Like the Lightning. After all, it only makes sense that a complex book will require a complex review.
Technically, Ada Palma’s debut novel can be described as political science fiction, but that’s also a gross oversimplification, for here you will also find plenty of historical allusions, social commentary, and philosophical discourse—all coupled with more traditional elements of the genre. In addition, the “story” here isn’t really that but a whole lot more, but I’ll go further into that later. First, we’re introduced to our narrator, Mycroft Canner, writing this account in the year 2454. The world has transformed into a utopia where fast, expedient travel to and from any point in the world has effectively made ideas like borders and nation states obsolete. Instead, almost everyone belongs in one of the handful of mega-factions made up of millions or billions of people. The nuclear family unit has also been replaced by a more dynamic form called a “bash’”, which can vary in size and composition of related or unrelated individuals. And war? War is another topic that one only reads about in the history books.
Mycroft is known as a “Servicer”, a convict serving out his sentence by being as useful as he can to society. Over time, he has grown close to the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash’, whose members are the custodians of this world’s transportation system, a position which gives them considerable renown and power. However, for years the bash’ has also managed to hide a big secret from everyone, sheltering a young boy with the power to work miracles. With little to no effort at all, thirteen-year-old Bridger has the power to bring inanimate objects to life whenever he pleases. Because of his status as an honorary member of the bash’, Mycroft is included in the small group of those who are aware of Bridger’s existence, but that circle is about to be widened with the sudden arrival of an appointed spiritual advisor, or sensayer, named Carlyle Foster.
This description is also merely half of it though, because while all this is happening, all kinds of political machinations are taking place in the upper echelons of the power structure. The book is laced with a thread of mystery here, involving a much elaborate theft of something called a Seven-Ten list, which is a who’s who of the world’s movers and shakers. Naturally, the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash’ is caught in the middle of it, and in their investigations to find out more, Mycroft and others in this narrative find themselves engaging in various political and philosophical dialogues.
To be sure, Too Like the Lightning is actually quite light on plot, but heavy in its social and literary themes. As I said, it’s not so much a story but a Conversation-with-a-capital-C. Here you will find cultural and scientific debates, existentialist questions, explorations into multiple fields of art and history. The book also has lots to say about a variety of subjects, from gender roles to religion. It’s amazing, really. Phenomenal, even. Palmer’s vision is ambitious and unique, drawing from the philosophical movement and spheres of ideas that changed the face of Europe in the 18th century to create this fully-fleshed setting, a world which appears to have gone through its own Age of Enlightenment. The dramatically altered world through Mycroft’s eyes is nothing like our own. Strange, beautiful, and full of wonder, life in this book might not be perfect, but the possibilities are limitless.
That said, this is an odd novel. There’s no other word for it. And I confess, had I been more impatient while reading this, I might have been tempted to set this one aside for later—not because it is a bad book, but because it so far from what I would normally read for entertainment that it might as well be from another universe. Ultimately, I’m glad that I read it to its completion because it was an incredible experience, but I admit there were times where it felt almost too difficult or daunting to continue, especially when I first started. This was also a slow read, because there’s no rushing a book like this; it’s a work of art meant to be savored, consumed, and digested thoroughly.
If I could do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have read Too Like the Lightning over a period of several days. Instead, I would have taken my time, whether it took weeks or months, in order to give myself plenty of time to chew on the many issues and ideas presented in this novel. A longer timeline might also serve to alleviate a lot of the confusion, breaking down the staggering amount of information you need to know to understand the story into more manageable pieces. A book like this practically screams for a glossary, as there are so many new words and terms to learn, so many new concepts and customs to familiarize yourself with, and of course, almost all the characters seem to have more than one name, and it was an exhausting mental exercise just to keep track of them all.
Still, it does get easier. The narratives surrounding Mycroft’s mission to protect Bridger, the boy who seemingly works miracles, was many times more interesting to me than the mystery involving the theft of the Seven-Ten list—at least at first. Once those two threads started coming together, I became more fascinated and invested. Then came the surprises, like the truth behind mild-mannered Mycroft’s crime and how he ended up a Servicer, or the massive revelations dropped on us at the end of the book.
Fair warning though, as this was intended to be the first half of a duology, there will be no resolutions to be found here, since all that will be planned for part two, Seven Surrenders. Having finished Too Like the Lightning, I feel that I know a lot more now to better prepare myself for the sequel. This book is guaranteed to make you think, and will no doubt be a delight for those who enjoy philosophy. It’s a very rich, thought-provoking experience, even if it is perhaps a bit impenetrable at times. If you’re feeling up for a challenging read—because impressive or not, this can be a very demanding novel—then you might want to give this one a look....more
And to think, I almost gave this one a pass when I was compiling a list of books I wanted to read from the new Star Wars canon. What a mistake that would have been. Yes, this is categorized as Young Adult, but to be sure, this is not the kind of Star Wars YA from the old EU when the stories tended to lean more towards middle-grade audiences and few children’s series stood out strongly enough to make an impression. Lost Stars, in a word, was awesome. I have been reading Star Was novels for years and have read many of them during that time, but this has got to be one of the best I’ve ever read.
The book tells the tale of two childhood friends who became lovers before ending up on opposite sides of the galactic war. Ciena and Thane grew up on the same planet just after annexation by the Imperials, but one was born in the more rural valley while the other came from an affluent second-waver family. However, the two met and bonded over a shared love for piloting and a dream to one day fly for the Empire. They entered the Imperial academy together, excited to be with each other as they made that dream come true. But as the war waged on, their fates diverged as one grew disillusioned with the Empire and joined the Rebel Alliance, while the other remained in Imperial service and rose through its ranks to become a high-ranking officer.
The beauty of this book is in its simplicity. At the heart of it is a love story, so you might not enjoy it as much if YA Romance isn’t your cup of tea. At the same time though, it is surprisingly free of the tropes that usually clog up this genre, and I didn’t feel as if the plot was made more complicated by any needless drama. Instead, all the good stuff comes through, themes like: honor versus duty, love and grief, opportunities lost and things left unsaid. Ciena and Thane are the loves of each other’s lives, but they were raised in very different homes, with very different values. Because of that, there will always be a part in each of them that can and never will be reconciled.
And you know what else is great? How deeply and intimately Lost Stars is tied to the original trilogy. You get to relive the major events of each movie from a whole different perspective. No doubt about it, while reading this book I felt like I was 100% in the Star Wars universe. And yet, the story also retains its own uniqueness. You ever think to yourself, surely, the Empire can’t be one homogenous body working in unison towards the same goal? Of course there had to be different factions, as well as good people in the Imperial forces who couldn’t stand by and do nothing while their side committed all sorts of atrocities. This book does a really good job showing this, and in a way it humanizes the Empire by portraying the protagonists as average everyday people.
Like anyone, both Ciena and Thane have close family and friends. They each have their own personal hopes and dreams. They experience desire and longing. My heart ached for the two of them and I wanted so badly for things to work out for them in the end. Move over Anakin and Padme and Episode II, because this is romance done right. Heck, this is “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” done right.
“Look through my eyes…look through my eyes.” *Happy sigh*...more
While I enjoy time travel books as much as the next reader, I still recall my doubts when I was first pitched this book: What if I don’t know that much about World War I? How much history do I need to know in order to follow the plot? Will I still be able to enjoy this story?
Looking back at those questions now, I have to laugh. Really, I needn’t have worried about a thing. Even though history is at the center of this plot and WWI is the inciting incident that sparks the fuse, Time and Time Again turned out to be about so much more. With shades of Stephen King’s 11/22/63, this novel is a suspenseful and heartfelt adventure through time and alternate realities. In truth, it focuses more on the repercussions of changing history and what it means for the main character—as well as for the whole world and the generations after him.
In a not too distant future from now, Hugh Stanton is an ex-soldier and a washed up celebrity who has lost everything. The army wants nothing to do with him, and his once popular survival webcast had to be shut down after ratings fell. His wife and children are dead, killed in a hit-and-run accident in which they never found the culprits. With nothing left to lose, he agrees to take on an insane mission from a group of Cambridge scholars who call themselves the Order of Chronos.
If you had one chance to change history and make the world right, when and where would you go and what would you do? This was the question posed to Stanton by his old history professor Sally McClusky, the Master of Trinity College herself. For all of them, the answer was simple—June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, to prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand thus removing the catalyst for World War I.
The reasoning behind their choice is both surprising and not surprising, but you’ll have to read this book for yourself to find out why. Suffice to say though, it made for a good premise. It’s no wonder that there are all sorts of “What If?” speculations surrounding this date, considering the string of extraordinary coincidences that led directly to the Archduke’s death (if you haven’t heard the story about the sandwich that changed the world, definitely look that one up!) If just one thing had changed that day, could the Great War have been averted? And how might the world look like afterwards?
And here, Ben Elton had my full attention. As I said before, I enjoy stories about time travel, and my favorite books are always those that make me see things in a whole new light. Time and Time Again definitely deserves a place in this category. I love time travel theories that pull together history and science fiction, and Elton achieves this in style, postulating that Sir Isaac Newton had found a way to travel back in time and even tied this event to the great mathematician’s nervous breakdown during the period of 1692-1693. However, the best thing about this book is all the twists and turns, especially when it comes to a couple of big revelations near the end. Obviously I can’t go into them in any detail, but what I can say is that with so many poignant and unforgettable moments, Time and Time Again is one truly special book.
Ben Elton also knows how to keep a reader’s attention. I went into this book thinking it would be similar to a historical drama, but I was surprised to find an exciting mix of mystery, suspense, and even some romance and light humor. This isn’t a story that relies on a single element or one aspect of its premise to make its point, and again, this was what made me think of King’s 11/22/63. If you enjoy multi-faceted time travel stories, Time and Time Again is worth checking out—even if you aren’t particularly well-versed in the history of World War I. I myself have never been too interested in the topic, yet I found myself unable to resist the author’s vivid descriptions of early 20th century Europe, and it was doubly interesting to experience this world through the eyes of a character as fascinating as Hugh Stanton.
But above all, I loved how this book made me think. Going back to the original question Sally McClusky posed to Hugh Stanton: If you could make one change in history to make the world better, what would it be? Perhaps our protagonist should have answered the question with another one: Would you even want to? Not that the idea itself isn’t tempting, but who makes history anyway? Can a single person really make a difference, or are we all just like particles in Brownian motion, creating history with each and every random collision? Maybe it’s naïve to believe we can change the future by altering the past, deciding who lives and who dies. Maybe it is hubris and lack of understanding that ultimately causes Stanton to make all his mistakes, leading him to his own little quandary.
In case it’s not obvious by now, I had a great time with this book. This is the first time I’ve ever read Ben Elton, and I’m very impressed with his extensive knowledge of the time period as well as the brilliant way he structured and paced this story. I thought I’d seen it all when it comes to time travel plots, and never have I been so glad to be proven wrong. Time and Time Again swept me up in its richness and intrigue, taking me to places I never expected. I know this one is going to stay with me for a long time. Definitely one of the most captivating time travel novels I’ve ever read....more