Early Review: SKY WITHOUT STARS

Early Review:  SKY WITHOUT STARSSky Without Stars (System Divine, #1) by Jessica Brody, Joanne Rendell
four-stars
Series: System Divine #1
Published by Simon Pulse on March 26, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 592
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

SKY WITHOUT STARS Review

 

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a favorite of mine – I’ve read the book, seen the movie adaptations, and I’ve watched the Broadway show. I’m also a big sci-fi fan so I when I heard that Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell is a retelling of Les Miserables set in outer space, it immediately became a must-read for me.

Sky Without Stars is a dark and intense story of oppression, rebellion, and revolution.  It features three main characters – a thief, an officer, and a young woman who is guardian to the last surviving library.  These three seemingly unrelated characters will find their lives unexpectedly intertwined as the poor and oppressed citizen of the planet Laterre threaten to rise up against those who would keep them down.

In an atmosphere filled with danger and destruction, who will survive?

The worldbuilding in Sky Without Stars is top notch.  The story is set in outer space on the fictional planet of Laterre.  The authors did a brilliant job of reimaging the tense social climate in France at the time of the French Revolution, the way the filthy rich and the authorities built themselves up on the backs of the poor, while at the same time, turning their backs on them and letting them live in slums or starve in the streets. The descriptions were so vivid that it was easy to imagine the horrid conditions the poor were stuck in while the rich lived in their opulent homes. They also added in lots of futuristic gadgets and weapons, including a modernized version of a guillotine that reminded me a lot of a Star Wars lightsaber.

Chatine was my favorite character. She’s street smart and feisty, and all about doing whatever she has to do in order to survive.  Disguising herself as a boy, Chatine works as a thief, picking pockets all day.  She lives with her con artist family, but there’s no love lost there so Chatine is trying to thieve her way into getting enough money to buy her way onto a better planet.  I live for a good underdog, so I was cheering Chatine on every step of the way.

Marcellus was another interesting character.  He’s a military officer who is in training to take over leadership of the military.  He begins to question his loyalty to the government, however, after receiving a cryptic message from his father, that implores him to go and visit an old friend – an old friend who happens to be suspected of being one of the masterminds behind a rebel faction hiding amongst them.  It was interesting to watch how complicated things got for Marcellus as he struggled to figure out if his loyalties should lie with the government he works for or with the people, who are clearly suffering.

Alouette is the third voice we hear in the story and like, Chatine and Marcellus, she is an easy character to sympathize with.  At first I’ll admit that I found her a little dull compared to the other two characters, but once she is confronted with the fact that her whole life has been a lie, she gets a lot more interesting.

There is also a secondary character that I fell in love with, a young boy named Roche.  He’s a little thief like Chatine, but he has more personality in his body than all of the other characters added together.  He’s clearly modelled after Gavroche, who stole the show in the original story.

The main issue I had with Sky Without Stars was that I found myself constantly comparing it to Les Miserables.  I kept trying to match up every character in the retelling with who they were inspired by in the original and it actually started to get very distracting, especially if I thought the new character fell short of the original, case in point Alouette as Cosette and Marcellus as Marius.  Although I liked both Alouette and Marcellus overall, I just found them a little flat if I thought of them in relation to Cosette and Marius too much.

I also found myself missing characters like Fantine and Valjean, one who was not included in the retelling at all and one who seemed severely underused, even though I considered their roles to be pretty vital in the original.

It can be hard to measure up to a beloved classic, but I think Sky Without Stars stands on its own as a pretty exciting space opera.  I actually think I would have enjoyed it even more than I did if I had been less familiar with the original Les Miserables.  I guess what I’m trying to say there is I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys science fiction, even if you’re not at all familiar with the original classic.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A thief. An officer. A guardian. 

Three strangers, one shared destiny . . .

When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing.

Whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…

Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet.

Marcellus is an officer—and the son of a renowned traitor. In training to take command of the military, Marcellus begins to doubt the government he’s vowed to serve when his father dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that only one person can read: a girl named Alouette.

Alouette is living in an underground refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. But a shocking murder will bring Alouette to the surface for the first time in twelve years…and plunge Laterre into chaos.

All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet.

Power, romance, and destiny collide in this sweeping reimagining of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables.

four-stars

About Jessica Brody

Jessica Brody knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer. She started self “publishing” her own books when she was seven years old, binding the pages together with cardboard, wallpaper samples, and electrical tape.

After graduating from Smith College in 2001 where she double majored in Economics and French and minored in Japanese, Jessica later went on to work for MGM Studios as a Manager of Acquisitions and Business Development. In May of 2005, Jessica quit her job to follow her dream of becoming a published author.

Since then, Jessica has sold over twelve novels for teens, tweens, and adults including 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, The Karma Club, My Life Undecided, and the three books in the Unremembered trilogy, the first of which is currently in development as a major motion picture by the producers of The Vampire Academy, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, and Slumdog Millionaire. In 2016, she will release two new contemporary novels, A Week of Mondays (August) and Boys of Summer (April), and in 2017, her debut middle grade novel entitled, Addie Bell’s Shortcut to Growing Up, will hit bookstore shelves.

Jessica also writes books for the Descendants: “School of Secrets” series, based on the hit Disney Channel Original movie, Descendants!

Jessica’s books are published and translated in over twenty foreign countries. She currently splits her time between California and Colorado.

About Joanne Rendell

Joanne Rendell is the author of three novels and holds a PhD in English Literature. She teaches fiction writing to teens and kids, as well as online writing classes at Udemy.com and Lynda.com. Joanne is a board member for the youth Shakespeare company, New Genesis Productions. With her husband and son, she divides her time between New York City and New Paltz, New York.

Backlist Briefs: Reviews for MUSE OF NIGHTMARES & VENGEANCE

Backlist Briefs:  Reviews for MUSE OF NIGHTMARES & VENGEANCEMuse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
Also by this author: Strange the Dreamer
five-stars
Series: Strange the Dreamer #2
on October 2, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 514
Also in this series: Strange the Dreamer
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.

She believed she knew every horror and was beyond surprise.

She was wrong.

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the Muse of Nightmares, has not yet discovered what she's capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel's near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this astonishing and heart-stopping sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

Review:

I’m just going to start off by saying that Laini Taylor’s writing in this series is about as close to perfection for me as it gets.  There’s just something so special about the world she has created with Weep and with her Godspawn characters that enchanted me from the first pages of Strange the Dreamer and that continued to captivate me all the way through her latest installment, Muse of Nightmares.  This has truly been one of my favorite fantasy reads and I’m probably just going to babble incoherently in this review and not do justice to the story at all.

Muse of Nightmares has an epic, sweeping storyline that is hard to talk about without giving away spoilers, so I’m just going to say that it not only revisits all of our favorite characters from Strange the Dreamer and takes each of their stories to the next level, but it also answers any and all questions that we were left hanging with at the end of that first book.  Then, Taylor ramps up the worldbuilding even more by taking us inside of the world that ultimately creates the Godspawn and gives us that origin story.  This aspect of the novel and the new characters that are introduced end up becoming crucial to the original storyline and I just found it so impressive how smoothly Taylor ties together all of the intricate threads that she creates between the two books.

The characters were of course still my favorite part of the series.  My love for Lazlo and Sarai and their relationship only grew as they continued to defy all odds to be together in Muse of Nightmares.  Ruby, Feral, and Sparrow are still as delightful as ever, and I even developed a soft spot for characters that I really didn’t care for in the first book, like Eril-Fane, Thyron Nero, and especially Minya.  My newfound love for Minya was what surprised me the most about this second book.  As much as I despised her in the first book, I actually cried for her in Muse of Nightmares.  Totally did not see that coming, lol.

I’m sure I haven’t begun to do justice to what a beautiful fantasy story this series really is, but trust me, it’s one of the most beautifully crafted stores I’ve read in a long time.  It’s not a fast-paced story by any means, but I thought the pacing was just perfect as Laini Taylor wove her exquisite tale and captured both my heart and imagination.  5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs:  Reviews for MUSE OF NIGHTMARES & VENGEANCEVengeful by V.E. Schwab
Also by this author: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
four-stars
Series: Villains #2
Published by Tor Books on September 25, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 478
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Eli Ever and Victor Vale were only medical students when their mutual discovery that near-death experiences can, under the right conditions, manifest extraordinary abilities.

They were best friends, and rivals, and then enemies. They were dead, then alive, and then---Eli killed Victor, once and for all.

Or so he thought---but Sydney Clarke felt otherwise, and used her own superpower to tip the scales. Now, a trio hides in the shadows, while another takes advantages of post-death life to take over the city of Merit.

If there can be life after death—will there be calm after vengeance, or will chaos rule?

Review:

Vengeful is the much anticipated sequel to V.E. Schwab’s immensely popular Vicious, and man, what a sequel it is!  It’s everything I hoped it would be and more.  Schwab revisits the world of the EOs (Extra Ordinaries) and all of my favorite morally gray characters and even adds a couple of new ones with cool EO powers to the mix.  If you’re into villains at all, you’re going to love Marcella because The Villains series really lives up to its name with the addition of her character.  I don’t want to give away too much about Marcella and what she’s after so I’ll just say that I spent much of the book waiting with bated breath to see what was going to happen once she finally crossed paths with either Eli or Victor.  I just knew from the moment we were introduced to her that it was going to be an explosive encounter!

The story picks up five years after the events of Vicious and we learn that when Sydney used her power to resurrect Victor the last time, something went wrong with his powers and now he keeps dying, each time staying dead longer and longer.  He’s in a fight for his life at this point.  As if Victor’s desperate need to find a way to save himself doesn’t make for an intense enough story, there’s Eli at the other end of the spectrum.  Eli has actually been captured and imprisoned by an anti-EO group and used as little more than a science experiment for years. The predicaments they find themselves in are clearly not what they had in mind when they first started trying to secure EO powers for themselves years ago.

Eli is perhaps the most surprising element of Vengeful for me.  He is, of course, still driven by his belief that he is good and every other EO, especially Victor, is evil and needs to be destroyed, but at the same time, we are given insight into Eli’s past (growing up with an abusive father, etc.) that brings such a level of humanity to him that I honestly felt tremendous sympathy for Eli. Aside from my unexpected sympathy for Eli, what I loved most about Vengeful, as with Vicious, are the scenes with Victor and his found family.  Those domestic scenes between Victor, Mitch, Sydney, and Sydney’s dog, Dol, just gave me such warm fuzzies and perfectly offset all of the danger and violence that infuses every other scene in the series.

I did struggle a bit with Schwab’s use of multiple timelines in Vengeful, mainly because there were so many of them to keep track of.  Thankfully though, I got used to them fairly quickly and settled in for the ride.

My love for V.E. Schwab’s writing continues to grow with each book that I read and Vengeful is no exception to that.  I love the intricate worlds that she builds, the flawed morally ambiguous characters that she makes me fall for, and the deliciously dark and dangerous storylines that she crafts.  4 STARS

five-stars

About Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor is the author of the National Book Award Finalist Lips Touch: Three Times, as well as the novels Blackbringer and Silksinger. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, and their daughter.

About V.E. Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.

All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to her PR rep, Kristin Dwyer, at: kdwyer@leoprny.com

Early Review: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TIME TRAVEL

Early Review: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TIME TRAVELThe Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
four-stars
Published by Crooked Lane Books on February 12, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: the Publisher
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the Crooked Lane Books blog tour for The Psychology of Time Travel.  Thanks so much to Crooked Lane Books and author Kate Mascarenhas for allowing me to read an advanced copy and share my thoughts on this exciting debut novel.

 

MY REVIEW:

The idea of being able to time travel is something that has captured my imagination since I was a child so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Kate Mascarenhas’ debut The Psychology of Time Travel.  I was eager to see what kind of spin she put on the concept and let me just say right now that I was not at all disappointed.  Mascarenhas brings a fresh new perspective to time travel by focusing on not so much on the idea of traveling itself, but more so on how moving back and forth through time can affect the mental health of those who regularly engage in the process.

When the novel opens, it’s 1967 and we are presented with four female scientists who are working together to build the world’s first time machine.  These pioneers decide to test the machine themselves while everyone else is off for the Christmas holidays and when they determine the machine works, they immediately contact the media to present their discovery.  To their dismay, however, one of the scientists, Barbara, suffers a live on-air mental breakdown, which threatens not only their project but also the entire future of time travel.  At the urging of Margaret, who has proclaimed herself the leader of their little group, the other three scientists decide that kicking Barbara out of the project and shunning her completely is the best way to save their discovery and keep it moving forward.

We then jump forward in time 50 years to see that time travel now occurs on a regular basis and that Margaret and the other two pioneering scientists now head up The Conclave, an elaborate complex that basically has a monopoly on time travel all over the world.  They run psychological screens and recruit candidates to become time travelers, they have their own currency system in place so that time travelers will always be able to have access to money no matter where they are in time, and they also have their own laws and courts so that they can police themselves through time.

When a dead body riddled with bullet holes turns up in the basement of a museum in 2018, however, it adds an extra twist to this time travel story by turning it into a murder mystery as well and lends itself to some very thought provoking questions.  How is this murder connected to the rest of the story?  Is the deceased from the timeline he or she was found in?  How do you catch a killer that could have come from and/or disappeared to any other point in time?

There’s a lot to love about this story but here are a few of my favorites:

Nearly all female cast of characters. If you enjoy a book with a full cast of strong female characters, then this is the book for you.  There is a minor male character or two in the book, but by and large, the story is led by women.  They have the brains, the power, the influence, and so on.  I won’t go so far as to say that all of the women in the story are likeable because Margaret really is the worst, but I will say that it is a diverse and very interesting group.

Psychological effects.  To play off the book’s title, the psychological effects on those who time travel were quite fascinating to read about.  The author clearly put a lot of thought into all of the possible reactions to having the ability to move back and forth through time.  For most who do it, it doesn’t really affect them much.  They jump forward and backwards in time, even encountering past and future versions of themselves and they don’t even bat an eye at it.  It doesn’t faze them a bit.

But then there are others who become obsessed with it.  Barbara, for example.  Once Margaret and the gang kick her out of their project, she spends most of the rest of her life obsessing about how to figure out a way back into their good graces and into the program because she’s desperate to time travel again.

Worldbuilding.  The worldbuilding in this story, especially with respect to the time traveling is just so intricate.   I thought it was brilliant that a time traveler could encounter older and younger versions of themselves. I also loved all the lingo the author came up with to describe time traveling itself and as well as the social structure within the Conclave.  I especially liked the idea that younger versions of yourself that you encountered were considered ‘Green’ while older versions of yourself that you encountered while time traveling were called ‘Silver.’

And yes, this is one seriously mind-bending book. The synopsis does not lie about that. LOL!  There were times when I expected to completely lose the plot because of all the intricate crisscrossing back and forth through time, but I’ll give the author major props in that she held on to all of the seemingly divergent threads of the story and managed to bring them all together to a cohesive and satisfying conclusion.

Ethical Questions.  I love a book that gives me food for thought and The Psychology of Time Travel definitely succeeded on that level.  In some ways the story can be quite disturbing, especially when it comes to the almost total disregard for danger and death that the time travelers have.  It’s like they’ve seen themselves and their loved ones at so many different points in the past and future that they’ve become immune to the idea of dying. It has no meaning for them.

The Conclave also seems to be ripe for corruption as they have such a monopoly on time travel and have their own rules and currency and court system.  The way they manipulate the system and move their money around to pay taxes whenever it’s most beneficial to them especially caught my attention.  I could see this book being a big hit with book clubs because there’s just so much to think about and discuss.  Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?

 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Psychology of Time Travel.  The only real issue I ran into was that partway through the book, the author added some extra POVs to the storytelling.  What the new perspectives added to the overall plot was vital so I understood why the author added them, but it was a little confusing since I had gotten so used to the original voices who were presenting the story.  The later additions also didn’t feel as developed as the earlier characters, which added to the challenge of keeping the characters and their places on the timeline straight in my mind.

Kate Mascarenhas’ The Psychology of Time Travel offers a fresh take on the concept of time traveling.  It’s equal parts science fiction and murder mystery, with a case study of the psychological effects of time travel thrown in for good measure. There’s really a little something for everyone.  I definitely look forward to reading more from Kate Mascarenhas.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Perfect for fans of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures comes The Psychology of Time Travel, a mind-bending, time-travel debut.

In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history.

Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?

Traversing the decades and told from alternating perspectives, The Psychology of Time Travel introduces a fabulous new voice in fiction and a new must-read for fans of speculative fiction and women’s fiction alike.

 

four-stars

About Kate Mascarenhas

Kate Mascarenhas is a writer.

Born in 1980, she is of mixed heritage (white Irish father, brown British mother) and has family in Ireland and the Republic of Seychelles.

She studied English at Oxford and Applied Psychology at Derby. Her PhD, in literary studies and psychology, was completed at Worcester.

Since 2017 Kate has been a chartered psychologist. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, bookbinder, and doll’s house maker. She lives in the English midlands with her partner.

Her new novel, The Psychology of Time Travel, is published in the UK by Head of Zeus. It will be available in the US from Crooked Lane in February 2019.

Review: THE DARKEST STAR by Jennifer Armentrout

Review:  THE DARKEST STAR by Jennifer ArmentroutThe Darkest Star by Jennifer L. Armentrout
four-stars
Series: Origin #1
Published by Tor Teen on October 30, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

With her latest novel The Darkest Star, Jennifer Armentrout pays another visit to the Luxens, the alien beings who are featured in her popular Lux series.  When I first requested The Darkest Star, I actually had no idea that it was a spinoff of an existing series.  I was just looking for a sci-fi read and thought the synopsis for this book sounded cool.  Once I realized it followed another series, I was a little worried that I would be completely lost.  Thankfully, however, Armentrout does a very nice job of providing enough background on the Luxens that I was able to jump right in and follow the story without issue.

When The Darkest Star opens, we learn that the story is set four years after a Luxen invasion has left many dead and many of the Earth’s cities in ruins.  Not all of the Luxen were involved in the invasion, however, so some of them are now living right alongside the humans.  That’s not to say that relations between the humans and Luxens are great though.  While the two groups leave each other alone for the most part, there are definitely some humans who would rather have absolutely nothing to do with the Luxens.  Armentrout creates a palpable tension in the air in most of the scenes featuring humans and Luxens because they ultimately don’t trust each other.

That mistrust is evident as soon as we meet the main character, 17 year old Evie Dasher, who is accompanying her best friend to a club which happens to be a known hangout for Luxens.  Evie goes because she promised her friend, but she is definitely uneasy about it. Evie’s night then takes an unexpected turn when she meets and finds herself unexpectedly attracted to a gorgeous Luxen named Luc.  Something seems familiar about him, but Evie has no idea why since she’s never met him before.  She’s about to get to know him a lot better though…

One of the things I really liked about The Darkest Star is that it really starts off with a bang.  Armentrout hooked me immediately by not only having her main character wander into this Luxen club, but she then adds to the tension and the danger by having law enforcement raid the club, which of course sends everyone in a frenzy trying to get away.

At the same time she’s hooking me with such an exciting opening, Armentrout also introduces me to Evie and Luc, two characters that I immediately liked and wanted to get to know better.  Evie is a great protagonist.  It was easy to feel sympathetic toward her right away because we learn that her father was killed in the invasion and her mother is always working so Evie is on her own more often than not.  I also liked watching her feelings about the Luxens evolve as she gets to know Luc and some of his Luxen friends better.

Speaking of Luc, he’s the one who really steals the show.  Like all Luxens, he’s unnaturally hot.  Luc is also an arrogant smart ass.  He really gets under Evie’s skin from the moment they meet and most of the time she can’t decide if she wants to punch him or kiss him.  He’s endearing in a really obnoxious way.  I often found myself laughing out loud at some of the words that would come out of his mouth.  He’s also immediately super protective of Evie, so that gives him some bonus points to offset the obnoxiousness.

The Luxens are fascinating too.  As I mentioned earlier, they are ridiculously hot.  Unless they are trying to disguise themselves, they always stand out as the hottest, most flawless people in the room.  They also have an interesting array of powers, including being able to open locked doors, melt guns, and read minds, to name a few.  I also found myself sympathetic to the Luxens because of how they are viewed by so many humans. Even though this is science fiction, there are many parallels between how the Luxens are treated and how immigrants are sometimes treated.

Last but not least, I liked that this is one of those books that has a little something for everyone.  It’s a great action-packed sci-fi story, but it’s also got a great mix of romance and family drama.  Throw in a few dead bodies, another species of aliens, a heavy dose of danger, and you’ve got yourself one heck of an entertaining story!

 

The only real issue I had while reading was that I did wish I knew a little more about the Luxens and their powers.  That’s totally on me though for not having read the earlier series first.  Even without that information, I still thought it was a great start to a new series.

Whether you’re already a fan of the Luxens or you’re new to this world, The Darkest Star has a lot to offer.  It has left me not only wanting the next book in this new series, but also eager to backtrack and read the earlier series to fill my need for more information on the Luxens.  If you’re looking for a great sci-fi read, check out The Darkest Star.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When seventeen-year-old Evie Dasher is caught up in a raid at a notorious club known as one of the few places where humans and the surviving Luxen can mingle freely, she meets Luc, an unnaturally beautiful guy she initially assumes is a Luxen…but he is in fact something much more powerful. Her growing attraction for Luc will lead her deeper and deeper into a world she’d only heard about, a world where everything she thought she knew will be turned on its head…

#1 New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout returns to the universe of the Lux in this brand new series, featuring beloved characters both new and old.

four-stars

About Jennifer L. Armentrout

# 1 New York Times and # 1 International Bestselling author Jennifer lives in Charles Town, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing. she spends her time reading, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, hanging out with her husband and her Jack Russell Loki. In early 2015, Jennifer was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a group of rare genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and death of cells in the retina, eventually resulting in loss of vision, among other complications. Due to this diagnosis, educating people on the varying degrees of blindness has become of passion of hers, right alongside writing, which she plans to do as long as she can.

Her dreams of becoming an author started in algebra class, where she spent most of her time writing short stories….which explains her dismal grades in math. Jennifer writes young adult paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary romance. She is published with Tor, HarperCollins Avon and William Morrow, Entangled Teen and Brazen, Disney/Hyperion and Harlequin Teen. Her Wicked Series has been optioned by PassionFlix. Jennifer has won numerous awards, including the 2013 Reviewers Choice Award for Wait for You, the 2015 Editor’s Pick for Fall With Me, and the 2014/2015 Moerser-Jugendbuch- Jury award for Obsidian. Her young adult romantic suspense novel DON’T LOOK BACK was a 2014 nominated Best in Young Adult Fiction by YALSA. Her adult romantic suspense novel TILL DEATH was a Amazon Editor’s Pick and iBook Book of the Month. Her young adult contemporary THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER is a 2017 RITA Award Winner in Young Adult Fiction. She also writes Adult and New Adult contemporary and paranormal romance under the name J. Lynn. She is published by Entangled Brazen and HarperCollins.

She is the owner of ApollyCon and The Origin Event, the successful annual events that features over hundred bestselling authors in Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult Fiction, panels, parties, and more. She is also the creator and sole financier of the annual Write Your Way To RT Book Convention, a contest that gives aspiring authors a chance to win a fully paid trip to RT Book Reviews.

Jennifer would love to hear from you. If you have questions about any of her books, would like to set up an interview, book signing, etc, please use the email address below. Please check out each book/series individual page for more information about each title and the FAQ section.

For rights information on any of her titles, please contact Kevan Lyon from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. For interviews, please contact Kristin Dwyer at kdwyer@leoprny.com

If you are requesting an ARC please contact the publisher of that book.

To contact Jennifer directly, please email: jenniferlarmentrout@live.com

Review: WILDCARD

Review:  WILDCARDWildcard by Marie Lu
Also by this author: Warcross
three-half-stars
Series: Warcross #2
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on September 18, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 341
Also in this series: Warcross
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

 
 

 
 
 
 

WILDCARD REVIEW:

Marie Lu’s Warcross was one of my favorite reads from 2017.  It was an action-packed, thrill ride and I adored the main character Emika Chen and her Warcross teammates, the Phoenix Riders.  Emika’s overall badassery, the brilliant worldbuilding that took us inside the world of the Warcross Games, and the comradery that develops between Emika and the Phoenix Riders, really made Warcross an exciting and entertaining read for me.  It also had a killer ending that left me anxious to get my hands on the next novel in the series, Wildcard.

I always find it hard to review books that are part of a series.  I want to share so much but also don’t want to spoil anything for readers who haven’t started the series yet, so here’s a general list of what worked and what didn’t work for me as I was reading Wildcard.

  • Emika Chen is still all kinds of awesome. It seems like everyone she encounters in Wildcard is trying to use her for some purpose or another, but she remains determined to do what she thinks is right, no matter what.  I really admired her strength and that fierce determination.
  • Wildcard is a much different read than Warcross. Where Warcross is mostly about the excitement of the Warcross games and having us get to know Emika and Hideo, Wildcard makes a much more emotional punch as it takes us deeper into Hideo’s character and explores the heartbreaking backstory of Hideo’s younger brother, who was kidnapped and hasn’t been seen since.  Hideo has been searching for his brother for years and we can see firsthand in Wildcard how the search for his brother has shaped Hideo’s every move.  I really liked the added depth that the history of Hideo and his brother gave to the overall story.
  • I don’t want to say too much about him, but I think Zero was actually the most fascinating part of Wildcard for me. In many ways he steals the spotlight from Emika at times, but his whole story was so interesting that I honestly didn’t mind that one bit.
  • I also really liked the direction that Marie Lu took with Emika and Hideo’s relationship. If you were shipping them in the first book, I think you’ll be pleased, and I actually think even if you weren’t, you’ll be more into the complexities of their relationship this time around.

  • I did have some issues with the pacing of the novel. I remember breezing through Warcross in a day or two, but Wildcard took me almost a whole week.  Most of it went by fairly quickly but there were a few times when I found myself skimming because it felt like the story was dragging.
  • Even though I liked that this book was a different read and that it went way beyond just playing Warcross, I have to say I really missed the actual playing of the game, the practice sessions, and all of those things that made the first book so much fun.
  • Since the Phoenix Riders team was one of my favorite things about the first book, I wanted them to have a much bigger presence in this novel than they ended up having.
  • This will probably end up being just a “me” thing, but the ending seemed a little off. It’s hard to describe but I got to what I thought was the end, but then turned the page and it kept going.  Then I thought it was over a second time, turned the page, and there was still another chapter.  I was starting to wonder if it was ever going to end, lol.

 

Wildcard is a more intense read than Warcross in a lot of ways.  The stakes are definitely higher in this second installment since it moves beyond the idea of a bunch of teams trying to win a video game tournament.  Some of the differences worked for me, and some of them didn’t quite work, but even with the issues I had with Wildcard, I still think it’s a very worthy follow-up to Warcross.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo’s new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she’s always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.

Determined to put a stop to Hideo’s grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone’s put a bounty on Emika’s head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn’t all that he seems–and his protection comes at a price.

Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?

three-half-stars

About Marie Lu

Marie Lu is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Legend trilogy and The Young Elites trilogy. She graduated from the University of Southern California and jumped into the video game industry, working for Disney Interactive Studios as a Flash artist. Now a full-time writer, she spends her spare time reading, drawing, playing Assassin’s Creed, and getting stuck in traffic. She lives in Los Angeles, California (see above: traffic), with one husband, one Chihuahua mix, and two Pembroke Welsh corgis.

Five Reasons Why Diane Chamberlain’s THE DREAM DAUGHTER is a Must Read

Five Reasons Why Diane Chamberlain’s THE DREAM DAUGHTER is a Must ReadThe Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 2, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

Before The Dream Daughter caught my eye, I have to confess that I had never given Diane Chamberlain’s novels a try.  I always thought the synopses of her books sounded interesting but somehow just never got around to reading one.  Well, let me tell you that I’m seriously kicking myself right now because I have clearly been missing out on some amazing books.  The Dream Daughter is one of the most exquisite novels I’ve ever read. I devoured it and know for certain that it will make my Best of 2018 list at the end of the year.  It’s just that good.

It’s also one of those books that is best read without knowing too much going in, so instead of writing a full fledged review here, I’m just going to give you five reasons why I loved this book and think you’ll love it too.

5 Reasons The Dream Daughter Should Be on Your Reading List

  1. I’m a huge fan of time travel novels when they are well written and Diane Chamberlain writes time travel to sheer perfection in The Dream Daughter. Using precise scientific calculations to locate portals that will take you to a date and location of your choice, Chamberlain creates a brilliant and logical time traveling premise that will stretch the bounds of your imagination but, at the same time, will make you seriously think about whether such a thing could actually be possible.
  1. The Dream Daughter is a unique blend of science fiction and historical fiction, as well as a heartwrenching domestic drama. It has a little bit of everything, and for someone like me who enjoys all three of these, having them so beautifully woven together in one story was reading heaven.  What I think Chamberlain does especially well with this is that none of these elements takes over the story so I think even someone who loves historical fiction, for example, but not necessarily sci-fi, would still love the book.
  1. The Dream Daughter is a poignant read that is sure to capture your heart. Chamberlain explores the lengths that a mother will go to and the sacrifices she is willing to make in order to save her unborn child.  I was just so moved by the main character’s plight and the strength she displayed at every step along the way.
  1. Speaking of characters, I was so impressed by the way both of the main characters in this book were written. The story is told from the point of view of Carly, a widowed soon-to-be mom who is in danger of losing her baby, and Hunter, a physicist who just appears in Carly’s life one day and ends up having a massive impact on her life.  It’s immediately easy to feel sympathy for Carly  because we learn that not only is her husband killed in the Vietnam War, but her unborn child also has an untreatable heart defect that is destined to be fatal soon after the baby’s birth.  Carly’s desperation is palpable and it’s impossible not to root for her as she tries to find a way to save her child.  Hunter, however, is equally sympathetic but he’s also a tad mysterious, which makes him all the more interesting. When we (and Carly) meet him, he is at a rehab facility recovering from a fall off a roof.  There is some question as to his mental health and whether or not the fall was actually a jump.  Although he is initially completely uncooperative with his physical therapists, he warms up to Carly right away and they become friends.  Their lives further intertwine when Hunter falls for and marries Carly’s sister and then later when he approaches Carly with a possible solution on how to save her unborn child…if she’s willing to take a giant leap of faith.  I thought Chamberlain did such an incredible job of developing compelling, layered stories for each of these characters and ultimately entwining them together into one beautifully complex story.
  1. As you’ve probably gathered by me gushing about Chamberlain’s character development, I’m a big fan of her writing style. Not only was the character development wonderful, but everything about the story was.  The prose was gorgeous, without being purple, and the pacing was perfect.  The need to save the unborn child also added such a sense of urgency that I truly could not put the book down until I knew how it ended.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From bestselling author Diane Chamberlain comes an irresistible new novel.

When Caroline Sears receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970 and there seems to be little that can be done. But her brother-in-law, a physicist, tells her that perhaps there is. Hunter appeared in their lives just a few years before—and his appearance was as mysterious as his past. With no family, no friends, and a background shrouded in secrets, Hunter embraced the Sears family and never looked back.

Now, Hunter is telling her that something can be done about her baby’s heart. Something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Caroline has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage that Caroline never knew existed. Something that will mean a mind-bending leap of faith on Caroline’s part.

And all for the love of her unborn child.

A rich, genre-spanning, breathtaking novel about one mother’s quest to save her child, unite her family, and believe in the unbelievable. Diane Chamberlain pushes the boundaries of faith and science to deliver a novel that you will never forget.

five-stars

About Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 26 novels published in more than twenty languages. Her most recent novel is The Dream Daughter. Some of her most popular books include Necessary Lies, The Silent Sister, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, and The Keeper of the Light Trilogy. Diane likes to write complex stories about relationships between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends. Although the thematic focus of her books often revolves around family, love, compassion and forgiveness, her stories usually feature a combination of drama, mystery, secrets and intrigue. Diane’s background in psychology has given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create her realistic characters.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent her summers at the Jersey Shore. She also lived for many years in San Diego and northern Virginia before making North Carolina her home.

Diane received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, Diane worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria Virginia specializing in adolescents. All the while Diane was writing on the side. Her first book, Private Relations was published in 1989 and it earned the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel.

Diane lives with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her sheltie, Cole. She has three stepdaughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. She’s currently at work on her next novel.

Please visit Diane’s website dianechamberlain.com for more information on her newest novel, The Stolen Marriage, and a complete list of her books.

Early Review: MIRAGE by Somaiya Daud

Early Review:  MIRAGE by Somaiya DaudMirage by Somaiya Daud
four-half-stars
Series: Mirage # 1
Published by Flatiron Books on August 28, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I have to confess that when I first requested an ARC of Somaiya Daud’s Mirage, I did so because the hints of rebellion and the need for a body double revealed in the synopsis gave me Star Wars/Padme Amidala vibes.  Being a huge Star Wars fan, I was immediately intrigued.  What I got instead of just a story with a bit of a Star Wars vibe, however, was an absolutely gorgeous science fiction/fantasy story set in a Moroccan-inspired land and filled with complex, well drawn characters that captivated me from the moment I met each of them.

Mirage follows eighteen year old Amani, who lives on a moon that has been occupied by the brutal Vathek empire.  Because of her resemblance to the Vathek’s princess Maram, Amani is kidnapped from her home and taken to the royal palace.  There, she is told that if she wants to live, she will learn everything there is to know about Maram – mannerisms, her history, her relationships, etc. – so as to prepare herself to serve as Maram’s body double.  Why does Maram need a body double?  Because the people who have been conquered by the Vathek hate her and would love nothing more than to be able to assassinate her.  Amani’s job is to serve as a decoy, ready to die in Maram’s place if need be.

The story follows Amani as she is forced into this new role and as she meets the princess and suffers her wrath for the first time.  It is easy to see why someone would want to kill Princess Maram, and it makes the reader all the more sympathetic to the plight facing Amani.  The few bright spots in Amani’s days are those moments when she can sit back and admire the beauty of the palace and those when she is in the company of Maram’s fiancé, Idris.  One of Amani’s first tests was to see if she could fool Idris and Maram’s father, and while she succeeds with the King, Idris, on the other hand, suspects after a very short time that she is not Maram. As Amani gets to know Idris better, an unexpected bond forms between them that starts as friendship but could easily become more if either of them were to give in to the temptation.

But when the Vathek threaten Amani’s family if she doesn’t do her job to perfection, Amani knows that she needs to focus and not let affairs of the heart guide her choices, especially if she ever hopes to see her family again.

As I already mentioned, Mirage is filled with complex, well drawn characters.  In fact, I’d have to say it’s more character driven than it is plot driven.  Sometimes that doesn’t work all that well for me, but in this case, I loved it because I was so into Amani and Maram and the complexities of their relationship.  I loved how real these characters felt and how nothing was simple or black and white with them.

Amani was my favorite character, no surprise there.  I fell in love with her right away.  She is of course strong, smart, sassy, passionate, quite simply everything I love in a feisty heroine, but she’s also so much more than that.  I love her passion for all things related to her people and their beliefs.  She knows that the Vathek would love nothing more than to erase all of her people’s traditions as if they never existed and that they have banned so many things that they believe could lay the seeds of rebellion. And yet, she doesn’t care.  She still reads the forbidden poems whenever she can and she refuses to forget the ways of her people, including their language.  I loved how strongly she clung to all of these things and turned to them for strength whenever she felt like giving up.  She’s also not perfect by any means, which makes her feel all the more human.  The fact that she’s so tempted by her attraction to Idris shows that she is prone to make all-too-human mistakes, as is the fact that she really wants to make a connection with Maram even though she knows Maram could turn on her like a viper at any moment.

What probably comes as more of a surprise is that Princess Maram was actually my second favorite.  And OMG, talk about your complex characters.  At first she seems like the most evil, vindictive person alive, but as Amani gets to know her a little better, she starts to sense that there may be a lot more to Maram than originally meets the eye.  Amani actually starts to feel sympathy for Maram and wants to connect with her, but it’s impossible to tell whether Maram will let Amani in and possibly become friends or if she’ll cruelly reject Amani and lash out at her as everyone has come to expect from Maram.  I loved how unpredictable she was and that I could never decide which Maram was the real Maram, the one who lashes out at everyone or the more open and vulnerable one who occasionally came out in Amani’s presence.  I think my fascination with Maram is only going to continue to grow in the next book too.

In addition to these amazing characters, there is also a dash of forbidden love in Mirage that really appealed to me.  That is of course between Amani and Idris.  I mean, seriously, of all the people you could feel attracted to, you have to pick the guy who is engaged to the woman you are pretending to be?  How completely awkward but yet, oh so entertaining!

The worldbuilding in Mirage is some of the best that I’ve read.  Daud has woven together a rich and beautiful atmospheric setting that is inspired by Moroccan culture.  It is also complemented by elements of science fiction and fantasy, with a subtle magical system also included.  I was utterly captivated by this world and every detail in it.

Finally, since I mentioned the whole Star Wars vibe thing, yes there are definitely hints of rebellion and resistance to the Vathek in this novel.  Like Amani, those who have been conquered by the Vathek are clearly tired of being treated like dirt on what was actually their own land before the Vathek descended and took over control.  I don’t want to spoil anything so that’s all I’m going to say, but it screams to me that even though this first book was mostly character driven, the action is going to ratchet up in the next book!

 

I almost hate to write anything in this section because I really did adore the book overall, but since I pride myself on honest reviews, I will say that there were a couple of spots along the way where I felt the pacing was a little slow.  Thankfully there were only a couple and those centered around some of Amani’s training/study sessions where she was studying up on how to be like Maram and the “tests” that she had to take to see if she could actually fool anyone.  Most of those sessions and tests were pretty interesting, but after a while, I was definitely ready for the story to move along and get to something more exciting.

 

Somaiya Daud is truly a gifted storyteller whose writing style was just such a good fit for me.  The words in Mirage flow so smoothly and beautifully that I was drawn in immediately and couldn’t put the book down.  Mirage is a beautiful and moving tale with characters that command your attention and whose plight you can’t help but become fully invested in. It’s one of my favorite reads of the year so far and so I highly recommend it to any fans of fantasy and science fiction, but especially to those who love character driven stories.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.

four-half-stars

About Somaiya Daud

Somaiya Daud was born in a Midwestern city, and spent a large part of her childhood and adolescence moving around. Like most writers, she started when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. Determined to remain in school for as long as possible, she packed her bags in 2014 and moved the west coast to pursue a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment. Mirage is her debut, and is due from Flatiron Books in 8/28/2018.

Blog Tour – Review for THE RAGING ONES

Blog Tour – Review for THE RAGING ONESThe Raging Ones by Krista & Becca Ritchie
four-stars
Series: The Raging Ones, #1
Published by Wednesday Books on August 14, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the St. Martin’s Press blog tour and I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts with you on The Raging Ones by Krista and Becca Ritchie.  For those who are familiar with the Ritchie sisters, you’re aware that they are well known for their steamy romance novels.  The Raging Ones is a different kind of adventure, however.  It’s equal parts coming of age story and space epic, and it’s sure to keep you on the edge of your seat!

 

 

MY REVIEW:

The Raging Ones is the exciting first book in a new science fiction/fantasy series from authors Krista and Becca Ritchie.  The world this series is set in fascinated me from the moment I started reading.  The landscape itself is cold, and the way of life is equally cold and impersonal.  Saltere-3 is a world where everyone knows the exact day they’re going to die and so their entire existence is basically structured around that knowledge.  There are Influentials, who have the longest life expectancies and are given the best educational opportunities and a higher social standing as they are expected to, as their name indicates, have a major impact on the world they live in.  Beneath the Influentials on the social scale are the Fast Trackers, who are expected to live between 13-29 years.  As their name indicates, they live hard and fast, trying to squeeze as much life as possible into the short lifetime they have.  Lastly on the social scale are the Babes, whose life expectancy is no more than 12 years.  What little time they have is spent living an innocent existence with their families.  Everyone accepts this as the normal way of life because no one can escape their death day.

Or can they?  Enter our main characters, Franny Bluecastle, Court Icecastle, and Mykal Kickfall.  On the surface these three characters have absolutely nothing in common – Franny is a poor but street smart Fast Tracker who is preparing for her death day, which is imminent.  Court is a wealthy and educated young man who has done time in prison and now just wants to start a new life somewhere other than this world that he feels has wronged him.  Mykal Kickfall is a Hinterlander who is super protective of those he loves and who also happens to have an unbreakable bond with Court.  Wherever Court goes, Mykal is going with him.

So, what do these three characters have in common?  All three miraculously manage to dodge their death days.  How?  No one knows.  It’s problematic for them, however, for two reasons:  1) they now have no idea when they’re going to die.  It could happen any minute or it may not happen for years.  What was utterly predictable is now the unknown.  And 2) because no one is supposed to be able to escape their death day, they fear what the government will do to them if they were to find out.  So Franny, Court, and Mykal all end up on the run trying to make sure no one finds out that they’ve somehow done the impossible.  Their only hope to avoid detection is to get off Saltare-3 and so they decide to hide their identities and participate in a rigorous competition for highly sought after spots in a new mission to space.  If they can get off the planet, they’ll be safe.  The only catch?  They’ll be competing against the elites of society – people who are better educated, have had far more advantages throughout their lives, and who know (because they know when their death days are) there’s no way they can possibly die no matter how intense and dangerous the competition gets.

 

I was hooked on Franny, Court, and Mykal right away since I always love to root for underdogs and they are immediately cast into that role as soon as they enter the space mission competition.  They are up against nearly impossible odds and the Ritchies do a wonderful job of using that competition and its elimination rounds to build up suspense and convey just how high the stakes are for Franny, Court, and Mykal.  I found myself unable to put the book down once I started reading about the competition because I just had to know if all three of them were going to advance or be eliminated.

Franny was the easiest character for me to relate to, mainly because of the three, she is the last to dodge her death day so all of this is new to her, whereas Mykal and Court dodged theirs years before and so have had time to adjust to the idea that they are different from everyone else.  She’s in the same boat the reader is as far as trying to understand and make sense of a world she thought she understood.  I also loved what a scrappy character she is.

Mykal was also a favorite, mainly just because he’s big and burly but gives off this teddy bear vibe at the same time.  I adored his immediate bond with Franny.  They had this brother/sister thing going on that was just so sweet.

Court was a little harder to get to know because he seems to have put up a lot of emotional walls around him, but I enjoyed watching Franny chip away at those walls and eventually strengthen her bond with Court.

So, what are these bonds I keep speaking of?  This is actually my absolute favorite part of the book.  How did Franny, Court, and Mykal even find each other in the first place?  Because they are empaths!  They share an actual bond where they can basically sense anything and everything about each other.  They sense each other’s emotions as well as physical pain and pleasure.  This sharing can get awkward at times, particularly if either of them becomes physically intimate with someone, because the other two can sense what they are experiencing.  There’s a lot more to the bond, but you get the general idea.  Anyway, by the time the book opens, Court and Mykal have been hanging out together for a while so they’re pretty used to it, but it’s fascinating to watch Franny try to adjust to life where she’s suddenly connected to two people she doesn’t even know.  At times it’s funny and at other times, it can be flat out awkward, but it’s always entertaining regardless.

I also loved the intricate world building with the death days and the social hierarchy of babes, fast trackers, and influentials.  It was all so utterly unique.  What I thought was particularly interesting about the worldbuilding is that the Ritchies do not do a huge info dump at the beginning like some books do.  Instead I had to exercise some patience while I was reading and watch the details of this world gradually unfold.  Again, like Franny, I had to learn as I went.  That might bother some readers but I quite enjoyed the journey.

Lastly, there’s also a plot twist/cliffhanger ending that had me wishing I could immediately get my hands on the next book in the series, so if you like a jaw-dropping ending, this might be the book for you!

 

There were a few times along the way where I had a little trouble distinguishing between the points of view of Court and Mykal.  I don’t know if it was because their bond was so intense or if it was something else altogether, but sometimes I found myself flipping back to the beginning of a chapter to remind myself whose point of view I was getting.  This was mostly at the beginning though and it got much easier to distinguish between them as I got further along in the book and got to know Court and Mykal better.

 

If you’re looking for a unique sci-fi fantasy read with compelling characters and a riveting element of competition, I’d highly recommend giving The Raging Ones a try.  I personally think it’s worth a read just for the experience of following three empaths and exploring their bonds, but the rest of the story is equally riveting as well.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In a freezing world, where everyone knows the day they will die, three teens break all odds.

Franny Bluecastle, a tough city teen, dreams of dying in opulence, to see wealth she’s never known. Like the entire world, she believes it’s impossible to dodge a deathday.

Until the day she does.

Court Icecastle knows wealth. He also knows pain. Spending five years in Vorkter Prison, a fortress of ice and suffering, he dreams of life beyond the people that haunt him and the world that imprisoned him.

Mykal Kickfall fights for those he loves. The rugged Hinterlander shares a frustrating yet unbreakable connection with Court—which only grows more lawless and chaotic as their senses and emotions connect with Franny.

With the threat of people learning they’ve dodged their deathdays, they must flee their planet to survive. But to do so, all three will have to hide their shared bond as they vie for a highly sought after spot in the newest mission to space. Against thousands of people far smarter, who’ll live longer, and never fear death the way that they do.

four-stars

About Krista & Becca Ritchie

Krista & Becca Ritchie are New York Times Bestselling Authors and identical twins, one a science nerd, the other a comic book geek. With their shared passion for writing, they combined their mental powers as kids and have never stopped telling stories. Graduates from the University of Georgia in Biology and English & Journalism, the twin writing duo now lives in Atlanta. The Raging Ones is their first young adult novel.

Early Review: VOX by Christina Dalcher

Early Review:  VOX by Christina DalcherVox by Christina Dalcher
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Christina Dalcher’s Vox is a dystopian novel set in America in the not-so-distant future.  Instead of being the land of the free and the home of the brave, however, Dalcher’s America is one where radical religious fundamentalists have taken the reins of power and have implemented what they call the “Pure Movement.”  What the Pure Movement entails is basically stripping women of all of their basic rights, including the right to speak. One day women are just removed from the workforce and fitted with bracelets that count the number of words they speak.  If they go over the their daily allotment of 100 words, or if they try to skirt the 100 word limit by using any form of non-verbal communication, there are severe consequences.

Girls are also placed into different schools from boys and no longer receive the same caliber of education.  They are taught how to do basic arithmetic and how to do household chores like sewing and cooking, the idea being that they are meant to take care of household responsibilities while the men in their lives go out and earn a living.  Cameras have been mounted everywhere to make sure women and girls are falling into line as expected and punishments are readily doled out if they are not complying.

Needless to say, life is pure hell for women like Dr. Jean McClennan, the protagonist in Vox.  Jean is a renowned linguist who was engaged in groundbreaking research that would benefit stroke victims when she is forced out of work and fitted with a bracelet.  Jean is in denial that this is actually happening and she’s absolutely furious at herself for not seeing the signs and not trying to do something to stop this movement from taking hold.  She’s also angry at the men in her life for going along with it and she’s furious at women like her neighbor, Mrs. King, who seem perfectly content with this new way of life.  Most of all, Jean is livid because of how quickly she sees her young daughter fall into line and embrace the idea of speaking as few words in a day as possible.

So what happens when Jean is offered a temporary reprieve from her new way of life because the President needs her expertise?  Can she figure out a way to put a stop to this horrid movement before she, her daughter, and all American women are stripped of their voices?

 

Gosh, where to start with this book?!  I’m always a big fan of books that really make me think and that get to me on an emotional level, and wow, does this book ever fit the bill in both of those categories!  I think The Handmaid’s Tale and maybe The Hunger Games are the last two books I’ve read that got to me the same way Vox did.  I was so angry the whole time I was reading and lost track of how many times I just wanted to fling it across the room.  Why?  I think because even though the book falls into the dystopian category, it just felt so darn plausible.  Way too plausible, honestly, especially given the current administration in charge in the U.S. How many times have we heard this President make sexist and derogatory comments about women?  I get the feeling that he and his cronies would be all too happy to shut women up if they could and so this book resonated with me immensely for that reason.  If I wasn’t already an activist prior to reading Vox, it would definitely motivate me to become one.

In addition to how much it resonated with me and made me think about our government and how easily things could go horribly wrong if a radical movement were to take hold, I also loved how the author really thought of every little detail as she was building this dystopian version of America.  My very first question while reading was why wouldn’t all women just flee the country as soon as they got wind of what the founders of this movement had in mind?  The author took care of that right away by having their passports confiscated.  And it was like that all along the way…every time I thought of something that made a world like this seem highly unlikely, Dalcher immediately came up with something that made it suddenly seem all too likely.  She really thought of every little detail and made the idea of this kind of society frighteningly realistic, especially when she illustrates how this group pushes their agenda using the schools so as to indoctrinate them at a young age.

Another huge selling point of the book for me was, of course, the protagonist, Dr. Jean McClennan.  Can you imagine being at the top of your field in such an important line of work and suddenly being told to go home and shut up?  I felt tremendous sympathy for her, not just for her own loss of voice but also because she has to watch her daughter grow up accepting such a horrible way of life.  I thought the author did an incredible job of portraying the array of emotions that Jean was feeling – the initial denial, the anger, the frustration, the growing hostility toward the men around her, including her own eldest son who seems to have immediately embraced the Pure Movement, all of it is palpable and as a mother, I found it all so easy to relate to.

 

Overall, I thought Vox was an incredibly well written and gripping read.  The only real issue I had with it was that it felt like the ending wrapped up a little too quickly.  It just felt a little rushed and like maybe a few things fell into place a little too conveniently.

 

Vox is an utterly terrifying book in part because even though it’s supposed to be a dystopian read, it seems like something that could easily happen if the wrong people were ever in power.  It serves as a warning to us all to never take for granted what we consider to be our rights and to pay attention to what is going on at all levels of government.  The world on display in Vox is reminiscent of what we see in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale so I’d definitely recommend to fans of that book and TV series.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial–this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end. 

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

four-stars

About Christina Dalcher

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.

Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.

After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

Review: THE POINT by John Dixon

Review:  THE POINT by John DixonThe Point by John Dixon
four-stars
Published by Del Rey Books on August 7, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I really enjoyed John Dixon’s last two novels, Phoenix Island and Devil’s Pocket.  They were fast-paced, action-packed reads that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading them.  Since I enjoyed those so much, I was eager to get my hands on a copy of The Point as soon as I heard about it, especially once I read the synopsis and saw that it was set at West Point Military Academy.

The Point follows the story of Scarlett Winter, a rebellious, thrill seeking teenager who has no interest in conforming to whatever life plans her parents have dreamed up for her. She just wants to do her own thing and be left alone.

That is, until one night when she finds herself on the wrong side of the law.  Scarlett tries to sneak into a party one of her former friends is having.  She knows she’s not invited but thinks it will be a good time to sneak in and shock everyone.  Instead, she stumbles upon some other folks who are lurking on the property planting a bomb.  She throws herself on the bomb and when it explodes, she walks away, basically unharmed.  Witnesses see her at the scene of the crime and before she knows it, two military recruiters come knocking at her door.  They know that she has some kind of superhuman power and they present her with an ultimatum – she can either attend West Point and serve in the military for a few years, or she can go to prison.

Scarlett chooses West Point, of course, but has no idea what’s in store for her once she gets there.  Can she tame her rebellious nature enough to keep from getting kicked out of West Point?  And what happens when a threat from the school’s dark past emerges placing Scarlett and all of her fellow classmates in danger?   Scarlett may be the only one with powers great enough to neutralize the threat, but will she rise to the occasion for the greater good?

Scarlett.  I’ll confess right now that I was not a big fan of Scarlett’s at first.  While I admired her sense of independence and her adventurous spirit, I was a little put off by the way she completely blew off her high school graduation ceremony –without telling her family – so that she could go off and get high with her boyfriend.  Scarlett just lets her parents go to the school and sit in that audience, only to end up shocked and embarrassed when her name was called and she’s not there. All I could think at that moment was “What kind of person even does that?”

That said, Scarlett also quickly began to grow on me the more I got to know her and could see firsthand the dysfunctional family dynamic that she was surrounded by.  Her father is abusive towards her older brother Dan, who then proceeds to hand down his own brand of abusive behavior to Scarlett, while their mother just sits by and lets it all happen.  It became so much easier to understand why Scarlett had such a rebellious streak.

I actually flat out fell in love with Scarlett once she arrives at West Point.  I am always one to cheer on an underdog and it’s clear from Scarlett’s first moments on campus that that’s exactly what she is.  Everyone around her is out to make her life hell and I became extremely invested in cheering on her successes and seeing her really grow and mature as she comes to embrace a life where she is part of something bigger:  the Long Gray Line.

West Point (and The Point).  I have a thing for books that are set in schools so I was thrilled to learn that the bulk of this book is set at West Point military academy.  Dixon has clearly done his research and beautifully captures the atmosphere of what it’s like for a plebe to walk onto this prestigious campus for the first time.  I also thought the whole concept of The Point, a secret training unit for superhumans located beneath the main campus was brilliant.

Superhuman Powers.  The superpowers were, by far, my favorite part of The Point.  And when I say superpowers, I’m talking X-Men, Marvel, whatever — pick your favorite superhero and imagine someone with their powers being trained to serve as a special strike force in the U.S. military.  There are students who can engage in combat using telekinesis, students who can walk through and manipulate the dreams of others, and then there’s Scarlett, who may truly end up being the most important weapon of all:  Scarlett has the ability to absorb and temporarily store any raw energy that is directed at her, and then redirect and release it toward whatever target she chooses.  I thought it was fascinating to watch Scarlett and her classmates practice and hone their incredible powers.

Excellent Pacing and Lots of Action.  If you like a fast-paced novel with plenty of vivid action scenes, you won’t be disappointed.  This book grabbed my attention from the first page and I devoured it in a day!

The only issue I had with The Point is that I would have liked the explanation for how those with the superhuman powers actually acquired them to have come earlier in the novel. I was glad to finally get the explanation towards the end of the novel and I thought the explanation itself was very well done, but I would have preferred it earlier so that I didn’t spend so much time wondering about it while reading.

John Dixon’s The Point is an action packed thriller that I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys military and/or superhero novels.   It also has a powerful coming of age story woven in with Scarlett and her journey, so I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes stories that feature strong heroines.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

What if you had a power you had to hide from everyone–until now? In this bold sci-fi action thriller, a secret training program at West Point is turning misfits into a new generation of heroes.

Welcome to The Point, future leaders of the Posthuman Age.

New Cadets, society is not ready for you. The oldest, fiercest fear is ignorance. The general population would burn you at the metaphorical stake.

Here, you will train alongside other posthumans. You will learn to control and maximize your powers and to use them for the greater good. You will discover camaraderie and purpose.

You will become a part of something bigger than yourselves: the Long Gray Line. 

Scarlett Winter has always been an outsider, and not only because she’s a hardcore daredevil and born troublemaker–she has been hiding superhuman powers she doesn’t yet understand. Now she’s been recruited by a secret West Point unit for cadets with extraordinary abilities. Scarlett and her fellow students are learning to hone their skills, from telekinetic combat to running recon missions through strangers’ dreamscapes. At The Point, Scarlett discovers that she may be the most powerful cadet of all. With the power to control pure energy, she’s a human nuclear bomb–and she’s not sure she can control her powers much longer.

Even in this army of outsiders, Scarlett feels like a misfit all over again, but when a threat that endangers her fellow students arises from the school’s dark past, duty calls and Scarlett must make a choice between being herself and becoming something even greater: a hero.

 

four-stars

About John Dixon

John Dixon’s debut novel, Phoenix Island, and its sequel, Devil’s Pocket, won back-to-back Bram Stoker Awards and inspired the CBS TV series Intelligence. A former boxer, teacher, and stone mason, John lives in West Chester, PA, with his wife, their daughter, and a freeloading dog. When not reading or writing, he obsesses over boxing, chess, and hot peppers.