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.

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaways: LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaways: LIFEL1K3 by Jay KristoffLIFEL1K3 (Lifelike, #1) by Jay Kristoff
Also by this author: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
four-stars
Series: Lifelike #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on May 29, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
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.

On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

GoodreadsAmazonAudibleB&NiBooksTBD

 

 

Today is my stop on the RockStar Book Tour to promote Jay Kristoff’s latest novel, LIFEL1K3.  Thanks so much to RockStar Book Tours for allowing me to take part in this tour and thanks so much to Jay Kristoff for allowing me to preview his book.

 

MY REVIEW:

Jay Kristoff’s LifeL1k3 truly captivated me from the first page. It’s an action-packed science fiction adventure that follows Eve, a scrappy street smart young woman who lives with her grandfather and who is doing the best she can to survive from one day to the next.  The America we know has been decimated by war and natural disasters and Eve, like most others in her world, now live as scavengers.  When we first meet Eve, she is fighting in a robot gladiator duel, trying to earn money.  Unfortunately, her opponent is bigger and stronger and ultimately Eve’s robot is destroyed.  When her own life is unexpectedly put in danger by her opponent, she unleashes a power that she never realized she had and destroys the other robot just by thinking about it and screaming.  She has no idea how she did it, but what she does know is that it means she is now in a world of trouble. “Deviants” like Eve have been labeled unacceptable by a puritanical Brotherhood that has somehow put itself in charge in an otherwise lawless environment.  There is now a bounty on Eve’s head, which has her looking over her shoulder for trouble at every turn.

The trouble Eve finds comes in the shape of an android boy named Ezekiel that Eve finds in the wreckage of a downed plane.  Somehow Ezekiel knows Eve, and the more Eve learns about how Ezekiel knows her, the more she realizes her entire life has been a lie. Eve desperately needs answers so she, Ezekiel, and her friends set off on a dangerous journey to discover the truth.  Will the price for the truth be too high though?

There’s so much to love about LifeL1k3 that I hardly know where to begin, so I think I’ll just start with the fantastic characters Kristoff has created in this book.

First, there’s Eve.  There are many sides to Eve and I just love the complexity with which Kristoff has written her. On the one hand, she’s this super sassy badass robot fighter, yet on the other hand, she’s also an underdog with a bounty on her head. I always like to cheer for the underdog anyway so Eve captured my attention and my support from those opening moments, especially as soon as we learn that she’s not just robot fighting to win a little extra cash.  No, she’s desperately trying to win money to purchase cancer meds for her ailing grandfather.  That devotion to her family really sealed the deal for me when it came to Eve, especially once it was coupled with the fact that she then learns that her whole life has basically been a lie and she doesn’t know who she can trust anymore. That kind of deception can really do a number on a person so even when Eve occasionally lashes out at those around her, I still felt for her because I can only imagine how I would react in her shoes.

As much as I liked Eve, however, Kristoff has created a cast of secondary characters in LifeL1k3 that truly stole my heart.  Lemon Fresh was my absolute favorite character.  She’s a hilarious pink-haired bundle of sass but she’s also the most loyal friend Eve could ever ask for.  Then there’s Cricket, who is a small robot with a major attitude when it comes to his stature:  “Don’t call me little!” He is programmed to protect Eve at all costs and like Lemon, is one of Eve’s most loyal companions.  And finally, there’s the most loyal of them all, Kaiser, who is the most precious cyborg Rottweiler ever.  He’s totally mechanical but has the brain of an actual dog, and he’s just too adorable for words.  He even loves to have his metal tummy rubbed just like a real dog.  I just adored these characters so much and loved how completely devoted to Eve they all were.  They’re a little family or like the four musketeers.

Ezekiel is another incredibly well developed character, especially considering he’s an android (or Lifelike).  He comes across as so real that I had to keep reminding myself he’s a robot. He’s also the one who turns Eve’s whole world upside down, and I enjoyed all of the complicated dynamics of his relationship with Eve.

In addition to a cast of incredible characters, I was also a huge fan of Kristoff’s worldbuilding in LifeL1k3.  The story is set in the future, in a post-war, post-apocalyptic version of America. It’s a desert wasteland, filled with ruins and radiation, and overall it has a very Mad Max vibe to it, which I loved.

As if all of that wasn’t fabulous enough, what actually appealed to me the most was all of the big themes that were encompassed in this book.  It’s not just an action-packed sci-fi read that provided me with a major adrenaline rush.  It’s also a thought-provoking story that tackles major topics like the idea of man playing God and the inevitable consequences of doing so, as well as the idea that we are not necessarily defined by our past, that we still have free will to choose who we want to be.  I love a book that gives me plenty of food for thought, and this book really does just that.

The only real issue I had with LifeL1k3 was that it took a little getting used to the different slang words the characters used. That’s usually the case for me with science fiction though so I expected it going in and it didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the overall story.

I was also a little confused at first when we started getting chapters from Lemon’s point of view since the bulk of the story came to us from Eve.  I ultimately didn’t mind though because I loved Lemon even more once I had a chance to get inside of her head and see things from her perspective.  Her voice was a welcome addition to the storytelling.  I also hope that it means Lemon will play an even bigger role as the series continues.

LifeL1k3 is an action-packed science fiction adventure that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.  There’s deception, drama, and plot twists galore, and it’s also filled with memorable characters that you’re sure to fall in love with.  With LifeL1k3, Jay Kristoff has crafted a wonderful book that has a little something for everyone.  I really can’t wait to continue the series and see what happens next!

 

 

FINISHED COPY GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of LIFEL1K3, US Only.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

PRE-ORDER GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

The LIFEL1K# pre-order is now live for folks in the US! To get your sticky booky hands on a full color map of the Yousay by the amazing Virginia Allyn and four brill LIFEL1K3 bookmarks with illustrations by the incredibly talented Mona May, all you need to is:

  1. Pre order LIFEL1K3 (Amazon/Barnes&Noble/Indiebound/Powells/Book Depository/ it doesn’t matter from where, just get a receipt)
  2. Head to getunderlined.com and search for “Lifel1k3”. Or better yet, just click HERE.
  3. Enter your details and upload your receipt.
  4. Profit.

 

AUSSIE & NEW ZEALAND GIVEAWAY!

HOW TO ENTER

Take a SELFIE with a copy of LIFEL1K3 and SHARE IT using #LIFEL1K3comp for your chance to win tickets for you and a friend to go to any concert of your choice!

 Entry is open to Australian and New Zealand residents only. Terms and Conditions apply. Ends 09/05/2018.

https://a.pgtb.me/mlvSGS

 

 

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Week One:

5/14/2018- Mary Had a Little Book Blog– Review

5/15/2018- Fiction Fare– Review

5/16/2018- Birdie Bookworm– Review

5/17/2018- Novel Heartbeat– Review

5/18/2018- Bookish In Bed– Review

Week Two:

5/21/2018- Portrait of a Book– Review

5/22/2018- Confessions of a YA Reader– Review

5/23/2018- Emily Reads Everything– Review

5/24/2018- Zach’s YA Reviews– Review

5/25/2018- The Bookish Libra– Review

Week Three:

5/28/2018- Feed Your Fiction Addiction– Review

5/29/2018- Diary of an Avid Reader– Review

5/30/2018- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

5/31/2018- Book-Keeping– Review

6/1/2018- Nerdophiles– Review

 

Week Four:

6/4/2018- Smada’s Book Smack– Review

6/5/2018- Novel Novice– Review

6/6/2018- The Book Nut– Review

6/7/2018- Book Briefs– Review

6/8/2018- A Gingerly Review– Review

four-stars

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is a #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. He grew up in the second most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. Being the holder of an Arts degree, he has no education to speak of.

His LOTUS WAR trilogy was critically acclaimed in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, nominated for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards and won the 2014 Aurealis Award. Jay’s new series, the SciFi thriller THE ILLUMINAE FILES, was co-authored with Amie Kaufman. Book 1, ILLUMINAE, became a New York Times and international bestseller, was named among the Kirkus, Amazon and YALSA Best Books of 2015, became a finalist for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and won the 2016 Aurealis Award and an ABIA Book of the Year award. ILLUMINAE is currently slated to be published in thirty five countries, and film rights have been acquired by Brad Pitt and Plan B Entertainment.

Jay’s new fantasy series, THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, commenced in 2016. The novel was an international bestseller, won the Aurealis award and earned Kristoff his second Gemmell nomination. Part 2, GODSGRAVE, was published in 2017, and won the series its second Aurealis award. A new YA series, LIFEL1K3 has also been acquired by Knopf/Random House Kids, and commences publication in early 2018. A new series with Amie Kaufman, THE ANDROMEDA CYCLE, begins in 2019 with Knopf/Random House Kids. Jay is as surprised about all this as you are. He is represented by Josh Adams at Adams Literary.

Jay is 6’7 and has approximately 12,000 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell. He does not believe in happy endings.

Review: BRIGHTLY BURNING (a Jane Eyre retelling)

Review:  BRIGHTLY BURNING (a Jane Eyre retelling)Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
three-half-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 1, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 391
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:

When I was in high school, I fell in love with Jane Eyre when I read it.  I just couldn’t resist the tale of a plain young woman from a humble background who falls in love with the wealthy but dark and brooding Mr. Rochester.  The Gothic setting, the secrets and the lies, but underneath it all, an attraction that they just can’t fight – all of it was just so perfect.

Needless to say, when I heard a retelling of Jane Eyre was coming out and that it was set in space (!), I rushed over to Netgalley to request it and was so ecstatic when I was approved.

I dove in and was immediately impressed by what a unique storyline author Alexa Donne had crafted, while at the same time, retaining so many elements from the classic novel.  Donne’s story is actually set in the future where a second Ice Age has made the Earth uninhabitable forcing those from Earth to live aboard a fleet of spaceships.  When the story opens, they have been living aboard these ships for a couple hundred years and some of the aging ships are starting to show signs that they cannot remain in space for much longer.  Resources are becoming scarce, especially aboard the poorer ships and residents know there will come a time when they are forced to return to Earth.  All they can do is hope that the Earth has thawed enough so that they have a chance to survive.

Our Jane Eyre character, seventeen year old Stella Ainsley, is aboard such an aging ship.  Stella works as both a teacher and a part-time engineer on the ship so she knows firsthand how poor their prospects are for remaining in space much longer.  She also knows that her only chance of not being sent to Earth is to secure employment on another ship but jobs are as scarce as resources are so her options are few and far between.  That is, until a privately owned ship called The Rochester, offers her employment as a governess.  Ecstatic at her good luck, Stella accepts the job immediately and leaves for The Rochester.

Stella gets a lot more than she bargained for, however, once she is aboard The Rochester, including handsome 19-year old Hugo Fairfax, who unexpectedly is the Captain of the ship and now Stella’s boss, as Stella will be teaching his younger sister, Jessa..  Although Hugo has a reputation for being moody and a drunk, Stella finds him to be charming and kind, at least around her.  She finds herself immediately attracted to him but becomes weary when she realizes that he is keeping secrets from her.  She has heard rumors that The Rochester is haunted and when strange things start happening aboard the ship, Stella becomes determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. What Stella doesn’t bargain on, however, is that trying to find the answer to one mystery leads her down an even more dangerous path, one that she may not be able to escape from…

Stella.  I really liked Stella right away.  Just like the original Jane Eyre character, Stella is smart, plain, and very outspoken.  She’s also an orphan who happens to be great with kids.  One of my favorite qualities about her is that while she remains respectful at all times, she doesn’t just stand there and let people insult her because they think they’re better than she is.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I am a sucker for a scrappy underdog and Stella fits the bill. When Stella goes head-to-head with a wealthy young woman named Bianca who perceives Stella as a threat for Hugo’s affections and goes out of her way to belittle Stella in front of Hugo, I was cheering Stella on every step of the way. Aside from her outspokenness, I also admired Stella’s sense of self-sacrifice.  She has a very strong moral compass and will sacrifice herself at any moment to save the lives of others.  It was an impressive quality to see in someone so young.

Hugo.  My love for Hugo stems from my love for complicated characters and they don’t get much more complicated than Hugo Fairfax.  One moment he’s fun, flirty, and charming, and being the best big brother Jessa could ever wish for, but then the next moment, he’s broody, secretive, and constantly drinking.  It’s clear that he’s hiding something.  It’s just not clear what that something is, or whether anyone else on his crew knows what it is either.  I loved that his character had all of these layers, and like Stella, I wanted to get through all of them and figure out who the real Hugo is.

Romance.  I really liked that Donne crafted a romance between Stella and Hugo that was very reminiscent of what we got with Jane and Mr. Rochester in the original tale.  The chemistry between Stella and Hugo is believable and I liked that even though the attraction was almost immediate, the relationship itself still takes time to develop and is fraught with obstacles, including not only Bianca but also whatever Hugo is hiding from Stella regarding the happenings aboard The Rochester.

Secrets, Mysteries, and Danger.  Even though the setting is in space, the story still has a Gothic feel to it because of all of the secrets that seem to be lurking in the shadows aboard The Rochester.  As Stella begins to investigate, the suspense and tension really starts to ratchet up and I found myself getting more and more into the story because I wanted to know what was really going on aboard the ship once it became clear it was not just Stella’s imagination getting the better of her.

Made Up Words.  This will probably be one of those things that bothers me but no one else, but it was driving me crazy that the characters in Brightly Burning kept using the word FREX as a curse.   I mean, seriously – Set in the future or not, most of the characters we encounter on the ships are descended from Americans and even if they aren’t, the ‘F’ word they are clearly trying to use is universal enough that it made no sense to me how they got from the familiar ‘F’ word to frex.  Frex this, frex that, frexxing etc.  Like I said, it’s probably just me but I just cringed every time the word came up.

Rushed Ending.  I don’t want to say that the pacing was slow throughout the rest of the novel because it wasn’t, but it felt like we really kicked it into high gear as the end drew near.  I’m being vague here because I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll just say that it felt like a few important details were just glossed over in favor of wrapping things up quickly.  For that reason, while I did love the ending overall, I just would have liked a little more from it.

Brightly Burning is a fun and unique retelling of the classic novel, Jane Eyre.  The author does a remarkable job of updating the story to a believable and entertaining science fiction tale set in space, while retaining all of the memorable details from the original novel.  I think Brightly Burning would appeal to readers, even if they’ve never read Jane Eyre, as long as they enjoy science fiction with a side of swoony romance, dark secrets, and even a conspiracy or two.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.

But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.

three-half-stars

About Alexa Donne

Alexa Donne is a Ravenclaw who wears many hats, including fan convention organizing, teen mentoring, college admissions essay consulting, YouTube-ing and podcasting. When she’s not writing science fiction and fantasy for teens, Alexa works in international television marketing. A proud Boston University Terrier, she lives in Los Angeles with two fluffy ginger cats named after YA literature characters. Brightly Burning is her debut novel.

Alexa is represented by Elana Roth-Parker of Laura Dail Literary Agency.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for DARK MATTER and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for DARK MATTER and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOWDark Matter by Blake Crouch
five-stars
Published by Crown on July 26th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 342
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

Review:

Dark Matter is a fast-paced sci-fi novel that, at its essence, explores how far a man will go to get back to his loved ones.  It follows Jason, a man who has a pretty decent life.  He’s got a wife who loves him, a great teenage son, and a job as a science professor at a local university in Chicago.  One night Jason goes out to buy ice cream and his entire world turns upside down.  He is abducted at gunpoint, drugged, and wakes up in a world that he doesn’t recognize.  It’s still Chicago, but it’s not his Chicago.  In the version of Chicago Jason wakes up in, not only does he not have a wife and child, but he’s also an award-winning physicist who has been working on and apparently testing a way to travel in the multiverse.  His theory is similar to time travel, except that instead of actually traveling through time, you can travel to an unlimited number of parallel universes, each of which were created at key moments in one’s life when choices had to be made.  Jason quickly realizes that someone has used his invention to steal his life and deposit him here in this alternate version of his world and begins a desperate race to find his way back home to his family.

I loved pretty much everything about this book.  I thought the premise was unique and I thought the author did a brilliant job of incorporating many complex scientific ideas like string theory, while still making the storyline entirely accessible to even a reader who isn’t into science or science fiction.  I thought the pacing of the book was fantastic as well. It was an incredibly suspenseful read and the pacing never lagged.  It actually just got faster and faster until it reached a breakneck pace each time Jason tried and failed to find his way back home.

It was definitely a plot-driven read, although I thought it also posed some very deep philosophical questions, the main one being how far would you go to be reunited with your loved ones…Would you kill someone if it meant you could have your family and your life back?

I’m probably the last person on the planet to read this book, but if you’re looking for a wild ride that will keep you turning pages way past your bedtime, Dark Matter will not disappoint!  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for DARK MATTER and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOWThe Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
four-stars
Published by William Morrow on January 2nd 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 427
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Review:

The Woman in the Window is a riveting psychological thriller that follows main character Anna Fox, a child psychologist who has been forced to retire because she was recently diagnosed with agoraphobia and is afraid to leave her home.  Because her whole world is now confined to her house, Anna has minimal contact with actual people.  She has standing appointments with her psychiatrist and a physical therapist, who are willing to make house calls, but aside from that, Anna spends much of her time online playing chess, taking French lessons, and taking part in an online agoraphobia forum where she, ironically, counsels others who are suffering from her condition and helps them move forward with their lives even though she has been trapped in her home for 10 months now.  When she’s not online, Anna spends the rest of her time either drinking wine, popping prescription pills, or standing at her window with her camera observing her neighbors. She knows all of the comings and goings of her neighbors, and takes a special interest in the new neighbors that move in across the street.  When she accidentally witnesses what appears to be a crime one night while staring at their house and no one believes her when she tries to report it, it turns her entire world upside down to the point where she doesn’t know what is real and what isn’t anymore.  Did she imagine it?  Is there danger across the street?

One of the mysteries of the book that I found most compelling was that there are hints that Anna has suffered some kind of horrific trauma that has led to her agoraphobia, but we must follow the clues throughout the story to get to the truth about what has happened to her.  I actually guessed this plot twist fairly early on, which on the one hand, was a little disappointing, but on the other hand, it also made me feel tremendous empathy for Anna, which I might otherwise not have felt.  This also helped me to better accept why she is such an unreliable character and it made me very invested in wanting to see her get better.

The story of what happened to Anna, coupled with getting to the bottom of what actually happened across the street, made for such a gripping read. I literally could not put this book down.  At one point, I even had my Kindle propped up next to the stove while I was cooking so that I could sneak in a few more pages.  It’s always such a treat to find a book that grabs my attention like that, so with that said, if you’re looking for a suspenseful and twisted thrill ride that will have you questioning what is real vs. what is imagined, I’d highly recommend The Woman in the Window. 4 STARS

five-stars

About A.J. Finn

A.J. Finn has written for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement (UK). A native of New York, Finn lived in England for ten years before returning to New York City.

About Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch is a bestselling novelist and screenwriter. He is the author of the novel, Dark Matter, for which he is writing the screenplay for Sony Pictures. His international-bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy was adapted into a television series for FOX, executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan, that was Summer 2015’s #1 show. With Chad Hodge, Crouch also created Good Behavior, the TNT television show starring Michelle Dockery based on his Letty Dobesh novellas. He has written more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over thirty languages and his short fiction has appeared in numerous publications including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Crouch lives in Colorado.

The best way to stay apprised of new releases is to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Review: HONOR AMONG THIEVES

Review:  HONOR AMONG THIEVESHonor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine, Ann Aguirre
four-stars
Series: The Honors #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 13th 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: the Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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.

MY REVIEW:

Honor Among Thieves, a science fiction novel brought to us by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre, is a thrill ride from start to finish.  Set in the not-so-distant future, the story follows teenage protagonist Zara Cole, a petty thief who is using her street smarts to survive on her own in New Detroit.  New Detroit isn’t the most pleasant place to live.  It’s actually quite seedy, but it offers Zara what she needs at this point in her life, freedom to live on her own terms and make her own decisions.  Zara has a family—in fact, she could be living with her mother and sister on a wonderful colony on Mars.  Zara’s past, however, has been filled with pain – pain she has experienced at the hands of an abusive father, and then the pain she feels that she has caused her mother and sister.  She decides that they would be better off making a fresh start without her causing them further pain, and so this is how she finds herself alone in New Detroit.

Zara is doing just fine for herself, stealing as she needs to and pawning what she steals for cash.  That is, until she steals from the wrong person – the daughter of Mr. Deluca, the most powerful man around – and finds herself on the run as Mr. Deluca makes it his mission to take Zara down.  Zara faces jail or even death, but in a surprise twist of fate, she finds herself being chosen to become an Honor instead.

The Honors is an elite team of humans who are chosen by the Leviathan.  The Leviathan are a race of what I would say are actual living space ships.  They can be piloted and lived in like space ships, but they can also think, communicate, and feel emotions.  Ever since the Leviathan stepped in and saved Earth from destroying itself, the Leviathan and the humans have had a symbiotic relationship.  Every year the Leviathan select 100 humans who will become passengers aboard the living ships and explore the outer reaches of the universe.  Usually those chosen to be Honors are scientists, musicians, and other scholarly types.  No one from Zara’s community has ever been chosen to be an Honor, so it comes as quite a shock to Zara, who is immediately suspicious as to their motives but agrees to take part because ‘Hey it’s better than jail or death, right?’

What surprises Zara right away is how almost as soon as she meets Nadim, the living ship she will be traveling on, she immediately feels at home for the first time ever.  More comfortable than she ever felt in her own home growing up.  She actually begins to look forward to spending a year traveling with Nadim; that is, until she realizes there’s more to this journey she is on than meets the eye.  Behind the allure of the elite Honors program, things are much darker and more dangerous than Zara had anticipated.  Between that and the other dark truths of the universe that she begins to see while on her journey, Zara realizes she might be in as much danger here as she was back on earth.

Can her street smarts help her here or is Zara in completely over her head?

 

Zara was definitely my favorite part of Honor Among Thieves.  I loved her spunk and her street smarts. She is tough as nails and it’s easy to cheer her on, especially as she takes on the underdog role, both against Deluca and then again as a thief among Honors (Side note:  I loved that little play on words with the title).  As much as I enjoyed the action in the story, it’s actually Zara’s development as a character that really drew me in and kept me reading.  She is so closed off and mistrusting of everyone around her when the story opens, but once she gets on that ship and starts to bond both with Nadim and with Beatrice, her fellow Honor, she becomes almost a completely different person.  She’s so much more open and trusting and her compassionate side just really comes out when it comes to protecting and defending those she cares about.  I liked Zara when the story began, but I absolutely adored her by the end.

Nadim.  Okay, I’ll admit the whole idea of a living ship kind of weirded me out at first.  The image I have in my head is along the lines of Jonah and the Whale but the Whale is actually a space ship.  The whole concept was just so wild. Once I got used to it though, I loved it, especially Zara’s ship, Nadim.  Almost as soon as she boards the ship, Zara learns that some of Nadim’s previous missions haven’t gone very well and that if his mission with Zara goes badly, he will be banished to live alone in space.  What I really liked about Nadim was that even though he is this massive space ship, he still has this vulnerable, almost childlike quality about him, and like Zara, I found myself feeling very protective of him.

The Action.  Between the actual mission itself and then all of the underlying, unexpected drama, this is one action-packed book.  In a lot of ways, this aspect of it reminded me of Illuminae with its breakneck pace and with the way it becomes a survival story.  The last half of the book goes by especially fast because there’s so much drama and suspense.  If you like action, aliens, space battles, and conspiracies, you’d be in for a treat with this book.

 

The only aspect of Honor Among Thieves that I had trouble with is what was referred to as ‘Deep Bonding’ between a Leviathan and a human.  Zara and Nadim engage in this ‘deep bond’ at one point and I don’t know if it was supposed to come across this way, or if I just read more into it than I should have, but it had an almost sexual vibe to me.  I was all for the idea of Zara and Nadim in a non-sexual, soulmate kind of way, but that one section just made for an awkward read for me.

 

Honor Among Thieves is the start of what is sure to be wonderful new series.  I hadn’t read anything by either Rachel Caine or Ann Aguirre prior to reading this story, but they are both on my watch list now.  If you’re into spunky, street smart heroines, space exploration, and are intrigued by the idea of living space ships, be sure to check out Honor Among Thieves.  You won’t be disappointed!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell.

Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers.

Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight.

four-stars

About Ann Aguirre

Ann Aguirre is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author with a degree in English Literature; before she began writing full time, she was a clown, a clerk, a voice actress, and a savior of stray kittens, not necessarily in that order. She grew up in a yellow house across from a cornfield, but now she lives in sunny Mexico with her husband, children, and various pets. She likes all kinds of books, emo music, action movies and Doctor Who. She writes all kind of fiction in multiple genres, both YA and for adults.

About Rachel Caine

Rachel Caine’s rich, diverse bibliography of more than 50 books in print covers many categories and genres. She started out writing horror and fantasy as Roxanne Longstreet (Stormriders, The Undead, Red Angel, Cold Kiss, Slow Burn) before switching to the name Roxanne Conrad and publishing romantic suspense and mystery (Copper Moon, Bridge of Shadows, Exile). By 2003, she began to publish under her current pseudonym, specializing in urban fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal young adult fiction.

She has been writing original fiction since the age of fourteen, and professionally published since 1991. She graduated from Socorro High School in El Paso Texas (where she was a UIL all-state champion in music and journalism) and went on to earn an accounting degree from Texas Tech University. She played professionally as a musician for several years once out of college, but ultimately gave up the music for writing.

She’s had a varied “day job” career, including web design, graphic arts, accounting, payroll management, insurance investigation, and (most recently) corporate communications and crisis management. (It all counts as research.)

Rachel loves reading, writing, and mild amounts of arithmetic when required … but she has a special place in her heart for history, music, and science, and you’ll find those themes in many of her works.

Review: When Light Left Us by Leah Thomas

Review:  When Light Left Us by Leah ThomasWhen Light Left Us by Leah Thomas
three-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on February 13th 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 416
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:

When Light Left Us by Leah Thomas is one of the more unique books I’ve read lately.  At its heart is the Vasquez family, in particular, siblings Milo, Ana and Hank, who are reeling from the fact that their father has just walked out of their lives without so much as a goodbye.  They are all trying to cope with the loss as best as they can, until one night something happens that changes everything…a shimmering alien figure named Luz appears in the canyon behind their house. Luz fills the void left by their father, bonding with each of the siblings in his own way.  Until Luz disappears without a word too…taking something vital from each of them.

Struck by the sense of loss all over again, Milo, Ana, and Hank are left to pick up the pieces and attempt to go about their lives as normal. It’s much easier said than done and all three siblings flounder, filled with questions about why their father left them, why Luz left them, and how can they ever feel close to or trust anyone again.

Will the Vasquez kids get their lives back on track?  What were Luz’ motivations for coming into their lives and then leaving them so abruptly?  What did he take from them when he left?  All of these questions and so many more began filling my head as soon as I started reading this moving story about family.

 

I thought the focus on family was the highlight of When Light Left Us. Even though the book itself centered a lot on the alien Luz and the impact he had on each of the Vasquez siblings, it was the family itself and how the siblings dealt with the losses they experienced that really kept me reading.  Their struggles to function on a daily basis, their hesitation to trust and connect with others, and even their own now-awkward interactions with each other at home all felt so realistic as was their mother’s reaction.  First, Maggie’s husband walks out on them, then her children experience something together that can’t really even be explained but obviously continues to haunt them many months later, to the point where they can barely function.  Maggie loves her children more than anything in the world and is overwhelmed and frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be anything she can do to help them.  All of the pain this family experiences is just so palpable. I ended up really caring about them and wanting to know that they could make it through this.

 

Expected the unexpected.  I’m kind of a sci fi nut, so I was also a big fan of the twistedness of the whole Luz storyline. I loved how original this part of the storyline was and I loved how I initially felt a bit of an E.T. vibe from Luz with the way he came into these children’s lives and filled the void left by the father who abandoned them.  The E.T. vibe didn’t last long though as Luz ultimately ends up being a much more complex character than I was expecting and a bit more of an ass if I’m being truly honest.  I won’t go into any more details so as not to spoil anything but definitely if you like complex characters like I do, keep your eyes on Luz.

 

A final element that I thought was very well done was the way the story was presented from multiple points of view.  Thomas gives us the perspectives of each of the three Vasquez siblings, as well as a few chapters from their mother, and even as we move further into the book, a few chapters from Luz himself. Since I was so invested in this family, I liked being able to have a glimpse directly into each of their thoughts to get an honest look at how they were each doing.  The Luz chapters were especially illuminating since we finally get a look at what is driving his actions with respect to this family.

 

As much as I enjoyed When Life Left Us overall, I have to admit that it started out super confusing and I almost DNF’ed it about a quarter of the way through the story.  I like reading and putting together the pieces of a mystery as much as the next person, but in this case, for the longest time it didn’t feel like any of the pieces were fitting together at all. I just kept getting more and more pieces and setting them aside, waiting for them to finally make sense.  Once they did start to make sense, it was very satisfying, but I just thought it took way too long to get to that point.  I’m glad I pushed through and made it to the end, but if I hadn’t become so invested in the family so quickly, I’m pretty sure I would have given up on the book.

 

When Light Left Us is a beautiful story about how a family has the power to overcome their struggles if they stick together.  I’d obviously recommend it to anyone who loves stories that focus on families and relationships, but any science fiction fan would probably enjoy this as well.  If you’re impatient and like for the stories you read to make sense from the get-go, this might not be a good fit for you.  Even though I had issues with that, however, I still very much enjoyed the story overall.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When the Vasquez siblings’ father left, it seemed nothing could remedy the absence in their lives. . . until a shimmering figure named Luz appeared in the canyon behind their house.

Luz filled the void. He shot hoops with seventeen-year-old Hank’s hands. He showed fourteen-year-old Ana cinematic beauty behind her eyelids. He spoke kindly to eight-year-old Milo. But then Luz left, too, and he took something from each of them. As a new school year begins, Ana, Hank, and Milo must carry on as if an alien presence never altered them. But how can they ever feel close to other people again when Luz changed everything about how they see the world and themselves?

In an imaginative and heartfelt exploration of human—and non-human—nature, Leah Thomas champions the unyielding bonds between family and true friends.

three-stars

About Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas once wrote from a house in the woods, and now an apartment more or less by the sea (well, less). Her debut novel BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME was a 2016 Morris Award finalist, and its sequel, NOWHERE NEAR YOU, is out now from Bloomsbury. Her third YA science fiction novel, WHEN LIGHT LEFT US, hits shelves in early 2018.

A graduate of Clarion 2010, her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Black Static, Ideomancer, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye, among others. She’s mostly a dork and always feels uncomfortable about author bios. If she’s not writing, she’s likely teaching or cosplaying. Follow her on instagram (@fellowhermit), or on tumblr (cuttoothom).

The Bookish Libra reviews ARTEMIS, an exciting new sci-fi thriller set on the moon

The Bookish Libra reviews ARTEMIS, an exciting new sci-fi thriller set on the moonArtemis by Andy Weir
four-stars
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on November 14th 2017
Genres: 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.

MY REVIEW:

Andy Weir’s The Martian was one of my favorite reads from last year, so I was so excited to receive a review copy of his latest novel, Artemis.  I wasn’t convinced that it could possibly live up to the thrill of The Martian because, seriously, how do you top a survival story about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars?  But hearing that Artemis was a sci-fi thriller about carrying out a heist on the moon (!) gave me hope that Artemis would be just as entertaining a read for me as The Martian was.  And I’m excited to report that it came pretty darn close!

Artemis is actually the name of the city on the moon where the story is set.  Aside from the fact that it is covered by domes to compensate for the lack of gravity and to keep out troublesome space dust, Artemis is pretty much just like your average city or town on Earth.  Artemis has touristy areas because of course going to the moon is a huge attraction for those who can afford it.  It also has residential areas for those who reside on the moon full time.  Artemis also has a similar class system to what is on Earth, where the rich live well and the poor do what they can to scrape by.

Jazz Bashara, the main character, is one of those poor residents who does what she can to scrape by.  She works as a porter, delivering goods to residents all over Artemis, but the job barely pays her rent.  Jazz has dreams of a bigger and better life for herself and so she has a side “job” working as a smuggler to bring in a little extra income.  Street smart and incredibly resourceful, Jazz has somehow managed to corner the market on smuggling in contraband goods from Earth.  For those who are willing to pay, Jazz can get them pretty much anything they want.

Jazz is a pretty fascinating character in the sense that she doesn’t really seem to have any qualms whatsoever about engaging in criminal activities. It is this quality that makes her the ideal candidate for a scheme that one of her wealthy regulars is planning.  It’s a dangerous job, practically an impossible one, really, and one that could get her deported back to Earth if she were to get caught.  That said, however, if Jazz can pull it off, the payoff is a truly life-changing amount of money.  It may be “Mission Impossible,” but Jazz would do pretty much anything to secure that kind of income for herself.

She agrees to the job, but quickly realizes that she is in over her head.  What starts out as a challenging heist soon lands Jazz at the heart of a conspiracy to take over control of Artemis itself.  How will she get herself out of the mess she has landed in and what will happen to Artemis if the conspiracy is actually carried out?  It’s a real nail biter!

Jazz was, by far, my favorite part of Artemis.  I just found her so intriguing.  Jazz, who is in her early twenties, has come to the moon from Saudi Arabia. She is living on her own after a falling out with her father over some poor choices she has made in her young life.  Jazz is both intelligent and street smart, and she’s very resourceful.  I loved that even though she was resorting to less than legal means to supplement her income, she totally owned it and was unapologetic about what she was doing.

I also enjoyed the father-daughter dynamic between Jazz and her dad.  Jazz is not a practicing Muslim, but her father is and he’s very religious.  Because of this, some of Jazz’s lifestyle choices have created friction in their relationship.  I thought Weir did a wonderful job of portraying the nuances of this strained relationship:  the awkwardness, the disappointment, the longing to reunite, and beneath it all, the unconditional love.  I loved all of the father-daughter scenes.  They were written very realistically and tugged at my heartstrings.

I also loved the action and pacing of the novel.  Just like with The Martian, I devoured this book in about a day.  Weir does a fantastic job creating an exciting balance between “science talk” and intense, action-packed scenes as Jazz sets out to complete “mission impossible” and then especially once that initial mission goes haywire and spirals into something else entirely.  I always feel like I’m learning a lot while being thoroughly entertained at the same time when I’m reading one of Weir’s books.

Finally, the world-building was fascinating as well. I loved Weir’s vision for what a city on the moon might actually look like and I thought the shout-out to so many famous astronauts by having the different compounds named after them (Armstrong, Aldrin, etc.) was very cool.  As Jazz walked us around the city of Artemis, Weir’s attention to detail was just impeccable.  He really thought of everything when it came to how people could actually eat, sleep, work, shop, and otherwise function as a society on the moon.  As much as I loved Weir’s attention to detail, I will confess I wish he had come up with more imaginative names for their main food staple (“Gunk”) and for their smartphone equivalent (“Gizmo”).  I don’t know why, obviously a personal quirk with me, but those names just irritated me every time they came up throughout the novel.

As much as I enjoyed Jazz’s story, I did have a couple of minor issues with Artemis.

The first is that, at times, Jazz reminded me a little too much of Mark Watney, the main character from The Martian.  It was especially noticeable when I first started reading because their use of humor and sarcasm was so similar. My first thought was “Hey, Mark Watney’s on the moon now!”  Once I got to know Jazz better, it wasn’t as noticeable, but I still wish their voices were a little less similar.  Some of Jazz’s jokes, in particular, sometimes sounded to me more like something a teenage boy would say rather than a 20-something woman.  It didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story, but it did give me pause a few times because it felt like the joke didn’t quite fit the character, if that even makes sense.

Another issue I had was with Jazz and her pen pal from Earth. The main action of the story is periodically interrupted by letters to and from this guy in Kenya.  Aside from establishing that he was her contact for the contraband she’s smuggling, I just felt like they were in the way and didn’t add much to the story.  I’m sure they probably won’t bother others, but that element of the story just didn’t quite work for me.

If you enjoy good science fiction and badass protagonists, I’d definitely recommend reading Andy Weir’s Artemis.  While fans of The Martian might not find it quite as riveting as Mark Watney’s survival story on Mars, they should still find Jazz Bashara’s lunar adventures to be quite entertaining.  I’d also recommend it to those who haven’t yet read The Martian. It might prove to be even more entertaining to those who aren’t tempted to compare Artemis to The Martian.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

four-stars

About Andy Weir

ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the runaway success of his debut novel, THE MARTIAN, allowed him to pursue writing full-time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He lives in California.