Category Archives: Science Fiction

Frightful Friday: Runner by Patrick Lee

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. This week’s featured title is the audiobook production of Runner by Patrick Lee:

  • Listening Length: 8 hours and 39 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 18, 2014)
  • Source: Personal copy

Sam Dryden is taking a nightly run when he runs into a young girl. The look of terror on her eyes instantly has his undivided attention. When it becomes obvious that the men chasing after her have deadly intentions, Dryden uses his skills as a retired special forces operative to help her evade capture.  After her attackers flee, Dryden learns that this eleven-year-old girl, Rachel, was held captive in a secret prison. She remembers only the last two months of her life, nothing of her existence outside the prison.

Dryden lost his wife and daughter in an accident five years ago. Seeing the genuine terror and fear in Rachel’s eyes, he vows to help her get answers.  Little does he realize how much his experience in a black-ops will help them in their attempt to elude her captures.

What they learn in the next few days is life altering, for both Dryden and Rachel.  It’s quite possible that the memories Rachel is desperately trying to recover are of a danger so unimaginable that millions of lives are at stake.

I’m intentionally being quite vague in my summary of this title for it is best to be experienced first hand, without any preconceived notions of what may transpire. The best way to put it would be a combination of the thrill of a Jack Reacher novel meeting the science-fiction-esque aspect of a Joe Ledger novel. What results is a novel jam-packed with a unique thrill and intensity.  Each time I paused in my listen of this audiobook, my heart would be pounding.  I made every excuse I could to listen to more, including taking the longer route home or sitting in front of my  house listening to just a few minutes more.

Raul Esparza’s narration of this book just added to the intensity. His tone captured the feel of the moment so expertly, demanding the listener’s undivided attention.

Runner is truly one of the best thrillers I have listened to in some time. I’m new to his work and it is now a personal mission of mine to read it all. I’m ecstatic to see that this is the first in a new series. Dryden’s character is the best of both worlds: a character that is both sensitive and flawed but also intense and unrelenting. I honestly cannot wait for more. Highly, highly recommended!

 

Thank you to Bob at The Guilded Earlobe for the recommendation. Once again, my zombie-loving friend, you are spot on!

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (February 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0804139024
  • Source: Publisher

Mark Watney is one of several astronauts making up the crew of the Ares 3 mission to Mars. Just days into their mission, the Acidalia region is hit by a dust storm. Believed to be killed during the storm, Mark is left…alone…on Mars.  He has the food rations that would have lasted the crew two months but it’s going to take much longer for NASA to realize he is still alive…and to come up with a means of rescuing him.  Watney uses his ingenuity to come up with means to survive until help arrives (including growing quite the impressive harvest of potatoes). Will all this ingenuity be enough for Watney to survive the harsh and unforgiving Mars terrain, repeatedly hammered with obstacles to test his survival (and his sanity)?

The Martian is a truly tremendous novel, one of the best I have read in some time. It reads like a nonfiction narrative of a survival story, for Weir’s knowledge of the subject matter is quite vast and impressive. While there is a great deal of technical and scientific jargon, rather than bogging the reader down I think it added a level of believability that will allow readers to grasp the severity and intensity of Watney’s survival.  Personally, I found myself devouring the novel, hungry to learn what next great feat Watney overcame.

The character Weir builds in Watney is outstanding. Though it’s obvious he is terrified about his fate, he keeps a level head on him, using quite a bit of sarcastic humor that lightened up an already dark and devastating storyline.  Watney’s human spirit was tremendous. One can’t help but root for him and pray for his safe return to Earth. I found myself forgetting that he is a fictional character, assuming that I can look up his name online or turn on the news to hear about his death-defying saga. At the end, I did find myself missing him quite a bit. I plan on checking out the audio book soon, desperate to reunite with this character.

You don’t have to be a fan of science fiction to appreciate this novel.  It’s a truly intense analysis of human character and survival, dozens of unknowns on such an unknown planet. This is a novel people will be raving about, I guarantee. Months after reading it, I countinue to rave about it (including it as  my monthly recommendation for Bloggers Recommend).  Highly, highly recommended.

Mini-Review: Ex-Purgatory by Peter Clines

  • Series: Ex
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (January 14, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0804136610
  • Source: Publisher

George Bailey is your average, everyday kind of guy. During the day, he works as a handyman at a local community college. His nights, however, are filled with magnificent dreams in which he’s a super hero, battling hordes of zombies. In his dreams, he sees other individuals with similar powers, including an armored robot and a woman with stealth ninja-like moves.

One day George is stopped by a young, pale girl in a wheelchair, Madelyn Sorenson.  Madelyn tells George about the existence of another world, one in which he is one of the last remaining heroes.  In this world, society has fallen victim to a zombie plague. George, and the other heroes, are its only salvation.

It isn’t until his two worlds start colliding that George finally believes what Madelyn has been telling him. The sudden realization that this life, the only life this George has known, is all a facade is startling, to say the least. With the help of Madelyn, George locates the other heroes in an effort to bring down the individual responsible for what has transpired.

Although Ex-Purgatory is the fourth book in the Ex series, it could definitely serve as a standalone.  Cline once again manages to combine the very best qualities of zombie fiction and science fiction into a beautifully executed and highly transfixing novel.  Fans of Marvel comic series and The Walking Dead are in for a treat! If this is your first taste of Clines’ Ex-series I guarantee it will not be your last. Highly, highly recommended.

Audiobook Review: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Unabridged edition (April 10, 2007)
  • ISBN-10: 0061341045
  • Source: Personal copy

Twelve-year-old Stephanie is confused when, after her eccentric uncle passes away, she is on the list to attend the reading of the will. There, a stranger appears, a man bundled up in a scarf, coat, and hat.  He’s introduced as Skulduggery Pleasant, a close friend of her uncle. When it comes time for the reading of the will, Stephanie is shocked to learn she’s inherited her uncle’s home.

Stephanie is attacked her first night staying alone in her uncle’s home. It is Skulduggery Pleasant who comes to her rescue, but Stephanie sees him for what he truly is: a walking, talking skeleton detective. She quickly becomes immersed in a world of magic in which an evil creature by the name of Nefarian Serpine is attempting to get his hands on the Scepter of the Ancients, a weapon that will wield him limitlessness power.  Together, with Skulduggery, the unlikely duo must confront this ancient evil and prevent him from taking control over the world!

A few weeks ago, I put out a request on Twitter for audiobook recommendations. This series was one of the first recommendations I received.  I don’t listen to a lot of middle grade/young adult audio books so I was really looking forward to this adventure. And boy, was it an adventure! Skulduggery Pleasant encompasses so much that I feel is missing in middle grade books! A young, female protagonist who, despite her age, is quite strong and fearless. The addition of Skulduggery himself adds a sense of humor and wit that lightens a potentially dark plot line. A sci-fi/fantasy meets detective story! But what really stands out for me is the audio book production.  Not only is there an outstanding narrating performance by Rupert Degas, but each chapter leads with catchy (ok, and a little bit cheesy) music. It’s almost as if you are listening to a television series or a radio show.

Finally, while the cover looks a bit creepy, the tone of the book is actually not. I have both an eight and a fourteen year old and I think this would be appropriate for both!  I guarantee any fan of mystery or magic of any age will fall in love with this unlikely duo of evil fighting heroes!  I cannot wait to listen to the next book in this eight book series! Highly, highly recommended.

#Mx3 Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit (October 29, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0316218952
  • Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Sal nearly lost her life after being struck by a vehicle, so close that her family was days away from pulling her from life support. Then she woke up. Her miraculous recovery was attributed to the Intestinal Bodyguard, a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the worm boosts the host’s immune system, protecting it from illnesses. Now, six years after her accident, Sal is struggling to get her life back to normal.  When she awoke she had no memory of her life before. She had to learn to talk and walk again, essentially reborn. Now, nearly every human has this tapeworm living inside them.  SymboGen is ecstatic with the popularity of their miracle treatment.  However, as of late, a noticeable side-effect has reared its ugly head. In some cases, the tapeworm makes its way to its host’s brain, taking control of the body it once protected.  The repercussions are deadly, the “sleep” the victims experience varies; some simply “shut off” mentally while others turn murderous, striking out against those closest to them.

Although Parasite set over twenty-five years in the future, it is a very timely novel. As of late, a lot of studies have shown that our own bodies, so full of antibiotics after being inundated with them as both treatments of illnesses as well as in our food, do not have an immune system powerful enough to stand up to horrific diseases.  The flora that once resided in our digestive system has all but disappeared, forcing the creation of a whole host of innovative treatments for disease. Therefore, the world that Grant builds in this novel is so plausible, so believable, that it adds a completely different factor of fear.

Grant starts off each chapter with text somehow relevant to the storyline, including test from unpublished manuscripts and footage from SymboGen’s research.  This addition is ingenious; it gives the reader necessary backstory and additional information to the history of the Intestinal Bodyguard. Had Grant added this to the novel itself, it would have changed the pacing or would have added unnecessary bulk to the length of the novel.  That’s not to say that Grant rushes into the climax of the novel. Instead, she carefully builds up Sal’s character, allowing Sal to be the focus of the story, instead of the implant itself.

Sal’s character is extremely well-developed. Due to her accident, although she is in her mid-twenties at times she seems naive and infantile. She’s a blank slate, naive in how to properly interact with people socially. The reader can sense, and empathize, with her frustrations. Her boyfriend, Nathan, a parasitologisit, is her saving grace. Although he is extremely interested in Sal as a medical miracle, he is truly in the relationship due to love and commitment. He serves as Sal’s saving grace and sounding board, providing a level of understanding to her situation and what she must be experiencing.  Their relationship adds a sense of humanity and tenderness to a novel that might otherwise feel sterile and scientific.

Parasite is the first in a new series by Grant.  Fans of Grants Newsflesh series will be pleased to learn that her unique sense of humor and snark make an appearance in this series as well. While technically it’s too early to say just how fantastic this new series will be, if this first book is any indication of what is to follow, I am sold.  Parasite is an incredibly intense and addictive read. I will be impatiently awaiting the next title in this series, Symbiogenesis, due out in November of 2014.   Highly, highly recommended.

As if the novel was not enough, check out these ingenious videos to accompany the book:


2013MX3

Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (June 18, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1594205388
  • Source: Personal copy

Imagine a world in which a few words can illicit a response from an individual, relinquishing their ability to resist commands.  That world is real. In an exclusive school outside of Arlington, VA, students aren’t taught the typical reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, they are taught to persuade, manipulating words as potentially dangerous and powerful weapons. Only the best students move on to become poets, an elite group of individuals who become part of an unnamed organization.

Emily is a runaway who lives on the streets of San Francisco.  She makes a living taking money from those who play her curb-side card game. Her talent of manipulation gains the attention of  the recruiters of this organization. She’s “enlisted” in the school and becomes part of a world in which individuals are no longer referred to as their original names, instead using names like Bronte or Yeats instead.  She soon discovers that individuals can be categorized by personality type and, using a select group of words they are forced to memorize, their minds can become unlocked, dominated by those who utter these words.  Never one to submit to authority, Emily prevents anyone from getting too close to her…until she falls in love.  Submitting herself to this “human” emotion weakens her, allowing her to be controlled, unleashing a power that is horrifically dark and deadly.

Meanwhile, Wil Parke is attacked and ambushed in an airport bathroom. Seemingly innocent on all accounts, his attackers claim he is an outlier, an integral part in a secret war of which he has no knowledge.  He is taken to Broken Hill, Australia, a town supposedly decimated by toxins. There, he and his remaining attacker hide from the nameless organization and its mind-controlling poets. What actually resides in Broken Hill is something so powerful it caused an entire town to destroy itself.

What is this war they are fighting? Wil & Emily are connected, but how? Who comes out the winner in this unknown battle?

I’ve owned a copy of this novel since it was released earlier this year. Admittedly, it’s been collecting dust on my virtual bookshelf since then. I found myself in a book funk, of sorts, after re-reading an absolutely outstanding novel (Oryx and Crake) and couldn’t find a book that would capture and keep my attention.  Then, for some reason, this novel called out to me. I clicked on the cover of the ebook and within minutes my attention was not only captured, but I found myself a victim of Barry’s writing. Like so many individuals in Lexicon, I found myself relinquishing my free will to the power of words, of language. But unlike those unfortunate victims in the novel, I didn’t inflict pain or leave a trail of victims behind. Instead, it forced me to reevaluate the power of the written (or spoken) word.

In Lexicon, words are as powerful as the deadliest of viruses. The general public fall victim to this, manipulated to do things using targeted advertising and politicized media.  I  won’t be able to take another random poll or quiz without wondering how the results will be used. The world Barry creates is tremendously inventive, a mind-altering novel that will keep you thinking long after you’ve turned the last pages.  There isn’t another novel like Lexicon. Never before has a novel elicited this sort of response in me. Without a doubt, this novel will top my favorites of not just 2013, but of my lifetime. Highly, highly recommended.

If words were weapons, which poet would you be? Take this quiz to find out.

 

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Frightful Friday: 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured book is 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad:

  • Listening Length: 8 hours and 43 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio
  • Release Date: April 17, 2012
  • Source: Publisher

It’s been four decades since the last manned space shuttle explored the moon. NASA, desperate for funding, creates a massive international contest in which teenagers can enter to win a week-long trip to the moon base DARLAH 2. No one but top NASA insiders are aware this moon base exists.  The three winners-Antoine, Midori, and Mia-have no real interest in space travel and are shocked to learn they won the contest.

Before heading to NASA for training, each of the winners witness strange experiences meant to deter them from their journey. This is unknown to each of them and they proceed with the mission as planned. Little do they know there was a reason NASA hasn’t embarked on a mission to the moon…a dark and deadly reason.

After two months of training, the mission begins. It’s not long before they touch down on the moon that everything starts going wrong: computer malfunctions, sightings of mysterious individuals…and death. Soon, the crew has been nearly depleted and it is up to the surviving teens to find a way to get back to Earth.

172 Hours on the Moon is a completely engrossing and intense read. Quite frankly, I was surprised I haven’t heard much about this book. The premise is completely unique and original. By far one of my most favorite things about this book was the character development. Harstad devoted nearly a third of the book to building up the characters. A great deal is learned about Antoine, Midori and Mia before their feet even touch down on the Moon. The pacing of the novel follows this progression, starting out slow with the development of the characters and dramatically intensifying as soon as the mission begins. And the ending!? Wow…I was floored, never anticipating it!

I listened to the audiobook production of this novel. The narrator, Casey Holloway, does outstanding job of portraying the teen voice of each of the main characters, each from different nations and with different accents. I found myself forgetting there was just one narrator for her range of accents was so profound and distinct.

While I am happy that I listened to the audiobook, I am sorry I missed out on the photos and illustrations that apparently grace the print version. That said, I’m making it my mission (pun intended!) to get my hands on a copy!

Bottom line: 172 Hours on the Moon is a completely thrilling, chilling and frankly, terrifying novel. It will most certainly be making an appearance on my favorites list this year!

Review: Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (June 5, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0385535155
  • Source: Publisher (via Edelweiss)

In a near-future world, the medical profession has found a treatment for various diseases/ailments: brain implants. These implants, referred to as amps cures such diseases as epilepsy and allows individuals who have lost limbs due to various injuries to walk again as well as treat those with mental impairments. What starts out as a medical treatment expands and soon policeman and the military are being armed with amps, giving them super-human strength and abilities. Perfectly healthy individuals are implanted with the device, giving them superior physical and mental abilities. Soon, regular people not implanted with the device are being cheated out of educational opportunities by amps with superior brain power. Unaltered athletes are forced to compete against amps with extreme physical capabilities.

Amped begins with a ruling by the Supreme Court revoking all legal protections from Amps, those individuals implanted with the device. Despite the fact that many of these “amps” are normal people who are being treated for some medical impairment, an extremely conservative politician begins to manipulate the public, creating a fear of those with the device.

Owen Gray is one of these individuals. His father was the designer of the implanted chips. As a young adult, Owen sustained a severe head injury which resulted in horrendous seizures. A chip was implanted to control the seizures…or so Owen thought. In reality, the damage his brain received was so severe that he would not have lived without it. The chip implanted was not standard issue but one his father obtained from the military. As the country around him quickly descends into a military state, Owen has now become one of the country’s most wanted men.

Forced to leave his life behind him, Owen hunts down the man originally behind this rogue group of soldiers, a sort of special forces that was ordered to disband due to the side effects caused by the implanted amps.  He uncovers Eden, the place where all the research into these implanted chips began. In his journey, he learns about the power that has remained dormant in his brain all these years. Owen is just your average schoolteacher, or so he thought. In order to save the lives of thousands of modified human beings, Owen must learn how to control his powers and use them for the good of the nation.

Scattered throughout the novel are legal documents, providing the reader with an evolution of the government’s increased response to public outcry. In addition to Owen’s own observations, these legal documents provide the reader with evidence of the rapid decline of society.

Amped , like Wilson’s previous book, Robopocalypse, has a great deal of social commentary embedded in the text. Issues such as the value of a person, what makes a person, etc. are heavy to this storyline. These individuals have lost all legal rights and are eventually rounded up into camps for their “protection.” Legalized racism runs rampant, high-level politicians suggesting that these “amps” have lost what makes them human and therefore should not be treated as humans. “Regs,”those individuals that have not been implanted, brutalizing and killing amps without fear of prosecution.

This social commentary, compounded with a truly reliable main character that any reader can relate to, all add up to a truly impressive novel. Highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Nocturnal by Scott Sigler

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s Frightful Friday featured book is Nocturnal by Scott Sigler:

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1St Edition edition (April 3, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0307406342
  • Source: Publisher

Inspector Bryan Clauser of the San Francisco Police Department is horrified of the dreams he’s been having, dreams of horrible crimes that have come true. With the aid of his partner, Pookie, he begins to investigate these crimes. Both become frustrated when it seems that those higher up in the department are attempting to prevent Bryan & Pookie from discovering what is really happening. A common thread among all of the victims: they were individuals known to have bullied a teenage boy, Rex Deprovdechuk.

Rex has quite the horrible life, beat up continuously by a gang of bullies at school, then beat by his ultra-religious mother at home. He’s a bit of a wimp, unable to stand up to those that ridicule him. To seek his revenge, he draws horribly graphic pictures involving cruel punishments beset upon this bullies.  When these bullies wind up dead, cause of death identical to the acts in the drawings, Rex isn’t frightened. He feels empowered.

Forensic evidence indicates the savage crimes originally believed to be performed by an animal are in fact done at at the hands of a human. This is just the beginning of a host of evidence revealing a dark and terrifying world, hidden under the streets of San Francisco.

Joined by Aggie, a vagrant held captive by the very men/creatures who are committing these crimes,  Bryan and Pookie embark upon a war with creatures beyond imagination.

Nocturnal
is truly a unique book, a perfect combination of police procedural, urban fantasy, bio-tech science fiction, and horror. At nearly 600 pages, this isn’t a book that you pick up and read within a few hours, but a true investment of time. An investment that is well worth it, in my mind.  The length of the book is necessary, giving Sigler the opportunity to really lay out and develop the characters.  The chapters are short, allowing the reader’s attention to intensify with each turn of the page. While I did take breaks while reading, I found myself melded to the pages, unable to take a break, desperate to learn more. Several late nights were involved in the reading of this book!

As with his previous books, Sigler provides readers with a completely unique and ingenious storyline.  The world he creates is one like none other, filled with monsters that make your skin crawl and force you to sleep with the light on. In other words: brilliant.  Certainly not for the week of heart (or stomach), if you think you have what it takes to face the underbelly of San Francisco,  Nocturnal  is the book for you. Highly recommended.

Following is the book trailer. Also not for the weak of heart (or stomach):

11/22/63 by Stephen King

  • Hardcover: 849 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1ST edition (November 8, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1451627289
  • Source: Purchased eBook

November 22, 1963 is a day that forever changed our country, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. If you could go back and time & change this monumental day in our history?  Jake Epping was provided this very opportunity, to step through a portal to the past, with the promise that he would stop JFK’s assassination.  Each time he steps through the portal, he’s only missing from the current world for a matter of minutes. He could spend years in the past, but will return to the present the same day he left.

Before he decides to test the power of the portal by altering the events that took place on 11/22/63, he attempts to change the past of individuals who have made an impact on his life. He does so and learns that while he may have altered the past, the future that subsequently transpires isn’t necessarily a better outcome than the original. Fate and destiny play a key role in this epic novel.

I think I’ve made my fondness of Stephen King’s writing well-known. I admit, when I learned about the premise of this book I was a bit nervous. King, the master of classic horror, taking on time-travel and the Kennedy assassination? I can’t believe I ever doubted the man.

Fans of King’s previous works will appreciate the “Easter eggs” that appear in this novel. A good portion takes place in the town of Derry, Maine.  Fans will recognize this as the setting of a number of King’s novels.  Those new to King’s work won’t be confused by these “flashbacks” of sorts, however.

Additionally, 11/22/63 isn’t your typical horror, actually there isn’t a single element of horror in this book. There is a bit of violence (hello, Kennedy assassination) but nothing overtly gory at all. Most surprising were the emotions I wasn’t expecting to experience while reading this book: sadness, sympathy, and grief. The characters are rich in this novel; it’s nearly impossible to not form a connection with them.

A note on the book’s length: Yes, it is nearly 900 pages. But, with King’s other books, while there may be a few lulls here and there, I really can’t think of any part of the book I’d eliminate.

A note on the book’s cover: It’s gorgeous! The front depicts what transpired that fateful day in Dallas. The back shows the newspaper headline from the “altered” past.

Bottom line: Read it. It’s worth it. I promise!