Category Archives: Science Fiction

Review: A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson & Jeff Rovin

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon451 (October 7, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781476776521
  • Source: Publisher

When Maanik, the daughter of India’s ambassador to the United Nations, starts experiencing fits of screaming and terror, child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara is called in for consultation. Maanik was recently witness to an assassination attempt against her father and Caitlin is certain the stress  of the attack is the root of the problem.  Maanik’s condition tears her father away from sensitive peace talks between India and Pakistan. Each moment he spends with his daughter threatens any hope of resolution between the two countries; a war seems imminent.

When Caitlin receives reports of other teenagers experiencing strange symptoms,she wonders if something else is responsible for these seemingly unrelated incidents.  A Haitian student drowns on dry land. An Iranian boy intentionally sets himself on fire.  The root cause of these strange occurrences doesn’t appear to be medically based, so Caitlin leans more toward to metaphysical in an attempt to obtain answers.

In this first book in a trilogy, Anderson and Rovin have crafted a techno-thriller that is so unique, it is certain to captivate the most pickiest of readers.  A gamut of storylines and subplots are revealed, expected in book one of a trilogy.  Their connections are quite vague, likely intentionally to spread out the pacing deliberately throughout the trilogy.

What is developed well, and with great detail, are the characters. Caitlin is a hardworking, single mom. Her exchanges with her son, partially deaf, round out her passionate and thoughtful character. It’s obvious that she doesn’t expect anything in her life to come easy, a fact that certainly rings through in this, her most recent of cases.

After reading this days ago, in one sitting, I’m still struggling to wrap my thoughts around my feelings. There is quite a bit to wrap my mind around; I’m hoping the second book will iron out the questions that are riddling my brain. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this novel, for it’s reactions and experiences like this, those that aren’t necessarily automatic or certain, that quantify an excellent novel.

Note that I have yet to make the connection between one of the authors, Gillian Anderson, and X-Files. I intentionally refused to acknowledge the connection while reading this novel. I’m assuming many will do the opposite, for now that I have read it, I did feel it had the supernatural feel of the show. Like the show, instead of answering my questions, I found I actually had more by the end.  Does Caitlin’s character have any resemblance to Anderson’s character Scully? No, not really.  While both were medical doctors, Caitlin is far more open to atypical explanations than skeptical Scully every would have been.  The only comparison I would draw is that both are strong and capable women, desperate to find the answers to the unexplainable.

For all these reasons, this is a book that I would honestly recommend to anyone and everyone. For one, I need someone else to read it so I have someone to discuss it with. Secondly, since it covers a wide range of themes and topic points, It’s certainly a read that will generate discussion and chatter. Highly recommended.

Audiobook Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

 

  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Listening Length: 13 hours and 24 minutes
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio (September 16, 2014)
  • Source: Library

Detroit Detective Gabriella Versado is used to unusual cases. Her latest, however, goes beyond anything she’s ever seen. The body of a teen boy is somehow fused to the body of a deer. Unfortunately, this is just the first of a string of unusual deaths.

Layla, Detective Versado’s teen daughter, struggles with her new life. Her parents are divorced and her father now has a new family, with young children, in Atlanta. Before the divorce, Layla always had a parent at home. Now, with her mom working long hours, Layla spends most of her free time with her best friend Cas. Together, the two have created a game of teasing boys they catch on sex sites. When their game leads them to a pedophile, the two wind up in a dangerous game with terrifying consequences.

Thomas Keen, known as TK, is a homeless man who survives by scavenging homes of the evicted. His best friend, Ramón, is the one who gains the most from TK’s scavenging. Both recovering alcoholics, they do their best to get by, day after day, with the hope of a better life.

Jonno Haim recently moved to Detroit from New York, hoping for a new lease on life after a failed writing career. He’s fallen for Jenn Q, a renowned Detroit deejay, and the two launch a Youtube channel surrounding the recent rash of unusual murders.

Clayton Broom is a quiet recluse. An artist, he has worked in a variety of media over the years to create his visions. Something has taken control of him, using his body to create a completely different caliber of artwork.

The Detroit killings bring all five of these characters together into a dark and harrowing hunt for a serial killer. The fact that the reader knows the identity of the killer from the beginning doesn’t detract at all from this quickly-moving, intense storyline.  The dark and bleak setting adds to the tone, creating a truly chilling atmosphere.

Additionally, while it may seem that multiple perspectives would generate a confusing and scattered reading experience, it actually does the opposite. Perhaps, because I listened to the audiobook with five distinct narrators,  the experience awarded me with varying and unique viewpoints of one storyline.  The narrators (Christine Lakin, Terra Deva, Sunil Mohatra, Robert Morgan Fisher, & J. D. Jackson) each had completely unique voices, making the switch in narration smooth and effortless, easily to distinguish one character from another.

What made this novel stand out to me was its uniqueness.  Honestly, I’m not certain what genre it would fall under, for it contains characteristics of multiple genres, from thriller to horror and science fiction.  It’s certainly a novel that a wide range of readers would enjoy.

While I didn’t find the read to be as chilling and terrifying as others had led me to believe, it was still a truly captivating listen. I intentionally avoided reading Beukes work until the praise and buzz had dwindled, but soon realized her popularity might never die down if she continues to churn out novels like this! Highly, highly recommended.

 

Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse (September 23, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781481422345
  • Source: Publisher

 

Darcy Patel is a teenage girl won’t be heading off to college like most of her peers. Instead, thanks to the success of a book she wrote in just 30 days, she’s off to New York to pursue her writing career.  She arrives in New York with little knowledge of the city or of the publishing world. She’s quickly taken under the wings of other more seasoned writers. Within a matter of months, she has an apartment, unexpectedly falls in love, and finishes edits on her debut novel, Afterworlds.

Darcy’s novel is about a teen girl, Lizzie, who slips into the Afterworlds after barely surviving a terrorist attack.  The Afterworlds are the spaces between the living and the dead, where recently deceased travel on their way to the afterlife. Since she barely escaped death, Lizzie is now has the ability to see the dead.  Her new ability has bestowed upon her great responsibility to help save the fate of the dead. Unfortunately this new power has little control over the lives of those she cares about in the land of the living.

I’ve been a fan of Westerfeld’s work for some time now. First introduced to his writing by my now teen son, I crave the release of each of his books. I recall a particularly embarrassing moment when I went all fangirl outside a party at Book Expo America a few years ago. I’m certainly not alone in my feelings.  Westerfeld has a talent for crafting unique storylines, taking risks that many others wouldn’t dare.  This is what makes him a truly outstanding writer.

I admit, in reading the premise of this novel I was skeptical. A novel within a novel? How could Westerfeld possibly pull it off?  Well, he did. He surpassed all of my expectations, quickly putting an end to my skepticism.

What makes Afterworlds such a profound read is that Westerfeld succeeds at creating a wholly successful novel within a novel.  Dual storylines are told in alternating chapters.  One would think this would be confusing but it’s not; they each flow quite well together but could easily be read as two stand-alone novels. The protagonist in each are given ample time to develop and grow, each evolving into completely different characters than they started out as.  I quickly became invested in Darcy’s life in the publishing world and her budding love life. The same was true for Lizzie and her understanding of her new powers.  Both were genuine, well-developed teen characters readers are certain to connect with.  They weren’t cookie cutter characters, each richly diverse in their own way.

Westerfeld has given his readers a great gift with Afterworlds.  With a novel at over 600 pages, many writers have the challenge of keeping readers engaged. That certainly wasn’t the case with this one; I devoured most of it in one day.  That is quite an accomplishment! Each story’s pacing is quite different, I think this is what lends to its readability. When one story’s pacing hits a plateau, the other one picks up, never making the reader feel like they are rushing through one just to get back to the other.

The only challenge I had with this novel how to classify the genre. Or perhaps that is one of the selling points; a novel that alludes any one genre, instead encapsulating many!

The ending alludes to a sequel, I certainly hope that is the case. I certainly haven’t had enough of Darcy and Lizzie; I anxiously await the opportunity to reunite with them!  Certain to be enjoyed by readers of all ages, from all different backgrounds, I highly, highly recommend this novel!

Review: A Better World by Marcus Sakey

  • Series: The Brilliance Saga, Book Two (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (June 17, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781477823941
  • Source: Publisher

The world first became aware of the brilliants in 1980. Approximately 1% of the world’s population were born with gifts that set them apart from everyone else. At a young age, children are tested for special abilities. If found to be gifted, they are sent off to an institution where their powers are fine-tuned. For the last three decades, tension has been growing between the brilliants and the “norms.”  A battle is raging. A terrorist led by the brilliants cripples shipments to three major cities. Without power and the most basic of supplies, citizens are scared and confused. Barricades prevent them from seeking refuge elsewhere.

Nick Cooper is a brilliant, his ability to read a person’s mannerisms to predict their actions has given him a high-level position with a secretive government agency that eradicates violent brilliants.  In a new role as advisor to the President of the United States. Cooper has a difficult time gauging which side he should belong to. Individuals he was once fighting against have proven themselves to be adversaries. Unfortunately, there is little time to devote to proving one’s allegiance; a group of radical brilliants known as the Children of Darwin are attempting to take down the US government.  Nick Cooper is one of the select few who can put a stop to the chaos and prevent the third World War from commencing.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t review titles published by Amazon. I just don’t. It’s a personal preference that I really don’t sway from. Except in the case of Marcus Sakey. Known by many as a truly talented crime fiction author, Sakey shocked hundreds of readers by leaping into the world of science fiction. Admittedly, I was quite wary of this decision. Yet when Brilliance was released, I was knocked into stunned silence.

Sakey has managed to create a truly brilliant (no pun intended), wholly unique series. Other reviewers have likened the world that Sakey has created to that of X-men, yet I tend to believe it is far more terrorizing. The brilliants Sakey has created are far more plausible and believable than any comic book creation.

In A Better World, the story picks up right at the end of the previous novel. A battle is raging between the brilliants and the norms. It’s hard not to pick up on the social commentary Sakey has weaved into this series. Individuals, born different than others, torn away from their parents’ arms at a young age to be raised in an institution? It isn’t difficult to find parallels in the history of our country.

The intensity of this novel hits you from the start, unrelenting through nearly 400 pages. Like the characters, readers will question whose side they should take, questioning everything they’ve learned so far. Ending with a powerful cliffhanger, Sakey leaves readers with a quick tease as to what is yet to come.

As this is the second book in a series, I do recommend that you start at the beginning with Brilliance. While Sakey does provide a bit of backstory, new readers will have a difficult time catching up with all that transpires. Trust me, it’s well worth the read!

Bottom line: the Brilliance series is a must read for readers of all varieties, from science fiction to thriller to dystopian. You’ll devour the books in no time, counting down the days until the next book is released. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (Audiobook)

  • Listening Length: 16 hours and 23 minutes
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (April 8, 2014)
  • Source: Publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox)

The death of print is eminent. Books, magazines and newspapers have been replaced by Memes, handheld devices that are not only communication tools but sensitive enough to sense our every want. It is also connected to a virtual marketplace called the Word Exchange that allows people to create and sell language.

Anana Johnson and her father, Doug, work at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL). Doug’s passion has always been the written word, refusing to embrace technology. His latest project is the last print edition of the dictionary to publish.  His passion is so great that, when he disappears, Anana is immediately concerned. The only evidence Doug leaves behind is a code word he and Anana would use when one another was in danger: Alice. As Anana begins her hunt for her father, a “word flu” has begun to devastate the population.  This illness forces people to speak in gibberish, spreading quickly with devastating results. When her closest ally in her search, her colleague Bart, becomes infected, Anana is even more determined to locate her father, certain that locating him will provide the answers to her unending questions.

The Word Exchange is a brilliantly executed cautionary tale about the dangers of technology. Set in the not-too-distant future, Graedon has created a world in which everyone is connected, virtually, long-ago abandoning the very thing we should hold near and dear to our hearts: the written word. Citizens were repeatedly warned of the potential consequences of such technology, yet these warnings went ignored. The conveniences of such devices far outweighed any consequences.  The fate of humankind is now at risk, the damage irreparable.

Alternating in points of view, readers get a glimpse of what transpires through the eyes of Anana and Bart. As Bart declines due to illness, his slips in language are made obvious in his dialogue. Listening to the audiobook, at first I assumed the narrator had misspoken, quickly realizing this was an intended point of confusion, further detailing the impact of the word flu.

This novel was recommended to me after I read and adored The Lexicon by Max Berry. Both books are tremendous feats of the written language that will force readers to reflect upon the very thing that ties us all together: language.  Devastating in its plausibility, there is no doubt that readers will contemplate putting away their electronic devices, stepping away from the computer, in favor of embracing the print word.

A note on the audio production:
This title was narrated by Tavia Gilbert and Paul Michael Garcia.  Overall, this was an outstanding audio performance. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Garcia to intentionally slip up in word usage, using completely incorrect, or in some cases, gibberish words, to replace normal speech.

That said, there was something in the quality of the audio recording that irritated me. At times, it seemed as though excerpts of the book were edited in for the tone and quality of the narrator’s voice shifted into an almost hollow sounding tone, as if they were speaking from a hole or through a long tube. So obvious, this shift in quality, it would take me a few seconds to recover and become once again attentive to the narration.

At first, I thought perhaps this was just me, but when I played segments for others they experience this shift as well. So, while the narrators did an an outstanding job, something in the editing of the overall performance elicited a less than stellar listening experience. My personal recommendation would be to skp the audio, embrace the print version of this novel instead.

Bottom line: The Word Exchange is a must read for fans of the written word. Thought-provoking and lasting in message. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0385537093
  • Source: Publisher

In Robopocalypse, humankind was at war with robots. The world as we know it is destroyed, a pathetic wreckage of what once existed. Once Archos, a “super” robot is destroyed, civilization has the potential to recover. . .or so they think.

Copies of Archos were spread far and wide and are now slowly awakening. Unfortunately, they are at odds at one another, the most vocal and terrifying being Arayt Shah. Focused on creating a fighting force strong enough to survive the “True War,” one fought between highly intelligent machines, Arayt Shah is quickly proving to be a robot to be reckoned with!

In addition the characters who survived the first wave of attacks, several new and innovative characters join the motley cast of characters. A mash up that completely blew my science fiction/horror-loving mind was a human/robot hybrid, in which the majority of the human dies, replaced with a stronger, deadlier robotic version. Unexpectedly, however, the human identity remains, cognizant of the world around him/her. Think of it as a self-aware robotic zombie.

This new war is far more deadly than the previous. Alliances are destroyed.  With a host of technical “mutations,” the line that separates human from robot is far more vague and unclear.

Chapters are developed as narratives of the key players in this latest battle, including humans, modified humans, freeborn robots, and the humans infected with robotic parasites.  While the narratives are many, Wilson excels at creating a unique and memorable voice for each “individual”.

As noted above, this is the sequel to Robopocalypse, one of my favorite books of 2011. While Wilson does a pretty decent job of filling in details about each character’s back story using each characters own narrative, I honestly believe you should read the first in order to get a good understanding of what happened before and how/why the characters  have evolved into their current state of existence.

The great thing about these books is they are just as applicable for fans of general fiction as they are to science fiction fans. They require readers to contemplate the implications/possibilities for something like this to happen and to reevaluate the technology that we see and use every day. Bottom line: Robogenesis is just further proof of the genius and creative mind of Daniel H. Wilson. Highly recommended.

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.