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The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

The Burning DarkPremise: Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is a war hero ready to retire. For his last assignment he has been sent to the remote U-Star Coast City, a space station being dismantled for decommission. It rests near the strange star known as Shadow, with eerie purple light that has incalculable effects on those who look at it. The remaining crew aboard the Coast City are less than friendly, and skeptical of the Fleet Medal Cleveland wears, especially once he discovers the mission where he saved an entire planet from being destroyed by spiders has been wiped from existence in the database.

Shadow causes all sorts of electrical malfunctions and interference with communication, but its light also causes the crew to hear and see things that may or may not really be there. When Cleveland picks up radio communications on the banned subspace channels, he discovers a message from far away and long ago. With creeping shadows and malfunctioning electronics, he and the rest of the crew begin to think they are seeing ghosts. Or perhaps it’s just the negative effects from the looming purple star.

Themes: Ida Cleveland does all he can to uphold honor and respect, especially with records of his heroics being wiped from all knowledge. Nobody on board the station believes he actually earned the prestigious Fleet Medal, and because of this he feels he must prove his own valor to the rest of the crew. As a retired captain, the other soldiers don’t pay him the same respect as if he were still an officer.

Friends are hard to come by in the remote space station, especially when Cleveland is new to the crew. He befriends a medic named Izanami, but sees her only occasionally on the large station. The established crew already have their allegiances, and nobody wants to give Cleveland a chance especially with there being no record of him earning his medal. Lacking any true friends, he spends most of his time alone in his cabin listening on his piecemeal radio.

Pros: The Burning Dark is creepy, and it gets progressively creepier. Christopher made some intense characters in The Burning Dark, with the space station and the nearby star gaining personalities of their own. Everything is suspect when it comes to trusting senses or how characters perceive their surroundings, including interactions with other people aboard the Coast City. I like that there are multiple dangers all around for everybody in the enemy spiders, churning shadows, and the ever-present star Shadow and its odd purple light, all within the vacuum of space.

Cons: Without giving a spoiler, I think it was about halfway through the book (before the author gives away one important secret) that I actually figured out one of the main secrets happening on this secluded station. It doesn’t make the story less creepy or intense, but it’s the angle the story later takes that I felt could have been left more ambiguous. Thankfully, I didn’t think it went off the rails at the end, but it left me with the feeling of being set up for another book.

Recommendations: I’ve read a couple other books from Adam Christopher that I’ve really enjoyed, but I’ll say this is probably my favorite of his I’ve read to date. In The Burning Dark, he’s done a thoughtful crossover between science fiction and horror that sits firmly in either genre. The story takes an unexpected turn at the end, but manages to keep the reader on their toes. While The Burning Dark stands on its own as a story, I would gladly read another set in this universe of cyborg insects and subspace ghosts. Read at your own risk. You might find yourself jumping at shadows and hearing voices in radio static.

Adam Christopher’s website
The Burning Dark on Goodreads
Buy The Burning Dark on Amazon

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Horror, Science Fiction

 

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Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

Tin StarPremise: Tula Bane is on her way to colonize the planet Beta Granade with the rest of the Children of Earth when she is beaten and left for dead by the group’s leader, Brother Blue, on the Yertina Feray space station. Here she is the only Human, considered a Minor Species in the galaxy. It is on this remote station where Tula makes her life scrounging and trading favors since word of her ship, the Prairie Rose, did not make it to its destination. She must learn the ways of other beings in order to survive.

When news comes that Brother Blue is still alive, she uses all the favors available to her to plot and plan for finding him and exacting her revenge. The station’s security chief, Captain Tournour, is there every step of the way keeping the peace and making sure nothing illegal goes unpunished. It is the unlikeliest of alien friendships that keeps her going daily.

But then a ship carrying three more Humans crashes on the station causing her to rethink her alliances. Through her relationships with these aliens and Humans, Tula learns all about love and friendship, and she has to decide what is really important for love and survival.

Themes: Friendship comes to the forefront, especially in Tula’s dealings with the alien Heckleck. They become best friends as the only person she trusts is the alien with no emotions. Tula’s connection with other Humans makes her question if they should be friends because of their close affinity or because she actually trusts them.

Tula’s experiences with death and loss, with her family continuing to the settlement without her, leave her open to failure. When she learns that the ship didn’t make it to its destination, her hope is crushed by her family’s death. And when she loses more people in her life Tula could very easily fall into despair, but there are others there to support her and lift her up.

When more Humans step into her life, Tula has ample opportunities for love to grow. She even toys with the thoughts of romantic relationships and tests them, with mixed results. But the biggest surprise comes at the most important crossroads of her life when everything is at stake.

Pros: Cecil Castellucci does some things very well in Tin Star, like making you care about the friendship between a sixteen-year-old girl and a bug-like alien. The characters have an interesting interplay in the setting on the space station, leaving me feeling the claustrophobia of being stuck together in a place and not being able to go anywhere. There are some great emotional moments in the book, one right at the beginning, one in the middle, and another at the end. It’s almost like Castellucci spaced them out evenly on purpose.

Cons: Even with the good character development, I felt like from the moment they step onto the page each Human is not to be trusted, which made it difficult to care about any of them. My biggest gripe is the abrupt ending to a book that seemed to rocket by me, and now I have to wait for the second half of the story.

Recommendations: Tin Star has its ups and downs, but there’s a lot packed into this fast-paced book. I would have preferred a 400 page full combined version with the second book so I didn’t have to wait for the rest of the story, but also because of the chopped off feeling at the end. I still think it’s a good commentary on love and loss, especially for people who live a solitary life. Tin Star will make you think about the people around you in a different light, but maybe only because some people are stranger than the aliens in the book.

Cecil Castellucci’s website
Tin Star on Goodreads
Buy Tin Star on Amazon
Download Tin Star for your Kindle
I received a copy from the author to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New HopePremise: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a civil war happening between rebel fighters desperately trying to overthrow the reign of the evil galactic empire. Plans for the magnificent and terrible Death Star have been stolen with the hopes of getting them into the hands of the rebel leaders to destroy this menacing weapon.

Wielding the power of the Force, Darth Vader shows his immense power to destroy while Obi-Wan Kenobi is summoned to find the next Jedi knight. That knight might just be in the form of the boy Luke Skywalker.

The fighting comes to a head as opposing forces strike against each other in a battle for control. And all of this is done…in iambic pentameter.

Themes: Politics reign supreme in Star Wars as each player pushes and pulls others to engage the outcome they each desire. Whether it is subtle like the workings of R2D2 or overt like the powerful Darth Vader, each has their wishes and their part in this story.

Luke has a huge desire for adventure as he wishes to travel, see the galaxy, and to escape the drudgery of his uncle’s moisture farm. Meeting Old Ben Kenobi and two droids changes his life and gives him exactly what he wishes for, but at a great cost.

Pros: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars definitely reads like a Shakespearean play, down to the monologue asides and narrative descriptions of space battles. Everything is written expertly in iambic pentameter, lending to the feel of being written by Shakespeare himself. Star Wars reads humorously, especially the dialogue between C3PO and R2D2. Star Wars buffs should enjoy Doescher’s interpretation, especially since he does such a good job of telling the entire story in such short order without missing a beat. The cheeky illustrations also helped get me into the feel of the story.

Cons: Some readers might find the rhythm hard to capture, to which I might suggest reading aloud. Others might simply feel the iambic pentameter tiresome and get bored too quickly, especially if they’re not exactly fans of Shakespeare. The one thing I found difficult was reading R2D2′s beeps and boops in rhythm. The space battles aren’t exactly easy to do without on screen special effects, so forcing readers to use their imagination could be a stretch for some. My guess is most reading a book like this won’t have that problem.

Recommendations: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars can be appreciated at different levels, whether you’re a beginner or expert of all things Star Wars or Shakespeare. Doescher does such a good job telling the story it actually helped me catch a couple things I missed in my years of watching Star Wars. Reading this book also makes me want to pick up my complete volume of Shakespeare’s plays and read a few with a new appreciation for the art. Go get a copy whether you want something light to read or want to better appreciate the worlds of Star Wars or Shakespeare or both…verily.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope on Goodreads
Buy William Shakespeare’s Star Wars on Amazon
Download William Shakespeare’s Star Wars for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction

 

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Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build YourselfPremise: In this second book in the series, Twin siblings Nick and Tesla have been sent to live with their Uncle Newt while their parents are in Uzbekistan where they claim to be researching soybean irrigation. In the small town of Half Moon Bay, Nick and Tesla learn about a string of robberies plaguing the sleepy community. Once again putting their scientific knowledge to work, they decide to help one of their friends by attempting to solve the mystery themselves.

Uncle Newt is smitten by Hiroko Sakurai, a former colleague of his from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who also happens to have purchased the Wonder Hut where Nick and Tesla purchase electronics and other scientific doodads for their experiments. She is in the process of cleaning it up when a series of break-ins begin, including at the comic shop, Hero Worship, Incorporated, owned by their friend Silas’ family. A rare comic that could help save Silas’ family from a mound of debt has gone missing.

With the help of some ingenious robots and quick thinking, Nick and Tesla go to task on helping their friends and the town by tracking down the thief. They will just have to watch out for the strange robots that are also popping up around town.

Themes: Robot Army Rampage, as with the previous book, exemplifies the loyalty between siblings and with their friends. As Silas’ shop is in jeopardy, Nick and Tesla do their best to track down the thief of the Stupefying #6 comic book. Nick and Tesla also do their best to protect their uncle, even if it means endangering his relationship with Dr. Sakurai.

Nick and Tesla does a good job of showing that even when it appears that kids are up to no good, they might have more noble reasons for what they do. Even their friend DeMarco, who is always getting into trouble, is loyal to his best friend Silas. And the hijinks that occur because of Nick and Tesla’s investigation are because they care about their friends, family, and the town of Half Moon Bay.

Also: more science!

Pros: Robot Army Rampage has some even cooler projects than High Voltage Danger Lab, especially if you’re into robots. The instructions for building are straightforward for building simple robots, including part numbers that you might need to buy at an electronics store. The dialogue is funny and the tone lighthearted, perfect for kids and fun for adults. With most of the same characters from the previous book, Robot Army Rampage stays consistent by developing each of the characters deeply enough for the reader to care about them and enjoy the story.

Cons: The robot projects will probably require some assembly help from an adult, and will definitely require money to buy parts like batteries, motors, and LED lights. Contains mild peril from exploding robots.

Recommendations: Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage is a load of fun, but kids will probably enjoy it even more than adults. If it weren’t for a little deeper background setting from the first book, anybody could pick this one up and jump right into the action without needing to read High Voltage Danger Lab. As each book contains science projects that correspond to story elements, you probably won’t want to skip it anyway. I think Robot Army Rampage is even better than the first, especially with these projects. They are fun for electronics buffs and for piquing kids’ interest in science, but most of all this is just a fun story.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage on Amazon
Download Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Childrens, Mystery

 

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Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow

Andrew's BrainPremise: Andrew is a brilliant cognitive scientist discussing the important events of his life with his therapist. As he talks about losing a child and a wife, Andrew wonders if he might be an agent of death.

In the back and forth narrative of Andrew’s Brain, we get an insight into what makes Andrew tick and the neuroses that inform his decisions. In order to cope with his losses, he floats from job to job, teaching high school and university classes, and working for the president of the United States who also used to be his roommate in college.

Themes: Loss and death is at the forefront of Andrew’s Brain. Andrew’s child dies from his first marriage, causing their separation. Andrew’s new young wife dies as a result of the 9/11 terror attacks. When he doesn’t know what to do with his new child, he takes the baby to his first wife, thereby losing everything in his life that he loves.

Andrew’s Brain also peers into human existence and consciousness as Andrew attempts to teach his students about how the human brain interprets information, and ultimately how human sentience works. In turn, the reader receives brief lessons in cognitive science.

Pros: Andrew’s Brain shows how people can react to loss in their grief in different ways. As Andrew loses children and wives through death and separation, he shares his feelings to his therapist. It’s probably the biggest redeeming quality of this book.

Cons: There is a lack of character development in Andrew’s Brain, including Andrew the protagonist. As Andrew talks about his life he looks upon most everyone else as beneath him, excusing his own behavior when he acts in much the same way. Andrew comes across as neurotic, and in contrast to the attempts to paint him as a genius he instead sounds mentally ill. Without naming him, this book also clearly speaks against a certain president during the 9/11 terror attacks, but it felt more like filler politicizing.

Recommendations: Andrew’s Brain comes across as self-righteous as it talks down to the reader in its self-indulgent philosophizing. With a few humorous moments and a serious look at loss and grief, this short book lacks compelling characters or a true conclusion. I haven’t read any other of Doctorow’s work, but unless you’re into existential intellectualizing through life, I doubt this would be the one to begin with as it doesn’t really go anywhere.

E.L. Doctorow’s website
Andrew’s Brain on Goodreads
Buy Andrew’s Brain on Amazon
Download Andrew’s Brain for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Fiction

 

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The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's BladesPremise: The kingdom of Annur is thrown into chaos when emperor Sanlitun is murdered, but his children will soon discover that it is a much deeper conspiracy than the normal power struggle. Sanlitun’s sons Kaden and Valyn have both been gone for eight years while the princess Adare has been with her father up until the day he is killed.

Valyn has been training with the elite fighting force known as the Kettral, training to fly one of their namesake giant birds to protect the kingdom from the worst of enemies. As several attempts are made on his life during the training, Valyn begins to suspect there is more danger around him than the normal training everyone else is experiencing. Valyn learns of his father’s death and is determined to reach his brother to warn him before it’s too late. Adare has been raised to Minister of Finance by her father’s decree, but with the kingdom in turmoil she is battling a religious sect who might be the ones responsible for Salitun’s death. And Kaden, the heir to the throne, has been secluded with monks dedicated to the Blank God. It is there that Kaden must learn the vaniate, an ancient ritual used to protect the kingdom from ancient enemies.

With the kingdom at stake and the Malkeenian line threatened, Adare, Valyn, and Kaden must uncover the conspiracy against their lives to protect Annur from foes from every side. There could even be a bigger threat thought long extinct that could have greater consequences than just their lives, but also the lives of everyone in Annur and beyond.

Themes: Family and legacy are at stake as Sanlitun is murdered and the lives of his children are threatened. With his children gone, there would be no heir to the throne of Annur and the kingdom could fall into chaos with no apparent leader to take control.

With many gods and religions in this world, there are many angles taken at religions in The Emperor’s Blades. Faith and devotion are seen at different levels between different religions and even between followers of the same religion.

The Emperor’s Blades also manages to examine what it means to inherit wealth and power compared to those who are born outside of it. It shares a glimpse of what it means to hold power responsibly and of those who would be less responsible with it. It also shows the machinations behind the scenes of people in power and others who would attempt to overthrow them.

Pros: The Emperor’s Blades has some incredible characters. When you don’t care about the characters and one of them dies, you won’t care about them dying. But when you care about all the characters, you want the protagonists to win and it is gut-wrenching when they lose. And those terrible characters become that much more insidious when they do those terrible things to the people you care about. All of this is to say: The Emperor’s Blades has great characters. At first I thought the magic system was too slowly revealed, until I realized I hadn’t even begun to learn what magic there really was in this story.

Cons: Because there are some mean people in The Emperor’s Blades, there is some intense stuff in it. There are some scenes that were hard to handle, containing gore and torture that caused me to put the book down a couple times. It has some sexual talk and innuendo you might find in war stories. And The Emperor’s Blades is full of profanity, although much of it is fantastical swearing using made up words or phrases to the gods in this world, such as “‘Kent-kissing” and “‘Shael take it.”

Recommendations: The Emperor’s Blades felt like it started slow, but as it picked up steam and never let up all the way through the end I realized just how big of a story was being told. In fact, I never wanted it to end, and as soon as it did I was ready for the next book to begin. With action, adventure, politics, religion, assassins, and fantasy elements that felt like they could even exist in this world, Brian Staveley is a name to watch in fantasy. With The Emperor’s Blades, he knows just what buttons to push with his characters and when to push them, but he’ll leave you wanting more. If you like fantasy, The Emperor’s Blades is not one to miss.

Brian Staveley’s website
The Emperor’s Blades on Goodreads
Buy The Emperor’s Blades on Amazon
Download The Emperor’s Blades for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Fantasy

 

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The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith

The Geek's Guide to DatingPremise: Dating is hard enough these days with social media and mobile devices actually reducing our ability to have real in-person relationships. Geeks are stereotyped to be even less adept at social interactions. In The Geek’s Guide to Dating, Eric Smith has laid out tips and strategies for geeks to meet and interact with the opposite gender regardless of the end goal. But let’s be honest, the end goal is for Mario to find the Princess and live happily ever after.

Themes: Meeting people is a common challenge for people who spend much of their time watching movies, playing video games, and reading comic books. The Geek’s Guide to Dating takes this into account when trying to meet people either by using this as a strength or by suggesting new social settings to add to the arsenal when trying to meet someone of the opposite gender. You don’t have to give up being a geek in order to connect with people.

Navigating the phases of a romantic relationship can be tricky for anybody, but doing so in a field of geeky obsessions has the potential to be crippling for a relationship. In this guide there are suggestions to overcome obstacles and to emphasize the redeeming qualities that make a geek unique.

Pros: I was surprised how Eric Smith took my initial assumptions that this book was some sort of parody and almost immediately flipped them so I read this as an actual guide for people to foster real relationships. The Geek’s Guide to Dating is full of useful tips, from what clothes to get to enhance the wardrobe to how to navigate breakups. I like that in each section there are positive character traits to focus on as well as warnings that can damage a relationship now or in the future. Everything is very clearly laid out in chapters, sections, and sometimes even color-coded or assigned a key. The Geek’s Guide gives a clear walkthrough of different stages of relationships, from friendship to attraction, the sting of rejection, or into the dungeons of breakups. And everything is under an array of geek language and metaphors, most of which I understood but with a few splashes of things at a higher geek level than I have reached.

Cons: There are some instances where females might not be able to apply the given advice, but those are fairly few. I fear this might be a hangup for some women who assume it is only for men. It isn’t the case, but females might just need to stretch the analogies a little further to find the imparted wisdom for making a love connection. Geeks might also find instances where Smith encourages them to shed a little of their geekiness as potential obstacles for the opposite gender in order for them to get to know the real person. Some geeks might make the assumption that Smith is asking them not to be themselves.

Recommendations: The Geek’s Guide to Dating is a treasure trove of useful knowledge for enhancing most types of relationships, at least at a beginning level. After reading only one or two chapters of The Geek’s Guide to Dating, it dawned on me that this is actually a serious guide of dating advice for forming dating relationships disguised as humor. Eric Smith combines common sense with some practical tips to give much-needed advice not only to geeks but to everyone attempting to form a relationship with the opposite gender. Geeks will better understand the analogies, but everyone should be able to collect some wisdom from this fun gem of a dating guide, even those of us who are married but are always seeking to improve the connection with our significant other. However, consider this only the beginning and that deeper relationships require much more work than playing a video game.

Eric Smith’s website
The Geek’s Guide to Dating on Goodreads
Buy The Geek’s Guide to Dating on Amazon
Download The Geek’s Guide to Dating for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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