Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

by Preston Norton

This might just be the most hopeful YA I’d read in a long, long time. What started as a ‘stereotypical’ high school story became everything but, when the school ‘jock’ has a near-death experience and claims God needs him and the school ‘loser’ Neanderthal to turn everything around. Every character started jumping from the page, so complex and fully realized that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them all. A beautiful book to rekindle your hope in humanity!

Summary

36105772Cliff Hubbard is a huge loser. Literally. His nickname at Happy Valley High School is Neanderthal because he’s so enormous-6’6″ and 250 pounds to be exact. He has no one at school and life in his trailer park home has gone from bad to worse ever since his older brother’s suicide.

There’s no one Cliff hates more than the nauseatingly cool quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman. Then Aaron returns to school after a near-death experience with a bizarre claim: while he was unconscious he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High suck less. And God said there’s only one person who can help: Neanderthal.

To his own surprise, Cliff says he’s in. As he and Aaron make their way through the List, which involves a vindictive English teacher, a mysterious computer hacker, a decidedly unchristian cult of Jesus Teens, the local drug dealers, and the meanest bully at HVHS–Cliff feels like he’s part of something for the first time since losing his brother. But fixing a broken school isn’t as simple as it seems, and just when Cliff thinks they’ve completed the List, he realizes their mission hits closer to home than he ever imagined.

Musings

As I mentioned above, my first reaction when starting this read was to roll my eyes at all the High School clichés. You have the outcast who lives in a trailer park (with an abusive father), the popular jocks, the bullies, weird nerds, drug dealing teens…but then everything changes when Quarterback Aaron wakes up from his coma. He has seen the face of God – who looks remarkably like Morgan Freeman – and God has given him a list to change all this. And he specifically asked for Cliff’s help.

The author takes all these familiar YA elements and turns them upside down, making Cliff one of the most stand out characters I have ever read in contemporary YA. Still reeling from the suicide of his brother, with many questions he will never get the answer to, he joins Aaron in their mission to change the school. At times, the writing feels a lot like John Green’s, and can really pack an emotional punch; the characters are complex and have so much dimension you feel like you can really know them. It allows for the author to surprise you in so many ways.

It’s surprising in its (un)predictability.  As a reader of a LOT of YAs, it’s evident an author cannot escape the formulaic nature of high school contemporaries. The way the author deftly manages to pull twists out of this is astounding. At many times I found myself wowed by the depth of the characters: how Cliff remains so hopefully through everything, how Aaron canbe such a good person and friend, how Teagan… no spoilers, I’m just still in awe!

It’s honest, irreverent, sweet, funny, incredibly sad, and still hopeful. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe is an absolute must for fans of  YA Contemporary. It’s at times brutally honest, yet so hopeful and relatable that you can’t put it down. Give yourself a mental hug and read this book.

“You know what the most dystopian idea in the world is to me?” I asked. “The idea that our feelings don’t matter. We might as well be robots.”

Neanderthal

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Ranger’s Oath

by Blake Arthur Peel
Arc of Radiance Book 1

I’ve been a slow reader of late, as exams are drawing to a close and revisions have stolen all my time. But I recently had the opportunity to pick up a new fantasy novel, so I thought, what the heck, let’s dive right into it. Ranger’s Oath is the first of a five-book series of a YA fantasy epic, and let me just start by saying, it’s a total blast.

Summary39892219

Owyn is a ranger’s apprentice. Zara is a mage’s ward. Both hold the fate of the world in their hands. 

The Arc of Radiance has stood for a thousand years, protecting what’s left of the world from an ancient evil. But when demons begin to break through the magical barrier, Owyn and Zara become involved in a war that has lasted millennia.

If they can convince their people that the threat is real, then perhaps they can survive. If not, then the Eleven Hells will be unleashed upon the world of men…

Musings

In the realm of Tarsynium, man lives beneath a massive dome of magic, which keeps demons and evil at bay. It has stood for thousands of years, stoked by the mages at the capital, unwavering. So when Owyn, an apprentice ranger out training with his master, Elias, stumbles upon what he thinks might be a demon, it throws everything he knows into chaos.

Zara is training to one day become a mage, and so far has shown prodigious talent. When the Arch-Magnus herself wishes for Zara to accompany her to visit the edge of the realm, she leaps at the opportunity to learn from the best and show her talent to the world’s most powerful mage.

Owyn and Zara are thrown together as their elders try to dissect the mysterious occurrences which have been plaguing the realm. But when two apprentices have a theory, who’s going to listen to them? They have to take matters into their own hands before it’s too late.

While the plot was a little slow to get into at first, it quickly picks up the pace as we explore this world through the eyes of Owyn and Zara. The two make quite a pair: forced to trust each other in order to uncover the truth, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to like it. Zara is strong-willed and a perfectionist, think Hermione born in the middle ages, while Owyn is searching to define himself and carve an identity outside of the shadow of his father. Both must learn to bend the rules in order to do what is right.

Though the story is mildly predictable, it’s nevertheless a fun and engaging read, mainly for the brilliant characters. They’re incredibly relatable and draw you right into the world. One thing the author writes particularly well is the threatening demonic hordes, which are incredibly creepy, and lead to some fantastic fight scenes. I’m excited to see where the series intends on going next!

Expected publication: June 1st 2018
Add it to your Goodreads shelf! 

The Final Six

By Alexandra Mornir

Last month I received the coolest book box ever from Beacon Book Box, and with it, their book of the month: THE FINAL SIX. Immediately I could tell it was right up my alley: it’s YA/SF, my favorite genre, and involved a trip to Europa, one of my favorite moons (I even have a poster of it on my wall!). It took me a while to sit down and read it, but when I did, I couldn’t put it down.

Summary

 

36491465When Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, and Naomi, a science genius from California, are two of the twenty-four teens drafted into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever altered. After erratic climate change has made Earth a dangerous place to live, the fate of the population rests on the shoulders of the final six who will be scouting a new planet. Intense training, global scrutiny, and cutthroat opponents are only a few of the hurdles the contestants must endure in this competition.

For Leo, the prospect of traveling to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—to help resettle humankind is just the sense of purpose he’s been yearning for since losing his entire family in the flooding of Rome. Naomi, after learning of a similar space mission that mysteriously failed, suspects the ISTC isn’t being upfront with them about what’s at risk.

As the race to the final six advances, the tests get more challenging—even deadly. With pressure mounting, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo, and the two grow closer with each mind-boggling experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.

Musings

The world is at war with the environment. Every day, new reports of devastating Tsunamis and destructive earthquakes fill the news. Earth is no longer a loving world: it’s turned against us, and wants us gone.

When Leo and Naomi are drafted by the new International space committee, they are given a once in a lifetime shot of leaving our world and forging a new home for mankind. Leo is a swimmer, strong and athletic, who dives the flooded streets of Rome in search of treasures to scavenge just to stay alive. Naomi is an Iranian-American science prodigy, smart as a whip and stubborn to match. She’d rather stay on earth to protect her brother, who cannot get the medical care he needs as the world is focused on other things, but knows this is her only chance to see what is really going on with this mysterious trip to Europa.

I loved the characters here. They were instantly engaging, though sometimes annoyingly flawless. Then again, these are the best teenagers on the planet, they’re allowed to be geniuses. While being run through over the top simulations in order to test and train the candidates, Leo and Naomi form a strong bond and fight to find the answers to secrets being kept by them: what is this vaccine they’re being given? And why is the mission being pushed forward so rapidly?

The fantastic scientific realism, proof of the author’s formidable research, was a bit of a double-edged sword. Because of her attention to detail, it was hard for me to suspend my disbelief when things appeared unlikely. For example, how quickly events are moving forward, or the ‘training’ the teens are receiving. I suppose we’re not seeing everything they’re being put through, but I felt like they weren’t being properly prepared for their mission: however, the details about Europa really brings some awesome planetary science to the reader, even if they don’t think they’re into it before the read. The book manages to highlight science without being bogged down by it.

All in all, it’s a fantastically fun read. The last three chapters really had me hanging on the edge of my seat, and I can’t wait for the next book to come out. I really loved Leo and Naomi’s relationship, and I find myself hoping things work out between them. Let me know when I can get book 2!

TRAVELER Blog Tour!

Traveler Blog Tour READCOMMENDATIONS

Hello friends! What some of you know, if you’ve been with this blog for a while, is that I’m an author. A scifi author, to be precise! I try to keep my author life and blogger life separate to avoid bias, but today is an exception: I’m a part of the TRAVELER blog tour, and will be telling you more about some of the characters you’ll meet in this third installment of the Starstruck Saga! Are you ready? Here we go!

Summary

38469649Sally’s search for Earth isn’t off to a good start: chased out of her hotel room and into the broom closet of a spaceship, she’s accidentally become a stowaway on the Alliance Flagship, Traveler.

But when sabotage and murder show the crew’s true colors, Zander and Blayde are forced to stay and help them out of their mess. Lies, drama, and deceit lead them light years away to a mysterious planet on the edge of the galaxy, where the crew must band together just to stay alive. Which would be much easier if they didn’t have to deal with a diva first-mate, a droid with a religious obsession, and Blayde’s Ex whose brain is a spaceship.

Finding Earth has to be put on the back burner, as Sally’s stuck tending alien boo-boos – and she still has no idea what she’s doing. And she might live long enough to get off the planet in one piece.

Sally, Zander, and Blayde are on a spaceship in this book. And not just any ship: the eponymous Traveler, the flagship of the Alliance fleet, gem of the stars. It’s also where the Alliance films its greatest victories. A camera crew follows the crew night and day, showing the viewers back home the true story of how glorious war can be. That is, if it isn’t all scripted, of course…

Adventures of the Traveler Promo

Let’s meet the crew!

Traveler Character Cards KorkMeet the Planetary Alliance’s greatest asset, the defeater of the Hillons, protector of justice and our most basic rights, a true hero, Captain James T. Kork. Fifteen years ago, he was the sole survivor of the Battle of the Pluveht. Attacked by pirates, last alive and sure to die, he sent his ship straight into the belly of the enemy, thus accomplishing his mission and upholding the standards of the Alliance with what would have been his dying breath. After being pulled from the wreckage, he was awarded the grade of Commander and quickly rose to the ranks of Captain. He has been part of the Traveler Crew for fourteen years, seven of them as captain. Ladies, he’s single!

 

Traveler Character Cards Crandle

Lieutenant Crandle has been Captain Kork’s loyal first mate for as long as he has been captain. Though she hadn’t always been destined for a life of galactic adventure: you may know her better as superstar of the holofilms “Warped Woman” and “Stars Align.” After her father was killed in a brutal attack by the vile Consortium, Crandle quickly dropped her life as an actress and immediately enlisted in the fleet. Traveler has been her first and only assignment, where she has served for over two decades. Her initial training was as an exolinguist, but she proved to be a reliable asset on away missions as muscle as well. Beneath her composed exterior lies a core of strength and determination. Consortium enemies, beware!

Traveler Character Cards Doesso

Ensign Cara Doesso is a rising star in the Alliance. With only five years of service under her belt, she is already responsible for unraveling over 350 different languages and dialects, which have been added to our translators as a result of her diligence. Her work with base linguistics has enabled her to grow the code used in modern translator work. Thanks to her, new allies have been brought into the Alliance and new treaties are being signed daily. Many have compared her to a younger version of the great Crandle herself: Look out, lieutenant, someone’s gunning for your job!

 

Artwork created by Emily Anderson. 

Traveler comes out new Friday, April 27th. Preorder now!

 

Atlas Fallen

By Jessica Pierce
Cybercrown series #1

Readers of this blog know how much I love Scifi novels. It seems to be the only genre I talk about lately! So you can trust me when I say I know what good science fiction books look like. Atlas Fallen was not one of them: it shoots to the top of any list and fits comfortably in what I would consider GREAT science fiction. Beyond amazing: it’s destined to become a classic.

Summary37976320

One space station.

One throne.

And the girl who holds the key.

Tesla Petrov, daughter of an infamous traitor, no longer lives a life of promise in the Atlas space station’s elite flight training program. Stripped of her military rank and banished to the slums, she now scrapes out a brutal existence competing in illegal robot fights for Minko, ruthless leader of the Red Ashes crime syndicate. But when a wrong move costs her a fight—and a fortune—for the crime lord, Tesla knows her days aboard the Atlas are numbered.

Daxton LaRose isn’t just visiting the station to celebrate the Centennial of the Crown—he’s hunting a terrorist threatening to end a century of peace on Earth. To do so, he’ll need someone who knows the station. Someone willing to strike a deal at any cost.

Someone like Tesla. 

But as the hunt for the terrorist uncovers dangerous secrets from both their pasts, Tesla and Daxton realize that nothing, and no one, is what it seems.

Musings

A hundred years after the nations of the world were united under one crown, that crown is in jeopardy. A mysterious plot threatens to destroy the monarchy, and it all seems to be going down on the ATLAS, a space station in orbit around Earth, strictly divided between the elite and the working class. Tesla, once an up-and-coming flight cadet before she was stripped of her rank, is trying to prove her father’s innocence from treason, an act which has cost him in life. When she meets Daxon, he offers her a way off the station, at a cost – helping him save the ATLAS from whatever plot is about to go down.

Tesla is one of the best YA heroines I’ve ever read. And I’m not even sure why exactly! Maybe it was how much I could relate to her, as she was a character with depth and complexity that a reader can really get to know. Maybe it was her brilliance, as she’s a savvy engineer with a good head on her shoulders. Maybe it was her courage and her drive, the kind of strength that drives her to design and fight in robot matches, or, say, sign up for a terrifying mission which would throw her life out the airlock. There was something about Tesla that just seemed so real that I’m still dying to know more about her.

Daxon is equally fascinating. Though we spend less time in his POV, it’s hard to miss the complexity of his own life. I loved how the author took the trope surrounding his character (trying to avoid spoilers here) and flipped it on its head. His friends, the supporting cast of the book, are fascinating and I really can’t wait to learn more about them in the future books. That, and explore the growing relationship between Tesla and Daxon… Daxla? Texon? Do we have a ship name yet?

None of the plot felt predictable: when you saw it go one way, it would quickly throw you a curveball. I loved the dichotomy of Tesla’s life, able to infiltrate a gala and fight in robot death matches one after the other. The ending was exciting and left me breathless for more. I think we have a new hit on our hands!

All in all, it is an out of this world debut. Skillfully crafted, with brilliant heroes and thrilling adventure, Atlas Fallen is un-putdownable. A masterpiece of Young Adult Space fiction!

 

Heart of Iron

By Ashley Poston

My expectations were insanely high for this book: I mean, Anastasia in Space! Robots! Rebels! Rogues! I’m a sucker for space stories and I need some good pirates in my life, so I was stoked beyond belief when I heard about this book. Instant preorder. So I would take this review with a grain of salt since I might be a little overly critical – even though I loved it to bits!

Summary

35181314Seventeen-year-old Ana is a scoundrel by nurture and an outlaw by nature. Found as a child drifting through space with a sentient android called D09, Ana was saved by a fearsome space captain and the grizzled crew she now calls family. But D09—one of the last remaining illegal Metals—has been glitching, and Ana will stop at nothing to find a way to fix him.

Ana’s desperate effort to save D09 leads her on a quest to steal the coordinates to a lost ship that could offer all the answers. But at the last moment, a spoiled Ironblood boy beats Ana to her prize. He has his own reasons for taking the coordinates, and he doesn’t care what he’ll sacrifice to keep them.

When everything goes wrong, she and the Ironblood end up as fugitives on the run. Now their entire kingdom is after them—and the coordinates—and not everyone wants them captured alive.

What they find in a lost corner of the universe will change all their lives—and unearth dangerous secrets. But when a darkness from Ana’s past returns, she must face an impossible choice: does she protect a kingdom that wants her dead or save the Metal boy she loves?

Musings

The worldbuilding in the book was phenomenal. I loved the solar system where the adventure takes place, the religion the author created, the political tension. I loved how the author took the familiar narrative of Anastasia’s story and wove it into the fabric of space. However, this worked also against the author, because some of the twists were seen miles, and I mean miles, ahead. Even in the blurb you can work some details out. It also means if you can figure out who the supporting characters represent, you can figure out the villains ahead of time, too.

Which is not to say that the author didn’t have any tricks up her sleeves! She still manages to surprise the reader throughout the book. The true strength was in the characters themselves: into Ana, the brilliant rebel, who I want more than anything to know IRL. Or Jax, my absolute favorite character, who I need to read more of right now. Everything about his race, the Solani, made my heart soar.

And the imagery used is stunning! Though perhaps a little overused – so much swearing on Iron and Stars, y’all – but it’s so gosh darn gorgeous. There are lines upon lines I want to highlight and remember forever, or even paint on my wall.

All in all, while the plot is mildly predictable, the characters are loveable and the ending will leave you gutted. I can’t wait to learn more about the metals and to see Ana fight for a cause. This is only the beginning of what’s going to be a formidable series!

IMG_2914

Hero In a Halfling

By William Tyler Davis
Epik Fantasy #1

Gosh, I missed fantasy reading books like this one. A highly entertaining story which reads like a DnD campaign with your best friends. Like Lord of The Rings, but with hints of Terry Pratchett, with subtle humor and pop culture jokes thrown in so creatively that they don’t take the reader out of the story.

Summary35621955

Not all halflings dream of magic…

But Epik isn’t like the rest. Adventure. Excitement. He craves those things. He would rather learn magic, not follow a wizard on some fool’s adventure…. Or so he thinks.

The problem: magic is outlawed. After setting out for the city, what Epik finds in Dune All-En isn’t at all what he’d hoped. No magic. And few wizards.

Luck, or something more sinister, is on the halfling’s side. He meets Gabby, a wizard who is kind enough to rent him a room, or rather, a closet, at his now-defunct magical supply store. And as a group of mountain trolls threatens the city, Epik sees the opportunity to do something, well, epic.

If only the halfling inside him would stop peeking out.

Musings

While most of the story is told from Epik’s perspective, we get a healthy dose of flashbacks and a few other fun characters get to tell their side of the story. The villainous hand of the king plotting his ruler’s demise; the hilarious mountain trolls who just want to feast on human flesh; the soldier who’s never seen real action before… the reader gets to see the wide scope of the action and feel invested in the plot, which has a rather quick pace that accelerates towards the end.

The real strength of this book lies in the amazing characters, who could be doing absolutely anything and I would still read them. Gabby the Wizard had such personality; Epik was so likable; Todder too relatable. I would pick up the second book in an instant just to hang out with them again!