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!

 

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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!

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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!

Only Human

Themis Files #3
by Sylvain Neuvel

I can’t believe we’re already at the end of such a thunderous trilogy. The Themis Files swept me off my feet from the first page of book one, and kept me begging for more until the very end. Only Human is a fantastic finale to an already strong series, and while I’m sad to see it end, it was definitely the epic conclusion the Themis Files deserved.

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Summary

 

In her childhood, Rose Franklin accidentally discovered a giant metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. As an adult, Dr. Rose Franklin led the team that uncovered the rest of the body parts which together form Themis: a powerful robot of mysterious alien origin. She, along with linguist Vincent, pilot Kara, and the unnamed Interviewer, protected the Earth from geopolitical conflict and alien invasion alike. Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find her old alliances forfeit and the planet in shambles. And she must pick up the pieces of the Earth Defense Corps as her own friends turn against each other.

Summary

Once again, nine years have passed between this book and the last. While I found this temporal jump unsettling when reading Waking Gods, it was even more shocking when reading Only Human because of just how much had changed: humanity has lost its mind. The robot our motley crew defeated at the end of the last book has been taken over by the US, who have been using to, well, take over the world. Just as Rose and Vincent predicted, with an unbeatable robot in the hands of a single government, the world is falling to its knees. To top it all off, the discovery of alien DNA in the population has led to widespread segregation across the planet, including work camps and executions. Countries are using the genetic code to crack down on their undesirables – a thinly veiled allegory to what could happen to us if we allowed our genetic differences to divide us. Sound familiar?

And while the Earth has been growing more insane, Rose, Vincent, Eva and General Govender have been trying to adapt to life on the Alien world of Esat Ekt. Here the author demonstrates a fantastic job of worldbuilding, as he creates a massive society so different from ours. It reads almost like a thought experiment, seeing what would happen to a society so afraid of stepping on its own toes that it never accomplishes anything. It was also an interesting change having two different time periods running concurrently through the book: life on Esat Ekt alternating with life back on earth, after the team returns.

I absolutely loved the character building. Eva and Vincent’s relationship grew perfectly in this last installment. It was fantastic seeing them try to learn to live as a family, see them butt heads, see them end up on opposing sides. Eva has to be my favorite character here: while I miss Kara, she makes up for her departure with a familiar snark. Seeing Vincent wanting nothing more than to go home, while Eva put down roots, made me relate to Eva even more: third culture kids, children of expats, we recognize each other everywhere.

If I did have some qualms, it would be with how certain parts felt a little rushed. I realize the author was trying to show how slowly things moved on Esat Ekt, but at times it felt too slow: they lived on that planet for almost a decade, but it read like the course of a year. And the ending was a little… I don’t think Deus Ex Machina has ever been such an accurate term. It was a little too perfect, to the point I could easily imagine that Vincent or Rose died and imagined the entire thing. But maybe it’s because I’m not used to happy endings!

Rose’s growth was incredible; Vincent’s mental anguish was palpable; Eva’s determination and will made her a force to be reconned with. Other characters grew a lot over the past 18 years of this series, as well, and I was happy to see them almost redeemed at the end. All in all, a fitting conclusion to a fantastic series. Not to mention it was impossible to put down. I sure hope Neuvel has more planned for us in the future, despite the trilogy ending!

Expected publication: May 1st, 2018 by Del Rey Books

The Toymakers

By Robert Dinsdale

It has been a very long time since I’ve finished a book that has left me feeling so emotionally gutted. The Toymakers broke my heart many times over, in the best possible way. It’s rather hard to put this review into words because my heart is actually still alternating between being clenched and then fluttering like a host of butterflies. Just like the magic the author describes, this book is bigger on the inside, evoking feelings inside that I rarely feel with a book. I’m going to have a hard time pulling myself out of this enchantment, and I’m not sure I want to.

Summary

34846987The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open! 

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs, and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical… 

Musings

The story revolves around Cathy, a young girl who finds herself pregnant at 16 and runs away to find a place she can live with the child and not have to give it up. The Emporium welcomes her with open arms, and there she meets Papa Jack and his two sons, men from the East who make toys so magical they could almost be real. Or, perhaps, they are – that is the magic of toys after all.

From there, the book sweeps across a life: we start in 1907 and finish in 1953, the Emporium surviving two world wars… and a war of its own. The Long War has been fought between the two brothers ever since they became toymakers themselves, pitting toy soldiers against each other, while they also try to take control of the store itself. By following Cathy, we see the lives that are changed in this place, and the magic toys can bring.

There is so much in this book. Patchwork dogs that seem alive; paper trees that put down roots; Wendy houses that are the size of a real house inside. Even toy soldiers who can wind each other up. We follow Marth, Cathy’s daughter, as she grows. Kaspar, the eldest son of Papa Jack, as he returns from war a changed man. Every time I thought I was settling into a story, it turned into something else, so I could not anticipate where the story was going.

The magic of the Emporium is reminiscent of books such as the Night Circus and captures that feeling you remember of toystores at Christmas when you were a child. The magic in this book comes from how the author winds real magic into the pages: he says Papa Jack can make the toys so realistic because he uses the perspective of a child, and so the author has done the same, weaving perspective to make the pages come alive. I was fully immersed in Cathy’s story, in her relationship with Kaspar. During the last chapters, I felt so empty, imagining myself in her shoes.

While the pacing is slow, it’s still impossible to put down. Again, I’m going to blame it on magic. Towards the end when we begin to skip years at a time, I felt as if I myself was watching my life flash before my eyes, my own story coming to an end. I can’t believe I let myself get so engrossed by a book. Like one of Kaspar’s massive toy chests, I’ve fallen in, and I can’t get back out.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’ve reread the last chapter twice. It’s a real masterpiece.

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Our Dark Stars

By Audrey Grey

This book is everything I need in a sci-fi: brilliant conflict, strong characters, love, betrayal, and of course the immensity of outer space. And in a fangirly voice – this book was SO COOL.

Summary

37459966While she sleeps, the whole universe changes.

Princess Talia Starchaser has it all. Wealth. Status. Adoring citizens. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she’s forced to publicly betray her best friend, a companion mock she’s had since birth, setting events into motion that lead to the destruction of the humans, and the princess floating through space, a remnant of a time when humans ruled over droids.

One hundred years later, half-mock captain Will Perrault and his ragtag crew discover a device floating in space. When a very human Talia emerges from its depths, Will suspects she’s the key to buying his way back into the regiment he once commanded against the last remaining rebel humans—and the ruling mock queen’s good graces.

Both Talia and Will would rather get space-tossed than trust one another, but with the queen’s forces chasing them across the galaxy and the fate of both worlds hanging in the balance, they’ll forge the unlikeliest of alliances to survive.

Musings

Talia Starchaser is now of age to accept the responsibilities of her role as princess, and she does so with dignity despite knowing the limitations imposed on her. She’s being married off to a stranger in the name of politics, and forced to abandon the life she loves, piloting starfighters with her best friend. The latter is a Mock: an android so close to being human, the only thing stopping her are the imposed limitations in her program. The two are inseparable, until the moment when Talia is forced to chose between their friendship and her hold on the kingdom.

A hundred years later, the results of this choice are being found by Will, a Mock who lives in a world where the roles are now reversed, and humans are subjugated. The reign of the Starchasers, once the first to have colonized the realm, is all but forgotten. Together, Talia, Will, and his crew must find their way in this dangerous universe – and right wrongs that cannot be left in the past.

I loved the intricate play between the two perspectives – and time periods. The author meshed them together so perfectly that it felt natural when the two lives collided. And there’s something I just adore about ‘stasis’ tropes; when a character awakens to find the world they knew completely upside down. How the author builds a universe populated by Mocks that makes sense, with new rules and limitations.

Exploring this world was a blast. Seeing how much had changed, seeing how much needed to change, it really dragged the reader in. I could not put the book down at this point. I loved Talia, with her cute naive side and her well trained, educated royal side; and Will, the mock with his humanity partially intact. The supporting characters were lovable and engaging as well, especially Jane whose character arc was powerful.

The ending happens incredibly fast. Once you find the twist, which was mildly predictable, from there the book races to an ending. I was surprised it wasn’t more drawn out, but it worked. I finished the book both wishing for more and glad it was self-contained, because I could imagine the characters having their happy ending.

All in all, this book is an engrossing work of YA science fiction, perfect for fans of the Starbound series. An irresistible read!

Expected publication: March 6th 2018 by Blaze Publishing, LLC
Preorder here


P.S. Back in December, I published a short story called DARK STAR, also about a princess in stasis found by a scavenger. It was published in the FROM THE STARS anthology by Torment Publishing. After I started reading this book and realized the similarities, I raced to the author’s Facebook page to discover we must have been writing our stories simultaneously. This is like an episode of the Twilight Zone! 

Ruined

A Regency Retelling of Jane Eyre
M.C. Frank

Once again, I have dove into a genre I rarely read because of a book written by an author I admire, and once again I’m thoroughly impressed and glad I gave it a chance.  Ruined is a perfect book for all the lovers of Regency era, or historical romance, or romance in general – not usually my cup of tea but thanks to M.C. Frank, I think they’re growing on me.

32181020Summary

The Duke of Ashton sits at the Opera at Vauxhall Gardens, bored out of his mind, and plans murder.

He curses the day that brought the little governess, destitute and sad, at his door eight months ago, to upset his careless if a bit meaningless existence. 
How could he have guessed the terrible, evil secrets she was hiding? And now that he knows all, the truth appears wilder, even more despicable than even he could have imagined. He hadn’t counted on losing his heart to her, of course, but he did.

What he doesn’t know is that a tendril of the shadows of madness and sin that followed Beatrice to his door is still out there, looking for something to devour.
The only one who can save him from the darkness is the girl herself, but he knows he’ll never see her again. He who once prided himself on his indifference to other human beings, feels his chest constrict with pain every time he even thinks of her.

Musings

After his cousin’s death, Dominic Halifax suddenly inherits the title of the Duke of Ashton, and by a shocking move in the former’s will, is now in charge of the man’s daughter, Adelina. Headstrong and stubborn, she is impossible to control, and is ruining Dominic’s bachelor lifestyle – he needs help. She has rejected every candidate he has found suitable to be her governess, until, that is, he finds Beatrice Devon. Only three years older than Adelina herself, Beatrice somehow manages to bring her under control.

But Beatrice caries a heavy secret: a history of mental and physical abuse. But as Dominic begins falling in love with her, more is revealed about her past – can she ever move forward?

I haven’t read Jane Eyre in quite a long time so I might not be a good judge of how good of a retelling Ruined is, but the plot itself is very different from what I remember – this book is definitely not a linear retelling! The relationship between Dom and Beatrice seems to be the main similar element, and it’s adorable how he uses the same imagery to describe her as what I remember from studying the book in high school – frequently calling her bewitching or accusing him of casting a spell on her, for example. Highly creative!

We alternate between the points of view of Dominic and Beatrice, telling the story with secrets kept hidden. The plot was neither slow nor fast, a nice gentle evolution of the relationship with a handful of mystery thrown in. The author also carefully mimics the writing style of the era, while not losing the style her readers love. It’s easy to see M.C. Frank in the pages, even while she’s using a regency era turn of phrase. This might put off some readers, but I found it easy to get into and very fitting for the novel.

Beatrice shows amazing growth through the novel: I love a strong female character who has her flaws. She’s smart, persistent, and somehow hasn’t lost a love for humanity through all she’s been through. Now I must war some readers that the flashback scenes are troubling at times, and very unsettling, but how Beatrice deals with them is masterfully done. I did get a little tired of her crying/fainting, but it was a really minor qualm I had with the book.

Dominic’s evolution is a fantastic one. I loved his broodiness at the beginning, his real stubbornness he can’t see in himself. But Beatrice brings the best out of him, and he out of her. I enjoyed watching their relationship grow and wishing that they end up together. Underneath that bachelor-life-loving exterior beats the heart of a true and caring gentleman.

I found the ending a little confusing, somehow – a few jumps in time that weren’t clear, moving forward and back but without any guidance. I’m not sure if this is just me, and it threw me off a little, but the action picked up and I was drawn right back in.

All in all, this isn’t your everyday retelling of Jane Eyre: it’s a beautiful homage to the book, with a story about abuse and growth, love and strength. The author creates a beautiful story with so much to love. If you like historical romance, then you’ll strike gold with Ruined!

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I have kindly received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

“It takes true courage, integrity and selflessness to turn yourself into a person that the world would be the wealthier for possessing.”