Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Devil Until Dust by Emma Berquist

Willie (don’t you dare call her Daisy) at seventeen is in charge of the family consisting of her brother Micah and seven year old twins – Calvin and Catherine, a real ornery handful. Her mother died of the “disease” which has destroyed any semblance of an orderly life for those living in Glory, Texas. Her pa, Harrison Wilcox, always prone to drink, is now mostly MIA, spending his time at the Homestead bar getting drunk and gambling. Life is tough enough with a small pile of money which is quickly being depleted by the monthly protection dues paid to the Judge who runs the town, but it promises to get worse when McAllister confronts Willie, demanding she repay the $400 winnings her pa stole the night before. Wilcox is long gone and nobody has that kind of cash to lend, so Willie decides to hire some hunters to guide her through the open desert to Best, a larger town where she’s sure her dad is hiding out with his newfound bounty. Pa should be the one to suffer the consequences of his actions, not his innocent children.

So far Devil Until Dust by Emma Berquist sounds like a straightforward western taking place about ten years after the end of the Civil War where Ulysses S Grant is President of the United States, but it’s not gun slingers and wild animals the town folks fear, it’s the shakes, disease riddled zombie like creatures who have lost all sense of humanity and thrive by drinking blood. Animals are the easiest to catch, but shakes like the taste of humans, even devouring those like themselves, unlucky enough to get killed. Of course, if you survive the bite of these sub humans, it’s only a matter of time before you’re infected too. That’s why towns are fenced in and guarded and nobody travels without a shake hunter armed and ready to shoot the beasts since it’s a matter of us vs them. Those in the North and on the West Coast have stopped building the transcontinental railroad system, leaving the infected parts of the country to “handle” it on their own.

So Willie goes on the road through the West Texan desert with two brothers, Curtis and Ben, to reach Best and bring her Pa to justice. This quest takes some unexpected turns in a YA book which combines a coming of age story with a dystopian western in an alternative history introspectively narrated by a young girl who rejects her femininity in order to survive in an apocalyptic, dust-filled world riddled with epidemic created demons and egocentric men trying to get ahead by taking advantage of anyone who can’t defend themselves (although there are a few good hearted souls scattered throughout the book).

Definitely readable with super short chapters, and, although somewhat predictable, this debut novel is worth a look. Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Pierce Brown’s Red Rising: Son of Ares (#1-6) Collaborated with Rick Hoskin and illustrated by Eli Powell

It takes a team to create a successful graphic novel. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising: Sons of Ares is the compilation of six comics packaged into one book used as a prequel to the Red Rising Trilogy. Collaborated with Rick Hoskin and illustrated by Eli Powell, the story of Fitchner Au Barca’s survival as a Gold, despite his abnormally small stature, provides a backdrop to the motivations which lead him to become a violent killer yet loving father.

Admission: Since I have not read the SF Red Rising Trilogy (although I’m aware it’s a popular series) I am not handicapped by preconceptions. Some of the colorful illustrations were awe inspiring and while the features of the male characters were vague (although the masks they wore were intricate), the females were more articulately drawn. There was a lot, perhaps an excessive amount of brutality, but Brown has created a volatile world where society is strictly divided into castes which legally cannot intermingle. Unfortunately for our “golden” hero, he falls in love with Brynn, a service Red. On the sparsely populated Titan it isn’t much of an issue, but when he’s called back to Mars they must keep their illegal marriage a secret which is complicated by the birth of their son, Sevro. Brynn’s sister Ryanna, who has accompanied the couple, is caught in the middle as they try to survive an untenable situation which leads to even more bloodshed as a hodgepodge team of misfits try to rescue one of their own. Best friend Arturius, who betrays Fitchner, is a reminder that it’s almost impossible to go against your upbringing or understand those who are able to break away from the norms. The philosophy of safeguarding your own dominion by regarding others as dispensable commodities and not fellow “humans” is a foundation for the start of a revolution.

There were a few times I got “lost” and had to reread pages to figure out the motivations behind what was happening and to whom, but I expect readers of the books who know what comes next won’t have this problem.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Artemis by Andy Weir

It’s refreshing to read a true SF novel. Lately, unless you are reading a book featuring Star Wars or Star Trek, the focus seems to be on fantasy or dystopia. We won’t touch on vampires and werewolves, although if that is your pleasure you are in luck.

Artemis by Andy Weir, however, is about life in a man-made city on the moon. The author has created a realistic world with scientific explanations which seem realistic to my untrained mind. Jazz Bashara, the main character, is a true antihero, who at twenty eight is still acting like a rebellious teenager doing a little smuggling, along with her day job as a porter, to pay for her meager lifestyle. She manages though dreams of something better – a bigger bed, her own bathroom, better food choices – all beyond her financial means. Then the deal of a lifetime falls into her lap, a way to make some real money and maybe repair the broken relationship with her dad. This one requires quite a bit of planning and luckily she has a natural ability to pick up information on the fly along with some innate skills perfected at her father’s knee as well as the general knowledge necessary to nullify the safeguards surrounding the moon’s life support systems (without getting herself killed). Yet the relatively “simple” task of sabotage becomes a deadly game placing those she holds near and dear in danger. Time to call in all her favors, even if it means swallowing her pride and overriding her principles.

Add in a stoic father who wants what’s best for his only daughter, a former best friend who has the same taste in men, a geeky coworker willing to lend a hand, a security officer just looking for a reason to deport her back to earth, a childhood pen pal from Kenya who has some helpful connections, and a client who inadvertently bites off more than he can chew.

While I enjoyed the basic concept and liked the mystery tour Weir took us on, there was a bit too much technical detail for my taste. I like a bit of science to make it all seem doable, but my focus is always on the fiction. However, the action will translate into a great movie, since this novel has just as much big screen potential as The Martian. Creating a female main character seemed to be a bit of a challenge for Weir and she came off a little too juvenile at times, though her glib, wise cracking attitude along with all those smarts were a refreshing change of pace which lead to some clever, if somewhat cliched, dialogue.

I’m ready to purchase my ticket.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads. S

Elves (Volume 1) – Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte, Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi

A few years ago Elves was published in France (Elfes) and now it’s making its appearance here in the United States. Volume 1 contains two separate stories, Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte about the Blue Elves who live by the sea and Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi dealing with the Sylvan or Forest Elves. There are three other subsets of Elves to be published in a future edition.

The trouble with this series is that it takes awhile to grasp the cast of characters. While the graphics are spectacular and help the reader interpret the story, there is still a lot of confusion. Part of the problem in the first story is that these are three plot lines which eventually intersect, however, the story flits from one to another in a jarring fashion, taking a moment or two to figure out which part of the plot is front and center. While in the second story there is also a bunch of back and forths which make it difficult at times to figure out who’s who or what’s what. Too many gaps in the story only adds to the confusion, requiring an explanation which is nowhere to be found. It’s as if there was a prequel we all missed. Some backstory please before you throw us into the mix. Eventually we get the drift, but only after a frustrating start.

In both stories there’s a lot of backstabbing and double crossing along with a few deceptions which change the outcome of the saga, although there are some honorable characters who leave us with hope for an eventual resolution. The various evil creatures such as the ork mercenaries are horrifying, but as least they are easily identifiable as the enemy. It’s when the “good guys” turn out to have a hidden agenda and double cross their so called friends that the stories reflect a dark theme.

Full of blood, violence, and death, not everything turns out with a happily ever after ending. It’s just not that kind of book. With a better narrative and smoother transitions, this would be a superior series. The colorful, intricate art work illustrating the two stories could easily be developed into an adult animation (there’s nudity along with the violence) for the small or large screen. Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Insight Comics for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

It’s as if Carrie Fisher came to my house and initiated a conversation right in my living room. The free-falling intimacy-sharing format of her memoir, The Princess Diarist, brings the author to life, despite her fairly recent death.

This particular book touches on Fisher’s experiences as Princess Leia in the first of the Star Wars films. She takes us back to the seventies and relives those days of her teens. At that time she was naive and self conscious, despite growing up in a Show Biz family with mother Debbie Reynolds (and her divorced father Eddie Fisher).

Anyone aware of Carrie’s numerous books and talk show appearances knows about her transformation over the years from a shy, reticent girl to a pull-no-punches, shoot-straight-from-the-hip woman who faced life straight on, not dodging any bullets while sharing the truths in her life, including her drug addiction (or self-medicating to control her bi polar disorder).

But at nineteen, Carrie was fresh and talented and still a bit of a baby. Somehow she allowed herself to over imbibe at a cast party and almost got herself into a real mess with several of the rowdy crew when costar Harrison Ford “rescued” her right into the bedroom.

Thus began their location liaison lasting for three months until the last day of Ford’s filming when he left London to return home to his wife and two children.

Through the diaries which Carrie kept during that time frame, we hear the thoughts of a young girl who can’t believe that this handsome, older, more worldly man would choose her. Terrified she’d do or say the wrong thing, Carrie obsesses about her mostly silent partner as they spend their weekends together. She fantasizes about a future as a couple even while realizing that theirs is only an affair of convenience.

After thoroughly exploring this relationship, Carrie goes on to discuss the after effects of the Princess Leia role, including her interactions with the fans

Despite their instant fame, the young cast members had signed off all rights to the Star Wars merchandizing, so to fund her passion for shopping, Fisher found herself in need of ways to fill the coffers, including selling her signature (which she called the celebrity lap dance) at various events including Comic Cons.

While Fisher’s writing style is breezy and easy to read, full of anecdotes reflecting her twisted sense of humor and allusions to her youthful insecurities which spilled over into adulthood, too much time is spent on the “Carrington” affair (lots of attention, not too many details). The diary excerpts are difficult to read. I was nineteen once and I personally don’t want to read anyone else’s rambling reflections and anxieties involving their first love, especially this confusing relationship between Carrie and Harrison – two such disparate personalities. It’s just too personal.

The diary entries, especially the poetry, are often pretentious (although there are a few good lines) and embarrassingly over the top, although the reader gets an understanding of what Carrie was feeling during that interlude. Fisher is nothing if not open and honest, willing to kiss and tell while leaving out the actually sex (beyond a mention of their numerous make out sessions).

Despite the run on sentences and other flaws, Princess Leia fans will enjoy this trip down memory lane. An added bonus is the photographs interspersed throughout the book.

I’ve always been a Carrie Fisher fan (more the person, than the actual roles she portrayed), so this book was difficult to read knowing that she had tragically died of a heart attack at the age of sixty, not even old enough to collect social security. A close family, Carrie’s mom had a stroke and died while planning the funeral with her son. Fisher’s beautiful twenty five year old daughter is left to carry on the family tradition. Perhaps she’ll also have some stories to share so their family legacy lives on.

Check the internet for a tour of Carrie’s home full of amazing collectibles which are slated to be auctioned (along with items her mother/next door neighbor Debbie Reynolds accumulated over the years).

Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodread.

Sixteen by Jen Estes

Here is a tale of teen angst with a twist. You have the social misfit who despite her lack of popularity, is best friends with the prom queen and dating the Captain of the Football Team that she met while fulfilling her court mandated community service as punishment for buying drugs (sleeping pills) from an undercover cop. To complicate matters, the one person who provides emotional support has run off with her obnoxious foster sister. Sounds like your typical YA novel, yet there is a whole other story written between the lines which moves Sixteen by Jen Estes up a notch from normal expectations.

Those of you who read Fifteen, the first novel in the Dreamwalker Diaries Series by Jen Estes are familiar with Ashling Campbell, a Dreamwalker who is the only one that can stop the depraved Jumlin from achieving immortality for himself and his spawn, thus gaining the ability to enslave or destroy mankind. Luckily this can only be attempted once every fifteen years and requires the help of the reincarnated Laughing Bear who is human despite being a descendent of the Jumlin. The Dreamwalker is able to travel 15 years forward through time in order to find a way to thwart these potential cataclysmic events. Their progeny is then burdened with the same task until the Jumlin either succeeds in his task or is destroyed.

In Fifteen, Ash discovers that the Jumlin is actually, Walker Smith, the supposed father of best friend Skykar (who was actually switched at birth with his real daughter – Nadette – by the predecessor Dreamwalker). In order to prevent her horrific recurring nightmares from becoming true, Ash convinces Nadette (her foster sister) to run away, not realizing her buddy Tate would go along for the ride. It’s not that she totally resents his attraction to her malicious “adopted” roommate, it’s that she doesn’t have anyone else with whom she can share her most intimate nightmares without being declared insane.

Sixteen advances the saga as Jen tracks down her half brother who has the key to finding another way to “redo” her previous feat in order to “undo” the accidental shooting death of her mother. Success in this quest would result in a boring plot, so the unexpected repercussions of her actions alert the Jumlin to her presence, endangering her friends and family. Forced to expand the circle of individuals who know the truth, they must band together and make some difficult decisions on how to keep the demon Walker from unearthing any further secrets while destroying the minions who make up his empire – all without being thrown into prison for murder or ending up hospitalized/dead.

The trouble the author, Jen Estes, faced was how to weave the two stories together. It’s been two years since Fifteen was published, so a little refresher was welcome, but as Ash explains the whys and wherefores to a widening circle of people in the know, the reader is forced to hear the details over and over. Flashbacks and old diary entries fill in additional blanks as Ash solves some of the remaining riddles. While the repetitions get annoying at times, the plot has enough booby traps to keep it interesting along with some gratuitous violence to appeal to readers who additionally enjoy stories with vampire or dragon slayers. Of special interest was the blending of past, present, and future as Ash interacts with various individuals from her life at different stages in their existence.

Expect an abrupt culmination with a cliffhanger ending leading into the next novel where the teens, armed with what normal people would consider insane facts, are determined to spend the summer tracking down and destroying this evil which threatens the world.

Not quite as groundbreaking as the first novel, three and a half stars and a thank you to Curiosity Quill for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island created by Bruce Lee, written by Stuart Moore, illustrated by P H Marcondes

I must admit, I’ve always been fascinated by the Chinese Zodiac and the idea that each of the twelve signs could imbue powers on select hosts is definitely an intriguing concept for a comic book/graphic novel series. Add in the brilliance of Stan Lee, the imaginative writing talents of Stuart Moore, the detailed illustrative abilities of P H Marcondes, and the support of Disney, resulting in the start of a promising series.

To fully appreciate the comic book The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island, I recommend you read Stan Lee’s introductory novel, The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence which lays out the groundwork for the series. Even though Tiger Island has some background information, the format doesn’t allow for the detail necessary to explain all the nuances of the various characters. As the first issue in this continuing saga, graphics are used to identify the various powers of the good guys on “Team Steven Lee” as they search for a place to set up a command post in their fight against the Vanguard who are plotting to steal their special Zodiac powers to add to the power of their boss, the insane evil genius Maxwell.

At the prospective headquarters on the technology savvy Tiger Island, the reader is able to glean some insight into the inner workings of “the players” as they visit the Holodeck Wishing Rooms to live out their dreams via vertical reality. These fantasies are interrupted by a very real invasion of dangerous wild animals who have been sent by Vanguard to attack the island. While our heroes are saving the day, one of their compatriots disappears. What happens next can be found in The Zodiac Legacy #2: Power Lines.

The plot must unfold quickly since this book is only 66 pages long, so don’t look for a lot of specifics, although the colorful graphics, with some incredible “special effects”, do enhance the story. Still, if you go into this book familiar with the numerous characters, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. While the cliffhanger is on the mild side, it does leave you wanting more.

This continuation of the original Legacy trilogy lends itself to a comic book format, especially since too much explanation detracts from the action. Perfect for middle schoolers or fans of super heroes.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Papercutz for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.