Science Fiction

Book Review: Warchild: Pawn by Ernie Lindsey

Being a mom on a tight budget, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on books, despite my love for them. So, I tend to gravitate both out of need and desire towards Indie titles, which are often much cheaper in electronic format that mainstream titles. This allows me to save for my must reads throughout the year. The self publishing scene can be fraught with pitfalls for readers. Amazon makes it so easy to publish, that some simply throw their book up for the world to see with only cursory editing. I have picked up and put down many titles that sounded promising. “Warchild: Pawn” is proof that there are amazing stories in the mix and that it is worth digging for the jewels.

The premise does not at first seem unique, and in truth, it isn’t. “Warchild” is set in a post-apocalyptic society where the original government, in an attempt to crush the rebellion of its people, turned super humans labeled Kinders loose on society. Years later, these super human are thought to be gone and America is reduced to two governing bodies that maintain a delicate truce. The environment has turned on surviviors. Rain pours from the sky more days than not. If you are unlucky enough to be born on the fringes of the People’s Republic of Virginia food and shelter is scarce. Our protagonist, Caroline Mathers, spends her days scouting the woods around her settlement to protect it from would be looters, and worse, war.

What “Warchild: Pawn” lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in the strength of its protagonist and the overall feel and pacing of the text. The story opens at the very beginning of the action with the dreaded drums of war banging in the distance, and does not stop from there. It is breathlessly quick paced. I did not feel bogged down by exposition or superfluous descriptions. The reader is left to quickly follow the protagonist and her hodgepodge group of lost souls and rebels on their journey, discovering the world right along side the characters.

Caroline was a believable, though I felt she acted a bit older than her given age of fourteen years. She lives in a realistic world of destruction, death, and hardship. Saddled with a mantel of power that does not want and did not ask for, she struggles with what is best for herself, and what is best for the people who now look up to her as their leader. She makes mistakes. She is a child who misses her home. She is confused by the role that has been given to her. She doesn’t understand her past and her role in the future, or even what is happening to her internally and externally. Most of all, she wants to trust, but has difficulty knowing who to put her trust in. As a reader, I could understand the challenges that faced Caroline and the reasons behind her decisions.

At first, I was concerned that there would be an obvious political overtone with government names like Republicons, The People’s Republic of Virginia, and the Democratic Alliance. Thankfully, the story was not overtly political. I am not even sure if the subtle hints I picked up were intentional. It seems that all three societies/groups has dings against them. The Republicons are portrayed as vile disgusting and self absorbed people in the beginning, but redeem themselves somewhat as the story progresses. Caroline’s people, the Republic of Virginia, are incredibly naive. The Capitol, unbelievably, does not do much to protect the people, complacent in the relative safety they have lived in for generations. The Democratic Alliance is blood thirsty and greedy. The story makes a point to show the gray areas through well placed characters ally themselves with Caroline and help her along the way.I felt that, overall, there was a hopeful tone to the interactions and an ingrained message that nothing in politics and history is strictly black and white.

I highly recommend this deeply layered and fast paced post apocalyptic journey to fans of the genre. I can’t wait to read book 2 when I have some extra time.

warchild pawn

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Castaway on Mars, how is that going to work? Pretty well, actually. I knew “The Martian” was highly acclaimed. I knew it was considered one of the best Indie books to come out in the last five years (it was originally self published before being picked up by its current publisher), and it was on a Goodreads list of top reads for 2014. Still, it took me several months from when I added it to my ‘To Read’ list to the time I actually picked it up. Perhaps the summary didn’t sound as exciting as the other books in my virtual pile. Perhaps I was worried about how well I would like a book that contained one voice. I don’t really know why I put it off, but I am glad I finally read it.

It takes a gifted author to keep the reader entertained when a story is absent of any other voice, as “The Martian” is for a large chunk of the book. Eventually the point of view changes and you get a glimpse into what his crew, NASA, and even the world is thinking as astronaut Mark Watney fights for survival on the red planet. Mark’s voice is so incredibly entertaining that even when he was rattling off paragraphs of heavy scientific explanations, I could not help but keep reading. He has an unrelenting sense of hope and an ability to laugh at himself and his horrifying situation that makes him feel like a real person. His resourcefulness actually feels like a product of his intelligence as a well education botanist and electrical engineer, and not some magical deus ex machina contrived to get him from point A to point B. Because he felt so real, I was fully invested in the story, feeling both fear and relief as obstacles were met and overcome.

The narrative changes quite a few times from Mark Watney’s logs on Mars, to the inner offices of NASA, to NASA worker bees, and even small expository asides that explain how Mark Watney became the first man left behind on Mars (with so many other firsts to come), and what people are willing to do to get his feet back on terra firma. I could have kept reading Mark’s narrative and not been upset, but I truly appreciated the fullness of story that the introduction of supporting characters brought.

If you are looking for a smooth and easy read in the hard science fiction genre, I would definitely recommend this. “The Martian” illustrates the strength of the human spirit and shows us how one person’s life can bring a world of people together, how one man’s struggle can cause millions to hold their breaths and send their prayers and well wishes into the sky. In some ways, the hopeful tone reminded me that most people are in fact good people and that our strength as human beings is in our creativity, our spirit, and our ability to love. It is hard to believe that this is Andy Weir’s debut novel and I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Note: I read the self published version of this book. There are differences, though not too many from what I understand.

the martian by andy weir

Book Review: The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich

I received a copy of this novel for free in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my opinion.

Murder, political intrigue, science, mathematics, airships, and time machines. “The Time Roads” by Beth Bernobich is a smorgasbord of delicious steampunk and mystery elements. When I switched on my Galley of “The Time Roads”, I was not expecting a political thriller. Truthfully, I expected yet another steampunk story where the plot and characters are second to the quest to add as many fantastical elements to the world as possible. The mention of mathematics in the summary goaded me into requesting the novel, and I am glad I did. What I found was a mature and nuanced tale set in a believable alternate story.

The story opens and closes in the first person point of view of Aine, queen of Erie, in an alternative history where Ireland, not England, is head of the great western empire at the turn of the century. There is no East India Company here, but there are plots. Aine is not safe from those who wish to take or change her empire, all complicated by the work of mathmeticians and scientists that are striving to conquer time itself. In the beginning, Aine is young and scared. The books starts off feeling like it could belong to the new adult scene, but as the pages turn, the story evolves. The reader grows with Aine. I found myself wrapped up in her story. I wanted to follow her to the end.

As Aine and the other main characters, Siomon and Aidrean, delve into and face the consequences of time travel, we switch into the third person point of view. Each of the four intertwined stories , each with a different character behind the lens felt a bit disjointed at first. The switch between them was disconcerting and confusing. Rather than being put off by it, I was drawn in even more. Time travel is full of, to quote The Doctor, “Wibbley Wobbly Timey Wimey,” stuff. It is enough to make your head spin. The characters were confused by the twists and turns of the Time Roads. They were lost without a map, remembering events that didn’t seem to have happened, and seeing shadows of other timelines. I felt like my confusion mirrored theirs. I was a part of their world, facing it right alongside them.

I can see the separate points of view and stories within the story confusing some readers and putting them off of the story. Not many books attempt to confound the traditional linear structure of a story. It can be trying for those who are unaccustomed to it. The mathematical theorems might also confuse. I was lucky enough to have a math professor who had taught English previously regale us with stories of Pythagoras and other famous mathematicians. That knowledge definitely enhanced my reading experience.

This title is an excellent choice for adult steampunk fans who are looking for something a bit more mature than the usual offerings. I also recommend it for alternate history and murder mystery fans who may not have yet attempted steampunk before. I have not read anything quite like it before, and I think it will appeal to many different readers. Please let me know what you think if you decide to pick this title up!

The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich

Book Review – Tickle Monster by Josie Bissett

 

Tickle Monster by Josie Bissette

Edited and virtually rewritten after I read what I’d posted at 11 last night. I should sleep on posts I write that late.

My son is not very ticklish, but he loves to be tickled. When our searching fingers find just the right spot his eyes light up and he rewards us with a big belly laugh and little snorting giggles. If it even looks like you are about to play tickle monster with him, your arm held high and your hand in the shape of a claw, he gives a big, squinty-eyed, toothy grin. As you can imagine, a book with the very title “Tickle Monster” was a very welcome sight to a couple of tired, bedraggled, and loving parents.

Tickle Monster by Josie Bissett

We found our copy at the local Goodwill outlet after the family in front of us in line abandoned it at the register. My husband swore he had seen it somewhere before. Likely at one of our many outings to Powell’s. I was surprised after inspecting the cover and pages that it was in such amazing condition. Sadly, most children’s books in the Bins (a friendly neighborhood name for Goodwill Outlets) are chewed up, stained, and torn. My husband, a big kid himself in many ways, wanted it. I was not going to argue.

“Tickle Monster” is an endearing children’s science fiction picture book with whimsical art by Kevan J. Atteberry and zany typography. Tickle Monster from the planet Tickle could not be any cuter with his big eyes and colorful striped tail and horns. His only mission in life is to bring the precious sound of children’s laughter to the universe.

Tickle Monster Inside Peak

This is not a book you can simply read to your child. To get the full effect, you must tickle as well. If you are unpracticed in the art of tickling (gasp), don’t worry! Tickle Monster will guide your fingers. Though the story has some rhyming quirks that break the sing song quality of the prose, the rhyme scheme, however flawed, is not the point of the story. The glory of this picture book is that it sets the perfect stage for quality bonding time. It encourages parents, older siblings, and other loving adults to participate in interactive and imaginative play with the backdrop of a fun science fiction setting.

If the little one in your life runs screaming and bursts into tears at the thought of being tickled, you might want to leave this one on the shelf. It would not be my first choice as a book to teach reading since the author makes up many words to bolster the silliness of the story. I would not choose it for teaching rhymes either, unless I want to compare instances where the rhyming works against instances where it does not. If you are a lower grades teacher, it could be a fun and playful way to work on body parts like tummy, neck, feet, and toes. The interactive elements would just need to be modified to remove physical contact. “Tickle Monster”, at its core, is best suited for parents and other caretakers with their little charges as a way to play together and bond. Word on the street has it that you can buy Tickle Monster gloves to enhance your story time, too. How fun!
Tickle Monster Inside Peak 2

The Belial Stone by R.D. Brady

3 stars out of 5

There is something comforting in a formula, especially when you have a lot going on and just want to decompress with a book rather than analyze every word. I often call it fluff reading, something I have done a lot of since my son was born ten months ago. “The Belial Stone” is not remarkable in the sub genre of archaeological thrillers. You won’t find anything revolutionary here, it sits firmly in the shadow of stories like “The DaVinci Code”, “The Relic”, and “Last Templar”. That being said, I did enjoy it quite a bit as a diversion.

The characters are not really complex. R.D. Brady attempted to add some complexity and mystery, but ultimately missed. The bad guys are selfish, evil, and bad in every way. The good guys are good without fail. Jake is willing to drop everything and believe almost anything to find his brother. Laney will get justice for her friend, even if it kills her. Those on the side of the light have no qualms about risking everything to save each other as well as strangers. The cast of characters is fairly dynamic and includes a warrior priest who specializes in religious archaeology, a hyper-intelligent teenage boy, and a lovable, mysterious giant who knows more about what is going on than he is telling (If you pay attention to the not subtle foreshadowing, you will likely guess why, even if it is not resolved by the end of the book). A few other characters show up to entertain, but I don’t want to spoil those who don’t wish to be spoiled.

I found the characters enjoyable through most of the story. Some of them have their moments. Jake is a bit more macho than I like prefer male leads. He has a protective streak that he cannot help but focus on Laney, the resident damsel in distress. He is not alone. All of the male characters, save for the baddies, feel a strong need to protect her. Jake actually comes to the realization that she needs protecting shortly after they meet, despite the obvious fact that she could hold her own in a fight with some mad martial arts skills. The inevitable and predictable romance springs up too quickly and feels a bit forced.

R.D. Brady plays with and mixes together two different mythologies. The story of Atlantis, and Christian myths. She does it beautifully and presents enough theoretical evidence to make it seem plausible.  My only nitpick is that all of the characters talk about, or accept, fringe archaeological theories as if they were well known facts. I love reading “Ancient Aliens” style theories, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a “Some people believe…” every once in a while. I found myself thinking “I’ve never heard of that,” a few times when sites I had read or watched documentaries came up. Being the curious sort, I left the story for a bit to look it up. Still, I was ultimately a fan of the archaeological bread crumbs strewn throughout the story.

The eBook is only 4.99 on Amazon and is a Kindle Unlimited story, so it also makes it into my list of decent bargain books. If you want a fun beach or airport read, or something to chill on the couch with, this is definitely a book to consider. If you are looking for something unpredictable that makes you think about each clue, look elsewhere.

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Hugh Howey’s Half Way Home

3.5 Stars out of 5

Howey strikes again with a unique futuristic world colored with shades of dystopia. In this world, life is cheap. Interspatial exploration is driven by corporate needs, and patents are are so highly valued that they are worth killing for. His world is engrossing and unique. I don’t think I have seen one quite like it before. And there, I think, is the biggest problem I had with this book. I found “Half Way Home” to be an easy read. I sped through it. But, I wanted more. I wanted to intimately understand the motivations of a society who would spend millions of dollars mounting an expedition that more often than not would result in the total and deliberate destruction of all equipment and human capital associated with the mission. Instead, the story focused mostly on the main character, Porter, and his group of friends as they struggled to find  the reason for their existence.

I normally love a good character driven space drama. Unfortunately, the characters in “Half Way Home” fell a bit flat for me. I never felt connected to Porter or his cohorts. Their vocabulary and actions were at odds with circumstances of their birth and creation as explained at the beginning of the novel. They seemed almost too contemporary. There was also some uncomfortable gender stereotyping peppered throughout the novel that also did not seem to fit into the world Howey created.

Overall, the problems I had were not enough to completely diminish my enjoyment of the book. I wanted to keep reading. I wanted to know what happened in the end. Most of all, II wanted an answer to the mystery. I enjoyed the setting. And, as usual, I enjoyed Howey’s writing style. Fans of Wool and Sand might be underwhelmed. Young adult readers, and those looking for a quick and enjoyable sci-fi that they don’t need to think too much about will find it right up their alley.

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