#TBT Book Memories: Galax-Arena

Galax-Arena Book Cover Galax-Arena

Life on other planets
Simon Pulse
1997
Paperback
199

Kidnapped from an Australian train station, Joella, Peter, and Liane are taken on a rocket to the Galax-Arena, where children stolen from Earth perform death-defying stunts for the amusement of the inhabitants of the planet Vexak.

Every Thursday my Facebook feed is filled with grainy old photos from way, way, back. Some show smiling toddler version of my friends. Some show the high school faces I remember fondly. It’s always nice to reminisce about our pasts on social media. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter help us keep up with our friend’s presents, but on Thursdays, they also offer us a walk down memory lane. For book geeks, our trips to the Shire, to Hogwarts, and beyond through little black letter printed on paper and sandwiched between cardboard are as much a part of our past as vacations to Disneyland and birthday parties in the park. So, every Thursday on All Night Reading I want to share a book that had an impact on me, or a memory surrounding literature and reading.

Today I have chosen Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubinstein. Galax-Arena was the first book I can remember reading that had cursing in it. I know that is a strange thing to remember about a book, but as a goody-two-shoes in middle school, I was slightly scandalized. I wondered if the librarian knew such a book was on the shelf for tender 11-year-olds like myself to pick up. I vowed I would not tell and continued reading.

What I read was an interesting glimpse into science fiction and a dystopian world where young children were kidnapped and forced to perform acrobatics for a mysterious group of aliens. They were treated like circus pets, forced to perform, and sometimes given affection, but never treated as fully thinking and individual human beings. A twist at the end showed me that not everything in the world was as it seemed. It left me wanting more (and I just found out there was a sequel!) When I look back, Galax-Arena was likely the book that spurned a lifelong love affair with dystopian science fiction, anime and manga, and more.

I read it so long ago that the small details are a bit fuzzy, so I plan on picking it up again after I get through the ARCs on my shelf. I wonder how much more I will understand now that I am a bit older, and now that I know the secret at the end? Has anyone else read Galax-Arena? What did you think?

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The Belial Stone by R.D. Brady

The Belial Stone Book Cover The Belial Stone

Archaeologists
Three Dog Publishing
June 14, 2013
Kindle Unlimited
424

An innocent discovery on a Montana ranch two years ago, sets off a series of events that may very well change the world . . . if it doesn't end it first. Professor Delaney McPhearson's life is turned upside down when her best friend, archaeologist Drew Masters, is found dead. Before she can deal with the heartbreaking loss, she is viciously attacked in her home by a man with inhuman fighting abilities.

Former Navy SEAL and head of security for a global think tank, Jake Rogan drops everything when he hears his foster brother Tom Jeffries has gone missing. There seem to be no clues, no information about his whereabouts. He has just vanished. But Jake won't rest until he finds him. Laney and Jake join forces when they learn that the fates of their loved ones are intertwined. And somehow all the danger that dogs their steps, revolves around an eccentric archaeologist's controversial work on Gobekli Tepe, and the search for an ancient source of power.

Their personal quest soon becomes a race to protect humanity's very existence. But how can they defeat a foe who has been planning his moves for millennia? To save mankind, Laney and Jake know they must succeed. But to succeed, they must live long enough to fight.

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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Deborah Harkness at Powell’s Books July 31st

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On Thursday night I had the pleasure of meeting Deborah Harkness, author of the best selling All Souls Trilogy which contains the books “Discovery of Witches”, “Shadow of Night”, and “The Book of Life”. I found the series shortly after the first book was released on a front display at Barnes and Noble. I have always been a fan of stories about witchcraft and the occult. On top of that, the cover was beautiful. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I will freely admit that the more attractive the cover, the more likely I am to notice it. I don’t think I even read the synopsis before picking it up, and I normally meticulously pour through reviews and ratings before committing my treasured free reading time to a new book series. I was not disappointed.

The All Souls Trilogy is the story of reluctant witch Diana and her vampire companion Matthew as they work together to find out the secrets of a mysterious manuscript that might hold the key to saving the supernatural world. No one knows what is in the manuscript, but that isn’t stopping them from hunting it down. Diana and Matthew’s journey take them on an action packed journey around the world, through the past and the present, surrounded by an amazingly rich cast of characters.

Deborah Harkness is a history professor and it shows in her work. Her approach to the supernatural is intelligent and grounded in history with scientific explanations to back up the existence of the paranormal. The character’s fears, their world views, and their actions are guided by evidence of how supernatural beings were thought of and dealt with historically. During the Q&A session she revealed that the idea came to her one day as she stared down a wall of supernatural fiction inspired by the recent release of “Breaking Dawn”. Knowing what she knew about history, it seemed strange that supernatural beings in these stories walked amongst normal people with no one noticing, and that witches seemed happy to be witches, which “historically was not a good career path for a woman”.  So, Diana’s character, a witch who did not want to be a witch, was born.

Ms. Harkness’ sense of humor, her passion for her stories and characters, showed through as she spoke to the full house at Powells. I cannot wait to dig into “The Book of Life” which is currently waiting for me to finish reading “The Belial Stone”. Until then, I will leave you with a few fun facts from the Q&A.

  • Ms. Harkness’ favorite historical character is Elizabeth the 1st, but for no particular reason.
  • She handles her fame by thinking of her fans as an extension of her students, only when she enters the room for a book signing, she knows everyone has done the reading.
  • There was an attempt to make a movie out of “A Discovery of Witches”, but it ended in an amicable breakup.
  • Male lead Matthew Clairmont is based on a missing poet named Matthew Roydon.
  • Originally Ms. Harkness thought she would be writing one book, but around page 400 she realized that is was going to be much longer than one book.

If you enjoy historical fiction and supernatural stories with a hint of romance and are looking for something a little bit different, I highly recommend the All Souls Trilogy.

Deborah Harkness Book Reading

The Crowd for Deborah Harkness Powell's Books

Book Reading with Deborah Harkness at Powell's Books

Hugh Howey’s Half Way Home

Half Way Home Book Cover Half Way Home

Fiction
Createspace Independent Pub
February 27, 2013
Amazon Unlimited
366

Five hundred of us were sent to colonize this planet. Only fifty or so survived. We woke up fifteen years too early, we had only half our training, and they expected us to not only survive ... they expected us to conquer this place. The problem is: it isn't safe here. We aren't even safe from each other.

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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