Stand Alone Sunday: Mars One

Title: Mars One

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Themes: Space, love, terrorism, family, engineering, friends/teamworks

Setting: Near future Wisconsin then space

I really liked Mayberry’s zombie series, the Rot & Ruin series with teen Benny Imura. When I heard he had a new book out, a science fiction one  which was getting great reviews, I couldn’t wait to read it, and then the library had a copy just sitting there with the new books. It was meant for me.

Tristan is a typical high school guy. He has a best friend, he’s kind of a nerd, he’s crazy about his girlfriend Izzy. But maybe he’s not entirely typical. He’s a brainiac, has an entire assembly dedicated to him plus a reality TV show, he has terrorists trying to kill him, he has two bodyguards who go everywhere with him, and oh yeah, he’s going to Mars. His whole family is going. His dad is a botanist and Tristan and his mom are both mechanical engineers.

His family was accepted a couple of years ago, but time is running out and they’re finally ready to leave earth. Now he has to say goodbye to his girlfriend Izzy, then say goodbye again for the cameras, and make his way to mission control. It’s time to leave for Mars.

I really liked this book, so much that I finished it in a day. I keep saying I’m done with YA, but books like this are the reason I read it. It takes all the same issues that an adult book would have but condenses them down to the essentials so that what’s left is the central story, no political subplots, no sex (usually), no gloomy angles, just the story. And it’s a good story.

My family has actually discussed this–would you go to Mars, knowing that for now at least, it’s a one way trip? Knowing that you’d never see your family again, that life would be completely unpredictable and that you’d die on an alien planet? Knowing that you’d be doing something no one else in the history of life has ever done? We’re divided. I wouldn’t do it, but I have one kid who absolutely would. (That one is also the hugest Star Trek fan, which is no coincidence, I think.)

Reading this book would make you think about what choices you would make and why. It’s a fast read and a compelling one. I’m giving it an easy 4.3 stars and I recommend it for anyone who likes space or well-written YA.

Book blurb

This is going to be shorter than a regular review, but I wanted to mention a book I read recently by Adre Norton called Wraiths of Time. Written in the 1970s it features a Black female archeologist as the main character. She is an expert on ancient Africa who gets sucked back in time. I love seeing a POC as a protagonist, and a female at that. Plus it was written by a woman.

Unfortunately, the story is a mess. Aliens are involved, there’s no exposition, and the other characters are flat. But if you want to read it as proof that women can and should to sci fi, go for it.

Stand Alone Sunday #2 – Passage

Title: Passage

Author: Connie Willis

Genre: Science fiction/speculative fiction

This one is on my TBR list for this year, in a stack of books in my bedroom. Here’s what it says about it on Amazon:

“One of those rare, unforgettable novels that are as chilling as they are insightful, as thought-provoking as they are terrifying, award-winning author Connie Willis’s Passage is an astonishing blend of relentless suspense and cutting-edge science unlike anything you’ve ever read before.

It is the electrifying story of a psychologist who has devoted her life to tracking death. But when she volunteers for a research project that simulates the near-death experience, she will either solve life’s greatest mystery — or fall victim to its greatest terror.

At Mercy General Hospital, Dr. Joanna Lander will soon be paged — not to save a life, but to interview a patient just back from the dead. A psychologist specializing in near-death experiences, Joanna has spent two years recording the experiences of those who have been declared clinically dead and lived to tell about it.

It’s research on the fringes of ordinary science, but Joanna is about to get a boost from an unexpected quarter. A new doctor has arrived at Mercy General, one with the power to give Joanna the chance to get as close to death as anyone can.

A brilliant young neurologist, Dr. Richard Wright has come up with a way to manufacture the near-death experience using a psychoactive drug. Dr. Wright is convinced that the NDE is a survival mechanism and that if only doctors understood how it worked, they could someday delay the dying process, or maybe even reverse it. He can use the expertise of a psychologist of Joanna Lander’s standing to lend credibility to his study.

But he soon needs Joanna for more than just her reputation. When his key volunteer suddenly drops out of the study, Joanna finds herself offering to become Richard’s next subject. After all, who better than she, a trained psychologist, to document the experience?

Her first NDE is as fascinating as she imagined it would be — so astounding that she knows she must go back, if only to find out why this place is so hauntingly familiar. But each time Joanna goes under, her sense of dread begins to grow, because part of her already knows why the experience is so familiar, and why she has every reason to be afraid….

And just when you think you know where she is going, Willis throws in the biggest surprise of all — a shattering scenario that will keep you feverishly reading until the final climactic page is turned.”

Sorry, that was kind of long, but doesn’t it sound good? I love Connie Willis’s books. This one is not rated as high as some of her other books, but I’m excited to read it anyway. Even when I don’t LOVE her books, I find them interesting reads. She has such a unique way of looking at the world, and every books is different from each other. So I really don’t know what to expect from this one, but it should be fun!

Cover – 1, Story – 0

Emerson sees ghosts. Or something. That would be enough for any average teen to freak out a bit, but she’s also dealing with the death of both parents in a car accident. She’s been away at boarding school, but her scholarship funding ran out and now she’s back home, facing her demons. Not literal demons, unfortunately; that would have been cool. Her brother keeps trying to fix her, get rid of her visions. Medication helped, but she quit taking it. So now he’s called in the latest expert, a guy named Michael who works for a clinic or something called The Hourglass.

Michael is a hottie. And he sees the ghosts too. Turns out they’re not ghosts, they are shadows from the past. I can’t tell you much more without spoiling the plot, but let me say it becomes a lot like X-Men, but not as good. There was a love triangle like Twilight. Apparently that’s required for teen fiction now. And the whole series ends with a lot of unanswered questions, stuff about what the bad guy is really after, and something about saving the world, and something about it reminded me of Harry Potter.

I guess that was part of my trouble. It just struck me as derivative. I also didn’t like Michael, the love interest, at all. He seemed too secretive and too perfect otherwise. Every girl who sees him, and I’m not exaggerating, immediately starts drooling. I guess he’s so hot Emerson didn’t stop to think about the way he treats her like a kid and won’t tell her anything. Hm, it really DOES sound like Twilight.

Like I said, it’s the first book in a planned series, but I won’t be reading more. I wouldn’t have picked up this one either, except it’s for  book club, so I needed to read it. Looks like two duds in a row for book club. This one is not recommended. I hesitated between 2.5 stars and 3, so I split the difference and have it 2.75.

*This is an encore review, repeated here for new readers.*

Book Review: Steelheart

I’ve been on a Brandon Sanderson binge lately. I got this bundle through Humble Bundle lately, and part of the proceeds go to charity. But then I didn’t have enough storage on my Kindle for all my lovely new books, so I’ve been frantically reading them all day today. I’m not called Speedy Reader for nothing! I got through several short stories today alone. But I also have a review on Steelheart.

Title: Steelheart, Book 1 of Reckoners series

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Superhero sci-fi, near future

Found it: Favorite author

Format: Physical book

Synopsis: “Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart — the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning — and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.”

David is this nerdy guy who wants to take down the Epics – the Superheroes. But I have to say that the character he reminds of the most is Spiderman. See, David/Spidey has secret knowledge/spider senses and that gives him an edge over the city bad guys. The twist here is that the bad guys are the Supers, and David is just a nerdy guy. Instead of spider senses, he has detailed dossiers of information on every Epic known, their strengths, their allies, their habits, their weaknesses. And despite what you might think, they all have a weakness.

David hasn’t shared his information with anyone, because the cops are all working for the Epics. Average people are just trying to keep their heads down and not attract attention. The only ones willing to stand up to the Epics is the Reckoners. So David’s job is to join them and then convince them to go after the biggest target of all – Steelheart.

I really liked this series. It’s written for teens, but it’s a very complex world. I followed it up with the short story Mitosis, which is 1.5 in the series, between this one and Firefight. I loved the worldbuilding in here. Sanderson is great at that, always, he just really thinks the world through before he writes anything. I’m anxious to see what happens next. So anxious, in fact, that I went back on my promise to stay out of the library until I read some of my own books and got the next book in the series. If you like superhero stuff or dystopian books, I’d definitely recommend this one.

Book Review: Crosstalk by Connie Willis

Title: Crosstalk

Author Connie Willis

Genre: Science Fiction with some romance

How I heard about this book: Fan of the author

Review:

I love Connie Willis – she is one of my favorite authors. So I was super excited when I heard she had a new book out.

And it was good. Wildly inventive, totally different from her previous books, relevant, and with characters I cared about. But can I admit that I was a tiny bit disappointed? From anyone else, I might have given this 5 stars.

But this is by the author of The Doomsday Book and the Blackout duology. I wanted something – earthshattering. What I got was very good. Still, hard to complain too much. I guess I’m just spoiled. I definitely have to mention how much I love that she is still pushing the boundaries.

Catharsis: Awaken Online Book 1

Title: Catharis (Awaken Online, Book 1)

Author: Travis Bagwell

Genre: YA Sci-Fi, Lit RPG based fiction

Theme: Gaming, Conflict, Family Drama, Bullying

Setting: Near Future

Jason’s real life sucks. His parents are never around, his teachers hate him, and he’s the favorite target of the school bully, a good looking sociopath who charms or terrorizes everyone into looking the other way.

The only time he can escape is when a new RPG game is released. Awaken Online is the newest, hottest, most advanced VR game ever and Jason can’t wait to try it out. Only one problem. He’s cast as the villain.

I really like this genre. I loved Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, Vivian Vande Velde’s Heir Apparent, and the slightly less appealing User Unfriendly, Drew Hayes’ NPCs and others in this vein. So despite my age, I’m definitely the target audience for this book. How did this one stack up? It’s not my very favorite, but it’s good enough that I’m already impatient for book to come out.

What makes it interesting is that Jason himself is not evil. He’s just a guy who really tired of being the target of everyone’s bad mood. He’s tired of his parents taking him for granted. He wants to be the one in charge of his own life. He wants power. Bagwell does a good job of getting the reader to sympathize for Jason while at the same time creating some suspense about how it will all turn out in the end.

This book is free on Kindle Unlimited and if you’re into this genre at all, I would definitely recommend it. There’s some swearing and quite a bit of violence, but it’s not too bad. I can’t wait to see what happens to Jason in the next book.

Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Title: Winter (The Lunar Chronicles, book 4)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Genre: YA dystopian science fiction

Princess Winter is the stepdaughter of Queen Levana of Luna. Her wicked stepmother plans on becoming Empress of the Eastern Commonwealth, killing Cinder, and ruling all of Earth. But not before she tortures a few pathetic souls who get in her way.

Winter could possibly stand up to her, because she’s also has powerful Lunar mind control gift, but for *reasons* she refuses to use her gift. And that causes her to hallucinate.

That’s everything you need to know about Winter. Oh, except that she is EXCEPTIONALLY beautiful – so much that when every single person sees her for the first time, they are struck SPEECHLESS by her AMAZING beauty. And all the people love her more than her horrible stepmother.

As you can probably tell, I wasn’t exactly in love with this book myself. In fact, I had a lot of problems with the basic premise. As a person with mental illness and a mom of three kids who have mental illness, I really objected to the way people nicknamed Winter “Crazy” and made light of her hallucinations. Even Scarlett, who is her friend, still calls her crazy. And why does she refuse to use her powers? Because she doesn’t want to deceive anyone. Right. So she’d rather believe that the walls are bleeding than make herself look a couple of inches taller. The whole thing was ridiculous and offensive. Let me tell you, if I could make my depression disappear, you better believe I would find a way to do it. And what about hallucinations? You could turn your hair green, make your kids thing the vegetables they were eating were ice cream, anything at all. There are 100 ways you could use this power without hurting anyone. Because living with hallucinations IN REAL LIFE is pretty much hell.

There’s other stuff to the book too. In fact, Winter and her morose boyfriend Jacin are really the least interesting part. But I’m still so freaking furious about this angle that I don’t even care about the rest of the story right now. I will say that I loved Iko, and I would have loved to read more about her.

If you have already read this series, then you should definitely read the conclusion. But be warned, Winter’s story is really messed up.

Read Harder Book 1

Title: Future Worlds: A Science Fiction Anthology

Authors: Various, my favorite was Michael Darling

Read Harder Challenge Task #21: Read a book published by a micropress: Future World Publishing

This was a collection of several short stories that I got through Kickstarter, and I have to say I found it disappointing overall. The only story I really loved was by Michael Darling. It features a couple of performers traveling together on tour, when Harry meets an audience member who won’t play along.

The rest of the stories were a mixed bag, and while some of them were good, there were all basically commercials for full length series. Why did I pay so much for this when it was mostly advertising? I would recommend this one mostly for those who want to discover a new series without reading a whole book. I did find a couple I want to read more of.

 

Book Review: The Android’s Dream

electric-sheep

Title: The Android’s Dream

Author: John Scalzi

Format: Audiobook

How did I hear about this book? I liked the author, so I went looking for more

Review:

Let me start by saying that I’ve never read the sci-fi classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which inspired the title and the content of this book, as well as the classic film Blade Runner. This one I picked not because of any fondness for the original, but because I love John Scalzi’s unpredictable plots and dense worldbuilding and because it had Wil Wheaton as the narrator. After a couple of Audible duds, this one seemed like a sure bet.

I was so right. It is really hilarious and twisted. It starts with a prolonged bit about flatulence that was very funny but also sophomoric. That was kind of why it was funny. But it’s not your typical fart joke book, so don’t let that discourage you. See, it’s all about aliens and politics and cloning and religion. I don’t really even know how to explain it all, but I really liked it. This book got me through the 2016 election results, and that’s surprisingly appropriate. Completely recommended. 4.6 rating