Miranda’s Extraordinary Life: The Beginning of the End, by Amanda Byrd

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4 stars

 

Dreaming a dream is one thing. Dreaming a reality is a whole other thing.

 

Miranda’s Extraordinary Life: The Beginning of the End, feels like exactly that. So many questions remain that it has to be part of something bigger. And, given her situation, actually might be the beginning of an end. The author manages to set up a lot about the characters and their conflicts in such a short amount of time. It has a whimsical, daydreamy tone that starts with a sense of longing. As Miranda changes, so does the tone of the narrative. It’s a good, quick read.

 

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Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Cafe, by Richard Dee

6_5_17 Andorra Pett

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What’s better than reading a crime-filled drama? A crime-filled drama…in space!

 

Jokes aside, Andorra Pett and her best friend Cyril take a giant leap to change their lives. By giant leap, I mean they pack up and go to a space station. Near Saturn. Away from the desolation of their romantic lives, the Oort Cloud Cafe might be the answer. It is, only not in the ways they expect.

 

For crime fiction, this had a much lighter tone than I ever expected. It fit in very well with the narrative. The main character’s not a journalist, detective, or even a curious observer. Things don’t feel gritty and hard-edged. Andi wants to start her life over as the owner of a little cafe. She doesn’t have a predisposition for many of the circumstances presented. Yet, she still manages to prove herself without going over the top. That right there sets the tone of what to expect from the characters.

 

What sets this apart is that it’s not a heart-pounding, race-against-time thriller. There’s plenty of tense moments to be sure, but this takes a different approach. It’s very character-driven. There’s quite the cast, all with their own uniqueness to add to the story. They’re all tied together on the tiny space station. Individual stories help push the plot forward. When the time’s right to start foreshadowing, the differences cast harsh suspicion. One minute X might be guilty, the next it was could be Y. Building the narrative in such a way took great care, and it shows.

 

I could probably go on and on about the characterization quite a bit. Development of the two mains, Cy and Andi, was wonderful. Even though it’s told in first person, the reader knows the supporting characters as well as Andi. Steady narrative progression builds up the world and the characters piece by piece. Each part shows careful attention to detail and continuity. Everything feels solid. Things feel tied up at the end. It’s part of a series, but feels like it could be its own standalone novel. Kind of like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. Only without the young adult tone.

 

This was a really good book in a myriad of ways. Characters, plot, and structure were all spot-on. The story itself was well-written and entertaining. Things were easy to visualize without being jargon-heavy. I can say without a doubt that I’ll be on the lookout for Andorra Pett’s next adventure.

 

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The Quantum Ghost, by Jonathan Ballagh

5_28_17 Quantum Ghost

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Writing sequels and series is tough. Often, they start strong, lose steam about halfway through, and then maybe the ending saves it. Seeing something that could be potentially consistent throughout the series is exciting.

 

Quantum Ghost is the second novel in the series, and it’s as good as the first one. It picks up not long after Quantum Door, with a different main character. A young lady by the name of Remi. While her story is new, Nova’s and AJ’s continue from where they left off. It feels a bit like when the Doctor switches companions. They’re still on a quest, they just get a new teammate. There are some things that won’t make much sense if you haven’t read the first one. I would almost recommend going back and reading Quantum Door first. Even if you don’t, it this will be an excellent read.

 

Writing style still suits the genre. It reads like a young adult book. The kids feel like kids. They have a different voice than the adults. It also reads a little different than the first novel. It stops the voice of the narrator from sounding like the previous characters. It was nice. The pace of this novel was faster than the last one. Lots of action, but plenty of time to lay out the exposition. Getting to know the characters was a pleasure. They stood out from one another, they were three-dimensional. Everything they did drove the story forward. Interactions were flawless. Dialogue never felt clunky or awkward.

 

The portrayal of women continues to be a wonderful talent of this author. They have their own identities separate from any romantic subplot. Personalities mesh and they get along; there’s no competition between them. Again, the narrative shows that men and women can be friends without the need for something more. Nova and Remi could do things on their own. Sure, they needed help from time to time, but their characters weren’t compromised by it.

 

Once more the imagery was fabulous. It wasn’t flowery and flowing, nor was it jargon-heavy, like some descriptors in sci-fi. It reflected the natural progression of the story, aiding in tone and voice. The landscape was consistent with the first one. Hopping right back into the story was easy.

 

I’m really enjoying this series. Quantum Ghost particularly. Still young adult, but the narration feels older than Quantum Door. This is a talented author. The young adult genre needs more authors like this.

 

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Adam, by Shari Sakurai

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4 stars

Set in the future where the rich can buy the traits they want for their kids, Adam is one such person. He’s a rebellious kid, and because of that, he’s always in trouble. Right when he thinks he’s got his life back on track, it keeps knocking him down. Maintaining relationships doesn’t seem to be Adam’s strong suit.

 

The opening had me convinced that Adam was going to be another “bad boy loner” type character. I expected quite a few common tropes to make their way into the writing. That didn’t happen. At least, not in the ways I expected. The author set things up to where situations explain quite a bit of Adam’s personality. The difference is that the author didn’t go overboard with it. He was dark and brooding, that’s for sure. Except Adam was never portrayed as an abusive person. Adam was far from flawless. He wasn’t riddled with flaws, either. The author managed to set up a nice balance with his character.

 

Many of the minor characters had plenty of detail with them. Their character development is as obvious as Adam’s, which was nice. There were some spots where dialogue and exposition were a little clunky. Otherwise, things flowed well. A bit of editing needed here and there, but it won’t knock you out of the story. The writing style suited the narrative. Things paced well, and because of that the story unfolded in a smooth, logical way. The narrative itself had a distinct young adult tone to it, and I’m not sure why.

 

It’s a companion novel to larger series. However, the author takes meticulous care to make sure that the novel can stand alone. As a reader that hasn’t experienced the other series, I never felt lost. The world, people, and situations get summed up in quick ways. The author did their best to make sure they sprinkled all of that throughout the narrative.

 

There were a few areas where tropes that plague LGBT fiction became apparent. While utilized, the author does so in a way that’s enjoyable. Things that happen do, in fact, directly affect the plot. They served a purpose–not added in because ‘why not?’ I liked that.

 

Adam was a nice read. Enjoyable characters that managed to bend stereotypes and an interesting narrative. A companion novel that doesn’t require the reader to know the rest of the series first. I would almost go as far to say it feels like a prequel. It will definitely serve to pique the readers’ interest in the rest of the series!

 

Buy it here!

Question for Authors

There’s a local convention coming up at the end of July. They do a sci-if/fantasy book exchange. I was thinking that if authors were interested in donating a physical copy of their novel, I would enter it in said book exchange. Signed copy, possibly? 

There’s a limit of three, however. The decision would be made by random drawing of those that signed up? 

Of course I’d leave a note with both mine and the authors information asking the reader to provide their thoughts via review and/or social media. 

Anyone interested in contributing? 

The Wolfe Experiment, by R. W. Adams

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If you’re looking for an adventure that doesn’t stop, then the Wolfe Experiment is for you.

 

Siblings Tilly and Ethan know they’re different. They’ve got powers no one else has. They made a pact not to tell anyone. Except people know. And that doesn’t bode well for the two youngsters. Given their ages, things do go a bit better than expected. But not by much.

 

The opening is well done. It immediately engages the reader and plants pleasant images in their head. Then it’s all downhill from there. The kids can’t catch a break. Their struggle is an emotional one, but also a mysterious one. Nothing is as it seems as they try to survive and cure themselves. Readers find their hearts breaking the longer things go on.

 

Characterization was fantastic. The kids felt like kids. They acted like kids and reacted like kids should. Both felt very different, and they had their own branching storylines. Minor characters were alive and well, all important to advancing the plot. And oh, boy. The plot was a tightly knit one. It made sense. It progressed well and in a logical manner. My only complaint was that Ethan’s situations got a little repetitive. So, for a while there, things got a little predictable. The situations themselves weren’t, but the actions and resolutions were. In spite of that, I see how they served to further the plot and pull the curtains back on the mystery.

 

The writing style fit the narrative. It was fast-paced, almost constant action. During the brief interludes, exposition and background information wound up presented. The story eased us into getting to know the characters. There was a lot of information to take in, but it never felt overwhelming. Things came full circle by the end. And boy did it end with the biggest, most perfect cliffhanger. It leaves the readers feeling hungry for more. It’s so frustrating, but in a good way. There’s questions that need answers, but it doesn’t leave the story incomplete. In fact, it sets thing up in a beautiful way for a sequel.

 

This was an awesome story from beginning to end. Well-crafted, thought out, and executed. The characters drove the story forward at all times. Not once did things feel convoluted or out of place. It was emotional. While predictable in some areas, it still managed to surprise and entertain. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. There’s got to be a sequel…right?

 

Buy it here!

Uncle Herbert, by Philip C. Elrod

5_9_17 Uncle Herbert

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We all have that one weird relative in the family, right? You know the one I’m talking about: dresses weird, talks weird. Your family talks in hushed whispers about how they’re ‘just not right.’

Meet Uncle Herbert. He happens to be that guy. And now he’s gone and dragged his nephew, Andrew, into the fray.

The events of this novel fit right into the eccentricities of Uncle Herbert. It’s a wild ride from start to finish.

The story was neat and tidy. Well thought-out, and finishes with questions answered. For the most part, every character served a crucial role to the story. I say ‘for the most part,’ and I’ll get to that in a minute.

While well-written, there was a lot of uninterrupted dialogue. Properly spaced, mind you, but it felt like one long speech when characters talked sometimes. There was no action to break it up. It was excellent exposition and the information was necessary. It didn’t need to be all at once, though. In some parts, it did serve to jump the narrative ahead, especially given the time frame.

Some of the character interactions felt forced, as did the love story. Remember when I said each character served a crucial role to the story? Avril didn’t. She felt thrust into the narrative to serve as nothing more than the love interest. Her character doesn’t feel as rounded as the others. I like how it ended, I didn’t particularly care for how we got there. The character development was okay. Andrew’s was the most notable, as expected of first person narratives. I wish some of the supporting characters had a little more to them, though.

The author takes great care in how the story unfolds. Character placement and personality become very important, something they manage to reflect. What I liked most was how the author managed to weave little seeds of doubt for the loyalties of the characters. It kind of felt like I was playing Clue. As the cast expands, readers analyze every detail to try and predict how the story will turn out. Because of this, Uncle Herbert isn’t as predictable as it first seems.

There’s some minor editing needed. It’s not enough to tear the reader out of the story.

Uncle Herbert was a book of unique tastes, much like the man himself. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this novel, but I can say I wasn’t disappointed. Adjusting the way the reader’s given information would help how the narrative progresses. Uncle Herbert is a very worthwhile read.

Buy it herehere!

I Am Epic, By Daniel Robledo

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4 stars

Let me preface this review by saying how much I adored I Am Epic.

 

Part of a larger collection of AI, 3p1c is a bot sent to scavenge for useful remnants of the human culture. He stumbles upon one such remnant, and goes against his programming to keep it safe.

 

It follows a lot of tropes handed down by the “AI becoming self-aware” plot. That made I Am Epic predictable in some ways. What made it stand out was the setting: humanity was already wiped out. Yet it didn’t have a steampunk feel to it. It embraced The Last of Us-style setting. Everything wasn’t all “gloom and doom” with a dark, gritty feel. It was upbeat. Hopeful. The entire tone is set by 3p1c’s childlike curiosity and wonderment.

 

The writing is equal parts technical and evocative. 3p1c’s interactions with others are very robotic, thusly true to his character. The voice of the narration manages to change something emotional happens. You feel your chest tighten, even though you know how things are going to play out. You follow along with 3p1c’s ups and downs as he discovers himself.

 

The story made sense and progressed at exactly the right pace. It drip-fed the readers the right amount of information without being overwhelming.

 

Now on to the reasons why I can’t rate this any higher, after gushing like that.

 

There’s so many glaring errors. Not only misspellings, but grammar, paragraphs, and format. There’s also a slight lack of detail when it comes to world building, and it leaves enough for you to feel satisfied. But it leaves some questions unanswered. It was a weird sort of feeling I had at the end. I was full, but I still wanted more, a little more meat to the world, if you will. Especially since it ended in the perfect way to not want a sequel. It did so many things well and right that there should be only one. As amazing as it was to read in its first form, I can only imagine how good this would be with some extra editing.

 

Because of the story quality and writing style, I’m going to justify the higher rating. While numerous, I still can’t say that it was all that bad. It’s such a weird thing to say, I know. I don’t know how the author pulled it off, but they did. I Am Epic thoroughly impressed me.

 

Buy it here!

 

Quantum Door, by Jonathan Ballagh

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4 stars

 

Saturated by an overload of hackneyed tropes, the young adult genre needs more to stand out. Somehow, Quantum Door does exactly that.

 

Brothers Felix and Brady use a drone to take a peek inside their neighbor’s yard. A door opens and they’re no longer in Kansas. What door, you ask? Why the door to another dimension, of course.

 

It’s an interesting take of the “kids transported to another world and become embroiled in their conflicts” trope. There’s a modern Horizon Zero Dawn feel to it. What I like most is that it doesn’t succumb to the stereotypical landscape. In the parallel dimension, where machines rule, things are still bright. Steel and industry aren’t a major theme, natural reclamation is. I picture the landscapes of The Last of Us when describing the setting.

 

Wow, two video game references in one review? Quantum Door was visual in all things but characters. While I have no problems imagining the scenery, characters are a little harder. Their descriptors make them feel pretty generic. Personalities weren’t generic, their appearances were.

 

Personalities read great. Characters were different from one another. Brady and Felix didn’t fight a lot, which was amazing. Oftentimes internal conflict gets taken out on family and friends. It leads to constant arguing and hostility as an overused plot device. The “broken family” trope, if you will. Male and female interactions weren’t romanticized, which was so awesome. I love reading books that allow characters to be friends and nothing more. It allowed Nova, the girl, to have thoughts and personality beyond only a boy. She was her own person, and not tethered to another character.

 

Style was well-suited. It feels like a young adult novel, but is still appealing to adults. The plot never gets too complicated. There’s plenty of conflict to go around. Plot twists happen in logical ways. Story progression and character development go hand in hand with pacing. The reader never feels like there’s an information dump–they’re drip-fed background information. We, as readers, get to learn and grow with the main characters.

 

Quantum Door also breaks out of the “machines take over the world” trope in an interesting way. I love where this novel deviates from the norm. It’s enough that it feels different, yet still holds true to an age-old formula.

 

An excellent young adult read. Well written, full of rounded characters, and a plot that ties things up neatly. Very fulfilling.

 

Buy it here!

 

Disconnected, by Nick M. Lloyd

4_28_17 Disconnected

4 stars

Disconnected reads like a Michael Crichton novel. In fact, it opens in a very similar manner to some of his books. A scientific expedition works their way through a jungle to investigate a troop of “rabid” bonobos. As readers, we can only assume that a curse or some violent disease follows.

 

Not exactly.

 

Straying from the beaten path, Disconnected approaches scientific drama in more Eastern way. A sci-fi Eastern way. A man named Asha can see into people, see the way their connections line up, and manipulate them as he must. Not only him, either. There are many people who can see these kinds of connections. Through such manipulation, Asha seeks to further his own agenda. Centering on the cure for dementia, Disconnected brings political drama into the folds.

 

The story gets a little convoluted in areas. There are a few characters to keep track of, each one with intersecting story lines. Much like the Da Vinci Code. While the writing is very technical and dry, it still maintains a Dan Brown atmosphere. Since it is so technical, description of things is something the book is lacking. I still don’t have a good grasp on what anyone looks like beyond “he’s Asian.” Describing what’s going on in the scenes gets a little long-winded. It’s great that there’s so much exposition, but sometimes it went overboard. There were a few super-repetitive chapters as the author focused on Asha. Which was a little more often than needed.

 

Characters were dynamic. They each had their own narrative that contributing to the overarching plot. Each had their own agenda that was a wrench in the plans of someone else. Manipulation runs rampant, and not only the telepathic kind. Those mundane humans have their own tricks as well.

 

It not only passes the Bechdel test, but also puts women in positions of power. They have drive and motivation beyond marriage and kids. They’re alright in how they’re rounded out—like the rest of the characters. Some were more fleshed out than others. At least, enough to not consider them flat. We receive more information on the scene than everyone in the scene, and that was sometimes frustrating. It certainly told more than it showed.

 

Disconnected it contained interesting elements not usually associated with this kind of story. The writing was solid, albeit a bit long and dry. Characters held my attention. It was worth reading once.

 

Buy it here!