Guest Post: “Malombra reviews The Hidden Face!” by S.C. Flynn

S.C. Flynn is the author of Children of the Different which I read and reviewed last year, and a week ago saw the release of his second novel The Hidden Face, an epic fantasy set in a world inspired by the Middle Ages and Kabbalistic riddles. Today I’m pleased to participate in his book tour as a celebration of its release – by hosting a guest post with a special twist! When you’re reading a novel, have you ever stopped to wonder what the characters themselves make of the book? Well, each guest post on this tour is going to be a part of a series featuring a review of The Hidden Face by a different character in it. And lucky us, we got the female baddie! I can’t wait to meet Malombra for myself when I get the chance to read the book, she sounds like someone I’ll have fun reading about!

MALOMBRA REVIEWS THE HIDDEN FACE
by S.C. Flynn

Today’s post is written by Malombra, a famously beautiful woman who always remains hidden. Here is her meeting with a male character in “The Hidden Face”:

A big shatranj board on high legs stood in front of the canopy and a pile of cushions sat next to it. Astolf felt a thrill run through him as a woman’s hand appeared through the opening and began setting up the shatranj pieces on the board. The hand was perfect, with long, elegant fingers and wore an ornate ring on the middle finger. It was all he had ever seen of her. Astolf imagined yet again how perfect the body and face must be that belonged to that hand. Apart from the ring, there was no jewellery on the hand, no sleeve at the slender wrist that might have helped him even guess where she was from. He could just see her outline through the thin material.

Poor Astolf – he always desires what he can’t have. I like this kind of view from the other side of the veil, although everything looks very different from where I am. The veil is more like a spider web; I start it tingling and the whole empire responds.

It is good that this book includes active, important female characters like me and Sunniva. However, Sunniva’s adventures are given far more attention than mine. In part, this is understandable: like the “Shadow” in my name (in the Apollinian language), I keep out of sight so that no man ever sees my face. No living man, of course… . Still, the focus on Sunniva’s part of the story seems a deliberate choice that influences the way the events unfold; I can’t believe it indicates any preference for her over me.

Overall, I am happy enough with the way I am presented. The author is naturally obsessed with my beauty (his dreams about me must be spectacular!) but other aspects are also shown. We see my use of sex for pleasure and to control men, but also my skill in political manoeuvring and shatranj (chess) and my two-sword fighting technique. My herb garden, source of my poisons, love potions and many other means to power, appears as well. So much more could have been said… .

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

S.C. Flynn was born in a small town in South West Western Australia. He has lived in Europe for a long time; first the United Kingdom, then Italy and currently Ireland, the home of his ancestors. He still speaks English with an Australian accent, and fluent Italian.

He reads everything, revises his writing obsessively and plays jazz. His wife Claudia shares his passions and always encourages him.

S.C. Flynn has written for as long as he can remember and has worked seriously towards becoming a writer for many years.

THE HIDDEN FACE is his second novel and the first book in the Fifth Unmasking series.

S.C. Flynn blogs at www.scflynn.com. He is on Twitter @scyflynn and on Facebook.

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#RRSciFiMonth Audiobook Review Bites

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It’s been a while since I’ve written a review. Had some major life changes including a promotion, taking on some freelance work, and a move, so excuse my absence. I’m still settling into all my new roles and I haven’t been able to read as much as I’ve wanted during this time. However, I’m getting back into the groove, especially since I can basically listen to audiobooks as much as I want at my new job without much interruption. I’m still having a harder time sitting down to read an actual dead tree book or an eBook, though. I’ll probably be writing more review bites for the foreseeable future until everything smooths out.

Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising by Jason M. Hough
Genre: Gaming, Science Fiction
Series: Mass Effect: Andromeda #1
Publisher: Titan Books (March 21, 2017)
Tiara’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

The game Mass Effect: Andromeda was a disappointing play for many—including me. That’s hard for me to say since I love the Mass Effect series and have spent hundreds of hours playing the original trilogy. Despite that, this game did have so much potential with the various angles they introduced into the story, but the execution left much to be desired. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, players wake from a 600 year sleep that saw them travel from the Milky Way to the Andromeda galaxy. The purpose of this mission is to find new homes for the Milky Way species to circumvent the unavoidable resource crisis that would eventually hit the Milky Way and to have enough time to create advanced technology to help facilitate trade between the two galaxies.

However, dealing with the unknown can bring about unique problems. While the players’ character sleeps, a team meant to wake ahead of and prepare for the arrival of the others finds themselves dealing with a resource crisis of their own as everything that could go wrong seems to do just that, leaving the characters in this book to try to create solutions to problems that have given them very few outs. Tensions between the crew and leadership continues to mount as well-meaning intentions to correct their situation continues to compound their problems. This book introduces some key players from the game, giving depth to their individual stories and showing how they managed to fill the roles they’re currently occupying when players meet them in the game.

I appreciated this book for what it tries to do, but after playing Mass Effect: Andromeda. I think it was hard for me to fully appreciate this book as much as I wanted to, and I think that’s because I read this so soon after playing the game. However, I did really enjoy the narration for this book, and after some consideration, I did up my rating on this a little. Sometimes it can be hard for me to appreciate the narration for books like these if I already have a set voice in my mind thanks to a books accompanying game (or movie/television show), but Fryda Wolff was an excellent narrator for this book. Despite my mixed feelings about this book, I am looking forward to the upcoming books based in the Andromeda universe.

Narrator: Fryda Wolff | Length: 13 hours and 24 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Blackstone Audio (March 21, 2017) | Whispersync Ready: Yes

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The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology
Series: Who Fears Death #0.1
Publisher: DAW (May 5, 2015)
Tiara’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

“I am only doing what I’m mad to do – taking life. I will take it all. I am a hurricane of death and destruction. I am villain.”


In preparation for reading Who Fears Death, I decided to read this prequel book first rather than diving into the main story and then coming back to this. The Book of Phoenix follows Phoenix, a woman genetically created for a purpose that is unknown to her (at first). Phoenix has the mind and the body of an adult woman in her 40s, but she was only born two years prior to this story. Phoenix lives in Tower 7 along with other genetically enhanced men and women where she spends her days learning and indulging in a forbidden love with another Tower 7 resident named Saaed. After Saaed’s suicide, Phoenix begins to question the world and her existence. This leads her on a journey that profoundly changes her and humanity.

From the opening of this book, I found myself completely enthralled by this story. I loved it’s blend of mythology, fantasy, and science fiction. While I loved the characters, their stories, and what they hoped to achieve, Phoenix was my favorite thing about this story. Following her story, the story of someone who is both mature and childlike in thinking, was fascinating. Watching Phoenix grow, reason, and learn about the incongruous nature of the world and people touches many emotional points. As I was listening, I felt sorrow, joy, and a whole mess of other emotions as Phoenix lived and learned. This is a beautiful story that left me thinking about it for days after. I still haven’t started reading the main book yet because I still have many feelings about this book.

Robin Miles never fails to disappoint in her narrations. She brings each character to life, and she made some scenes feel like they were much more exciting and interesting because of her reading than they would’ve been if I had just read the book myself. I can never stress enough just how amazing Ms. Miles is as a narrator. She’s one of those narrators who can really make listening to a book a powerful experience.

If you’re a reader who is invested in reading more diverse stories or if you enjoy seeing writers blend African mythology with science fiction, then I highly recommend giving this book a chance.

Narrator: Robin Miles | Length: 8 hours and 50 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Penguin Audio (Novemb) | Whispersync Ready: No

 

Waiting on Wednesday 11/29/17

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn (June 26, 2018 by Del Rey)

In honor of Sci-Fi Month, I’m featuring sci-fi picks for my Waiting on Wednesday posts for the whole of November. Since this is the final week before we head into December, I’m closing off with one of my greatest loves: STAR WARS. Behold this gorgeous cover featuring two of the greatest villains in Star Wars history! I really enjoyed reading about the origins of our favorite Chiss Admiral in last year’s Thrawn, so I’m curious to see where Zahn will be taking him next in this follow-up novel.

…once you have done Thrawn in a book, where do you go from here? How do you up the game, what can you do to make it even better?―Timothy Zahn on writing Thrawn: Alliances

“Grand Admiral Thrawn and Darth Vader ally against a threat to the Empire in this new novel from bestselling author Timothy Zahn.

The sequel to New York Times bestseller Thrawn, Thrawn: Alliances will continue to follow the rise of Grand Admiral Thrawn to the heights of Imperial power—and accompany him into the past, witnessing his first encounter with the man who will one day become Darth Vader.”

 

#RRSciFiMonth: Mogsy’s Top 10 Sci-Fi Reads of 2017

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As Sci-Fi November comes to a close, I hope everyone has enjoyed the science fiction related goodies we’ve featured at The BiblioSanctum this month. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow and Imyril at X+1 for running such a successful event this year, and we hope to keep participating in this annual tradition.

Anyway, what better way to wrap things up than with a Top 10 list of the best Science Fiction novels I’ve read in 2017? It was certainly a tough choice narrowing it down, since I read a lot of books this year, but these are the sci-fi books that really stood out for me and I hope you’ll check them out.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

My first book by the author, and what a way to start my initiation into the Adrian Tchaikovsky fan club. I’ve never read anything quite like this before. First of all we have this incredible story, which has everything in place for a space opera of the grandest proportions. Long ago, when Earth was on its last legs and humanity feared it could go no further, scientists were sent out beyond the solar system to find and terraform new planets to ensure the future of our species. One of them, the brilliant but megalomaniacal Dr. Avrana Kern was successful in locating such a world, but just as she was about to implement a nanotech virus to accelerate the development process, sabotage occurred. Kern’s monkeys that were intended for biological uplift were not deployed on the planet because they were all killed in the attack on her ship. However, the nanovirus intended to speed up evolution in the monkeys did in fact make it onto the planet, imbedding itself into—wait for it—a species of spiders. As a huge life sciences geek, I loved the ideas behind books like Children of Time or what some other science fiction fans call “biopunk”. It’s one of the smartest, most remarkable and innovative science fiction novels I’ve read in years and now I can’t wait to read more by Adrian Tchaikovsky. (Read the full review…)

The Genius Plague by David Walton

Mother Nature can be a scary bitch. Which was why, when I first found out about the premise of The Genius Plague, I was immediately intrigued. A great number of books, movies, and video games have come out in recent years to show us just how screwed humanity would be if we ever went to war with Kingdom Fungi, but unlike most examples where being infected with a fungal plague usually meant very bad things, in the case of this novel, a fungal infection actually made you…smarter? This was definitely a new angle for me, and I was curious to see how it would play out. We begin this tale deep in the Amazon jungle, where mycologist Paul Johns was on scientific expedition. Shortly after boarding the riverboat that would take him back to civilization, however, they are attacked by a group of men disguised in military uniform, and Paul barely manages to survive. Rescue finally comes after days of trekking through the rainforest, and he eventually makes it back home to the US only to be diagnosed with a lung infection caused by fungal spores. He eventually recovers, but then begins showing signs of increased intelligence. It appears that the fungus has altered his brain functioning, improving memory centers and enhancing pattern recognition and communication skills. Excited about what this could mean for the human race, Paul believes that a symbiotic relationship with the fungus is the next step in human evolution, but his brother Neil, a little more circumspect, is not entirely convinced that joining with an unknown organism would be in humanity’s best interest. (Read the full review…)

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

The Punch Escrow has all the makings of a runaway hit which will no doubt strike a chord with a broad range of readers, reaching even those who might not normally read sci-fi. It is not only clever and technological, but also a lot of fun. Opening in the year 2147, the story follows protagonist Joel Byrama, a typical average guy who’s dealing with some problems in his marriage. Ever since Joel’s wife Sylvia got her promotion at International Transport, the company that made teleportation possible, the two of them had started to drift apart. All that was supposed to change with the couple’s plans for a second honeymoon in the remote mountains of Costa Rica. Unfortunately though, while at the New York City teleportation center on his way to meet up with his wife in San Jose, Joel suffers a terrible mishap. The incident results in Joel being duplicated, raising some serious questions about the truth behind teleportation—questions that certain parties will go to great lengths to silence. This book ended up being extremely fun, fast-paced, and thrilling, yet there’s also a deeper, tender side to our protagonist’s existential journey and moments where he experiences meaningful philosophical reverie. It’s truly a wholly unique, mind-bogglingly innovative novel that only come once in a blue moon. (Read the full review…)

Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest fan of short fiction, but I genuinely enjoy reading Brandon Sanderson novellas. Whether his books are 1000 pages or 100, they’re always fun to read, not to mention creative as hell. As you’d expect, this was definitely the case with Snapshot. Davis and Chaz are investigative partners with an interesting job, working out of a town called New Clipperton where law enforcement has access to a very special facility that helps them solve crimes. The police there have access to a technology that allows them to create a “Snapshot”, a perfect reconstruction of a day recently in the past right down to the smallest detail. Knowing exactly what’s going to happen beforehand, investigators like Davis and Chaz can be sent through into Snapshots to gather evidence or to witness the actual crimes that take place, which may then lead to arrests and charges in the real world. What follows is a pulse-pounding hunt for a serial killer as our two able investigators uncover even more gruesome details about the perpetrator’s crimes. If you’re even passing familiar with Sanderson’s work though, you’ll already know that things are never so straightforward. Yes, Snapshot is a mystery, but there are so many layers to this novella that I believe even non-fans of crime and detective stories will be able to appreciate it. (Read the full review…)

Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon

Cold Welcome was my first Elizabeth Moon novel, and what an excellent surprise it was! Knowing little about the book, I dove right in thinking it would be your run-of-the-mill military science fiction, so imagine my delight when I found out it was more of a survival adventure. The star of the novel is Admiral Kylara Vatta, a space-fleet commander returning to her home world of Slotter Key where a hero’s welcome awaits her. But when sabotage brings her shuttle down over the most inhospitable part of the planet, what greets her instead is death and rough icy seas. With most of the shuttle’s passengers dead from the crash, Ky and all those who are left on the life rafts must do what they can to survive until the rescue crews can reach them. However, as time goes on, the hope that someone will find them before the winter sets in begins to fade. So far Ky’s leadership has kept them going far beyond what they expected, but soon the survivors will need better shelter and a new source of food. And yet when they make landfall on a rocky beach, they find their conditions are only marginally improved. This continent, apparently abandoned because of failed terraforming efforts, has little in terms of resources, but what the survivors do find is a secret military base that certain shadowy groups have gone to great lengths to conceal. Now there is a new fear that those coming for the survivors might not be their rescuers at all, but in fact the saboteurs looking to finish the job. (Read the full review…)

Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher

Books like Ghosts of Tomorrow make me wonder why Michael R. Fletcher isn’t a bigger deal. I don’t even enjoy cyberpunk all that much, but I fucking loved this. These are the kinds of stories I enjoy, gripping narratives about darkly philosophical subjects with plenty of intrigue and in-your-face action and violence mixed in. In the near future, when most of the world’s countries have consolidated into continental trade unions in order to compete in the global market, technology has come a long way with the advent of brain scans and the ability to transfer a deceased person’s mind into machines called chassis. Not quite human and yet not quite a computer, these scans have effectively become a source of slave labor. Officially, people become scans voluntarily, but because demand outstrips supply, criminal organizations have capitalized by churning out their own black market scans in illegal crèches. It’s a horrifying process: children are either illicitly bred, bought, or stolen from their homes, put through forced conditioning, and then killed for their precious brains which are then scanned and sold. Do not read this book if you are squeamish or prefer only safe, happy, familiar topics—because here you will find the complete opposite of all that. Unflinchingly twisted and mind-bending, Ghosts of Tomorrow is guaranteed to get under your skin and stay with you for a very long time. (Read the full review…)

The Last Iota by Robert Kroese

The Last Iota is definitely one of those awesome and rare instances where a sequel surpasses its predecessor. All the elements that made the first book such a rollicking good read are back, and this time the mystery is even bigger, better, and more impressive than before. The humor has been cranked up a notch as well, thanks to the often witty, sardonic back-and-forth exchanges between the two main characters. It is the year 2039, eleven years after the great Collapse which decimated the world’s economy and caused a large chunk of Los Angeles to be abandoned by the American government, turning it into the Disincorporated Zone. Picking up shortly after the end of the first book, the story once again follows Blake Fowler as he struggles to keep his and his partner Erasmus Keane’s private investigation firm afloat following the fallout from their last assignment. Besides being hilariously funny and full of exhilarating plot twists, the premise behind The Last Iota is also incredibly fascinating. I’ve always asserted that the best reads are not only fun and satisfying, but they also leave you feeling like you learned something interesting and new. Within this narrative Kroese has also injected all the central features of classic noir and then some, combining mystery elements with imaginative world-building and social ramifications to create something that is entirely unique and stands on its own. (Read the full review…)

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

Meet Bob Johansson, who has just sold off his software company and is looking to take his new fortune to a service offering their clients the option to cryogenically freeze themselves in the event of their deaths. You can probably guess where this is headed. Sure enough, while enjoying his new life of freedom and leisure, Bob gets distracted while crossing the street and—BAM! Pain and blackness is the last thing he remembers before waking up more than a century later to discover that he is now an artificial intelligence created from a brain scan of his consciousness. The country has turned into a theocracy which has declared that replicants like Bob are without rights. He is also now the property of a government program, developed to be a self-replicating interstellar von Neumann probe with the goal of exploring the galaxy. As Bob travels deeper into space, he also begins to realize the need for more processing power, leading him to clone himself multiple times in order to distribute all his responsibilities. And thus, we end up with a “legion” of Bobs, each one going about their own way and chronicling their own adventures in deep space. Having finished this book and seen for myself what it’s all about, I can understand now why the popularity of this book blew up in such a short time. I highly recommend taking a look for yourself, especially if you enjoy space opera or sci-fi comedy that manages to be both smart and funny. (Read the full review…)

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Reading Martha Wells is always such a delight, but All Systems Red seemed like such a departure from her usual projects so I had no idea what to expect. As it turned out though, this little novella was a real treat. Told from the point of a view of a rogue SecUnit—a part organic, part synthetic android designed to provide humans with protection and security services—this novella takes readers on a journey to a distant planet being explored by team of scientists. Accompanying them is our protagonist, a self-proclaimed “Murderbot” who has hacked its own governor so that it doesn’t have to follow any directives. All it wants is to be left alone to enjoy the thousands of hours of entertainment vids that it has downloaded from the humans’ satellites. Of course, no one can suspect that Murderbot is secretly autonomous, so it still has to go about its job like everything is normal, which was working out just fine until one day, a routine surface test goes seriously wrong. Murderbot ends up saving the day, and soon it is left with no choice but to take the lead in defending the scientists, when disaster strikes another neighboring expedition on the planet and threatens to come after them next. There wasn’t much else I didn’t enjoy about this book. It was entertaining, and more importantly, it also felt complete to me, unlike a lot of novellas that leave me wanting more. Murderbot’s narration was a joy to follow, and I definitely would not hesitate recommending All Systems Red to anyone looking for a quick sci-fi fix with a fun and captivating premise. (Read the full review…)

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

Defy the Stars follows Noemi Vidal, a seventeen year old soldier for her planet, Genesis. Ever since her people split from Earth many generations ago, the two sides have been fighting. However, Earth has a powerful weapon on their side: Burton Mansfield, a scientist and cybernetics genius who designs androids, or mechs, for the purposes of war. In the face of this tireless army, it’s only a matter of time before Genesis is overwhelmed and destroyed. Meanwhile though, on a battled-damaged and abandoned ship called the Daedalus, a mech named Abel has been living alone for the last thirty years, yearning to be reunited with his creator. As the most advanced mech the galaxy has ever seen, he is Burton Mansfield’s greatest and most perfect creation, though in the eyes of Genesis, he is an abomination. For the past three decades, Abel’s programming has been learning and evolving, becoming more human. Then one day, Earth launches a surprise attack on Genesis’ ships, leading a Noemi to chance upon the Daedalus and Abel in her desperate attempt to escape. Equal parts space adventure and slow-burn romance, this book was an entertaining sci-fi romp from start to finish. Sure, it’s not setting any new standards or shattering any molds, but the story was still a rollicking fun read with a romantic arc I actually enjoyed. If you’re a YA fan who enjoys stories set in space, this fun and fast-paced adventure among the stars could be exactly what you’re looking for. (Read the full review…)

 

#RRSciFiMonth Book Review: Communication Failure by Joe Zieja

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Communication Failure by Joe Zieja

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 2 of Epic Failure

Publisher: Saga Press (November 7, 2017)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

As much as I love reading military sci-fi and space opera, sometimes I just need a break from the routineness of weighty political dramas and grim space battles. Enter Joe Zieja’s Epic Failure series. Communication Failure is the second book, following the adventures of former smuggler Captain Rogers who despite his best efforts to get kicked out of the military has found himself promoted to acting admiral of the 331st Meridan fleet. Unfortunately for him, the timing couldn’t have been worse. After two hundred years of peace with their rivals the Thelicosans, the Meridans suddenly receive a transmission from their leader Alandra Keffoule containing the simple yet alarming message: “We’re invading.” Utter chaos and off-the-charts panic thus ensues, as expected from a crew that has forgotten entirely how to fight.

Now Rogers is in a bind, unsure of how to get his fleet out of this mess. Finding out that the Thelicosan message had been a miscommunication should have been a relief, but then Keffoule declares her undying love with a proposal for marriage, and to be honest, Rogers would have probably preferred the invasion. Completely out of his depth, our protagonist tries his best to smooth things over with the enemy but somehow only manages to make things worse, underestimating the abilities of his clueless advisors as well as Keffoule’s penchant for kicking those who displease her in the face.

Continuing in the same humorous vein as the first book Mechanical Failure, this sequel is once again a scintillatingly funny book, though I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the “goofball” quality of the jokes and situations has been toned down. Considering how the absurd humor and general over-the-top silliness were my main complaints from book one, I found this change to be a welcome improvement in book two. Compared to its predecessor, Communication Failure also strikes a better balance when it comes to showcasing other aspects of the series, exploring multiple POVs and expanding upon the world-building while still injecting a fair amount of quirkiness so that the story still remains very funny.

Another improvement was the plot which felt a lot more complex this time around. Much attention to detail was paid in the development of the characters as well as in the highlighting of the cultural differences between the Meridans and the Thelicosans (the latter worships mathematical theory to the point of obsession), helping make the most out of the novel’s theme of “communication failure”. Zieja also took his time to develop conflicts and build tensions, a nice change of pace from the almost episodic format of Mechanical Failure which simply zipped readers from one insane situation to another with no time to even catch a breath.

Rogers also becomes a more compelling character when he’s not spending the entire book trying to come up with creative ways to shirk responsibility. That shtick was hilarious was in the first book, but I can’t deny a part of me is glad we’ve moved past that to explore new comic routines. A slightly more serious Rogers of course means an opportunity to develop a fresh repertoire of running jokes, including those related to his complicated love affair with Marine Captain Alsinbury, AKA the Viking. Interactions between the two of them have thus far spawned some truly epic banter with clever double entendres and wordplay.

Not to worry, however, if you loved the first book and are concerned that the sequel might have changed too much, because Communication Failure definitely remains true to its roots. Exaggerated slapstick remains a strong component of the humor, and you’ll still get the occasional cringe-worthy pun thrown in with the snappy one-liners. That said, there’s an overall sense that the comedic elements have matured, so personally speaking, Communication Failure worked much better for me than Mechanical Failure as a result.

Regardless, it’s always nice when a sequel surpasses the original, and overall I’m quite happy with the way this series is evolving. I love how it doesn’t take itself too seriously while offering up an engaging, satirical tongue-in-cheek riff on the genre. These books are the perfect popcorn entertainment, and I recommend them if you’re looking for some lightness and comedy in your sci-fi.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Mechanical Failure (Book 1)

Book Review: Awakenings by Edward Lazellari

I received a review copy from the author. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Awakenings by Edward Lazellari

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Guardians of Aandor

Publisher: Tor (August 30, 2011)

Length: 348 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Do not let the blurb or the cover of Awakenings deceive you—its marketing actually belies a very interesting book, which turned out to be nothing like I expected. At first glance, you would be forgiven for dismissing this as yet another urban fantasy with undertones of noir and the supernatural. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that the world is not as it seems. When it came to categorizing this book, I ended up tagging it Urban and Epic fantasy, because ultimately it encompassed elements from both genres.

As the story unfolds, readers are introduced to a cast of characters which include Cal MacDonnell, a New York City cop. Thirteen years ago, he woke up in a field with no memory of where he came from or how he got there. His entire life now revolves around his wife Cat and their young daughter Bree. Next is Seth Raincrest, a jaded self-centered slacker who has few friends and no prospects for the future. Like Cal, Seth can’t remember anything before thirteen years ago, when he was found as a boy outside a burning house, his parents presumably dead inside. He spent the rest of his childhood in orphanages and foster care, and now struggles to make ends meet as an amateur pornographer. And finally, there’s thirteen-year-old Daniel who lives with his adoptive mother and abusive stepdad. Despite his troubles at home and at school, all Daniel wants is to be a good person and help his friends.

For Cal, what began as an average night on the job quickly turns deadly as he and his partner are called to the scene of a disturbance. In a derelict building, they are suddenly ambushed by otherworldly beings who seem to know about Cal’s past. Now his wife and daughter are in danger, and the night would have ended in disaster had it not been for the intervention of a mysterious red-headed woman named Lelani who claims to be a sorceress from another world. Promising to have all the answers to Cal and Seth’s questions about their past, she leads them on a quest to regain their memories because hanging in the balance is the life of a child they must find before their enemies can get to him first.

As you can see, the story which initially presents itself as an urban fantasy quickly transforms into something wholly different. I’ve seen the term “inverse portal fantasy” used to describe books like this, and it is quite appropriate in the case of Awakenings. Gradually, the mundane world becomes permeated by elements more commonly found in high fantasy settings, such as wizards, centaurs, other creatures like gnolls, and politics from a feudal medieval realm. The result is this strange mishmash of different concepts and tones, featuring the modern existing beside the antiquated, or science and technology comingling with magic.

But of course, this hodgepodge of ideas also causes a fair amount of confusion, especially in the early parts of the novel, with the vagueness of the situation further exacerbated by the characters’ amnesia because they are not aware of what’s going on themselves. Another hitch is the lengthy setup and the amount of time it takes to introduce all the characters and their backstories. Not surprisingly, a book like this requires lots of groundwork before all the various plot threads can even begin to come together. And finally, there’s the obvious drawback regarding reader expectations. If an urban fantasy fan were to pick up Awakenings, for example, there’s no telling how they would react to the sudden change in style and tone around midway through the novel, when the contemporary aspects start to give way to more epic fantasy elements.

The good news is, the writing is fantastic. Edward Lazellari does an incredible job juggling all the story’s moving parts, ratcheting up tensions when required in order to draw the reader deeper into this dark mystery. His prose is also smooth and very polished, and if I hadn’t known this was his first novel, I would have thought he’d been doing this for years. To be honest, I only really have one main complaint, and that was the ending. I found no closure in it at all, not even the slightest sense that any of the multitude of loose ends have been tied, making this entire novel feel like one long drawn-out prologue. I can’t deny the lack of answers frustrated me, and it’s just a shame that this is perhaps the book’s greatest weakness, because otherwise everything else about it was rock solid.

Still, on the whole I did enjoy reading Awakenings. Despite the open ending, I’m intrigued by the ideas Lazellari has presented here, and also curious about what he has in store for his characters. By the looks of things, the next book The Lost Prince will be bringing even more of the storylines together, and I’m definitely looking forward to checking it out.

#RRSciFiMonth YA Weekend: ReMade created by Matthew Cody

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

ReMade by  Matthew CodyKiersten WhiteE. C. MyersAndrea PhillipsCarrie HarrisGwenda Bond

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of ReMade

Publisher: Serial Box (April 25th 2017)

Length: 783 pages

It’s been several months since I last reviewed a Serial Box title, and it appears they’ve been very busy churning out new serials while my attention was elsewhere. Still, I thought I’d been doing a pretty good job keeping informed of their releases, which was why I was so surprised on my latest venture to the SB website to come across ReMade, a series I hadn’t heard of before. Not only that, I saw that Season Two had just kicked off, which meant somehow a whole season had passed me by.

Curiosity piqued, I ended up accepting an offer of the entire 15-episode first season for review. The premise sounded interesting, and this being Serial Box’s first foray into the Young Adult genre, they probably wanted to get some of big names behind the project because I also recognized several of them on the author list which includes Matthew Cody, Andrea Phillips, Kiersten White, Gwenda Bond, Carrie Harris, and E.C. Myers. The story was pitched to me as Lost meets The Maze Runner (which I actually found to be quite accurate), following a group of twenty-three teenagers and young adults who wake up one day on a strange jungle world full of unidentifiable creatures and killer robots. Nearby, a towering space elevator looms. Are they in the future? Or have they been abducted and transported to an alien planet? No one knows for sure what’s going on, but gradually they discover a common factor among themselves—every single one of them has final memories of dying before they woke up here.

First, there’s Holden and Seyah, who were together in the same car that collided with an oncoming truck in the opposite lane. Then there’s May, whose paranoia over her severe allergies prevents her from eating anything in this strange new place, even as her body hungers for food. Next is Nevaeh, who remembers drawing her last breath in a hospital bed before finally succumbing to a long battle with cancer. The boy known as Loki. Teen idol and reality TV star Teddy Young. Inez, whose last memories of a fun day at the beach with her family ended in tragedy. Umta, who is not quite human. Hardworking Cole, who is haunted by memories of his sweetheart and infant son. Nearly two dozen characters from different backgrounds with different stories to tell, but all their lives seemed to have ended around the same time, with death occurring between 9:31 and 9:32pm Eastern Time on October 14th, 2016.

When reading serialized fiction, I generally prefer waiting for the full novel or season to be completed before tackling all the installments in one go, as opposed to following them piecemeal by the week. Serials like ReMade are a pretty good example of why I do this, given its rather unusual structure. While it features a present storyline set on the mysterious jungle world, each episode also focuses mainly on one character and tells their backstory through a long sequence of flashbacks. More than anything else, it was this aspect of the series that reminded me most of Lost, with its use of a nonlinear narrative to tell a character-driven mystery.

Admittedly, this is a format that probably works best if you can finish one episode and jump into the next one right away. Personally, I doubt my interest would have held and I probably wouldn’t have continued reading if I’d had to wait a week between each one. For example, the first episode “Shadow and Dreams” featuring Holden simply drops readers into this bizarre new world with little to no context, and because his flashbacks also took up so much of the narrative, we were also left with no real answers by the time it ended. It was a pretty unsatisfying intro to say the least, but the advantage of having the full season on hand meant I was able to binge read the next few episodes, which I believe made all the difference. As I kept reading, a pattern began to take shape, along with a clear direction. As a result, somewhere between Episode 3 “Home, Perilous Home” (Nevaeh’s story) and Episode 4 “The Most Dangerous Game” (Loki’s story), I found myself completely hooked.

Still, for me I think it was Episode 6 “Reality No-Show” featuring Teddy and Inez that finally sealed the deal. Aside from being my favorite, this episode also signaled a turning point in the series, first because it began apart from the others, and second because it kicked off a new arc for the main storyline which is still advancing at a brisk pace despite all the flashbacks. Like a TV series, ReMade seems to move in stages, and every few episodes there will be a climactic event that will challenge the characters and shake up the status quo. While there were still plenty of questions at this point, I was already so invested in the mystery that I didn’t mind waiting a little longer for the answers.

Considering the format, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the characters were also a huge motivation for me to continue. Although the premise states we start off with twenty-three people, eventually only a handful rise to prominence as “main” characters. However, this is still enough for a very diverse cast, resulting in a lot of interesting backstories and interactions between different characters. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, with some emerging as natural leaders while others take on a more supportive—but no less important—role in helping each other survive throughout the series. Even though a couple characters manage to achieve great feats, the story still gives you the sense that everyone’s skills and talents are required to succeed. There was no one character I preferred more than any other, in that I was able to relate to each in a different way. They are all flawed, with their individual experiences shaping much of their personalities and motivations, and the flashbacks go a long way in showing us how and why.

All told, ReMade now ranks among my favorite series from Serial Box. If you’re familiar with the TV show Lost and the way it featured a primary storyline supplemented by flashbacks to expand character backstories, then you’ll probably recognize a similar format here, used by the authors to develope a fascinating dystopian mystery. Now that all 15 episodes of the first season are released, you can pick up ReMade in its entirety, which in my opinion is the best way to enjoy the series anyway, and hence why I am looking forward to when the currently running second season is complete. I’m very curious to find out what happens, and will be excited to continue reading.

Friday Face-Off: Snow

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently”
~ a cover featuring SNOW

Mogsy’s Pick:
The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

The Wolf Road features a harsh and gritty frontier-like world ravaged by war. Technology and modern comforts are gone in this post-apocalyptic setting, along with any kind of social infrastructure or protection. It’s everyone for themselves in the cold northern wilderness where protagonist Elka was born, and what’s left of the law here is swift and merciless.

Then one day, when Elka was seven years old, she found herself lost and alone in the woods. Against all odds, she was rescued and taken in by a man known only as “Trapper”. He sheltered Elka, when he could have turned away and left her to die. For the next ten years he took care of her, and even taught her how to hunt and to trap and to survive off the land. And in time, Elka came to see Trapper as her father.

However, all that safety and happiness about to be ripped away. On a fateful trip into town, Elka discovers that the man who had raised her for the last decade is not who she always thought he was. Trapper turns out to be a serial murderer wanted by the law, and unfortunately for Elka, her close association with him makes her an accomplice. Now she is hunted by a ruthless magistrate named Lyon, a hard woman who will stop at nothing to apprehend her prey. And because Elka has discovered his true identity, the man she used to call father is coming after her as well, determined not to leave loose ends.

I loved this book, with its cold and brutal “Western” vibes. Let’s see now if the covers live up to its atmosphere.

From left to right, top to bottom: The Borough Press (2016) – Crown (2016) – Blue Door Fiction (2017) – Broadway Books (2017) – Finnish Edition (2017) – French Edition (2017) – Russian Edition (2017)

  

  

Winner:

The original first edition from The Borough Press wins hands down this week. It leads in almost all arenas, depicting a snowy scene which reflects well the cold harsh atmosphere of this gritty tale. I’m not usually a fan of covers featuring overly large text either, but this one managed to do something really cool with the title, incorporating the image of the wolf and its intense gaze. If I saw this book on a shelf, it would definitely draw my attention and make me pick it up.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

#RRSciFiMonth: Graphic Novel Review Bites

Bitch Planet Volume 2: President Bitch

Volume one of this series introduced us to a future where the dystopian concept of a patriarchal society goes to very scary places. While The Handmaid’s Tale takes a softer approach to putting women in their place, Bitch Planet takes more extreme measures with its non-compliant women. They are sent to, well, the Bitch Planet, a penal planet for women. This collection of issues steps back in time to tell us about Maiko’s life before her untimely death and how she came to be imprisoned for murder. Meanwhile, the inmates are still reeling from the events that led to her death, and Maiko’s dad, the designer of the facilities, just wants to speak to his beloved daughter. The tension is all kinds of boiling over and, Kam is determined to keep the ball rolling, no matter how much it hurts.

This is a series that literally pulls no punches in any way. The women come in all shapes and sizes, inside and out, and the exaggerated concept of their incarceration and domination, both on and off the planet, hits far too close to home in this day and age. This is not a light read, but it is a great read if you want to get your feminist rage on. I just need to find a spot for my non-compliant tattoo.

GOLGOTHA

GOLGOTHA‘s Kickstarter came out right about the time I started playing Mass Effect Andromeda. Both stories follow a group of scientist and military types sent off to colonize another galaxy. In Mass Effect, the group arrive to find their promised land in ruins and a deadly alien species wanting to shoot first and shoot again. GOLGOTHA’s folks arrive to find that humanity is already there. As in, while the passengers puttered along in cryosleep for almost a century, technology on earth surpassed the Golgotha’s technology and humans had already successfully colonized the planet. That doesn’t leave much for soldier Michael Lawton to do — until the rebellion kicks up a stink with explosions and all that. Turns out, the utopia isn’t, unsurprisingly, all it seems to be, and now Lawton has to go find out why.

As far as concept and science goes, I liked this story in theory, but in execution, it leaves a bit to be desired. The cast of characters makes a big effort to win diversity points, only to drop back down to the standard mostly white folks cast just a few pages later. The biblical analogies and imagery are a bit too glaring, and by the time the Big Secret is revealed, I found myself uninterested in Lawton’s rationale to invest further in the story.

Saga Volume 7

Is this series forever going to make me cry at the end of every damn volume????

Waiting on Wednesday 11/22/17

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray (April 3, 2018 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers)

In honor of Sci-Fi November, I’m featuring sci-fi picks for my Waiting on Wednesday posts this month. Many titles on my list of highly anticipated science fiction will be released next spring, including a bunch in the Young Adult category. One of the ones I’m looking forward to the most is this sequel to Defy the Stars, written by Claudia Gray who has become one of my favorite YA authors. Note: Since the Little Brown edition doesn’t have a final cover yet, I’m using the one to the UK edition (which I like much better, anyway).

“Noemi Vidal has returned to her planet, Genesis, as an outsider. Ostracized for refusing to sacrifice Abel, the galaxy’s most advanced mechanical man, she dreams of traveling through the stars one more time. And when a deadly plague arrives on Genesis, Noemi gets her chance. As the only soldier to have ever left the planet, it will be up to her to save its people…if only she wasn’t flying right into a trap.

Abel, now fully aware of his soul and captaining his own ship, never thought he’d get to see Noemi again, not when the entire universe stands between them. But when his creator, Burton Mansfield, delivers news of Noemi’s capture, Abel must go to her, no matter the cost.

In a race against time, Abel and Noemi band together to stop Mansfield once and for all. The depraved scientist has engineered a way to achieve immortality, but that technology comes with perils of its own. Abel and Noemi are about to discover a secret that could save Genesis and Earth…or destroy them all.”