Review: “Artemis” by Andy Weir

Review:

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Earth has colonized the moon, at long last. It runs much like a small town, under a system of domes and tunnels. The colony Artemis was established recently enough that the law and government lean toward the relaxed side. People move there in part to take advantage of some of the freedoms allowed, such as living tax-free. There are a few restrictions, such as the types of flammable items allowed, which is where Jazz Bashara comes in. The twenty-six-year-old works legally as a porter, picking items up from the station and delivering it to her clients. This also gives her a good cover for her not-so-legal side job as a smuggler. Born in Saudi Arabia, Jazz and her father have lived in Artemis for twenty years. This and her reputation as dependable and discreet have helped her land some wealthy clients. An incredible opportunity comes her way, a chance to make more money than she thought possible, and she can’t turn it down. There may be more to this job than meets the eye, and Jazz’s life may be in danger. She has to decide if the money is worth the risk.

This book was captivating from beginning to end. Jazz is an exceptional character. It was a refreshing surprise to read a science fiction novel narrated by a woman of color, especially one as dynamic as Jazz. She has complicated relationships with multiple supporting characters, and her history is revealed over time, partially through her own recollections and partly through an email exchange that progresses throughout the book. There are a variety of supporting characters, male and female, differing in race, sexuality, and socio-economic background. Several positions of power and leadership are filled with women. The diversity in this book was surprising and wonderful, particularly because the author didn’t make it into a big deal. It wasn’t the focus of the story, it just… was. Jazz has her flaws and her strengths. She’s incredibly smart, a bit flirtatious, and full of both confidence and bravado. She has integrity and depth. The plot flows nicely around the characters and keeps the reader entertained as they get to know the world of Artemis. Romance is not really featured in this book, except in Jazz’s personal history and the occasional flirtatious remark. The only improvement to be made would be in her personal relationships with women. Jazz’s closest friends are male, and the female supporting characters are on the sidelines for the majority of the book.

The colony is as much of a character as Jazz. Artemis has personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and the reader cares about what happens to her. The author does a great job of describing the science behind living on the moon, providing enough small details to seem real, without getting too technical. Readers do not need to have advanced degrees to enjoy this book.

This novel reads as a standalone but leaves room for more of Jazz’s story. I would definitely read more!

Andy Weir has also written The Martian, which was recently adapted into a blockbuster film starring Matt Damon.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Final Girls” by Mira Grant

Review- Final Girls by Mira Grant

A review by Amanda.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Doctor Jennifer Webb has invented a new therapeutic treatment, which utilizes proprietary virtual reality technology to help people heal psychological injuries. Clients are placed in special pods, induced to deep sleep, and given carefully monitored injections. Technicians run a dream-like scenario through the VR program, which the client experiences as reality. Each scenario is tailored to the client, to help resolve their specific issues.

Esther Hoffman is a journalist who has made her career by debunking pseudo-science. Due to tragic circumstances in her own past, involving fraudulent regression therapy, Esther is out to prove that Doctor Webb’s work is phony at best; at worst it could be dangerous. Jennifer is determined to prove the safety and viability of her therapy and Esther reluctantly agrees to go through the process, to experience it firsthand. Things do not exactly go as planned, in either reality.

This is a novella written by Mira Grant, which is the pseudonym of best-selling author Seanan Maguire. It’s length does not diminish the horror aspects, thankfully. Readers get just enough insight into the main characters to care about their fates. Industrial espionage, murder, and supernatural elements mingle to make a perfectly horrifying tale. The science behind the therapy is explained in a way that feels natural and easy to understand, which is not always the case in science fiction. There are several delightful twists, and the ending is unexpected perfection. Seanan Maguire has also written the Newsflesh trilogy, a horror series, under the Mira Grant pseudonym.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

A review by Brit.

Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a very special little boy. At the age of six years old, he is selected to attend “battle school,” an academy for children and pre-teens believed to have innate gifts for strategy and warfare. The planet Earth is at war with a race of aliens nicknamed the “Buggers.” Ender’s the third child in his family, only allowed to be born because his brother Peter was too cruel for battle school and his sister Valentine was too passive. The high-ranking adults of the world think Ender may have the gifts necessary to save the world. In fact, it seems like they’re betting on it.

Once in the battle school, Ender is quickly isolated and pitted against the other students (mostly boys) in the school. The leaders at hand are seeking to make him a leader. He’s a tactical genius who tries to be civil but is ultimately suspicious of anyone who tries to be friendly. Against all odds, Ender gains friends among those the school leaders would deem his subordinates. He grows and develops skills. But he’s soon promoted to higher ranks, reinforcing just how much he is ruled by the adults around him. On the outside, Peter and Valentine are hatching their own plans to help the world… which may or may not involve Ender.

I did my very best to enjoy this book (which I consumed in audiobook format), but all in all the exposition blended in too much with the dialogue. Characters blended together, their speech often sounding the same. The book fell into the unfortunate science fiction stereotype of having too much action and not enough character development for the action to feel meaningful. There were few instances where Ender, his classmates, and siblings actually spoke as if they were the ages they were prescribed. Even genius children still sound like children. I would only recommend this book to those seeking to know more about a science fiction classic. But for someone looking to learn more about science fiction, I would advise them to stay away from Ender’s Game. It will leave you apathetic to Ender and the plight of his world.

My rating: 2/5 stars.

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BOOK TOUR Review: “Cubeball” by Michael Leon

Review -

A review by Domoni.

In a far off future, sports are just as competitive as they are now. Though through technology and synthetic enhancements, competition is much different. Michael is a cubeball champion. The future version of snooker is taken very seriously. After spending time as a world champion and becoming a well known celebrity, Michael has had enough of the life. He takes his wealth and moves to the outpost on Mars. Ten years later, his money dwindling, he has decided to return home to Earth.

This is an interesting sci-fi sports story. The book tends to jump back and forth through time. You get to see how Michael grew up and became a champion cubeball player, while also staying with him in real time as he makes his way through the world.  The author has created an interesting world. It is a believable future that is not hard to imagine. The characters are interesting and plausible.

This book does at times fall prey to one of the pitfalls of science fiction writing. There is much time spent on the description of technologies, yet they never fully make sense or capture the attention as much as they could if the specifics were a bit more glossed over so the reader can focus more on the story.  Though this was not as bad as it is in many other novels, I was able to get into the story.

Ludwig was the character that actually captured my interest the most in this story. The way the savant was written intrigued me and I enjoyed his interactions with Michael. He was an easier to like character than the often brash Michael. Overall, the story was good and I would consider reading more in this series.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “Argonauts” by Kevin Kneupper

Review-"Argonauts” by Kevin Kneupper

A review by Vanessa.

Medea and Jason have never met before.  Of course they haven’t met; she is merely a stakeholder in the major corporation turned ecosystem/city that is Argos, while Jason is a shareholder.  The corporation runs everything.  In a world where nearly all of the jobs are run by artificially intelligent robots Madea just happens to have a unique and valuable talent for being able to manipulate genes, known as genomancy, in order to give people special traits.  She works for the corporation’s warriors, known as the Argonauts, giving them whatever attributes they wish.  She can give them a bear’s strength, fur, and claws, or even a fish’s gills and ability to swim.  Where her heart truly lies though, is with the work she is allowed to do for the poor stakeholders of Argos.  She can fix a little girl’s stutter, or remove the genes prone to cancer.  But despite her talent, and her enviable possession of one of the few remaining jobs still done by people, she gets no respect. Especially not from the warriors, who refuse to acknowledge her importance to their accomplishments, and not from Jason when they meet for the first time.

Jason, unlike Medea, is a shareholder; rich, powerful, and most importantly he has a voice in the management vote for the CEO of Argos.  This is of particular significance to Pelias, the current CEO.  When Jason’s father Aeson dies of the overindulgences that are often thrown at shareholders to keep them happy, Jason finds an unexpected opportunity.  He has always wanted to join the Argonauts, but with an unsupportive father his dream never came true.  Now, with a CEO who is salivating over the opportunity to get his hands on Jason’s shares, and most importantly his votes, he is going to get his dream.  Jason though, wants nothing to do with Medea.  He has spent his entire life honing himself into the perfect warrior, and he believes that what she does is nothing more than a way to cheat.  Medea is none too happy about being forced along on Jason’s first mission, either.  But the two of them realize quickly that they have to find a common ground, as one thing after another goes wrong on their mission to Colchis. They have been sent to the competing corporation’s city in search of the golden fleece; a data bank of genetic information that just may change the rules of genomancy forever.

I think it is beneficial that I was not aware of the specific details of Jason and Medea’s story before reading this book.  I knew enough of the basics so that I could understand when the author was pulling in recognizable places and characters from the original story.  But the distinctive twists on those elements made it like a whole new story for me.  Kneupper weaves the classic Greek elements into a fascinating new world in which many of the current world’s fears, and dreams, about the future are essentially realized.  All the jobs have been taken over by robots, nobody works so the government has to give out a basic minimum to each person, while the corporations that run everything constantly compete to convince people to invest their basic minimum with them.  Gene therapy has leapt forwarded to the ability to change people’s genes almost however they want, and extend lives.  This makes for a really interesting setting in which the story takes place. The characters, while recognizable, do lack in growth and tend towards the one dimensional.  The romance between the two characters was bit hurried, and the secondary characters were underutilized.  Overall, though, I liked this book.  Despite my choice to rate it 3.5 out of 5 stars I would recommend it for an interesting and entertaining read.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Shadow Fall (Shadow Fall #1)” by Audrey Grey

Shadow Fall (Shadow Fall #1) by Audrey Grey

A review by Amanda.

Maia Graystone lives in a world held hostage by catastrophe. An asteroid is poised to pass so closely to Earth that utter destruction is unavoidable. The Emperor has seized this opportunity to solidify the elitist segregation that keeps him in power. Those of Gold and Silver status have a secure place in the space station that was built when the danger first became clear. Those of Bronze status will have to earn one of the limited remaining spots by competing in the Shadow Trials; a series of challenges designed to weed out the weak and unworthy.

Maia is the child of a Gold mother and a Bronze father. She was Chosen, matched with a Prince to be married at eighteen, and elevate her from a life of comfortable means to one of luxury. However, when her mother abandons the family and her father is executed for treason, young Maia and Max are forced to beg and steal to live. Maia is caught stealing and thrown into the Pit to be forgotten. After six years of fighting for survival, she escapes with assistance from an enigmatic group of rebels. In exchange for her help in a dangerous mission, they will help her find her brother. For the mission to succeed, she must ally with a brooding and murderous boy from the Pit. She must also become someone else entirely to compete in the Shadow Trials. Can she fool those who knew her as Maia into believing the lie?

This book has the bones of an excellent apocalyptic story. The characters are complex and interesting and the plot is fascinating at its core. The first half of the story sets up the world, the danger, and introduces the heroes and villains, but it moves too slowly to keep the reader’s attention for long. There are also too many elements introduced too soon, making the plot feel over-complicated and convoluted. The second half moves at a faster pace and has a simplified feel to it. In contrast to the first part, readers will be glued to the pages, waiting to find out the fates of Maia and her cohorts. There are similarities to The Hunger Games franchise, but nothing that screams “rip-off” in an obvious manner. The romantic allusions are somewhat cliché but it doesn’t detract from the story once the over-arcing plot gains traction. I will be interested to see where the story goes from here, and will pick up the next book.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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BOOK TOUR Review: “The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman” by Brady Stefani

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman by Brady Stefani

A review by Domoni.

When Courtney was seven years old, her grandfather, the person she adored the most, tattooed her and then tried to drown her. Two weeks later, crazy and raving about aliens, he kills himself in a bathtub. Now Courtney is 15 years old and still struggles with the trauma from her childhood. She is terrified of the dark and has nightmares about aliens, except when she’s awake they are still there. Her parents are divorced and Courtney’s father isn’t really interested in much; Courtney’s mother has no time or patience for what Courtney is going through, so she has her committed.  Medication and a summer at Dad’s, and Courtney is feeling better and has seen no aliens, until she goes home and it all comes back. Courtney needs answers and when she meets the girl she thought was her imaginary friend, she may finally be on the path to find them. Is Courtney crazy like her grandfather, or are the aliens real and does her bloodline mean she is destined for more?

This is an interesting book that had me guessing the whole way through. Courtney is swept up into a conspiracy that is as old as time, or is it just delusion? Who can she trust, can she even trust herself? Courtney is a well created character that evoked many emotions from me. I felt for her and it hurt my heart when her interactions with her cold mother broke her down. Courtney feels so alone and the only person she was close to who understood her is dead. She isn’t allowed to even talk about her grandfather and if she mentions her dreams, experiences or fears, she will just be sent back to the psych ward.

One constant from Courtney’s childhood was her imaginary friend Astra. As she got older, she saw her less though. Until she is in the psych ward and meets Agatha, who she knows is the girl she’s seen her whole life. Agatha doesn’t know who Courtney is, but she knows about the aliens. Agatha wants to help Courtney find out what the truth is.  She also wants to know if Courtney has a part in her dreams of the apocalypse. Agatha is a strong character and I love the depth the author put into each one of his creations. I was invested in her as much as Courtney and enjoyed learning more about each girl.

The world created for this story was in-depth and easy to picture. I could easily imagine the abandoned mental hospital and the monastery the girls visit on their path to the truth. With simple yet vivid imagery, I was pulled through this story in a smooth and quick read. I did not want to put the story down once I had started. I liked that I could not predict what would happen or how it would end. I would gladly read more from this author.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman by Brady Stefani banner

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman
by Brady Stefani
Genre: YA Psychological Thriller/Scifi
Release Date: June 7th 2016
SparkPress

Summary from Goodreads:

Fifteen year old Courtney wants to be normal like her friends. But there’s something frighteningly different about her—and it’s not just the mysterious tattoo her conspiracy-obsessed grandfather marked her with before he disappeared. She’s being visited in her bedroom at night by aliens claiming to have shared an alliance with her grandfather. And imaginary or not, they’re starting to to take over her mind. “Mental illness is a slippery slope,” her mother warns her.

The last thing Courtney wants to do is end up crazy and dead like her grandfather did. But what about the tattoo? And the aliens trying to recruit her? With her new alien-savvy friend Agatha and her apocalyptic visions, Courtney begins connecting the dots between the past, present and future—of her bloodline, and the ancient history that surrounds it. Is she going insane, like her family claims her grandfather did, or is she actually a “chosen one” with ancestral connections to another world? Either way, Courtney has a mission: untangle her past, discover the truth, and stop the apocalypse before it’s too late for everyone.   

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Buy Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman was featured in Redbook Mag! Check it out HERE!

Advance Praise:

“A must read sci-fi book.”

– Hypable, Hypable.com fandom reviews

“A wild ride through portals to other worlds… This debut novel fuses a serious issue—the stigma of mental illness—with sci-fi to chronicle a girl’s unusual coming of age.”

– Kirkus Review

“This novel has a breakneck pace and Stefani’s writing is fluid and perfectly suited to this most extraordinary tale that blends coming of age, adventure, science fiction, and post-apocalyptic genres— and it all works beautifully.”

– Readers’ Favorite, Five Stars

“As the father of two teenage girls, I can tell you that Brady Stefani must have some sort of supernatural helmet that helps him think and write in their language. But The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman is much more than a novel for teens. This fast-paced adventure kept my attention, blazing back-and-forth from reality to an alter-world so close by that it’s creepy. Here’s a page-turner that captures a lot about childhood struggles through an imaginative story filled with surprises.”

-Jim Schaefer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writer for the Detroit Free Press

“Stefani’s The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman is a thought-provoking and emotional journey through a young girl’s mind as she struggles to understand who she is, where she came from, and who she is supposed to be—all while deciphering between reality and the tricks our minds can sometimes play on us. Stefani beautifully demonstrates how difficult life can be for anyone who thinks or acts a little differently, and reminds us that, more often than not, the things that terrify us the most are the things trying to save us.”

-Jessica Stevens, author of Within Reach

About the Author

brady stefaniBrady G. Stefani has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, and a graduate degree in law. During law school, he spent time as an involuntary commitment caseworker for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, where he interacted with patients suffering from severe thought disorders, including numerous patients presenting with subjectively real memories of being visited and abducted by alien beings (commonly referred to as alien abduction phenomenon). It was through his study of these patients, along with his own struggles with anxiety and cognition, that Stefani became aware of just how deceiving, mysterious, and powerfully resilient, the human mind can be.
In an effort to provide awareness of mental suffering, and spread hope to all those touched by it, Stefani is focused on writing YA novels that explore the experience of being different and the other-worldly places our boundary-less imaginations can take us. Alienation is his first novel. But with two works currently in progress, the journey has just begun.
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