[Shadow Run: Kaitan Chronicles I] AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

25669098

Shadow Run has been touted as Firefly meets Dune, a space opera that should draw fans of both. The Firefly tease was part of the reason why I requested an ARC of Shadow Run in the first place. Shadow Run had action and adventure, a touch of romance, and the looming threat of an increasingly powerful bad guy. I didn’t find it as episodic as Firefly, but Shadow Run functions as a nice stand-alone space opera novel, with a potential to continue the series.

One of my favorite parts of Shadow Run, and other space opera stories is the world. When done well, they can be rich and immersive. I feel that way about Shadow Run, although I still wish it had gone into more detail. There was plenty of detail to show the world to the reader, but I still wanted more. I really enjoyed reading about it. The few planets that were visited by the characters were described in ways that allowed me to really visualize the setting. When the world isn’t familiar or created entirely by an author, those details must be there. A reader doesn’t know what living on another planet will be like, so an author has to fully immerse them in it.

Unusual Planet wallpapers and images - wallpapers, pictures, photos

The thing that really cinched the world-building for me were the differences between Nev and Qole’s planets. The weapons and clothing differs, the cities on Nev’s planet are unbelievable to Qole who is used to smaller buildings, and the characteristics of the people are extremely different. Qole’s culture shock is believable and expected.

This was helped along by the two viewpoints. Readers are shown both characters out of their element, but Nev’s adaptability is a little better than Qole’s. Although he’s always had everything, he was able to adjust to a lesser lifestyle rather quickly. In contrast, I loved reading Qole’s reactions to the high-fashion and careless lifestyles of the people around her. I feel like their voices–and their speaking patterns–were very clear.

While I have a clear picture of both Qole and Nev, I don’t feel the same about the secondary characters. They’re delegated into roles: Strong-arm, hacker, brother, androgynous member of the crew. I didn’t mind the first person narration because I feel that it showcased the differences between Qole and Nev, but it didn’t help with knowing other characters. I feel that there was a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the world because of the first-person narration; I was in Nev’s head to understand his world, then suddenly in Qole’s–and part of her point-of-view was her trying to come to terms with what Nev had said or revealed. It was a lot of back and forth and I feel like some of the action was lost in it.

However, I did have a favorite secondary character. Basra. I want to know more about him. He seems to be quite a chameleon and even at the end of the novel, still has his secrets. I liked that he actually had a backstory that was more explored (i.e.: shown) than that of Eton’s and Telu’s, who I feel were only marginally explained. I want to know Basra’s history. Story about that, please.

I also really liked that Basra didn’t comment on his gender. The members of the crew he works with refer to him as a boy, (which is something that was figured out off page, pre-Shadow Run) yet in his past he’s been referred to as a girl. It was nice to have a character like that, although Nev’s introduction to him (Boy? Girl? Wha?) was a little unkind in my opinion. If it was meant to be clever it fell flat.

I really love books with a variety of characters and I’m glad that authors are becoming more aware that there needs to be better representation of different genders and races in novels. However, I feel that this book was awkward about it. It was like it was screaming See? We’re representing! every time something regarding race or culture was brought up. I was being told, rather than shown. Show me! It gave an awkward tilt to the novel. Any other reviewers feel this way? Perhaps someone else can better put words to my feelings.

One bad thing about characters is that I didn’t feel like there was anything new, other than Basra. Although I liked Nev and Qole, they fell under the stereotype of Prince and Commoner. As a result, a lot of their story line was kind of obvious, so I’m hoping that the next novel subverts that a bit more. The last bad thing about characters is that Qole’s power needs to be contained. It bothered me the longer I read.  It’s setting Qole up as an untouchable character, which strikes me a little like a deus ex machina show of power. Where is the stopping point?

Free Space/Galaxy Texture by Lyshastra

 

What was great about Firefly was how it was episodic. I imagine (since this is called Kaitan Chronicles, which typically means an expansive story) that we’ll see more of the Kaitan Heritage and Qole and crew. This wasn’t really episodic. It was more of a typical story of discovering that everything you believed in isn’t necessarily true, good, or fact.  I feel like this book promised more than it delivered, because the only similarities I saw to Firefly was that there was a curmudgeonly Captain piloting through space.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Shadow Run when I either got over or got used to the things that caused problems for me. I think it will do well with people who like science fiction and fantasy and don’t mind the fact that it recycles some of the often used tropes of the genre. Personally, although I liked it, I feel very neutral about the next novel. Usually the end of novels that I enjoy drive me straight into the pages of the second novel. For Shadow Run, I could either take or leave the next one. This is directly because of the ending: it can either function as an open-ended stand-alone or as an opening for the second novel. Readers will have to decide what it is for them. I still haven’t.

3. 5 stars.

I received a copy of Shadow Run from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Shadow Run will be published March 21st.

 

 

[Link] Summer Wier

 

23111822

Oops, I guess it does say that it’s “Book 1.” Missed it.

You’d never expect to be thrust into another world on your seventeenth birthday. For Kira, the protagonist in Link, that is exactly what happens when what seems to be a comet falls into the lake she is swimming in. After a few days in the hospital and a few intense dreams, Kira returns home, looking forward to celebrating her birthday minus the comet. Unfortunately for Kira, the incident on her birthday isn’t going to be the last. She is now connected to another world by the light of a dying star. While it’s still living, she’ll be able to travel back and forth between her world and this other one. Kira has to make a decision before it dies: stay in the world where everyone she loves is, or stay in the world where she may be able to solve the mystery of the connection to starlight.

I really enjoyed what this novel tried to do. The idea of being linked to another world through starlight was fascinating and I liked seeing how similar and how different the worlds were. I didn’t even realize at first that the novel was even set on another world, it was so similar to Earth. The slight differences made it interesting, but unfortunately were not delved into other than the few odd sentences here and there. The bulk of the story was in the traveling between these two worlds–Kira’s, and the one put together from pieces of other worlds like a patchwork quilt. There was more world building in the world she was connected to by starlight, but it still didn’t go as deep as I would have liked it to,  especially when a lot of the responsibility of world building falls on the first book of the series. Perhaps there will be more in the second book.

Although the idea is what made me pick up Link,  I felt that the execution of the story overall was a little lacking. It was a little broken up, where things like relationships progressed too quickly but the plot and the secrets to be revealed were drawn out too slowly. I realized halfway through the book and a check on goodreads that this was because it was the first book in a series. At the risk of sounding like a repetitive record because this is quickly becoming something I frequently lament,  I wish that the author had decided to write one book instead of a series. There just wasn’t enough of a propelling drive in Link to be the beginning of a series. Had the author written one book instead, I suspect that it would have been heavier and more interesting, because it would have been the author’s “all in” with the story.

I do like the story Summer Wier is presenting in Link,  but it wasn’t a strong enough start to a series. I’m not invested enough in the heroine who does the stereotypical young adult novel thing where she falls in love with her best friend as well as the stranger that she met a scant few days ago. It’s frustrating that there can’t be a portrayal of a male and female relationship that isn’t sexual in nature, especially when you just met him. I would have received it better if the first book had set up the possibility of a relationship and ran with it in the second. Instead of focusing on the romance aspect, I wish that the focus had been on the world building and the problems of being connected to another world through the light of a dying star. Romance can come later; story building should come first. Overall, a light, quick read with small measures of science fiction and fantasy thrown in, but I would not read it again and I am not continuing the series.

3 stars.

I received a copy of Link from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Link was published on September 29th, 2015.

 

 

 

[Armada] Ernest Cline


This book is hard to review.

When I found out that Ernest Cline had a second book coming out, I was incredibly excited. I loved Ready Player One, and I wanted to see what he came up with next. Armada follows in the footsteps of Ready Player One, setting up a story that has a heavy video game focus. This time, instead of most of the action taking place in a virtual world, the video game comes into the real world. Zack, the protagonist, is a high school senior obsessed with the video game Armada. It is one of the many science-fiction themed things that he consumes in his spare time, his desire to escape into those worlds and have an adventure filling his brain. Even so, when he sees an alien spacecraft straight out of Armada, he questions his sanity. But he does have his call to adventure. He just doesn’t know what being a hero may cost him.

Armada frustrated me early on. It’s divided into three phases as Zack goes on his journey, and the first phase and a half were so incredibly boring that it was a chore to read. The fact that I really enjoyed Ready Player One was the only reason I pushed myself so hard to get through those very snooze worthy pages. There was a lack of action. I understand that Cline wanted to give us as much information about the Armada game as possible, but far too much was included. The book became more of a manual about Armada: how to play it, its history and the history of its production company, and the history of video games rather than plot. There was little story thrown in. It stagnated and I was very unimpressed. This is my biggest complaint about Armada by far. My eyes glazed over any time a ton of lingo or step-by-step how-tos for the fictional games of Terra Firma (the ground based game set in the same world as Armada) and Armada (air based) were included. It took ages for me to actually get into the book because the adventure didn’t occur right away. There are hints, but it wasn’t enough. I made a note that the story only started to get interesting in chapters 10 and 11. That’s far too late, but I still trudged through because of the author.

I also couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a more in-your-face/upfront retelling of Ender’s Game. It does end up being slightly different, but the entire time I was reading I had that little thought in the back of my mind. I’m not sure if Cline wanted certain things to be a twist, or if the “twists” were meant to be an homage to Ender’s Game and therefore not twists at all, but whatever it was, there were no surprises. I was able to predict too many things, which I won’t discuss because of possible spoilers. Again, they may have not been twists at all, but I like having some surprises while I read a book and I didn’t feel like Armada had any.

I did feel emotionally connected to the main character, whose loss of a father from a young age really shaped how he grew up and saw the world. I think he felt that he had to be stronger because he didn’t have a father figure in his life. Although his mother supported him, it was clear that he always hoped his father had somehow managed to survived the accident or that he had another father figure in his life to support him. I think that’s why he was so eager to be the hero. When he answered the call to adventure, he went from this annoying kid that had anger issues to someone who was able to work on a team to get things done.

Ultimately, I did enjoy Armada. When the story finally started it was very fun to read and I couldn’t put it down. However, if it had been a book by an author that I had never read before, I would have put it down before I got to the truly exciting parts. It was only Ernest Cline’s name that got me through it. I’m disappointed that the beginning was such a flop for me when the middle and ending were very engaging, even if the ending was a bit too tidy.

3.5 stars.

 

[The Clouded Sky: Earth & Sky II] Megan Crewe

There will be slight spoilers for Earth & Sky, the first novel in this trilogy. That review can be found here.

The Clouded Sky (Earth & Sky, #2)

At the conclusion of Earth & Sky, Skylar had been given the opportunity to continue on her journey with Win and his fellow Kemyates on their mission to stop the manipulation of Earth. The Clouded Sky starts immediately after the first, leaving no gaps between the two books. Now on the Kemyate space station just outside of the orbit of the ruined Kemya, Skylar has to cope with being confined to a smaller area than she is used to. She went from being an active player in stopping the time manipulation on Earth to posing as a “pet,” essentially an Earthling slave. Although treated well, knowing that there are Earthlings on the station through no choice of their own leaves Skylar with a bad taste in her mouth. She tells herself it is just one of the many things that will change if they manage to stop the manipulation of Earth, so she does what she can while pretending to be unaware of what is happening around her.  As the rebels slowly come to trust her more, they start realizing that there may be a traitor in their midst. There are too many close calls for comfort, and Skylar is given the unique job of trying to find to find out who it is and if they can stop them before the traitor destroys everything they’ve been working for.

In The Clouded Sky, Skylar’s position on the station is perilous. At all times she must pretend to be drugged, standard protocol for Earthling pets in order to keep them calm. This time, instead of the rebels being the ones who have to operate secretly, the roles are switched. As the only Earthling on the station who is aware of what is going on, she is in a position to change things–if it wouldn’t make her stand out. After a time she gets tired of doing nothing, so she begins to help with the rebels plans and takes greater risks as they start running out of time.

I was impressed at Megan Crewe’s handling of the story as well as showing the stress of suddenly living in a different place. I was able to connect with Skylar on a deeper level this time around. I’m really familiar with the things she had to go through (minus the fact that they happened on a station in space) because I live in a foreign country myself. She doesn’t understand the language and slowly has to learn it. Along with not understanding the language, she has to learn the much more difficult thing of how their culture works. Even when you understand the language, there are things you may not understand culturally because they are so extremely foreign. Showing the moments when Skylar struggles with this really stuck with me.

Being in another world made her yearn for a connection, so romance became a large part of this book. It clouded her judgement a bit in the way that instead of spending one hundred percent of her time focusing on her goals, she spent a lot of time considering how her actions were viewed by her romantic interests. I wanted to know more about other characters, but the romance made her withdraw into herself a bit too much.

I was very interested in the time traveling in the first novel and the lack of it was felt in this novel. This was a different sort of novel, more investigative and spy-like rather than a journey. Out of the two novels, I enjoyed the first better, but I think that’s only because The Clouded Sky serves as a bridge between the first novel and the third novel. This one had a slow buildup to the conclusion and climax and does a really good job of fully introducing us to the Kemyate culture.

Initially I believed that Earth & Sky should have been one novel. It was just one of those slow burn novels, because I couldn’t get enough of the second. I’m very excited to see the conclusion of this series.

I received a read-to-review copy of The Clouded Sky from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It was published on May 5th, 2015.

 

 

[Alice in No-Man’s-Land] James Knapp

25715016

Alice in No-Man’s-Land is the story of a privileged girl who only thought of the Blocs, huge areas of towns that have fallen into disarray after a food based disease ravaged them, as a cheap form of entertainment. After all, they’re only there temporarily until Cerulean Holdings goes in and fixes them. Up until she is stranded in one of them with only two of its citizens to help her. Alice’s journey through the decaying bloc is full of brushes with danger and moments of clarity. If she manages to get out of Ypsilanti Bloc, she won’t be leaving as the same person she was when she entered.

While the idea at the core of Alice in No-Man’s-Land was something that I could have gotten behind, the novel read too much like a formula. There’s a girl who has no idea that there’s something very much wrong with her world. When she is suddenly thrust into the very essence of what is wrong with her world, she begins to realize that things have to change and she is apparently in charge of doing this. I think that’s why Alice read as boring to me. She’s the typical hero of a dystopian novel, but she didn’t have anything that really made her stand out. I didn’t feel like she was a very relatable character, even though she did have some character development later on.

Although I found her boring most of the time, Alice adapted to the world inside of the bloc even though it was challenging things that she had grown up believing. She used to have an unshakable belief in her father, but as she spends more time with the people in the bloc she starts doubting the methods he uses to “save” the crumbling bloc and those who live in it. She takes what she learns from inside Ypsilanti Bloc and adjusts her worldview accordingly. It didn’t happen immediately and it didn’t happen without a little resistance, but I would have been annoyed if it had happened any other way.

I was far more interested in Maya and Basilio. They were characters I would have loved to follow. Instead of getting Alice’s impressions of Ypsilanti, I would have enjoyed seeing more of how they reacted to her and how she acted toward them. They’ve had a more difficult life than Alice and have really had to work for things. Although they are characters in a dystopian setting, I think their struggles of surviving and making a life for themselves in a world that has extreme poverty, violence, and gender gaps would have been more relatable. I do realize that sounds a bit strange.

The world was really interesting. I wish there had been more description of it. We got a lot of miniature information dumps when Alice checked the black book or they went through a section of the bloc, but it felt very general to me. I liked the presentation of these blocs as the degradation of society, so those in power had put walls around them. There was a time when people could have moved out, so why didn’t they? I wanted to know more details, but instead I felt like only very basic information was shared with the reader for most of the novel until the information was given too late for me to be hooked.

I understand why people have enjoyed this book, but it ended up not being for me. It took me a very long time to read this, and it wasn’t just because I was busy. If I really want to read a book, I make the time. So although this book is well-written, I couldn’t truly get into the story and it’s characters enough to give it a higher rating.

2.5 stars.

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  It was published on May 13th, 2015.

[Earth & Sky] Megan Crewe

17875055

Skylar has always needed to cope with nearly crippling panic attacks. When the sense of wrongness fills her, only numbers can calm her down. When Win, a time-traveling alien, becomes intrigued with her ability to sense the wrongness in her world, Skylar is dragged into a conflict where she learns that aliens have been studying the Earth and its people for ages. Her unique ability may be just what the rebel faction needs for them to stop the scientists, if only Skylar will consent to help them.

I thought that Earth & Sky was a pretty okay book. Books about time-traveling always have those moments where they become too complicated or they don’t make sense when the time-traveling rules get mixed up. Earth & Sky toed both of those lines to create rules of time-traveling that are familiar with a twist. Usually it’s not aliens who are doing the time traveling. It relied a lot on the belief that any little thing you change when you’re traveling through time can have a ripple effect. I liked that Skylar worried about how she was changing her present (although because they were in the past, it would be the future). Would she know that things had changed or would it be as if it had never existed? We only understood how the time-traveling worked as much as she did. Sometimes, characters thrust into strange situations suddenly know more than they should, but Megan Crewe didn’t make her characters like that.

As a protagonist, Skylar grew on me. I liked that she wasn’t a Mary-Sue protagonist that fell into the group of YA protagonists who obsess that they’re not pretty enough for boys A and B. She held her own even when her world was turned on her head and showed agency when she’d been denied it for so long. I wish that more protagonists didn’t let a possible attraction toward a character they’re working with cloud their judgement. I really enjoy reading novels that stick with solving a problem instead of switching halfway to how much they can make out with their love interest. Win, the time-traveling alien, had a really nice character arc in this story. He started out as someone who is curious about the Earthlings and gradually grows to understand them on a level that is no longer scientific. He doesn’t plateau as a character; instead, he continues learning and changing. Their friendship has its ups and downs. It was really nice to read how they could forgive each other even when they were wronged, and it was written in a kind and realistic way.

As much as I enjoyed Earth & Sky, I feel that with a little more work it could have been a single novel. I’m not sure why the decision was made to make it a series, especially when parts of this first book were stretched thin. If it had been one, more could have been packed into the novel and it would have held my interest better. Although the beginning was boring, it did pick up when they started to travel to different places and different times. It allowed for a richer setting than that of a generic city. Ultimately, even though I wish it had been one book, I’m not opposed to reading the rest of the series. I hope to check out the second novel, The Clouded Sky soon.

I received a read-to-review copy of this title from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange of an honest review. Earth & Sky is the first novel of the Earth & Sky trilogy, and was published on October 28th, 2014.

[Sing Down the Stars] L.J. Hatton

25703752

Sing Down the Stars is one of those books that had an amazing premise. I loved the idea of aliens as jellyfish-like Medusae that hung threateningly in the sky and yet never attacked. They left after a year, seemingly leaving the Earth untouched, or so everyone thought. In fact, their presence wasn’t felt until girls started being born, girls with the power over elements. Families with girls disappear and whether it is by choice or Commission led is debatable. Penn and her family have been hidden in plain sight for her entire life. Soon it may not be enough, as things seem to be pulling at the seams. Sing Down the Stars had everything that was interesting in a young adult science fiction novel: people with abilities, interesting technologies, and an organization that has dubious desires and plans. The problem is that it went beyond that and tried to have just a bit too much in the book.

While reading Sing Down the Stars I felt as though I was reading several different books. Everything was connected by a common issue, but because there were several ideas and problems put forth in the novel, I couldn’t put a finger on what it was truly going to be about until later chapters. I know that this will be a series, but even for a first novel it seemed all over the place. It was fascinating to read about this world, but it was muddied by focusing on things that didn’t really make sense or was purely conjecture on Penn’s part. I wanted to know more facts, and they weren’t always given to us. It was one of the reasons I didn’t get engrossed in the novel the way I expected to. Another was the lack of characters.

Although there were more characters in the novel than just Penn, they weren’t in it as much as I would have liked. Her four sisters, whose personalities are shaped by their gifts, were characters I was interested in. Unfortunately, they disappeared into the place where characters go to grow and never came back out. Most of their character growth was given to us by Penn, and she wasn’t an entirely reliable character. The only characters who had okay character growth were Penn, although some of it was questionable, and Birch. I can count on one hand then things I know about the characters who are in the Commission, and most of them are synonyms for “bad.” I would have loved to see the Warden with a bit more. I’m a huge advocate of writing how villains see the world, because there’s always a reason for their actions. Even if we’re meant to hate them, I want to see how their views became warped. Overall, this is a novel that I would have loved to see with more point-of-views.

My main problem became how much was crammed into one character. Penn Roma is the protagonist in the series, so she is meant to be special. She has the power to “sing down the stars,” and at first, that was the power that she used. It had been set up early in the novel that girls are the ones who are touched from the visitation of the Medusae. Something occurred in the year that the aliens came, but it wasn’t until much later–when girls with the touch were being born–that people realized what had happened. The first is born with the power of flames; the second with the control of water; the third can move rocks; and the fourth, rare girl can move the winds. Penn is the fifth girl, an impossibility. As such, it’s understandable that her power is different. Unfortunately, I felt that she was given too much. Her powers continued to build and change as the events in the novel progressed to the climax, and with it my incredulity grew. One or two changes I was able to believe as long as they were within her gift’s boundaries; when Penn’s powers became a way for her to get out of or change every single problem she happened upon, it became more of a deus ex machina move.

Overall, this was a really good idea. Although it was similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender, I was able ignore the similarities most of the time. Sing Down the Stars moved a bit quickly through the problems and that kept me at a distance. Things like the Hounds, gifted girls who are trained hunters forced to use their gifts to capture and neutralize their own kind were pretty unique to the world. Those things should have had more of a focus. Aliens and power over elements have been done; Sing Down the Stars‘ flaw was that it didn’t really dig into what made it different.

3 stars.

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Sing Down the Stars will be published on October 6th, 2015.