Clean Sweep ~ Ilona Andrews

  • Title: Clean Sweep
  • Author: Ilona Andrews
  • Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #1
  • Genre: Fantasy, UF
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night. Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Review:  The world building in this short novel is fascinating, quirky and utterly unique. It’s combining science fiction and fantasy, and it feels like the authors gave free rein to their imagination while creating it. They populated their story with a sentient inn, vampires, werewolves, hundreds of different worlds connected by some sort of gateways, and of course the innkeeper with a broom – her deadliest weapon.

Dina, the protagonist, is the innkeeper. Her inn is a sanctuary on Earth for all the travelers from other worlds. While Dina stays inside the inn’s property, her magic, combined with the inn’s magic, is the strongest, but when she leaves the perimeter of the inn, for example to go shopping, her power diminishes with every step she takes away from her inn. What an original manifestation of the idea that any power has a price and a boundary.

Like every innkeeper, Dina is supposed to maintain neutrality in any conflict arising between worlds. Her guests’ safety is supposed to be her first priority. But when someone or something starts killing dogs in her quiet little town in Texas, she feels she must interfere.

Then a handsome, arrogant neighbor, werewolf Sean, arrives to tell her that he will take care of the problem. Butterflies flutter in her stomach every time she glances at his muscular thighs/shoulders/abs. His penetrating yellow eyes don’t help her peace of mind either. But she can’t let him face the danger alone, alpha male or not.

Then a charming vampire lands in her backyard, with the same purpose – to destroy the baddies in Texas. Testosterone levels spike, as the trio fight the villains and try to figure out their relationships at the same time.

The story runs quickly, maybe too quickly, as if it has too many legs but sometimes those legs trip over each other. The dialog is fast, snarky and funny, representing the authors’ dry, offbeat humor. Although characterization is pretty primitive (with the exception of Dina), secondary to the world-building and plot, the whole is an enjoyable read. I like this book more than the authors’ other series. Obviously, I’m not a huge fan of Kate Daniels.  

The illustrations included in the text are simply gorgeous, even though I read the book on my B&W Kindle.

Overall – a delicious, entertaining reading experience.

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The Humans ~ Matt Haig

  • Title: The Humans    
  • Author: Matt Haig
  • Genre: Literary Sci-Fi
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: $11 purchase
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  The critically acclaimed author of The Radleys shares a clever, heartwarming, and darkly insightful novel about an alien who comes to Earth to save humans from themselves.

“I was not Professor Andrew Martin. That is the first thing I should say. He was just a role. A disguise. Someone I needed to be in order to complete a task.”

The narrator of this tale is no ordinary human—in fact, he’s not human at all. Before he was sent away from the distant planet he calls home, precision and perfection governed his life. He lived in a utopian society where mathematics transformed a people, creating limitless knowledge and immortality.

But all of this is suddenly threatened when an earthly being opens the doorway to the same technology that the alien planet possesses. Cambridge University professor Andrew Martin cracks the Reimann Hypothesis and unknowingly puts himself and his family in grave danger when the narrator is sent to Earth to erase all evidence of the solution and kill anyone who has seen the proof. The only catch: the alien has no idea what he’s up against.

Disgusted by the excess of disease, violence, and family strife he encounters, the narrator struggles to pass undetected long enough to gain access to Andrew’s research. But in picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

Review:  The world is divided into those who have read this book and those who have not.  Those who have read this book are shaking their heads in the affirmative right now.

It is not so much the story, but read it for that.  It is not so much the characters, but read it for that too.  It is for the statement it makes on the flawed yet wondrous nature of humans. This book will resonate with you long after you read it. (if not, we can’t be friends.)  You will be convinced the author himself is from another world, sent here to give us some wisdom, but perhaps also fearful if we can handle it.  I liken it to “Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach

Yes, I loved this book and I am a better person for it. A beautiful book that made me cry. At times I feared it would become predictable, but there was just enough variance and certainly more than enough genius. A wonderful range of emotions. The prose was both beautiful and simple. How many times have we all wondered, “What would an alien think if they came to Earth and experienced this?” Well, this book provides an illuminating answer.

Highly recomended. Get ready to highlight on your kindle or dog-ear your  paperback.

-Mark Matthews

The Risen Empire ~ Scott Westerfeld

  • Title: The Risen Empire
  • Author: Scott Westerfeld
  • Series: Succession #1
  • Genre: Science-fiction
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  From the acclaimed author of Fine Prey, Polymorph, and Evolution’s Darling (Philip K. Dick Award special citation and a New York Times Notable Book) comes a sweeping epic, The Risen Empire, Scott Westerfeld’s dazzling hardcover debut.

The undead Emperor has ruled his mighty interstellar empire of eighty human worlds for sixteen hundred years. Because he can grant a form of eternal life, creating an elite known as the Risen, his power has been absolute. He and his sister, the Child Empress, who is eternally a little girl, are worshiped as living gods. No one can touch them.

Not until the Rix, machine-augmented humans who worship very different gods: AI compound minds of planetary extent. The Rix are cool, relentless fanatics, and their only goal is to propagate such AIs throughout the galaxy. They seek to end, by any means necessary, the Emperor’s prolonged tyranny of one and supplant it with an eternal cybernetic dynasty of their own. They begin by taking the Child Empress hostage. Captain Laurent Zai of the Imperial Frigate Lynx is tasked with her rescue.

Separated by light-years, bound by an unlikely love, Zai and pacifist senator Nara Oxham must each in their own way, face the challenge of the Rix, and they each will hold the fate of the empire in their hands. The Risen Empire is the first great space opera of the twenty-first century.

Review: Some books take a while to really get going, and some books throw you into the action from page one. This book was one of the latter. It opens with a thrilling space battle with a completely unexpected twist, and had me completely hooked from the get-go.

This is hard science-fiction (as opposed to the science fantasy from authors such as Jack Vance), with space travel at percentage-of-lightspeed, advanced technologies that sound scientific and plausible, and a suitably advanced culture that is completely believable. One of the coolest technologies is the synesthetic implant that everyone receives as standard, and which allows data to be viewed through the other senses a human possesses. Throughout the novel people see the real world in primary sight and have overlays in secondary and sometimes even tertiary sight, and it sounds pretty awesome. I also loved how there are four types of gravity: hard, easy, wicked and lovely. You’ll have to read the book for explanations of how they all work.

At the centre of the novel is the Empire of eighty worlds, ruled by the Risen Emperor and his sister, the Child Empress. The Emperor has done the impossible: he has found a way to conquer death and grant eternal life by means of a symbiotic implant, though this implant only works on dead people. This gift of immortality is controlled by the Emperor, and he has had absolute power over the eighty worlds for sixteen hundred years.

In contrast to this are the Rix, ‘enhanced’ humans who worship their planetary compound minds and wish to seed these AIs on every inhabited planet in the universe. Caught in the middle is Captain Laurent Zai, who is tasked with rescuing the Empress when she is taken hostage by the Rix.

This book has so much going for it that it’s hard to pin it all down. There is a thrilling space battle that takes up a big chunk of the book and at times takes place in microseconds, yet never gets boring. There is a good dose of politics, contrasting the unbending traditionalism of the Risen and their grey worlds with the pinks: those who believe that to be immortal is to be stagnant, and who would take the power away from the Risen. There is romance, in the form of the relationship between Zai and his lover Nara Oxham, a Senator from one of the pink planets. It introduces the concept of the Time Thief, the effect that the military experiences due to traveling throughout the universe at relativistic speeds. In essence this means that if they spend two years traveling at, say, ten percent of the speed of light, ten years may have passed in absolute time. Ten years relative to them could be fifty years absolute, so any family left at home will age and die long before they do.

I usually prefer to read fantasy over sci-fi, but when I do grab a sci-fi novel, this is the kind of novel that does it for me. Gripping from start to finish, and I can’t wait to read the conclusion.


 

Insurgent ~ Veronica Roth

  • Title: Insurgent
  • Author: Veronica Roth
  • Series: Divergent #2
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Val
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  One choice can transform you, or destroy you.

Every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves, and herself, while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.


Review:   Insurgent, the second book of the Divergent series, picks right up where Divergent left off. The factions are at war, following the massacre of much of the Abnegation faction at the hands of the hypnotized Dauntless warriors. Having stopped the attack, Tris and Four find themselves outlaws on the run.

This book was just as much of a rush to read as the first, maybe even more so. There is plenty of action, as Tris and Four face danger trying to uncover the truth about what is going on. Roth takes the political undertones even deeper, creating a delicious tension throughout the story. It is a constant struggle to sift truth from lies, or more importantly, whose truth is more compelling.

As the plot thickens, the character also become more complex. It is no longer as simple as good versus bad. Roth reveals the good intentions behind some of the terrible actions of her “bad guys”, and that good misguided “good” characters have faltered onto dark paths. I am so tempted to mention some specifics here, but I think I will let you discover that for yourself.

Tris, herself, is very conflicted throughout the story. Her actions in the previous book have her questioning what kind of person she really is and erodes some of her recently won confidence. This internal struggle results in conflict and tension between Tris and Four. There is also continued tension among Tris and her new Dauntless friends.

I will say one thing for Roth, she didn’t really hold anything back. She is telling a dark and gritty tale and she’s not afraid for bad things to happen to pack the necessary emotional punch. Roth is by no means a George R.R. Martin (who seems to kill off characters just so the reader won’t get attached), but she does not shy away from the death of a likeable character.

While the first book focused primarily on the Abnegation and Dauntless factions, Insurgent gives a closer look at Amity and Candor. Herein lies the brilliance behind Roth’s unfolding saga. Each faction has its specific social mores, which are both a strength and a weakness when isolated without divergent thinking (um, yeah, guess that explains the series theme in a nutshell). Another theme throughout this book is how far people will go to avoid accepting a harsh reality out of fear, often failing to act and thus making them fall victim to that fear.

The cover for Insurgent is equally eye-catching as the Divergent cover. This time, it features the faction symbol for Amity with the Chicago skyline at the bottom. The color scheme and layout are complimentary to the Divergent cover, clearly identifying the series.

There is one bad thing about this book that I do not like so much . . . that I will have to wait until October for the third and final book of the series!

Divergent ~ Veronica Roth

  • Title: Divergent
  • Author: Veronica Roth
  • Series: Divergent #1
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Val
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.


Review:   I was really torn on whether or not to read this book, even though I had heard good reviews. On one hand, I have been avoiding anything approaching YA lately, unsure if I can handle yet another teen-angst fest. On the other hand, I really like dystopian fiction. A good recommendation from a trusting source convinced me to give it a try. I am so glad that I did.

Divergent takes place in Chicago years after some society changing disaster. In order to survive, the isolated population has divided itself into five factions, each of which is characterized by specific personality traits that make them especially suited to serve the societal roles assigned to their faction. If someone fails to conform for some reason, they become ostracized and relegated to the lowest tier of society, the factionless.

The story follows Tris, who like others her age must make the difficult decision to choose her faction, an irrevocable decision. If the wrong faction is chosen, there is no going home, the only option available at that point is to become factionless. However, Tris isn’t like everyone else. She is Divergent, having aptitude for multiple factions. She is not sure what it means exactly, other than it puts in danger, so she must conceal it.

Tris is a complex character of a young girl trying to discover who she is within a world that seems to be crumbling around her. She is bold yet unsure of herself, selfless without being self-sacrificing, and clever, if at times slow on the uptake. There were definitely times that I felt a discrepancy between how clueless Tris could be and her portrayed intelligence.

Because of her very nature, Tris is portrayed as a bit of an underdog character. Despite being an outcast, the author created some great relationships with her among her underdog friends. The author also did a great job of creating chemistry between Tris and Four, capturing that spark of young love without the usual overdose of angst.

The world-building was really good in this book. The mental images evoked by the descriptions of dystopian remains of Chicago were fairly vivid. It was painted as a harsh world with limited options, yet the author was able to include a hopeful element.

It was easy to get swept away in the scenes depicting the dauntless actions. The author did a great job of capturing the heady combination of fear and freedom that Tris felt during these scenes.

The cover of this book is very eye-catching. It features a flaming rendition of the symbol for the dauntless faction. The rest of the cover is muted, in stormy shade of blue/grey, lending itself to the dark, cold tone of the story, depicting clouds and a distant Chicago skyline.

Divergent starts this trilogy off well. It does a great job of introducing the world and the main characters without sacrificing on plot or adventure. If felt like a complete book, capable of standing on its own, yet there was enough foreshadowing to make the reader want to continue the series.

Ready Player One ~ Ernest Cline

  • Title:  Ready Player One
  • Author:  Ernest Cline
  • Genre:  Science Fiction, Dystopian
  • Format:  Unabridged Audio Book
  • Source:  Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Description:  It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. 

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune–and remarkable power–to whoever can unlock them. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved–that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. 

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. 

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt–among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life–and love–in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 

A world at stake. 

A quest for the ultimate prize. 

Are you ready?

Review:  Ok. So. I found this book in my audible collection one night during a power outage. I needed something to listen to as I attempted to go to sleep. (Utter silence except for battery backups beeping disturbs my ability to sleep!) This book has been on my TBR pile for a while, so I tried to listen. I really did. I kept zoning out – which was a bit of the purpose – but I didn’t zone out to sleep – I zoned out thinking about all those things I didn’t want to think about which is why I was listening to a book to begin with. A few days later I asked my son, who had already listened to it,  how he felt about it, and he said it was pretty good. I rolled my eyes at him.

Fast forward a few weeks (months?) later. My hubby and I were driving cross country – thought it would be nice to listen to a book. He likes sci-fi, most of the audible books are fantasy. So, I thought I would give this another go. Yep. first part dry as all get out. I dozed intermittently throughout the first few chapters. Hubby was driving – he couldn’t. Poor guy. Then, Wade finds the first clue. At that point, the story picks up dramatically and becomes unstoppable. I will say, however, that I do not think the first few chapters are skippable – they really do set up the world and the sense of urgency in which Wade lives.

Full disclosure: Had I been reading this, such was my obsession to discover if Wade wins, I would have flipped to the last few pages or chapter and read so that I could actually enjoy the novel. Since I was listening, this was impossible. So, I texted my son. He informed me that I would just have to wait til the end. Little snot.

Once Wade discovers the first clue (which is mentioned in the synopsis, so no spoiler there), the friendships and relationships and purposes of the other things mentioned in the first few (really slow) chapters all kind of come together and make sense. I’m a gamer. And, a result of the 80s. I enjoyed all the references to the old games, movies, and fiction I still love that have led to the evolution of gaming and movies of today. It is a fun fantasy to feel that this love and obsession could actually make a positive difference in the lives of others.

One absolutely magnificent aspect of this audio book: Wil Wheaton’s narration. It is magnificent. Splendiferous. It is almost like a dramatization. It is so awesome that I asked my son (who listens to far more audio books that do I) if anyone does it better. His answer: No. I actually searched audible for other books narrated by Mr. Wheaton. Oh, Wesley Crusher, who woulda known that you would achieve such a station in adulthood. I did, however, feel the need to speed up the narration. That was a very nice feature in audible and the first time I have ever used it.

What does terrify me is the persistent fictionalization of big money and big power taking over with the separation of the rich and the poor becoming even greater and more debilitating that it currently is. I see it over and over in science fiction and it is, I think, my greatest fear. I also think it is the reason I am moving more and more away from science fiction and toward fantasy: Sci-fi is becoming all too real to me. Even if that means vampires and werewolves. Ugh. Can’t I just have mages and wizards? Pretty please?

My husband and I arrived home about 2 hours shy of finishing it. Such was the intensity of the climactic portion, that we almost wished for traffic to delay our homecoming. Alas, it was not to happen. (This was probably a good thing . . .) As soon as I finished dinner, and shooed everyone off to bed, I turned the book back on and listened through to the end with rapt attention. I didn’t doze. I didn’t zone out. I listened.

So, does Wade win? You will have to get to the end to find out.

I gave this book 4.5 stars. It loses a point for the slowness of the beginning (surely there must have been some way of revealing the necessary information in a more exciting way) but it gains a point for the oh so awesome narration. I rounded down to 4 just because.