Saving Raine by Frederick Lee Brooke

RAINE
Saving Raine by Frederick Lee Brooke
The Drone Wars: Book 1
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (258 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“Matt, Raine went to California because her parents thought it was safe. It’s not. You’ve got to get her out as soon as possible. She could die, Matt.”

When 19-year-old Matt Carney gets a cryptic message from his father telling him to go to California and save his girlfriend, Raine, he doesn’t hesitate—he grabs his AK-47, revs up his blue pickup, and gets ready to make the 2,300-mile roadtrip.

But cross-country travel in 2021 isn’t easy—or, sometimes, even possible. The U.S. has become a near-military state: 17,000 checkpoints severely restrict interstate movement, Predator drones target innocent civilians without cause, and explosions rock cities daily. Matt and his stepbrother, Benjy, face deadly attacks from a corrupt government, ruthless local law enforcement, and bloodthirsty terrorist groups as they embark on their trek. They’re about to find out that their trip is much more than a private journey, and their success could change the face of the country—forever.

Can Matt and Benjy outrun the drone missiles raining down on their heads? Can they avoid assassination by government officials hell-bent on taking over what little is left of the country? Can they outsmart the deadly schemes set in motion against them?

Break the rules.
Save the girl.
He only gets one chance before she’s gone forever.

It’s easier to make a promise than it is to keep it, but Matt has never been the type of person to go back on his word.

Dystopias are one of my favourite sub-genres of science fiction. Projecting how current trends could go horribly wrong in the future is fascinating, especially when the author isn’t afraid to criticize more than one political party in the process. The world-building in this one was strong, consistent, and occasionally pretty scary.

The antagonists in this story are fairly flat characters. In some cases their reasons for opposing Matt were hard to understand because their actions didn’t match what they seemed to want from him. Everyone has contradictory moments, of course, but with such limited information about their personalities I had trouble understanding why they made certain choices.

Matt is a well-developed and sympathetic protagonist. What I found most interesting about this character is how his flaws interact with the plot. He has more than his fair share of them, but because they’re so well-integrated into everything else that’s going on they felt like natural extensions of the complex personality of a guy who has seen more than his fair share of troubles.

There were so many shifts in perspective that they occasionally slowed down my perception of how fast the plot was moving due to the extra time I needed to figure out who was speaking now. I understand this is the first book in a series, and I suspect that some of these shifts might make more sense in the future. As it was written, though, this particular tale would have worked better for me if it had limited itself to one or two speakers.

The romantic subplot fits in well with everything else that’s going on. Matt and Raine’s relationship has had to adjust to a lot of changes , but it was easy to imagine how they interacted with each other before she moved away due to the letters and other written forms of communication they’ve swapped.

Saving Raine is an adrenaline-soaked adventure that kept this reader’s attention from beginning to end. If you like dystopian fiction, give it a try!

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Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny by Malia Ann Haberman

HOUSE
Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny by Malia Ann Haberman
Book 3 of the Chase Tinker series
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Childrens
Length: Full Length (211 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

In Chase Tinker’s world, magic, lies and secrets can be a lethal combination…

For eight agonizing months Chase Tinker’s guilt over the despicable act he committed on Halloween night has been eating away at his heart and mind. Chase’s life gets even more complicated when secrets about the mysterious Relic in the attic are revealed on the eve of a visit from an unwelcome caller. It doesn’t help that this all occurs on his fourteenth birthday!

Despite his problems, his biggest concern is that his family’s Dark Enemy, the Marlowe Family, is becoming more powerful with each passing day, fueled by the energy they continue to pillage from the many magical beings of the world. If Chase and his family are ever going to win, they will need a whole lot of magical help; they must destroy the most evil threat the world has ever known!

Chase Tinker is suffering agonizing guilt because he had to kill his evil cousin in order to save his brother. However, eight months later that guilt becomes the least of his problems. He and his family must fight the Marlowes, not only the Tinkers’ greatest enemies, but the world’s as well. The Marlowes are pillaging magic from all magical beings, bringing destruction and despair on everyone, and it is up to Chase and his family to stop them.

This is the third novel in a wonderful series. I have read the other two, but this novel may also be enjoyed as a stand-alone. The author provides enough background so that a new reader will have no difficulties getting right into the story. That being said, the series is a very strong and exciting one, so personally, I’d recommend reading all the books in order.

The characters are well defined and I really found Chase to be a very sympathetic character. He has to make some very hard decisions, and he makes them with care. The contrasts between his family and his cousins’ is dramatic, and I was pulling for Chase and his friends every inch of the way.

The magical spells seem very real and plausible. I had no difficulties at all believing that Chase could make himself invisible or shrink an unexpected and unwanted visitor so that the visitor would fit in a water bottle.

The story speaks to more than just the fantastical adventures. It also speaks to issues of determining good and evil, figuring out who to trust, acting honorably, and looking out for others. The lessons Chase learns are valuable lessons for our world as well.

The pacing is wonderful and I really wanted to read this novel in one sitting. As I neared the end, I began to worry. There was no way this could end. Sure enough, I came to the end of this novel and discovered that the fourth in the series is the concluding book. The House of Destiny has a reasonable ending, but it also is obvious that things are not resolved, and all I can say is that I hope the author is ready to release the final book in the very near future. I, for one, am sitting on the edge of my chair waiting.

Fantasy lovers will delight in the adventures of Chase and his family and friends. The action is hair-raising, the antics are fun, and the entire adventure is absolutely delightful.

Spirit of Love by J.L. Addicoat

LOVE
Spirit of Love by J.L. Addicoat
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (120 pages)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Old buildings have an eerie haunting feeling, and the 17th Century Manor house in the Cornish countryside Julia intends to restore, is no exception. Originally her dead husband’s dream, she feels it’s up to her to complete it in his memory. When she arrives, she realizes it’ll take more than a quick clean to put the dilapidated old Manor to rights.

While exploring the house, she feels as someone, or something, is watching her. Darting shadows and movements, seen from the corner of her eyes, seem to confirm sinister happenings at the Manor in the past. The discovery of an old diary hidden in a chest of drawers and the story it tells, lead Julia in a different direction than she originally thought she would be taking.

Grief does funny things to people. All it’s made Julia want to do so far is turn back the hands of time. Will a change of scenery help her or will it only make her miss her husband even more?

I was expecting a lot of things out of this story, but laughter certainly wasn’t one of them. Ms. Addicoat has a bawdy sense of humor that worked really well with these particular characters. It’s difficult to say anything else about this without giving away spoilers, but the scenes that dipped into this genre were by far my favorite ones of them all.

It would have been helpful to get to know Julia better. She switched so rapidly between serious indecisiveness and giving clearcut instructions to her new servants that I was never quite sure which side of her personality was the more accurate one. Julia also had a few ditzy moments that seemed out of character for someone who has been successfully self-employed for so many years, but once again I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to find her a little flighty or if I was reading too much into the clues that were provided about the kind of person she was before her husband died.

The romantic elements of this tale are just as strong as the fantasy ones. At first I was little skeptical of how everything would be tied together since there were so many things going on in the plot simultaneously, but the people involved in it were given ample time to get to know each other first. Allowing their attraction to one another to heat up slowly was definitely the right choice in this case!

I’d particularly recommend Spirit of Love to anyone who likes paranormal romance novels that have one foot planted solidly in each genre.

The Sword of Agrippa by Gregory Lloyd

SWORD
The Sword of Agrippa by Gregory Lloyd
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (48 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

It is 2020. A rogue scientist’s search for dark energy collides with the interests of those profiting from a lucrative, stagnant status quo. Computerized sensors are now more common than computers and smart phones.

Graphene is now being produced in large quantities and ever more powerful properties have been discovered.

Roy Swenson, banned from the US, hits Prague on a quest for energy which will transform the world and lead to a new tech revolution, a new renaissance.

Mainstream leaders in science, industry and religion have become enemies. Dark energy could render entire industries obsolete. Discoveries threaten religious dogma.

Roy, empowered by tragedy, will not back down. Every life has a purpose and he knows what his is.

Roy’s dreams take him to Egypt as a young Roman soldier, Marcus Agrippa. He falls for Samia, an Egyptian slave priestess. In the secret chambers of the Great Library, she guides him through mysteries political and cosmic. Mysteries now hidden behind the veils of history and conquest.

Science and religion answer completely different sets of questions. What happens, then, when the line between them begins to bleed?

Roy’s dreams provided some of the most interesting scenes for me to read. They were so richly detailed yet oh so subtly affected by the fuzzy logic that can creep into even the crispest dream that for a moment I briefly wondered if I were actually still awake. It isn’t easy to write such convincing snapshots of dreams, so I was impressed by how well Mr. Lloyd fleshed them out.

I found the first third of this short story confusing due to how much happens during it as well as the limited amount of time that was spent explaining certain key plot points.The two main characters had such similar voices that I also sometimes had trouble telling them apart. Everything made much more sense once I was a dozen or so pages into it, but it was frustrating to not know what was going on for such a large percentage of the plot.

This tale is the first in a series of instalments, which isn’t something that I realized when I requested it. It sets up the background information and conflicts quite well, and even begins to unravel some of the biggest questions facing these characters. It will be intriguing to see how my criticisms of this tale hold up once the characters have had a chance to explore more of the worlds they inhabit and explain certain details of it to the audience a little better. In the meantime, this can be read as a standalone piece, although I know that I’m curious to know what happens next!

The Sword of Agrippa is a good choice for fans of hard science fiction, especially if they already know a little something about neurology or microchips.

From the Shadows: The Complete Series by KB Shaw

FROM
From the Shadows: The Complete Series by KB Shaw
Publisher: iPulpFiction.com
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: Full Length (324 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

FROM THE SHADOWS is an exciting science fiction novel for readers 12 and up.

As he is about to unleash a technological revolution that could threaten the world, a reclusive former child prodigy leads two teens and a young reporter on an odyssey that will explore the boundaries of reality, time, and what it means to be human.

In the near future…

“Can’t separate paths, despite their divergent courses, convey their unwary travelers to the same destination?” — SJ

GundTech transformed the world of communications when it introduced the multiCom with an Artificial Intelligence (AI) personality at its core. Now, the reclusive former child prodigy who created the AI programming is about to unleash a technological revolution that could threaten the very fabric of society.

Cameron Rush and Rosa Costas are best friends, even though they have never met in person. Cameron is from a small town in Wisconsin, while Rosa lives on a ranch in New Mexico. They are typical fifteen-year-olds living in their isolated worlds of family, school and friends.

Meagan Fletcher, the technology reporter for the World Broadband Network, doesn’t trust her multiCom and she trusts GundTech even less. The young reporter is on a mission to expose the reclusive genius behind GundTech and discover the computer company’s true intent.

They are innocent travellers, heading down separate paths, oblivious to their final destination and the dangers that lie ahead.

Cameron Rush and Rosa Costas are best friends even though they have never met in person. Thanks to the multiCom, which is a computer/AI combo, they are able to connect even though Cameron lives in Wisconsin and Rosa in New Mexico. They come from very different backgrounds, but they share a love of technology. And when a new school is set up by the largest computer developer, GundTech, both of them apply for admittance.

This is an action packed novel filled with puzzles to solve. In addition to Cameron and Rosa, there is a reporter, Meagan Fletcher, who is relentless in her pursuit of the truth. She is determined to discover who is behind GundTech and their latest technological advance, a quantum computer which uses “bits called qubits, and not only do they have more than two states of being, they can be in more than one state at the same time. In short, a quantum computer can be extremely powerful and very small at the same time.”

The characters are very well developed, and I really liked both Cameron and Rosa. They came across as very real teenagers, each with his/her own personality, complete with strengths and weaknesses. I also liked Meagan, an honest reporter who is a workaholic with no personal life, but she has a drive to report the news honestly, without rumor-mongering or distortion.

There are a lot of fascinating settings in the various simulations in the book, and we get to meet such famous personages as Arthur Conan Doyle and Madame Curie. Cameron and Rosa are both extremely bright and they and their classmates devise all sorts of interesting puzzles which are great fun to solve, for the reader as well as for Cameron and Rosa.

Someone is trying to destroy GundTech and its head, and the solution to that mystery raises a host of philosophical questions which Cameron, Rosa, and Meagan must solve before it is too late. Other issues which this book deals with include providing technology to those who can’t afford it, a company’s right to patents versus a free disclosure of knowledge, time travel, the nature of reality, and what it means to be human.

Readers of science fiction, especially those who would like a bit more than merely a great story, who want to think as well as enjoy, will certainly find From the Shadows to be an exciting and compelling novel.

The Most Ferocious of Creatures by Chris Sykes

Creatures
The Most Ferocious of Creatures by Chris Sykes
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Childrens
Length: Full Length (166 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Most Ferocious of Creatures is a fun and exciting, illustrated chapter book for boyish young people, as well as adults (it was written by one after all).

Mrs Lambsbottom wakes up one morning and accidentally douses a mouse with milk, unwittingly creating the most ferocious of creatures. She decides to rid her home of the terrible beast but Mrs Lambsbottom is not the most mentally stable of characters. Neither is the cat that she brings home from ‘Meow’s Cat Shelter for the criminally insane’. All the ingredients mix together, ensuring a stupendously silly story, satisfyingly stuffed with suitable story related things and, er, stuff.

Packed full of funny pieces of incredibly relevant information, although perhaps not always factual, The Most Ferocious of Creatures will have you smiling. If not, it will try as hard as a book trapped inside your kindle can. Free this book, it yearns to be read.

Sometimes spilled milk is worth crying over.

This was one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. Physical humor isn’t usually something that amuses me so much, but the author did a great job at balancing it with puns, wordplay, and a few playful interpretations of the bizarre things grownups do.

Nigel, the cat that Mrs. Lambsbottom brings home to catch the mouse, was by far my favourite character in this tale. He has such a well-formed, cat-like personality that I looked forward to every scene he was in. I didn’t even realize I knew what a cat-like personality was before I read this story, but his stoic goofiness fits his species amazingly well.

I loved the illustrations that accompany each chapter. It isn’t easy to describe them without giving away spoilers since so many of them deal with events from later on in the plot, but they complement all of the wacky things that happen to Mrs. Lambsottom and her milk-soaked mouse beautifully.

The age recommendation is flexible. Some of the jokes will probably fly over the heads of preschoolers, and the vocabulary might be a little difficult for brand new readers to tackle on their own. For these reasons I strongly suggest reading it aloud to younger fans if possible, but there’s nothing in this tale that is inappropriate for children a little younger than 6.

The Most Ferocious of Creatures is a fantastic choice for kids – and former kids – of all ages. I can’t wait to read it again, and I recommend doing the same to anyone else who dives into this wonderful book!

Magical Curves by Virginia Nelson

CURVES
Magical Curves by Virginia Nelson
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (102 pgs)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Emily Flowers dreams of something more. Living a humble, if solitary, life as the local librarian, she looks forward to laying her head on her pillow each night to travel to a magical place where she has adventures with a wizard prince.

Kayden, prince of Zenith, the land of the setting sun, found his soulmate long ago. Her imagination and spirit has long fed his magic, but the time has come for him to collect his voluptuous bride. Can he convince her that some dreams are so powerful, they can become reality so he can finally taste her Magical Curves?

Emily Flowers loves going to sleep. She knows her dreams will be filled with wonder and the sexy dream-man who always waits for her. Despite the magical wonders of his world that Prince Kayden constantly showed her, Emily struggled to believe even in her dreams he could want her. Plain, chubby, boring her. And when her doubts crowded her mind, she always woke up, alone and in the real world. But there are always darker sides to magical places, political plots and secrets held deep. Emily and Kayden will need to work together in love and trust to overcome the obstacles in their path.

Readers who love their Fantasy mixed in with romance will really enjoy this. This story is full of a magical, alternate reality, princes and magic and secret political plots, backstabbing, evil princesses and all sorts of fantastic adventures. I also really enjoyed how the author mingled this magical, fantasy world with our modern reality. Emily is here, a modern woman with all the usual insecurities and issues, and discovering her magical dream-prince and the dream-world is reality is a massive part of the plot that is intricately woven. I struggled a little with the fact so many of the major characters in Emily’s life were “plants” (i.e. people deliberately sent to look over her), it felt a little over-the-top and set up, but not so much as to stop me wanting to know what happened next.

This story has a very strong set of secondary characters, and for once I wasn’t entirely sure of which side (good or evil) some of them were. I found these characters to be deliciously complex and not pure good or pure evil. Like regular people, they were more complex than that, and I found this really refreshing. The plot was simple in some respects (get the girl, marry and take over the kingdom) but really that’s not doing the story justice. There’s so much more to it, believing in yourself and your partner, doing the honorable thing, even learning who to trust and how to balance work, play and duty. This is a very intricate book and one I’ll thoroughly enjoy re-reading to get more out of it.

Readers who like complex characters, intricate plots and a bit of magic will really enjoy this. I’d even recommend pure fantasy readers who are also interested in romance to give it a try. The sex scenes are detailed but not offensive, and spicy enough to lure erotica readers into trying something different. I think this really is the kind of book that has something for many genre readers and is sure to sate the need for a really well paced, well plotted story. Recommended.

Shaman by Scott Rhine

SHAMAN
Shaman by Scott Rhine
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (304 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Daniel is training to become a shaman and living on the Dakota reservation with his grandfather. As a member of the thunderbird people, he can visit a shared dream world and meet others like himself. Over summer break, he takes a road trip to New Orleans to rescue a sixteen-year-old girl from the Dark Tree Coven. Daniel knows he’s going to be grounded, but promises his cousins that the adventure will be worth the punishment.

What follows reads like a Native American “Blues Brothers” with a trained raccoon.

“We have the raccoon and the police gear. All we need is a net, an acetylene-propane torch, forty feet of rope, a Bavarian cream doughnut, Karo syrup, and red food coloring.”

Having a talent isn’t the same thing as knowing how to use it.

The character development in this story is phenomenal. Daniel’s earlier adventures acknowledged how all of his painful experience in life have shaped in personality, but this sequel stitched those memories together in ways that I often didn’t see coming. It was especially interesting to see how his interpretation of certain events has changed over time given how much they affected his mood and behavior in the past.

At first I was a little thrown off by the pacing. Given how quickly things moved in the first book in this series, Messenger, I wasn’t expecting to slow down and spend so much time getting to know the secondary characters in the sequel. Once everything began to congeal together I understood why the author made this decision, but it is something I would have liked to know about ahead of time.

Daniel didn’t have much exposure to his Dakota relatives growing up, so it was fascinating to see him explore that side of his family tree. I wasn’t familiar with the legends or traditions of that tribe. While the plot can be easily understood with the details already provided in it, I was so curious about that aspect of Daniel’s life that I ended up hunting down a few outside sources to learn more once I finished the last chapter.

Read Messenger before diving into this one. While the author briefly recaps the most important things that have happened so far, there are so many people, creatures, and otherworldly beings in this universe that certain references are much easier to understand if you know everything that has been revealed about their backstories so far.

Once again it took me a while to figure out the best age recommendation, but this time it isn’t a strict one. The darker themes of Messenger have been intensified in the sequel. Daniel’s anger, sorrow, and guilt are woven into his journey incredibly well, but some of the ways he copes with these things are intense. Exercise causation when passing this story on to 12 and 13 year olds, and I definitely wouldn’t suggest it to anyone younger than that.

Shaman is one of the most entertaining young adult novels I’ve read so far this year. This is a great choice for anyone who likes role-playing games or other similarly imaginative hobbies.

Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure by Michael G. Munz

ZEUS
Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure by Michael G. Munz
Publisher: Booktrope Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (446 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

THE GODS ARE BACK. DID YOU MYTH THEM?

You probably saw the press conference. Nine months ago, Zeus’s murder catapulted the Greek gods back into our world. Now they revel in their new temples, casinos, and media empires—well, all except Apollo. A compulsive overachiever with a bursting portfolio of godly duties, the amount of email alone that he receives from rapacious mortals turns each of his days into a living hell.

Yet there may be hope, if only he can return Zeus to life! With the aid of Thalia, the muse of comedy and science fiction, Apollo will risk his very godhood to help sarcastic TV producer Tracy Wallace and a gamer-geek named Leif—two mortals who hold the key to Zeus’s resurrection. (Well, probably. Prophecies are tricky buggers.)

Soon an overflowing inbox will be the least of Apollo’s troubles. Whoever murdered Zeus will certainly kill again to prevent his return, and avoiding them would be far easier if Apollo could possibly figure out who they are.

Even worse, the muse is starting to get cranky.

Discover a world where reality TV heroes slay actual monsters and the gods have their own Twitter feeds.

Immortality is supposed to be one of the perks of being a god, so what happens when this isn’t the case?

Every chapter begins with one or more quotes from television shows, books, signs, and interviews that take place within this universe. This was a clever way to introduce new scenes to the audience without relying too heavily on exposition. More than once it made me wish that I could actually read or watch the piece of entertainment that was being referenced!

I would have liked to see more character development during the course of this novel, especially when it came to the humans who found themselves wrapped up in the affairs of the gods. Many of these mortals had fascinating backstories, but so much time was spent on other matters that I sometimes had trouble seeing how those experiences influenced their current predicaments.

The list and brief biographies of Greek gods at the end was an incredibly helpful tool for me. The cast is quite large even for a full-length novel, and without this reference I would have mixed some of the less prominent ones up over time. Readers who are familiar with more obscure gods might not need it, but I’d encourage anyone who isn’t well-versed on this subject to give the glossary some attention before beginning the first chapter.

It would have been helpful to have a similar list for all of the human characters as well. There were so many of them drifting in and out of the main plot that I had trouble remembering their backstories. I ended up compiling my own list of them, and I’d recommend that other readers do the same thing.

Strong, even pacing as well as the narrator’s tendency to inject a splash of tongue-in-cheek humor into even the fiercest fight scenes made me feel like I was watching a superhero movie inside of my mind. This is a heavily plot-based story. Given the tendency for so many of the gods to act larger than life, though, this technique worked well.

I’d particularly recommend Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure to anyone who likes super heroes or comic books.

Blackout by Madeleine Henry

OUT
Blackout by Madeleine Henry
Publisher: New Heroes Media
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Length: Short Story (118 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

One wall divides life from darkness. After the worldwide Blackout, America built a concrete wall—the Frontier—across the middle of the nation to isolate its precious electricity in the top half. Everyone below the Frontier was forsaken, and now only a few survive in the grim region known as the Dark Zone.

Sixteen year old Phoenix Troublefield endures the dark with his girlfriend, Star Windsong. When America announces that it will trade electricity for immigrants, Phoenix and Star sacrifice themselves for the power that might save her younger brother. On the other side of the Frontier, they find America is not what they expected, and instead they are thrown into a shocking and deeply personal contest that threatens to destroy their love. When the chance comes to escape back into the Dark Zone, it may already be too late.

Phoenix hasn’t survived this long by taking flippant risks, but he’s beginning to wonder if it’s about time to try something new.

This is one of the most richly detailed stories I’ve read so far this year. The world these characters live in is cold, dark, and rapidly decaying. Danger lurks around every corner, and I felt its stale breath on the back of my neck as I watched Phoenix and his community struggle to survive.

While I understand that this is the first book in a new series, so much time was spent describing the place where Phoenix grew up and the members of the other families who live nearby that his actual journey to America felt rushed. If the page count were twice as long this introduction would have been perfect. As it was written, the pacing was slow in the beginning and rushed over the course of the last few chapters.

Phoenix’s unusual relationship with his parents piqued my curiosity. I can’t say too much about it without wandering into spoiler territory, but he has much more freedom than most teens his age. How he responds to this arrangement reveals a lot about his strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t always like his choices, but knowing about the unique environment he grew up in helped me to understand why he picked them.

I would have also liked to see more time spent developing Star’s personality. She has an incredibly amount of empathy for other people, but I had trouble getting to know her as an individual because Phoenix only ever describes her in glowing terms. Even the kindest person in the world will eventually have a bad day, and I would have liked to see how she reacts when she’s angry, scared, or overwhelmed with life.

The science fiction elements of this tale are much stronger than the romantic ones, but the romance blends in well with everything else that’s going on. Phoenix and his girlfriend are a few years older than the age recommendation listed above. This is their first taste of love, though, and how they react to it is something that I suspect will be just as appealing to somewhat younger readers.

Give Blackout a try if you’re a fan of young adult dystopian fiction. It’s solid premise and surprising plot twists make it a good choice for anyone who likes this genre.