SFF/YA/Mystery/Suspense Book of the Month Poll

Saving Raine by Frederick Lee Brooke

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

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.

From the Shadows: The Complete Series by KB Shaw

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

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!

Shaman by Scott Rhine

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.

Deep Green by Trisha Haddad

Deep Green by Trisha Haddad
Published by Eternal Press
Genre: Contemporary, YA, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (167 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated: 3.5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Adrift in a lifeboat with strangers, each holding a deep secret…

Leah Taylor prefers the quiet adventure and romance of books, but during a cruise with her parents, a terrorist attack leaves her adrift in a lifeboat with strangers.

University student, Blue McCree impresses her immediately with his knowledge of literature and philosophy, but equally thrilling is strong, dark ,Musir. While Musir is slow to speak, translating his thoughts from Arabic to English, his chivalry and wisdom capture Leah’s curiosity.

Together they face danger after danger as they fight for survival. Leah also struggles with the growing attention from the men she’s stranded with, and her mixed emotions toward them.

When Leah learns the dark secrets her fellow survivors hold, the truth will blow apart any semblance of civility and test Leah’s preconceived notions of just how far dedication can go before it crosses over into fanaticism.

Deep Green’s greatest moments are in the incredible descriptions of the ocean, of a world apart from normal life, and the beauty of a rare perspective. Although the descriptions are well done, the action is what will keep you reading. Teen Leah ends up in a lifeboat, struggling to survive among strangers. They are all distinct, different people, with different attitudes and beliefs. Together, they confront an ocean full of dangers, uncomfortable truths … but coping ‘together’ is a challenge. They struggle for basic survival – their plight is physically challenging; but also more. Leah finds herself drawn to two of the other survivors, and finds herself torn between the two.

In the face of circumstances, readers will find themselves wondering about the fate of those on the cruise ship, Leah’s parents and other family; it seems unrealistic that Leah is thrust into a ‘personal growth’ story that includes potential romance, in the face of such worry and potential/probably heartache. Although well-written, this aspect was a distraction throughout the story.

Leah, who started off as a bit of a smart-alec teen, copes with the men, the boat, and their eventual landfall, with growing courage. She’s a wonderful character, not supremely confident, but driven by the desire to do the right thing. Overall, this is very readable and events are unpredictable.

Blackout by Madeleine Henry

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.

The City of the Broken by Ceri Benyon

The City of the Broken by Ceri Benyon
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (202 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Seren Loneheart falls in love for the very first time with a boy who has a dark secret. She soon discovers he is a prince who rules over The City of the Broken, which has a population of heartbroken and outcast people. He informs her that he wants her to become a citizen of his city as he believes her to be lonely and unhappy ,but much to Seren’s delight he also wants to be her boyfriend as well.

The pair embark on a dark fairytale romance that results in Seren finding happiness for the first time in her life, but Calix informs her that she needs to remain ‘broken’ to be his girlfriend.

Can these young lovers survive all this turmoil that threatens both their relationship and Calix’s crown? Will Seren succeed in healing Calix’s heart and ending his determination to remain unhappy for the sake of duty?

Love is powerful, but it can’t fix everything. So why does Seren still feel obligated to change herself to better suit her boyfriend’s needs?

A good fantasy novel says as much about the real world as it does about the ones that only exist between its pages, The City of the Broken reminded me of all of the incredible men and women I’ve known who’ve risen above terrible experiences. Purposefully gathering together an entire city filled with broken people is an intriguing concept, and as soon as I read the blurb I knew I had to find out what happens next.

When a character experienced something scary or new in this universe, the text told me what they were feeling instead of allowing their body language or dialogue to subtly reveal their emotions. This happened so often that I had trouble connecting to Seren in particular when even more surprising things popped up in their lives because I never quite felt like I got to know her as a unique individual.

I have a lot of sympathy for Seren. She is a vulnerable soul who so desperately wants to be loved that she’s willing to accept it from anyone who will give it to her. I would have loved to have more background information on her. It seemed odd to me that a teenage girl could spend so much time away from her home in this universe without anyone noticing she was missing. The handful of clues that were provided about her life were interesting, though, and helped to explain her low self-esteem and as well as her lack of adult supervision if my theory about what they are hinting at is correct.

There were many grammar and punctuation errors in this story. Some sentences didn’t have any punctuation marks at all. This made it difficult to figure out where one idea or description ended and the next one began. The author’s heavy use of sentence fragments was also confusing.

Strong pacing kept me engaged in the plot from beginning to end. It begins with Seren and Calix’s first meeting, so everything I learned about these characters happened at the same time that everything else was going on. Even though this was a full-length work, it felt like a novella in certain ways due to how quickly the main conflicts show up. Moving everything along so quickly was a good choice!

By far my biggest concern about this book, though, is how the relationship between Calix and Seren develops. Calix isolates her from other people, pushes her to get serious with him right away, and manipulates her when she attempts to make her own decisions. These can all be signs of an abusive relationship, so it was surprising to see the text treat them as romantic gestures. I understand why Seren would initially be wooed by his attention, but I was disappointed by the fact that no one acknowledged his inappropriate expectations of her.

I did enjoy the descriptions of Calix’s city. They often felt like they came from a gritty fairy tale that was never sanitized by The Brothers Grimm. The best scenes are the ones that describe all of the rooms in his castle, especially the black ballroom. It sounded like it would be a hauntingly beautiful place to see in person.

Despite its flaws, The City of the Broken was an interesting look at how our society treats people who aren’t easy to love. I’d recommend it as a cautionary tale to mature teens who are prepared for its occasionally disturbing content.

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese
Publisher: 47North
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (242 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

A space-faring ne’er-do-well with more bravado than brains, Rex Nihilo plies the known universe in a tireless quest for his own personal gain. But when he fleeces a wealthy weapons dealer in a high-stakes poker game, he ends up winning a worthless planet?and owing an outstanding debt more vast than space itself!

The only way for Rex to escape a lifetime of torture on the prison world Gulagatraz is to score a big payday by pulling off his biggest scam. But getting mixed up in the struggle between the tyrannical Malarchian Empire and the plucky rebels of the Revolting Front?and trying to double-cross them both?may be his biggest mistake. Luckily for Rex, his frustrated but faithful robot sidekick has the cyber-smarts to deal with buxom bounty hunters, pudgy princesses, overbearing overlords, and interstellar evangelists?while still keeping Rex’s martini glass filled.

Rex has a bad habit of spinning tall tales about money to be made and then stealing the money to be invested. You don’t have to be smart to figure out that is going to catch up with you. But does he listen to his sidekick Sasha? No, he doesn’t…

Mr. Kroese writes an action-packed tale of space fiction with all kinds of odd creatures and an underlying plot that doesn’t become evident until the end of the book. While I think he wrote it for adults, I think the best market for this style of book would be young adults. There are strange animals, nuclear power, space ships, insane rulers, and a dozen different interests in this story. It’s a bit silly, almost space opera, and I know they’ll have fun with Rex’s schemes.

Sasha is a robot. When Rex gets in a pickle, she helps him forget certain important past activities so he won’t be able to give them away. She can’t help; she must tell the truth. She has learned to tell the truth by not directly answering the question, but that’s almost like cheating. Can robots do that?

Rex is on the run because the repo guys are after him for debt. He stops long enough to play poker and win not only an old starship but also a planet. When he visits the planet, it’s all desert and there’s nothing of value there. But when he gets captured again, he pretends there is and tries to sell it. After about three such deals and a bounty hunter after him now, he gets stuck in the worst place of his life. Will he get out or is this it? If he’s going to get free, how’s he going to do it and who is going to pay his debt?

If those questions aren’t enough to entice you to read this book, this is also where you learn there was a much larger plan in place and that Rex isn’t as in control as he thinks he is. It makes for a good read and I think young ones will pick up on the humor and enjoy the fascinating chases. It’s not bad for an adult read either if you like sci fi!