Because of You by Fiona Brands

Because of You by Fiona Brands
Publisher: FriesenPress
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Liv and her best friends Travis and April have just started their last year of high school and things have gotten complicated—Liv has feelings for Travis, April is getting into trouble already, and Travis has a new girlfriend. But then Liv’s mom reveals a long-buried secret about Liv’s father, who took his own life when Liv was only two, and her life is turned totally upside down.

Reminded of unresolved trauma, Liv’s mom starts drinking heavily and Liv is haunted by the thought that her parents could have had good lives if they had never met. When Liv visits the antique shop of Travis’s grandpa, she discovers a grandfather clock they suspect can transport people back in time. As Liv’s life becomes increasingly chaotic, she’s forced to decide: will she travel back in time to stop her parents’ complicated relationship, or will she endure an uncertain future?

Whether platonic or romantic, love makes everything in life better.

I adored the close-knit friendships between Liv, Travis, and April. All three of them were kind and generous people who looked out for each other. Their banter made me smile, and I enjoyed seeing how they navigated their final year of school together as all three tried to figure out what the future might hold for them.

The pacing felt slow at times to me, especially in the first half of this novel. Based on the reference to time travel in the blurb, I was surprised to see so many chapters go by without a single mention of anything related to speculative fiction at all even though I later came to understand why the author made this choice. Some of the subplots also soaked up a lot of time in the beginning for reasons that I did not understand until much later or, in some cases, at all. The writing itself was nice, I simply felt that it could have been tightened up in the beginning so the characters could move on to the main conflict faster.

Most of the science fiction I read is harder and more definitive than this, so it was refreshing to see how lightly it was sprinkled into this tale. There were hints of it sprinkled here and there, but the majority of the scenes only contained moments that could happen in real life. This could be a good introduction to science fiction for readers who don’t generally read it because of that.

Because of You was heartwarming.

Cromby’s Axiom by Gary J. Kirchner

Cromby’s Axiom by Gary J. Kirchner
Publisher: FriesenPress
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Before we were all connected, before we were The Hive, there was individualism, privacy, ‘personal space’ . . . so quaint, so unnecessary . . . so dangerous . . .

TOMMY PIERRE ANTIKAGAMAC, a star quarterback, is the most followed player in the world’s most popular sport: American football. While off-season training in the unpopulated European Fallowlands, he abruptly finds himself detached from the Hive. Agonizingly alone in his head for the first time in his life, he panics, becomes hopelessly lost, and then is captured by a fringe group of anti-Hive saboteurs. The Freemen, as they call themselves, have concocted an audacious plan to “cataclysmically disrupt the brain of the Hive,” and Tommy may just be the key they need to make it successful.

But Tommy’s arrival among the Freemen is not as serendipitous as it may appear. Neither he nor his captors suspect that it is not the terrorists, but Tommy, who is the threat to the Hive. And the Hive has ways of protecting itself.

Nature is a healing influence.

While I can’t go into specific detail about the numerous plot twists in this novel for spoiler reasons, I can say that nearly all of them caught me by surprise. There were so many additional layers to Tommy’s unexpected adventure that I never would have guessed when I first met him. It was delightful to slowly discover them and try to figure out what might be in store for him next. Generally, I can predict science fiction storylines much better than I was able to predict this one. Being kept on my toes so often was wonderful, and it makes me curious to see what Mr. Kirchner might write next.

There were times when I found myself wishing the character development had been stronger. Yes, this was a fast-paced, plot-driven story, but I never got to know the characters as well as I would have liked to. I could describe Tommy’s personality and interests fairly well, but I would struggle to do the same for the rest of the cast. If this hadn’t been the case, I would have been happy to go for a five-star rating as everything else was quite well done.

The world building was excellent. I was impressed with how the author explained enough to keep my interest in the first several chapters while also leaving plenty of plot twists and revelations to share later on once the main character had begun to adjust to his abrupt separation from the Hive and the new life he’d been thrust into. This isn’t an easy balance to achieve at all, and I tip my cap to him for pulling it off. He couldn’t have done a better job of making my reading experience immersive and memorable.

Cromby’s Axiom was a wild ride!