Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Middle-Grade Review: My Best Friend Runs Venus by Katrina S. Forest

My Best Friend Runs Venus
By Katrina S. Forest
Genre: Science Fiction
Age category: Middle Grade
Release Date: June 1, 2019

At 12.9 years old, number-obsessed Kade Walker has never heard of death. Literally. But neither has anyone else he knows. Kade is one of hundreds of kids "living" across the solar system through robotic avatars while their real bodies sleep in pods on Earth. Unfortunately, robot bodies can be hacked.

One day during an (innocent!) experiment, Kade unwittingly breaks a major security wall and releases an infamous hacker. The madwoman targets all the royal avatars, including Kade’s best friend, Princess Tamika of Venus.

If Kade and Tamika don’t want to become the hacker’s puppets, they’ve got to stop her fast--even if it means waking up on Earth to fight with bodies they never realized could be hurt.

My Review:
In My Best Friend Runs Venus, there’s a lovely blend of sci-fi, adventure and whimsy. The main characters are a couple of pre-teens who have been paired up as companions and sent to Venus via robotic avatars to run the planet. Their curiosity gets the better of them, and they activate a teleporter that releases a dangerous criminal who is intent on taking over their sims and destroying the status quo.

Had I read this as a kid, I think I would have loved it. As it is, I just really liked it, which isn’t all that different, really. I very much enjoyed the planet hopping, the banter between Kade and Tamika, the illustrations, and the imaginative technology that made everything possible: the flavor sticks, the teleporters, the avatars, the environmental overlays. And I thought the story was well executed and well organized. Just overall good!

Still, the idea of sending children to rule the planets of the solar system was interesting, but I couldn’t help but sense the unfairness of it all. The kids are essentially locked into sleep pods and expected to live out their lives as their avatars. The companions are basically the appointed best friend of each of the royals, and they aren’t even allowed to look human, that that seemed to bother Kade too much.

Through it all, I had questions. Did the parents go about their lives on the home world when not overseeing their children? Who else is on each of the planets? How are these children going to have families of their own and keep humanity going if they are living virtual lives? As an adult reader trying to understand the world, these kept me wondering. Would a young reader ask the same? I don’t know.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to younger readers who enjoy science fiction and adventures, particularly those who like imagining the possibilities of space colonization. Adults looking for a lighter read may also enjoy this, particularly if they enjoy middle-grade fiction.

I received the review copy of this book from the author via Lola’s Blog Tours.

About the Author:

Katrina S. Forest is a teacher by day, author by any-other-time-she-can-get. Her work has sold to a variety of magazines, ranging from Flash Fiction Online to Highlights to Children. She loves nerdy conventions and believes video games can be a force of creative good instead of evil.

You can find and contact Katrina S. Forest here:
- Website
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Goodreads
- Amazon

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Fiction is a thought experiment

by Patricia Hamill

Fiction is a thought experiment.

This came to my mind during a recent Toastmasters meeting, and I had to write it down, though it's not likely a new or unique epiphany in the grand scheme of things.

But think about it. We use fiction to explore the world (both as writer and reader). We experience things we would never have experienced, both good and bad. We imagine new technology, or superpowers, or a new love. We solve murder mysteries or save the day from a mad scientist. We're young again, or we're old.

And back to the idea of a thought experiment, fiction has an influence on the real world. Look at Star Trek and cell phones. The little flip communicators look a lot like our original flip phones. And fiction, particularly science fiction, continues to lead and guide emerging technology, inspiring current and future scientists and inventors to challenge the very scope of what is real and what is possible.

And then, back to fantasy fiction, sure, we may not have elves, dwarves, wizards, and hobbits running around, but there's meat to these stories. Often, you'll find battles and fight scenes. The writer experiments with different strategies and imagines how they would play out. Some of them are plausible. For a fight scene, the same thing. It's essentially the application of a martial art in a fictional situation.

When I practiced karate regularly, we would do something very similar when practicing our forms, not just going through the movements, but through imagination, building purpose behind each action. An opponent strikes, and we block. Our head turns as another approaches, and we shift our feet and adopt a defensive stance. The first opponent comes in for another strike and we execute a side kick to send him back so we can focus on the new one. All in the mind, but enhancing the learning of the martial art.

And in fantasy, particularly the epic kind, are political machinations. There are a finite number of existing and past countries to study, some well documented and some not, but fiction is limitless and can be experienced from any perspective, not just that of an observer. Through fantasy, one can be a king and explore the benefits and drawbacks of such. One can imagine a coup in the works or fight one off, depending on the perspective. One can fight adversity or be the cause of it. Dictatorships, democracy, autocracy, monarchy, all are fair game in fiction.

That being said, dystopia is one of the more prevalent political experiments I've noticed in this day and time, reflecting the observations and worries of our young people and adults alike. Most of it presents the dystopia as a thing of the present, and then the protagonists, who are often young adults born into the mess, fight to correct the course of their world, usually succeeding, but not always.

All of it is a thought experiment. A way of learning about and understanding our world through storytelling. Both inspired by and inspiring our reality.

And the best part is? Anyone can join in. Just pick up your pen and imagine...

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

New Release Feature and Blog Tour Stop: The Phoenix Grail (The Phoenix Succession #1) by Helen Savore

Today is my stop for The Phoenix Grail Blog Tour, running July 1st through 12th. For my stop, I'm sharing a bit about the book and my read-in-progress review. I'm sitting at right around 40% into the book. Hope you enjoy!

The Phoenix Grail (The Phoenix Succession #1)
by Helen Savore
Released June 16, 2019

The stories Alexandrea tells don’t come to life, they already are!

Alexandrea’s family descends from King Arthur’s knights, the sole humans who can see the Fae. They’ve worked with Merlin’s forgotten apprentice for generations to stop Fae from leeching life.

Now she is the last and must follow in the footsteps of the grail knights, seeking the Phoenix grail. Worse, the fae are visiting Earth more, including Alexandrea’s friend Jamie, who sees visions predicting his patients’ deaths.

Can Alexandrea summon the Phoenix in time to regain what her ancestors lost and stop the deaths that plague our world?

My Short and Sweet (read-in-progress) Review:
So far, this is a decent read, and I'm enjoying the gradual revelaton of Moralynn's past and how it affects Alexandrea's future. Jamie's part intrigues me, though I'm wondering how he will fit into the bigger picture. As for the Fae, not sure yet. They're varied and unpredictable, and many seem to be up to no good, or worse, particularly those Jamie sees, but some seem alright. I'm looking forward to seeing how this one wraps.

I received the review copy of this book from Netgalley, and I'm still reading it. Look for a final review to post to Goodreads and Amazon when I'm finished with it.

About the Author:
Helen Savore writes fantastical worlds filled with a mixture of modern and medieval settings. She explores stories loosely based on Arthurian legends, secretly wishing that King Arthur would return to pull the world from the brink of darkness. An engineer by day, and a gamer when time allows, this paper ninja writes, reads, plays with pen-and-paper RPGs and folds origami. It’s not surprising that her stories are filled with unexpected folds and twists that blend seamlessly with reality.

You can follow her on Twitter @ImaPaperNinja or her website.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Fantasy Review: Defy Trilogy by Sara B. Larson

Defy Trilogy
by Sara B. Larson

Description From Book 1: 
Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?

My Review for Book 1, Defy:

This is what I'm looking for in a fantasy adventure/romance. The main character, Alexa, is inspiring, and her plight, especially in book one, hooked me from the start. She not only has to pretend she is a male but does so by joining the army and earning a top spot on the prince's guard. The alternatives are unthinkable.

Adding to this, she's fighting off her growing interest in both Rylan (longtime friend on the guard) and Prince Damian, knowing that both relationships could never go anywhere. Not if she wants to keep her freedom. The tension, both from her secret and from the love triangle, is gripping.

I also love that the narrator for the audiobook speaks in character, lowering her voice as Alexa would while pretending to be Alex of the guard. The emotional scenes are nailed, the fight scenes, too! Her range is good for the other characters, differentiating them enough for the reader to be able to tell who's who, even without a dialog tag. I very much enjoyed the audio and would recommend it.

I was also pleased that the narrator is the same person in all three books. I always prefer this in the audiobooks for a series, primarily for continuity. It also helps keep me in the story, not having to adjust to a new voice for an established character.

The only thing I noticed in this book and its sequels was a tendency towards repetition, particularly in the main character's inner monolog, reminding herself of things, using the same words to describe how she feels or is reacting to Damian or Rylan. It's enough to notice, though I felt the overall plot, character arcs, and pacing of the story made up for it.

Overall, I loved this book, and the trilogy, and would strongly recommend it to folks who enjoy fantasy and romance.

I borrowed each audiobook of the trilogy from the local library.

About the Author:

Sara B. Larson is the author of the acclaimed YA fantasy DEFY trilogy: DEFY, IGNITE, and ENDURE, and the forthcoming DARK BREAKS THE DAWN. She can't remember a time when she didn't write books--although she now uses a computer instead of a Little Mermaid notebook. Sara lives in Utah with her husband, their children, and their Maltese, Loki. She writes in brief snippets throughout the day (while mourning the demise of naptime) and the quiet hours when most people are sleeping. Her husband claims she should have a degree in "the art of multitasking." When she's not mothering or writing, you can often find her at the gym repenting for her sugar addiction. You can visit her at www.SaraBLarson.com.

Books by this Author:

Defy Trilogy

Dark Breaks the Dawn Duology

And, coming in November 2019!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

New Release Review: Remember the Future: Episode Nine of The Chronicles of the Harekaiian by Shanna Lauffey

Remember the Future: Episode Nine of The Chronicles of the Harekaiian
by Shanna Lauffey

A dangerous man holds Harlan hostage in time. A hormonal teenager with a gun hunts Akalya, instinctively following a tag that she created between them herself. Hidden notes within a secret file reveal a leak in the Time Shifters' traditional silence and behind it all, Akalya is beginning to bend under the stress and remember happier times when she lived with Marcus and a little cat called Bodi.

Will keeping her promise to Harlan leave him at the mercy of Mason's increasingly psychotic demands? Can her most recent protégé protect her from his murderous younger self? Will Bodi ever forgive her? Will Marcus?

My Review:
Wow, this one was exciting! It seems the action is building up towards a resolution, though that happened in a few of the others in this seriel, too.

As always, I find the unique approach to time and space travel in this book intriguing and consistent. Not so much hopping around this time, at least not the mundane kind.

Lots of Brand, who I believe was introduced in the last one? The dynamics of a friend/enemy across time are very well done.  Reminded me a bit of the Doctor Who season that started with the Astronaut in the U.S. "Hello sweety," and all that.

I think the author does a great job balancing the idea that the past has already happened while still keeping the future past a surprise.

Overall, a good addition to the seriel. If you like stories that feature time travel or teleportation, this is the best of both, and you'll probably dig this one. Start from the beginning, though. These are all one big story, episodic, like watching a TV series (in print).

I received the review copy of this and the prior books in this seriel from the author.

About the Author:

Shanna Lauffey is a native Californian currently living in Europe. She spends her time between homes in Sweden, France and the UK. She writes Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance in her spare time between attending university and travelling.

Her first novel, She-Wȕlf, was released 1st January 2012. A Science Fiction series involving time travel is in progress.

Follow Shanna on AmazonGoodreads, and Twitter @ShannaLauffey.

Books by this Author:
Chronicles of the Harekaiian Volume 1 (Books 1-5)

Chronicles of the Harekaiian