Sunday, April 24, 2016

Voyagers: Game Of Flames - Robin Wasserman

Game Of Flames (Book Two)
Robin Wasserman
Random House Children’s

SciFi/Middle Grade
Note:  This is Book 2, so this review will spoil the ending of Book 1.  If you don’t want that to happen, read Book 1 first!
Earth is running out of energy.  The remaining resources available here will last only a few years.  The only option is to look somewhere else for energy.  That’s why there’s the Alpha Team.  A team of four kids who volunteered to go out into space to collect the elements needed to create a new, renewable energy source.  It’s exciting, but scary.  Because the truth is, if they don’t manage to collect and combine all six of the required elements, they won’t have enough power to return their ship to Earth.
Dash, Piper, Gabriel, and Carly trained for this mission together.  But training in simulators and being millions of miles from Earth are very different.  They’re headed to their second planet, Magnus-7, to collect the second element.  The planet is like one huge factory.  It’s all metal and moving parts and danger.  Training is good, but there are no do-overs here.  Before they arrive, they get a very nasty surprise: They’re not the only team out there.  There’s a second team, in a similar-yet-different ship, and they seem to think they’re competing with the Alphas.

Omega Team is made up of the four kids who came in second during training.  They’re pretty bitter about it, especially their leader, Anna.  They’re being directed by someone who thinks it’s foolish to simply bring the energy source home and give it away to everyone.  He wants to control the energy and become rich by charging for it.  Dash suggests that the teams should work together, but Anna doesn’t want to hear it.  For her, winning is the only thing that matters.  Once they’re on the planet, they find a war raging, and are forced to take sides. 
There’s a lot going on in this second book.  Obviously, they need the second element.  But there’s a long way to go to get it.  This mission involves getting through the maze of the planet, dealing with the locals, and even dealing with the other humans there.  It will take the whole team to make it work.  So far, this series is more than solid.  Each character is unique (one of the crew members can’t walk and uses a hover chair) and each brings different skills to the story.  The story is fast paced and very exciting.  Readers, be on the lookout for some huge news about one of the crew!
Winter 2015
ISBN# 978-0-385-38658-6  (hardcover)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Black Rabbit Hall - Eve Chase

Black Rabbit Hall
Eve Chase
G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Black Rabbit Hall is one of those places that you wish was real.  It’s an estate in Cornwall with an enormous main house in dire need of repairs and updates.  Outside, there’s a patch of woods big enough to get lost in if you’d like.  There’s a spot on the cliffs that allows you to look out over the ocean, and below that, a private beach.  For fourteen-year-old Amber, her twin Toby, and their young siblings Kitty and Barney, it’s a magical place.  The summers they spend there seem to be bits of life suspended in time.  The summer of 1968 is no different.  Long, hot days; time spent reading or dozing interspersed with trips to the shore; picnics with Momma.  Nothing ever changes at Black Rabbit Hall.  Until the day it does.  A sudden, tragic accident irrevocably changes the lives of everyone.

In the present day, there’s Lorna.  Things are changing for her, too.  Her mother recently passed away, leaving her to plan her wedding more or less alone.  At the moment, she and her fiancé, Jon, are looking for wedding venues.  Lorna wants something special, as most brides do.  When she sees an ad online for Pencraw Hall, she feels it will be perfect.  The more she thinks about it, the more she absolutely must see it.  Arriving one afternoon, Lorna meets the owner, Mrs. Alton.  The elderly widow lives in the manor house alone, except for a couple of women who cook and clean.  Most of the house is shut off, but Lorna loves it.  Jon does not.  When Mrs. Alton invites Lorna to come back for a few days as a sort of a ‘test drive’ in the place, Lorna feels compelled to do so. 

I am floored by the realization that this is a first novel.  It’s beautifully-written, almost lyrical in tone.  The descriptive passages are so evocative that I felt I was there, with the characters, experiencing what they did.  I’ve heard comparisons to “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, and I think that’s fairly accurate.  The plotlines are different, but the overall tone is there.  The tale is a sort of gothic tale.  The house seems almost magical; it’s like a character in its own right.  Eventually, the two plots above merge, of course.  I will not write another word about it, though.  Each reader should have the pleasure of experiencing it unspoiled.  This is the kind of book you can open up and fall into, never wanting to leave.  I admit that I felt a pang of loss when I turned the last page.  I can only hope for many, many more novels from this author.

Rating: 9
February 2016
ISBN# 978-0-399-17415-4 (hardcover) 
            978-0-698-19145-7 (eBook)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Witches With The Enemy - Barb Hendee

Witches With The Enemy
A Novel Of The Mist-Torn Witches
Barb Hendee

Celine and Amelie are sisters and seers.  They operate an apothecary in a prosperous village under the protection of Prince Anton.  It wasn’t always this way.  They were forced to leave the village of their birth just a year ago, running for their lives from Prince Damek’s guardsmen.  When Celine refused to lie to a girl about what her life would be like married to Damek, the prince ordered both sisters killed and their home burned to the ground.  Known for his cruelty and volatility, the news that he plans to marry comes as a surprise.  The lady, Rochelle, is young, beautiful, and very sweet. 

But there’s a snag.  Rochelle and her family are currently at Damek’s castle, hammering out the details of the upcoming union.  The chief negotiator, Carlotta, Rochelle’s rather unpleasant older sister, suddenly dropped dead the previous evening after taking a sip of the local wine.  This could obviously stall or end the negotiations.  And that would make Damek look bad in his father’s eyes.  Since their father will determine which of his sons (Damek or Anton) will inherit, this is a serious concern.  And that’s how Anton finds himself in the bizarre position of asking Celine and Amelie to ride to the aid of his older brother, lifelong tormentor, and direct competitor.

This series is so much fun.  In each installment, we learn a bit more about the sisters.  This time, we also get some very interesting background on the brother princes.  It fleshes out both characters, elevating them from the obvious good/bad dichotomy that’s been enough until now.  The sisters are, of course, terrified to be returning to a place controlled by Damek, but Anton pledges his protection.  One points out that this might be a ruse to lure Anton in and kill him, leaving his brother as the only heir by default.  Anton has some pretty believable reasons for going in spite of that.

The story is the third in a series (THE MIST-TORN WITCHES, WITCHES IN RED) that mixes fantasy and mystery to great effect.  Celine and Amelie are Mist Torn witches.  Celine can see the future, and Amelie can see the past.  It takes their skills as seers in addition to their intelligence and observations to stop the killings (another death occurs the night they arrive.)  There’s a subplot running through the proceedings that I didn’t anticipate, but it added to the whole.  If you enjoy fantasy, mysteries that may end in the paranormal, or both, you should take a look at this author.

Rating: 7 ½
May 2015
ISBN# 978-0-451-47199-8 (paperback)

Saturday, April 02, 2016

The Courier - Gerald Brandt

The Courier
A San Angeles Novel
Gerald Brandt
Futuristic Thriller/SciFi

In the year 2140, life looks both very similar and very different.  The area from San Diego to San Francisco has grown into a single enormous metropolis, called San Angeles.  The spread is not only outward, but upward.  There are now seven distinct Levels.  As each Level was constructed over the last, the wealthier citizens moved up, the poorer remained below concrete ceilings.  Some have ambient lights that dim at “night” and brighten to denote “day.”  Access to Levels Six and Seven is strictly regulated. There are generations of people who have never seen the open sky.  Of course, business continues.  There are three huge corporations that control much of everyday life.  These three are in constant competition.  And the competition is ruthless.
Kris Ballard, on her own at 16 after the deaths of her parents, lives on Level 2.  She ekes out a precarious living by working as a courier.  Since most, if not all, internet and electronic transmission of data can be monitored and intercepted; businesses still send hard copies of the most sensitive information.  Her workday is almost over when Dispatch calls Kris and asks her to make one last run.  Only the prospect of a good tip on both ends (and the threat of no work at all tomorrow) convinces her to take it.  The pickup goes as planned.  When she arrives at the delivery point, she enters an office to discover a brutal murder in progress.  Relentlessly pursued, Kris runs for her life.
The first part of the book is dedicated to Kris and her pursuit by someone who wants to eliminate her.  As the story continues, the focus widens and, for the first time, readers realize that there is a much larger scenario at play.  Kris is simply a loose end.  As the focus broadens, the author begins filling in the larger picture of a conspiracy that covers the planet, and extends beyond it.  The world-building here is done incredibly well.  The multi-layered society is both figurative and very literal.  There’s a real sense of dark and claustrophobia in the scenes in the lower Levels.  Once the story breaks out into the open spaces of the highest Levels, it’s easy to understand how overwhelming the whole thing is for a scared kid.  She’s a kid readers will root for; smart and capable even while dealing with a terrifying situation.  The narrative is very fast-paced and should appeal to those who enjoy scifi, action, and thrillers alike.
Rating: 8
March 2016
ISBN# 978-0-7564-1139-8 (hardcover)