Tag Archives: science fiction

Late to the Party ARC Review – Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1) by Nina Varela

Title: Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1)

Author: Nina Varela

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I heard about Crier’s War when I went to Harper Collins Canada’s Fall Frenzy event. Some buzz words the book had were adventure, politics, revenge, and a lesbian romance. I love all those things in my fantasy novels, so I knew I needed to get my hands on this book, and lo and behold it was in my grab bag.

I enjoyed Crier’s War. It’s not the most ground breaking fantasy novel, there’s a lot that has been done before, and yet I devoured the story and found myself entertained by the characters. Crier was difficult at first for me because she’s an android “playmate” essentially, meaning she doesn’t have much will of her own. That type of character is always a hard one for me to enjoy because I like my leads in fantasy to have energy and motive, but I will say Crier grew on me throughout the story. When she starts to realize she is defective and begins to understand human agency, there’s a wonderful shift and growth in her character that is VERY rewarding. Ayla on the other hand, has very one-dimensional goals (aka. revenge, revenge, and REVENGE) and while she is energetic and a go-getter, she takes a lot of time for development and I still didn’t feel like she grew enough for me to connect with.

The romance in this novel is adorable and cheesy. It’s definitely the kind of romance that steams from hate-to-love, and it’s not necessary the most well-developed at times, but I totally bought into it. It’s corny and charming, and I think that can be a great thing in a story that is a bit too serious and dark, which Crier’s War has in spades.

The writing through is solid, there’s definitely some beautiful passages, and I think the world building is very interesting throughout. I think Crier’s War succeeds in being a plot-heavy story, but not necessarily a character driven one. There’s definitely some fantastic character driven moments (Crier’s awakening being fantastically portrayed), but I don’t feel it’s entirely equal throughout the story.

I had fun reading Crier’s War and I am definitely intrigued to see where Varela goes with the sequel given how the book ended. I look forward to seeing Ayla and Crier grow some more, and I think there’s a lot of great ideas in this book. It was such an enjoyable read and easily something I can recommend to those who want a book that is just an easy, plot-driven fantasy novel.

Three Amazing LGBTQIA+ Reads to Check Out During #Pride

While I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog, I’ve been reading – a lot. With it being #PrideMonth, it also means I’m checking out a lot of great LGBTQIA+ reads in the process. While there’s so many books worth checking out, I thought it would be fun to share three I recently read — one published in the 70’s, one in the mid-2000’s, and one that came out last year. Here’s three books for #Pride that are worth looking into.

See You at Harry’s
by Jo Knowles (Published May 8th 2012 by Candlewick Press)

This was recommended to me by a dear friend who reads a lot of middle grade and we tend to have the exact same taste. This book feels a bit dated in parts, but it’s a beautiful story about a family coming together and learning about acceptance. Holden identifies as gay, and he comes out to Fern, our heroine, and it sparks a wonderful relationship of being able to find trust and acceptance for all walks of life. The handling of family and the pitfalls Fern faces in the story are very sad, but very realistic. A great coming out story with a great ending.

I’m Afraid of Men
by Vivek Shraya (August 28th 2018 by Penguin Books Canada)

Vivek Shraya is an amazing performer and storyteller. I loved her picture book The Boy & The Bindi, and her voice is timely as it is sharp and impeccable. I’m Afraid of Men is an exploration of Shraya’s relationships, her discomfort of being objectified by men. It’s her fears, her anger, and her sorrow as she deals with just how shitty the world is to trans-people, and she offers some important and valuable discussion on prejudice and how people need to get over themselves. This story, 98 page book packs a punch and is worth reading in one sitting.

Biting the Sun
(Four-BEE #1-2)
by Tanith Lee (Published October 5th 1999 by Spectra Books)

I have a love-hate relationship with Tanith Lee’s writing. I personally often find it very dry and dense, even though I always love her handling of different subject matters. What I loved about Biting the Sun is that it is a Utopian society where everyone is gender-fluid. This was being discussed in 70’s science-fiction! There’s also so much pansexuality in this book, and discussion of how gender-normality is trivial. HOW DID I NOT READ THIS SOONER? Seriously, if you can somehow find a copy of this book, it’s worth checking out just for the discusses of gender alone!

ARC Review – On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Title: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Author: Rachel Hartman

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As Mia, the newest member, gets to know her team, the story flashes back to her pivotal year in boarding school, where she fell in love with a mysterious new student. When Mia grows close to her new friends, she reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.

An inventive world, a breathtaking love story, and stunning art come together in this new work by award-winning artist Tillie Walden.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved the heck out of Tillie Walden’s Spinning. When I heard that more of her comics were being published, I decided to keep my eye out for them. On a Sunbeam focuses on a female-female relationship that transcends to the deepest edge of the universe.

This book was beautiful. I loved Walden’s artwork and the colour choice of muted tones throughout the story. There’s a sense of loneliness, foreboding, and discomfort throughout On a Sunbeam, and that is reflected in the artwork through and through. What I loved about the story was the relationship between Mira and Grace. It felt very genuine and raw, right down to the moments where there was heartbreak. Mia is an interesting character in that she’s very strong and smart, but she’s not necessarily the most comfortable in her own skin. I found she was very easy to connect with.

There is also so much going on in this story. I think what I loved was how disjointed parts of it felt. Nothing entirely felt straight-forward and I found myself constantly questioning what was going on. Furthermore, there’s some interesting discussion regarding language usage, family dynamics, and even though this story takes place in outer space, space itself feels like it’s own character.

I loved reading On a Sunbeam, from its wonderful lady-driven romance, to its portrayal of family (and how family doesn’t have to be blood). I think Tillie Walden is a talented storyteller who gets readers attached to her characters and often lets the reader feel a strong connection to them. This story is dark, yet hopeful, and I think it will gel with readers who want stories that they feel they can be closely connected to.

ARC Review – The Broken Vow (Spill Zone #2) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland

Title: Spill Zone: The Broken Vow

Author: Scott Westefeld & Alex Puvilland

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Only the very brave or the very desperate dare enter the Spill Zone—Addison Merritt is a little of both. In exchange for a suitcase full of cash, she made one last to the Zone. She survived the encounter, but came back changed.

Addison is not alone. In a remote village in North Korea, a young man named Jae was touched by the unholy fire of the Spill Zone. He made it out alive—alive, but also changed.

Now bestowed with uncanny powers, Addison and Jae may be the only ones strong enough to face a new threat that has risen in the Spill Zone. This deadly entity is searching for his runaway bride—and his hunt is bringing him closer and closer to Addison and her little sister. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed the first volume of Spill Zone, and I will admit, I think I enjoyed this sequel a little less. The story has definitely taken some interesting twists and turns, especially now that we are introduced to Jae, a North Korean boy who has similar powers to Addison. This novel explores what happens to those who have been touched by the spill and how drastically they transform.

I won’t lie, I still found parts of this graphic novel a bit confusing. The plot of the first book was a lot more steady, but here I found myself lost at times regarding some of the elemental plots. It’s interesting to see what the spill is doing worldwide, and this book is genuinely far creepier than the first. I still hate the creepy-doll, but this book takes this element to a different level and one I was unnerved by — which means the book did it’s job. I do think the pacing was much slower for this installment than the first, but I appreciated that the stakes truly felt higher in Broken Vow compared to Spill Zone.

I still think the artwork is quite a unique mashup of styles and colours. I love that they puke every colour of the rainbow and it suits so much of what is happening in the story. I still love the relationship between Addi and Lexa, though the ending did leave a bit to be desired. This volume really felt like it was playing with a lot of different science fiction and horror tropes, which I appreciated. Vespertine the doll still gives me nightmares. I didn’t think it would be possible, but she was scary in book one and in the sequel… lets just say she shook me at times.

I think Broken Vow is a good sequel, and perhaps I am at fault for having not reread the first book just for a refresher. I think fans of the first book will definitely enjoy this volume, and I think maybe for me I just had the wrong expectations as I was reading this of what I thought was going to happen. A good, but not great conclusion for me.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Title: Invictus

Author: Ryan Graudin

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past. 

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

So, epic fail on my part. I got this book last year around the time it released and somehow only got to it this year. I LOVED Wolf by Wolfand it’s sequel by Ryan Graudin, and I was so excited to read this and yet it slipped my mind. What’s not to love about a story that focuses on time travel and being a space pirate?

Invictus is such a different beast from Graudin’s other books, especially given that a lot of her previous titles were historical fiction. I admit, this book took me a lot longer to get into because it was science fiction, and I found the first hundred pages to be a bit on the slow side. There’s a lot being explained and developed, which normally I don’t mind, but in this case I found it challenging given I was expecting a similar style of writing that wasn’t here. It’s the same with the characters — I didn’t enjoy them right off the bat and it took pages upon pages before I truly found myself engaged with them as people.

I will say, I did enjoy the science fiction elements a lot. I think what I enjoyed the most was Graudin’s treatment of Invictus, giving the ship such a wonderful personality. I loved the way in which the cast was over protective of her, and even in times of crisis it was all about the damn ship. I liked that! I appreciate and love space stories where the ship feels like a character and one with great importance. Made me think of Firefly in some ways. I also loved the jumping through history element of the novel. I think it was done in such an accessible and approachable way for readers who may not entirely be history buffs.

I am happy I finally read Invictus. It’s no Wolf by Wolf and it was ill of me to expect the same caliber of work. I think this is novel that stands well on its own, and it’s definitely for lighter science fiction fans. I think this is a rough first “space” science fiction novel, but I am still so curious if Graudin will come back to this universe or attempt science fiction again. There’s a lot of good in this novel, and I think for me the issue I had were more my own than the book itself.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The League of Lasers (Star Scouts #2) by Mike Lawrence

Title: The League of Lasers (Star Scouts #2)

Author: Mike Lawrence

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Avani has found the one place in the universe where she fits in: Star Scouts. The League of Lasers is the second volume of this action-packed graphic novel series by Mike Lawrence.

During a troop meeting, a robot messenger delivers Avani some exciting news: she has been invited to join a secret society of elite scouts known as the League of Lasers. She is eager to join their ranks, but first she has to survive her initiation challenge.

Stranded on an uncharted planet, Avani must contend with the methane atmosphere, hostile frog-like inhabitants, and her dwindling supplies of food and water. But even worse: her arch nemesis, Pam, is stranded there, too.

Huge thank you to First Second for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Back in the Spring I was invited to do a blog tour showcasing strong females in comics, and somehow I missed out on including Star Scouts. Sadly, I hadn’t read the first volume of this, and truthfully that might be why I liked, but didn’t love this.

I will say, I LOVED the designs of the space aliens in this book. They were colourful, quirky and so cute looking! I thought the characters were pretty engaging as well, especially our heroine, Avani, who is just so strong-willed and passionate. The characters were very fun and engaging, and I can totally see why kids would love this series.

I may have to do a reread of this one at some point and once I can get my hands on the first book. I think truthfully that was what hampered my enjoyment, and given it always has lots of holds at work, I suppose I really should just put myself on the list.

ARC Review – Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Title: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

Author: Kelly Robson

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted pass.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Walking around the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, I tend to pick up a lot of random titles. While I was stopping over at Raincoast, Kelly Robson was beginning to sign her latest, Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach. I had zero idea what it was about and I had to know what tis “lucky peach” was. I also didn’t realize that Kelly Robson was married to a sci-fi author I love, A.M Dellamonica.

This delightful piece of candy reading is about time travel, octopus, and an ecological crisis. Minh, our protagonist, is tasked with reclaiming humanity’s ancestral habitat, Earth. Earth is no longer as habitable as it once was, and her group of merry companions are the last hope in changing the world for the better. For such a short novel, I loved how it was written. It had a great pace, the characters were fairly entertaining given how little time is spent on each one. The story next felt confusing or bloated, and it moved at such a brisk pace.

I liked that there were two stories at work and I enjoyed how they both connected in the end. The story at the beginning of each chapter with the battle between gods and monsters was just so interesting, and part of me wishes we had that story on it’s own as well. The other half, Minh’s story is very technology focused, and Robson’s take on time travel is a lot of fun.

I am crazy glad I read this, and knowing that Robson has other short stories to check out as me very excited. There was a lot to love in this story given how short it was, and the journey to finding out “the lucky peach” was pretty fun in itself. I would highly recommend checking out this novella, especially if you like time travel stories, when it releases in March.