Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Archive for the tag “Science Fiction”

Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh

Burning MidnightNo one knows where the colored spheres came from or how they got here. Apparently they arrived years ago, scattered and hidden all over the planet. One thing that we do know is that holding two matching spheres to one’s temple causes an increase in one’s abilities, skills, or appearance. Depending on the color, “burning” a pair of spheres can give the user whiter teeth, increased height, better memory, and other improvements. Some spheres are rare and give greater results, but these are hard to find — and very valuable.

This story takes place on present day Earth, with the main character being seventeen-year-old David “Sully” Sullivan. Sully once found a rare sphere, but was cheated out of his big payday by unscrupulous millionaire businessman, Alex Holliday. Now Sully struggles just to help his mom pay their rent by selling spheres at the flea market.

One day, Sully meets a girl named Hunter, who has a natural ability for finding spheres. The two pair up and start searching for orbs together. After some mishaps, Sully is ready to give up. The two push on and somehow find a color that has never been seen before — a Gold sphere. This could be worth millions, but no one knows what special abilities it may grant…or where a matching sphere may be.

With the aid of two close friends, Sully and Hunter set off on an adventure to find another Gold sphere to complete the set. But Alex Holliday wants the Gold spheres for himself, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get them. Thus begins a race to see who finds the treasured gems first and eventually we discover what the spheres are really for and the dangers involved with using them. This story was action-packed and imaginative with a lot of relatable context.


– Mark

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Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

IlluminaeSpace and Sci-Fi fans will rejoice after reading this wonderfully unique, action-packed 600-page epic. First of all, the format of the book is quite unusual. Rather than unfolding as a typical narrative, it’s presented as a broad collection of documents such as interviews, emails, reports, transcripts, and chat logs, etc. All of these documents have been assembled by the Illuminae group that is attempting to piece together the events that occurred after the fact.

The setting for the book begins on a planet called Kerenza in the year 2575. We quickly learn that the planet has just been invaded by BeiTech, a mega-corporation that has been illegally exploiting resources from Kerenza. Thousands are dead in the initial attack and those that survive flee from the invaders aboard four spaceships. Two of the main characters in the book are seventeen-year-olds Kady and Ezra, who were romantically involved but had just broken up prior to the attack. Fleeing for their lives, they fight their way on to separate ships to make their escape.

If things weren’t bad enough, the Artificial Intelligence (known as Aidan) on one of the spaceships has detected a new threat. Unbeknownst to the survivors, BeiTech had released a deadly bio-plague as part of their assault and now those trying to escape also have to deal with the effects of a fast-spreading disease that causes insanity. Aidan (who factors heavily in the book) determines this to be a danger to the remaining fleet and launches missiles at the infected ship and destroys it, killing thousands more. Kady and Ezra survive but must find a way to work together if they’re going to save themselves and everyone else they care about.

So as you can tell, there’s a lot going on here. Anyone who enjoys science fiction, space tech or even space operas should like this book and despite the length, it’s a fairly quick read due to the format.

– Mark

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Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

WTNV_Version BEST 2.27In a small desert town where nothing is as it seems, an old woman lives with angels (though, of course, we all know angels do not legally exist…shhh). A well-meaning community radio host helps citizens accept that nothing will ever make any sense as they hurtle toward the inevitable expiration date waiting for us all, well except perhaps for eternally-19-year-old Jackie Fierro, you know, she runs the pawn shop, whose doors she inexplicably detaches and buries come closing time.

Our story picks up when the man in a tan jacket, holding a deerskin suitcase, gives Jackie a slip of paper that never leaves her left hand. Oh, she tries to get rid of it, she tries to throw the paper away, yet there it is, back again in her hand.

A series of events teams Jackie with Diane Crayton, treasurer of the Night Vale Parent-Teacher Association, and her son Josh on a quest to find King City, the mysterious town written on that stubborn piece of paper. Josh, as a shapeshifter, hopes to find clues about his mysteriously absentee father.

This wonderfully weird read features the same humor and offbeat philosophy found in the podcast of the same name, yet with even more heart. This book reads like a humorous episode of The Twilight Zone, a travel guide, and mystery all in one. Readers get a further bonus as a transcript of a new Night Vale Community Radio broadcast runs throughout the book.

Fans of the podcast will be thrilled to learn more about several popular characters. What new secrets will we learn about the man in the tan jacket holding a deerskin suitcase? Carlos, the scientist, and Old Woman Josie, who lives on the edge of town, also play a part in the story. Readers will hold their breath as Jackie and Diane take a fateful trip to the Night Vale Public Library, which, as everyone knows, is run by deadly, feral librarians.

– Travis

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Voyagers: Project Alpha by D. J. MacHale

Voyagers Project AlphaEarth is running out of fuel in this fast-paced and exciting sci-fi adventure geared towards middle grade readers. The only option left is to travel into deep space where the discovery of an alternative energy source can save the planet. Engineers have created a revolutionary propulsion system that allows a ship to travel to the far reaches of space. But here’s the catch, only children 12 and under can safely withstand the physical strain of the journey due to the time travel element of the propulsion system.

This starts a worldwide search to find the best possible astronauts for the mission. As the field narrows to eight, the children compete in a series of tests to determine the four voyagers who will be chosen for Project Alpha. The competition is headed up by Commander Phillips, who guides the candidates through the series of tests which make up the first half of the book. The competitors are four boys and four girls, all from a variety of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and skills.

Once the four are chosen and trained, they begin their mission aboard the Cloud Leopard spaceship, traveling to planet J-16 to search for the first element of the needed power source. This is where the real adventure begins and failure is not an option. Several interesting sub-plots develop, one of which is what happens to the four contestants not chosen for the mission.

This is the first volume of a six book series, all written by different authors that will be released over the course of a year. The book also contains coded clues at the bottom of certain pages, giving the book another level of interest by taking those clues and going online to crack a cipher that unlocks additional information about the story.

– Mark

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After the Red Rain by Barry Lyga

After the Red RainLife as we know it has ended in this thrilling book, “After the Red Rain”. Wars, pollution and other unnamed disasters have blocked the sun and because of this, our planet is dying. There are no natural forms of plant or animal life, excluding humans, left on the planet and as a result, we are destined for extinction.

Our heroine, Deedra is doing the best she can to survive in this new and terrifying world. Having been born in this dark time, she doesn’t know that life could be any better.  That is until she sees the most perfect and Beautiful Boy named Rose, trying to cross the river into her district.  Rose is as mysterious as he is beautiful and Deedra is immediately drawn to him. The two become unlikely friends and discover that not everything is as it seems.

After the murder of the magistrate’s son, Rose becomes the prime suspect. They fight to prove Rose’s innocence and for their survival. In the process, they stumble across the government’s darkest secret imaginable. With this new knowledge, they are forced to act to save what is left of the world.

This is a fast paced book with surprises around every corner. I loved the way the author proposed the terrifying idea about our bleak future without plants. This is a very real issue in today’s world and it really makes you think “what if?”

Extremely well done and I look forward to a sequel!

– Renee

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Stone Rider by David Hofmeyr

Stone RiderWould you participate in a treacherous race, choosing to leave behind family and friends for the chance to have a better existence? You might if you feel like you’re quickly running out of options and have little to lose.

In a future where Earth can no longer support the population, a fierce competition has developed to give hope to those brave enough to take the risk. The Blackwater Trail: a grueling and brutal race whose winner receives a one way ticket off the desolate ground to Sky-Base. Above the Earth, Sky-Base is the new home, and haven, for a select group of humanity.

Adam Stone did not initially even want to race. He would not abandon his little brother or relinquish his love for Sadie Blood. However a year later, Levi (Sadie’s cruel brother) destroys all Adam’s reasons to stay.

When competing in the Blackwater Trail, most choose to tackle it in groups. Should Adam try to trust again? Will he trust new friends, especially when he has ample reason to rely solely on his own efforts to win the race?

A solid read for those like to enjoy action adventure and dystopian future settings. While we might not be in a position like this today, who knows what the earth will be like in the future. Reading this book made me think about how we can work harder to prevent this future for Earth.

– Ellen

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The Six by Mark Alpert

The SixBefore Adam’s muscular dystrophy can kill him, his father, responsible for a revolutionary Artificial Intelligence program whose sentience makes it turn on the entire human race, saves Adam and five other teens by copying their brainwaves into Pioneer robots meant to stop Sigma, the renegade AI bent on destroying mankind. Adam’s task grows increasingly difficult when his best friend and the girl of his dreams are kidnapped.

This is the first young adult novel in a long time that captured my attention and made me truly care about the characters. While the first third of the book feels like it runs a bit long, it helps the reader better connect to Adam and understand his pre-Pioneer life. Adam’s strained relationship with his mother, who refuses to believe any robot would merely be a shallow copy of her son, proves especially poignant.

The action picks up as the Pioneers train to take on Sigma. Adam will do anything to save the people he loves. While there is romance, the mission remains the primary focus throughout. The fact that not everyone survives the battle makes this a realistic read, as do the details about brain mapping. This is young adult hard science fiction at its best. I eagerly await a sequel.

I recommend The Six to fans of Michael Grant and those curious about where our research into Artificial Intelligence might take us.


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The Cage by Megan Shephard

The CageWhat would you do if you woke up in a desert on an alien world with six other teens and learned that every road brought you right back to where you started? As exhibits in a human zoo, observed by unseen aliens lurking behind black observation windows, six teen captives fail to escape and begin to accept their new lives…all except Cora, whose unique relationship with the alien Caretaker will leave her changed in ways she could not have imagined.

Cora Mason may be the daughter of a senator, but her life of privilege vanished the night she took the fall for her father and pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide. Joined by four fellow captives and the boy who was secretly responsible for the car accident that killed his mother and sent Cora to juvenile detention, Cora learns that they have been trapped by a race of aliens.

Cora is eventually forced to face her greatest fear if she hopes to escape the ‘cage’. Betrayal changes her motivations at book’s end, when she vows to make the aliens, known as the Kindred, pay for ‘rescuing’ humans from an Earth that may or may not still exist.

The execution of the Twilight Zone-esque hook keeps the plot moving, which is no small feat when you realize this is the first book of a series. As a Twilight Zone and alien story fan, I was eager to read this story. Shepherd even gives a clever nod to The Twilight Zone in the novel’s opening pages.

Overall, I enjoyed the quick pacing and plot twists enough to read the second book of this series. I recommend this book to Shepherd fans looking for a mysterious alien story and readers who like a little more mystery with their young adult love triangles.

– Travis

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The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens by Henry Clark

The Book that Proves Time Travel HappensThis book is an imaginative tale of time travel and acceptance with some historical fiction, Morse code and ancient Chinese text added in for good measure. The story centers on young Ambrose Brody who is a middle school student with an Irish father and an Afro-French-Canadian mother. His dad is a history teacher at his school and he kind of just got suspended because of his propensity for dressing like various characters throughout history.

While seeking the guidance of a carnival fortuneteller, Ambrose befriends Shofranka “Frankie” Camlo, daughter of Madame Janus the seer. The two, along with best buddy Tom Xui, first set out to find a missing Camlo family heirloom known as the Shagbolt which, as it turns out, was hidden in the boys’ school. The trio gets caught just as they find the magical device and in an attempt to flee their captors, Frankie activates the Shagbolt, which just so happens to be a time travel device.

They are whisked away, back to the year 1852 but they quickly find they’ve gone from bad to worse as they’re now running for their lives from dreadful slave catchers. The friends must combine their special talents while they search for clues to help them get back to their own time and do so without changing the future. Fortunately they have help along the way as they figure out the hints hidden in the ancient Chinese text called the I-Ching.

– Mark

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The Left Behinds: The iPhone that Saved George Washington by David Potter

The Left BehindsThree 12-year-old students of a snooty boarding school in New Jersey spend Christmas break with their social studies teacher. Not because they want to but because their parents are too busy to have them home over the holidays.  They’re called the “left behinds” as the school staff callously describe them.

First there is Mel. His dad was a big shot on Wall Street and lost it all during the crash. Next is Bev whose mom is a fading actress in Los Angeles. And last is Brandon who is from New Mexico where his family has something to do with the oil industry.

Their teacher, Mr. Hart, takes them on field trips over the holidays. One such field trip is to a reenactment of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. While the three kids are off exploring, they find a MacBook. As Brandon is playing with the tablet, all of the friends’ iPhones start to do weird things and they suddenly find themselves transported to a stable, standing over the dead body of none other than George Washington. Needless to say it’s not going to be an easy task to set history right or get back to their own time.

If you’re familiar with the story of the crossing of the Delaware, you already know how that ends but for the three kids in this tale, finding George Washington dead is just the beginning of a wild, fast-paced time travel adventure through history.

– Ellen

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