Kim and Sam Review Shades of Earth (Across the Universe Trilogy #3) by Beth Revis

shadesI get REALLY nervous when I start reading the first book in a trilogy.  Not because I think it’ll be bad, but because I’ve had the luck where I get sucked in by the first two books, read the third, and find myself incredibly disappointed.  This happened to me with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games ( 1, 2, 3), Tessa Dare’s Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, and Lauren Royal’s Flower Trilogy just to name a few.  Now this isn’t to say that I’ve had bad luck with ALL trilogies, I had just enough of the above experience happen to cause a nervousness when an author announces a trilogy.

When I first heard about the Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis I’ll admit I was excited at the prospect of a dystopic sci-fi adventure in space.  When I finished Across the Universe and A Million Suns my nervousness hit an all time high.  A Million Suns had blown book one out of the water for me.  I was so impressed with the new heights that Revis had taken Amy and Elder to, that I knew she had set an unattainable (in my eyes) precedent that book three just would not be able to reach.  Now that I’ve read book three, I’m happy to say that Revis has proven me wrong.  I’ve asked fellow staffer Sam to join me today to discuss Shades of Earth, book three in the Across the Universe trilogy.  I hope you’ll join our discussion below!

From Goodreads:

Amy and Elder have finally left the oppressive walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They’re ready to start life afresh–to build a home–on Centauri-Earth, the planet that Amy has traveled 25 trillion miles across the universe to experience.

But this new Earth isn’t the paradise Amy had been hoping for. There are giant pterodactyl-like birds, purple flowers with mind-numbing toxins, and mysterious, unexplained ruins that hold more secrets than their stone walls first let on. The biggest secret of all? Godspeed’s former passengers aren’t alone on this planet. And if they’re going to stay, they’ll have to fight.

Amy and Elder must race to discover who–or what–else is out there if they are to have any hope of saving their struggling colony and building a future together. They will have to look inward to the very core of what makes them human on this, their most harrowing journey yet. Because if the colony collapses? Then everything they have sacrificed–friends, family, life on Earth–will have been for nothing.

Kim: I am so (x 100) impressed with Shades of Earth.  I think it’s the most beautifully written of the three and the most mature.  I don’t say mature as a bad thing (like risqué content), I say mature because we see Amy and Elder in these massively responsible roles, with the weight of a new society on their shoulders.  The people of Godspeed look to them to help transition them from “space folk” to “Earth folk.”  Not only is this massive transition happening, but people are going missing, strange animals are popping up, people are having weird reactions to the natural fauna, etc.  Throughout all of this they must deal with their own personal relationship and how it fits into their new lives.

Sam: My biggest problem with trilogies is that they tend to be a major letdown by the third book. However, like Kim, I was very impressed and satisfied with Shades of Earth. What I really enjoyed about the writing was that Revis stays true to herself as a science fiction writer. She didn’t disappoint with her beautifully crafted alien planet. Every detail that she included was purposeful and painted a clear picture of a world unknown.

Kim: I have to agree with your statement about the alien planet being beautifully crafted.  Revis’ descriptions of the flowers, the mountains, the lake, etc were exquisitely detailed.  The world visually came to life right before my eyes.  I especially liked the first rainstorm and how all the Godspeed folk thought the sky was exploding.  Their responses to things that we as “Earth folk” just “know” was humorous but also eye-opening.  It made me think, gee, if I had never been outside before how would I react to rain, snow, thunder, or lightening?  Not only was the world beautifully crafted, but the characters were too.

Sam: I was the most taken by Elder’s evolution. In this book he becomes a true leader in his own right, the one that all of his people needed and that I as a reader really wanted him to be. In the previous installments we see him training to be a leader, then trying desperately to actually be one without much guidance. When Amy shows up in his life, all of his thinking starts to change. By book 3 we see him taking what he’s learned from his leadership training and fusing it with what he now knows to be true. This book is the first time that we see Elder making his own decisions without someone prompting him. I like that way that his people seem to follow him, not just because he’s the Eldest, but because he has finally earned the title. He can hold his own now and his merit as a leader is clearest when we realize all of the sacrifices he is willing to make for those who love and respect him. I think that’s what I love most about this character.

Kim:  Ditto to everything Sam said about Elder.  I think that I’ve seen him evolve so much in the past two books and Amy so little, that I expected Amy’s transformation to take center stage in Shades of Earth.  Revis does an incredible job of maturing Amy.  Amy has seemed super selfish at times in the past two books (and in the beginning of Shades of Earth).  Here, dealing with all she is forced to, she begins to see things in a new light and begins thinking of how much she’s grown, changed, and learned.  At one point her father (now unfrozen) asks her what she’s learned during her time awake in space.  Her response (below) definitely shows a new, mature Amy.

I learned that life is so, so fragile. I learned that you can know someone for just days and never forget the impression he left on you. I learned that art can be beautiful and sad at the same time. I learned that if someone loves you, he’ll wait for you to love him back. I learned that how much you want something doesn’t determine whether you get it or not, that “no” might not be enough, that life isn’t fair, that my parents can’t save me, that maybe no one can.

I think that Amy’s transformation is due in part to two things. 1. She sees how much Elder has taken responsibility for and tries to emulate him. 2. The way her parents treat her when they wake up definitely impacts her future behavior   Her parents just continue to treat her like a spoiled brat and ignore the changes she knows have personally happened.  When her parents refuse to see the changes she’s made, that’s when I think she realizes that maybe those changes aren’t so visible after all.  Maybe she needs to work on herself just a bit more.

Sam: One theme that really resonated with me was the idea that no one is ever completely trustworthy. No matter how much Amy tries to find someone who she can confide in and really rely on, they always seem to let her down. Even Elder keeps certain truths from her in an effort to protect her. The one character who seemed to be the most likely to betray Amy and Elder, was Orion. Yet, in the end, it was his knowledge and wisdom that helped them discover the truth about Centauri Earth.

Kim: I have to agree here.  It’s the old adage of don’t judge a book by its cover.  Orion is definitely the one in A Million Suns that you just wanted to smack by the end.  The scavenger hunt (while awesome as a plot device) was so frustrating for Amy and Elder.  Orion refuses to cooperate and just help.  I found it interesting that he always made you earn the knowledge he had.  Every time I think about him, I think that he would have made a horrible Eldest.  Had he truly cared about the people on Godspeed he would have shared all the knowledge he had, instead of slinking around everywhere making Elder and Amy search for clues.  And even when they did figure out what the clues meant, he still wouldn’t be upfront. (Can you tell he frustrates me!?!)

Sam: “To be a Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light or give off darkness. Be a candle, or the night.” I am not going to go so far as to say that Orion is Yoda in this book, however, I think that Elder never would have made the choices he did if Orion had simply told him what was happening below Godspeed. I think that he had to lead Elder on that scavenger hunt, to uncover the truth. As a good leader, Elder had to choose. Be the candle to lead them all to the unknown, or, like so many Eldests before him, be the night that kept them “safe” in the shadows. Perhaps he would have been a horrible Eldest, but I think he was a pretty decent if not slimy mentor.

Kim: Damn. You’re good.

Sam: I was disappointed in the way that Amy’s parents, particularly her father, couldn’t see how much she had grown and changed. He didn’t take the time to see that she was an equal in terms of leadership capabilities. As Kim mentioned before, Amy has matured a lot on this voyage. She has completely transformed into such an intelligent woman. I think her father didn’t know quite how to handle that.

Kim: Yes! Amy’s dad was THE WORST.  When he’s initially unfrozen and finds out that Amy’s been awake for a few months he freaks. Instead of taking a few minutes and letting her catch him up on what’s been going on, he delegates her to a corner to just sit quietly.  He refuses to accept that his daughter and her teenage boyfriend could have any knowledge or authority that could help him.  He was extremely nazi-like to be honest.  I get that he just woke up after being frozen for hundreds of years, but have some faith in your daughter.  His complete dismissal of anything she said from beginning to end of the novel really irked me.  And his attitude toward Elder? COMPLETELY uncalled for.  He deserves everything he got.

Amy’s mom on the other hand seems incredibly naive.  She can’t even fathom that Amy’s father is hiding things from her and the others.  At times she reminded me of a battered woman.  Her husband’s word was law and there was no disputing it.  She focused on her research and Amy, two things that served to be the beginning foundation towards her “new” life.

Sam: I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know what it was about Elder that bothered dad so much, given the company that he was keeping. Also, mom. I think Kim said it all. She was so absorbed in her research that she couldn’t see anything that was going on around her, and there was A LOT to take in. This family just doesn’t really stand a chance for getting back together. They’ve moved so far away from each other even though they had been just inches from one another for hundreds of years.

The elephant in the room is of course, Chris. From the moment he waltzed up behind Amy’s Dad and totally stepped into Elder’s territory, I did not like him. He did NOTHING to try to redeem himself throughout the story, and in the end turned out to be even worse than I wanted to imagine. So what if he has big blue eyes, Amy! This is not the man who helped you survive for three months without any family, or protected you from ridicule, or loved you for you. This is just some guy your father is obsessed with because he’s some kind of super soldier tech guy.

To her credit, Amy does figure this out eventually. But it took far too long if you ask me. I was not a fan of her whole “what if Elder wasn’t the last guy on Earth” routine.

Kim: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.  I found myself getting so angry with Amy at multiple sections of this book. My biggest yelling out loud moment? The time she leaves Elder’s house and goes for a stroll with Chris and kisses him. WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU, YOU BIG HUSSY? Elder has protected you, saved you, trusted you, shared himself with you, and basically (in essentials) given his life to you. Do you disregard the value of his love so much that you can just turn your back on him and go for midnight strolls with anyone giving you attention!? Jeez.

Sam: Absolutely! The other part, and I still don’t know how I feel about it, is that Elder just lets it go. He spies on them, gives her space, but never once makes her feel bad about blatantly flirting with Chris, sometimes RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. On the one hand I respect Elder for letting her be her own woman and trusting Amy that much. On the other hand, come on… stand up for yourself, Elder!

Kim: This is just another example of why Elder is the better guy.  He never tries to force Amy to make a decision to be or not to be with him.  I find it interesting that the people of Godspeed had no religious belief.  Interesting, because Elder has a lot of faith that things will be ok and will work themselves out.  He lets Amy have her space and do what she wants with it, knowing that his love is the strongest and will win.

Sam: I wasn’t going to go for the religious belief stuff, but since you mention it 🙂 I really loved that Amy’s faith was so strong in this series. There were so many references to her cross and her faith in something more. I think that it was that faith that helped her stay strong and really gave her something to latch on to. In this series, Revis asks these characters to have a lot of faith in things unseen. Planets and people far away. I think that Amy was better prepared to handle the faith in something unknown because of her religion. As for the people of Godspeed, I found that in the absence of religion they put all of their faith in the “Eldest” system. The Eldest was the one person who was going to make choices and decisions for them all, he was the one they looked to when they weren’t sure of their fate.

Kim: Exactly! The “Eldest” of the time became their deity and the one they looked to for guidance and leadership.  Their faith didn’t have to follow a sight unseen rule as Amy’s did.  I actually think that theirs might have been a more difficult road to follow.  If something happened that wasn’t to their benefit or how they wanted it to be, they could directly go to their “deity” and complain and wish it wasn’t so.  They could tangibly make their “deity” change things for their benefit or their detriment.  If the Eldest didn’t change it for you, the road stopped. No matter how much you “prayed” on it, it wouldn’t change. I believe that this in essence is a more difficult faith to have, because your life (and the control to change it) is completely out of your hands.

Sam: Earlier we talked about Orion’s little scavenger hunt for Elder and Amy. In that he gave them clues to try to find a deeper meaning, to uncover the truth about what was really going on with Godspeed and Centauri Earth. Ever since Revis released the title of this third book, Shades of Earth, I’ve felt a little like Elder. I am a VERY BIG fan of the Beatles so I noticed right away that the lyric wasn’t quite right. It’s meant to be “shades of life.” Why would she just go for it with the Beatles lyric in the first two and then change it up for the last book? Now, maybe there’s nothing to it, but maybe, just maybe it means something.

This whole series really centers around what it means to be alive, really living. Amy can’t really cope with life on Godspeed. To her it is too confining. She can’t run. Can’t feel the real sun on her face or the real rain on her skin. In that way, it is just a shadow of a life. For Elder, he can’t really cope with being the only one his age, groomed for his position as Eldest. His life without a true companion and confidante is a shadow of a life that he desperately wants. So there are the dark shades of their lives.

But, what about the light parts? First, Amy’s bright red hair. A color so vibrant that all at once it makes Elder come to life and he has to know her, to unfreeze her and see such a color for himself up close. Next, the adventure. A shade of life that both terrifies and excites them. Finally, their love for each other. All of these elements combined create the canvas of a life so bright, yet dark that it seems to mirror one of Harley’s haunting yet beautiful paintings. The shades of their life together. The life that they are going to create here on Centauri Earth, which is merely a different shade of the same planet they left behind.

Kim:  Fellow readers, there you have it.  Sam couldn’t have said it any better.  The Across the Universe trilogy is filled with amazing imagery, exquisite characters, thrilling plots, and above all else, depth.  Beth Revis may have written these books with the young adult crowd in mind, but she has written with such vitality that she’s hooked the adult crowd too.  This trilogy defies convention and refuses to be boxed in for a certain genre or age group.  Sam and I both highly recommend it.  There is so much more within these novels than what meets the eye.  Give them a shot and see what you make of them.

Kim’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Sam’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This is my first completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
Razorbill (2013)
Hardcover: 369 pages
ISBN: 9781595143990

Kim’s Review of Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon

outlanderPride and Prejudice has been my favorite novel since I read it for the first time over a decade ago.  In that time period the ONLY book to produce a hero that could come close to Fitzwilliam Darcy was Persuasion.  Captain Frederick Wentworth and Darcy were, in my opinion, the epitome of what you wanted in a man.  They both were strong, confident men who were able to admit they were wrong and change for their lady loves.  Come on ladies, who wouldn’t want a man like them?  Fast forward to last month when I was on Twitter and saw an infographic that allowed readers to select their favorite male literary hero.  Maybe it’s just me being arrogant, but I thought Darcy had it in the bag.  I clicked on the link, and to my great surprise the name that popped as the winner was James Fraser.  I immediately did a Google search to figure out what book he was from.  Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, was the response I got, and thus began my journey to figure out how this Scottish Highlander could possibly beat out the love of my life, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Claire Randall is a combat nurse back from World War II in 1945.  Married before the war began, Claire is separated from her husband during the war and is finally reunited with him after hostilities are over.  Out on their second honeymoon in Scotland, Claire falls through a portal that transports her to the year 1743.  Once there she must find a way to become part of the past until she can return to the future.  Her journey is filled with a forced marriage, an attempted burning at the stake, claims of witchcraft and prostitution, and countless other atrocities.  The silver lining in this, however, is her forced marriage to a Scottish Highlander named Jamie Fraser.  He pledges to protect her, body and soul, and in many instances, does.  Will she ever be able to tell him where she really comes from?  Will they ever be able to figure out a way to get her back to the present?  With her growing feelings for Jamie, will she even want to go?

Let me start out by saying: JAMIE FRASER. OH MY GOD.  I totally “get” how women ranked him higher than Darcy!  He’s mysterious, funny, kind-hearted, at times arrogantly confident, strong, and devastating.  There are times you want to smack him for his cockiness, and other times you want to hug him for the brutality that he’s had to face.  In short, he is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read.

At times Jamie and the other men of the period are barbaric, but when you look at the time period (the 1700’s) it’s historically accurate.  There is one scene in the book where Jamie whips Claire for disobeying him and putting his clansmen in extreme danger.  While I don’t agree with the beating, his explanation of why he did it (it’s expected by his clansman for retribution due to the danger they’ve been placed in) makes sense.  Even Claire understands and accepts it (and she’s a modern woman!)  Jamie is extremely remorseful over the entire incident and agrees to make a pact to Claire that he’d never do it again, regardless of the traditions he lives by.  This brought a question to my mind: are we able to accept abuses of women when placed into the context of the past?  If I read a book that took place in contemporary times there would be NO WAY IN HELL that I’d accept abuse as a viable plot point.  But when placed into a story where it’s truly indicative of the way people acted, I can accept it as “historically relevant.”  Do you agree?

Now, on to Gabaldon’s writing style.  At times the book got a little wordy, but by and large it created a world that you can’t help but  become mesmerized by.  Jamie’s revelations near the end of the book about what happened to him in prison are probably some of the darkest and most heart wrenching scenes I’ve ever read.  His vulnerability as he is telling Claire of his pain and shame is both awe-inspiring and deeply depressing.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt as deeply for a character as I did for Jamie in that scene.

A word of caution: there is a rape scene in the novel, and as I’ve stated in other book reviews in the past, I feel that this should be noted somewhere.  You never know what a reader has gone through in his/her own life and what a scene like that (explicit or not), could trigger for them.

In all, I think this work is incredibly multidimensional.  It fits in so many genre “boxes” that you can’t help but identify with it.  It is heartwarming, touching, and a beautiful piece.  I urge all of you to see for yourself how great of a work Gabaldon has created.  Maybe Jamie will rate as high on your list of male heroes as he now does on mine?

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my second completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my first completed review for the Book to Movie Challenge

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Random House Publishing (2004)
eBook: 818 pages
ISBN: 9780440335160

Todd’s Review of Targets of Deception by Jeffrey S. Stephens

Targets of Deception Jeffrey S StephensAfter reading Targets of Opportunity, the first in the Jordan Sandor series (you can read my review here), I was excited to see what would happen next for Jordan.  Interestingly enough, the next novel to come out was actually a prequel to the first, and it offers us a peek into the life of Jordan before Opportunity.  As an ex-CIA field agent, we get to see how Jordan dusts off his old (and sometimes rusty) skills and gets back into the game full time.

We begin with Sandor and an old friend, Dan Peters, driving down a country road in upstate New York.  They are en route to talk to a man named Jimmy Ryan, who claims to have important information that he needs to relay to Peters and Sandor, who is posing as a journalist.  Their serene car ride is interrupted by gunshots, as Peters and Sandor are shot at by two men who have been pulled over by a state trooper, who lies on the ground, shot as well.  Sandor is able to escape unscathed, and he manages to save Peters and the trooper in the process.  All this is for naught, however, as it comes to light that the two men were on a mission to kill Ryan before he could talk, and those associated with these men end up killing Peters in his hospital room.  What’s more, Sandor begins to learn more about Ryan, whose real name is James McHugh.  Sandor learns that McHugh, an ex military officer from Vietnam, was involved with a man named Vincent Traiman, who trained fighters for al-Qaeda in Libya before 9/11 and was an ex-CIA agent who had betrayed his country.  McHugh realized that the very people he and Traiman waere training were killing his military comrades, and he decided to leave Libya without alerting the attention of Traiman and his associates.  Now on the run, McHugh wanted to pass on information about Traiman’s deadly operation and a new scheme he was planning that would put all of America and her allies at risk.  With his death, it is now up to Sandor to discover Traiman’s plans and uncover the truth.

I have to say, this prequel to Targets of Opportunity is just as exciting as the first work.  Stephens has a way with the plot that makes reading his works super exciting.  The inital crack of action drew me in right away, and the slow build to the exciting finish had all the great drama and character development of a great action movie.  Sandor has the intelligence smarts of Jason Bourne and the cocky swagger of James Bond.  As I stated in my review of Stephens’ previous work, I really enjoy how Stephens’ knowledge of politics and the quasi-military aspects of Sandor’s background really enhance the story.  His inclusion of specifics on Middle East / US relations, especially post-9/11, were great and informative.  They fleshed out Traiman’s character, and made the threat that much more creditable.  In all, it read like the smart spy thriller that I knew it would be.  I can’t wait for Targets of Revenge to see what mess Jordan can get into next!

5 out of 5 Stars

Targets of Opportunity by Jeffrey S. Stephens
Pocket Books (2012)
Paperback 432 pages
ISBN: 9781451688672
Special thanks to Pocket Books for my review copy!

Sam’s Review of Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo

redcloakI want to preface my review today by saying that I know this author. She was an English teacher at my high school and although I never took one of her classes myself, I really really wanted to! She has an incredible way about her, which carries seamlessly over into her writing. Her writing voice is charming, witty, and funny. I may or may not gently stalk her blog, which is how I found this book! (A full year after it was published… I never said I was a good stalker…)

In Chantel Acevedo’s young adult novel, Song of the Red Cloak, two young princes, born to separate houses, cling to their mothers. Neither knows it yet, but only one will grow up to be king of Sparta. A prophecy from the Gods declares that one boy will go on to betray the other. So, it is decided that there will only be one prince, and the other baby must be sacrificed to the Gods for the good of the people of Sparta.

Fast forward 16 years where we meet Galen, a helot (slave). He is a kitchen boy at the local school where Spartan boys train to become strong and cunning warriors. Galen dreams of one day wearing the red cloak of the Spartans into battle, however such things are impossible for a boy in his station. The closest he can ever hope to get to being a true warrior is to spar and practice with the Spartan boys at the agoge (school).

Luckily for Galen he has found a unique friendship with prince Nikolas, heir to the Spartan throne. Their friendship allows Galen certain privileges that other helots simply would never have. Others in Sparta are troubled by the boys’ bond and have a hard time accepting that two who are so different could be so close.

In the book Nikolas and Galen find their friendship tested in a way neither could have anticipated. Nikolas’ family holds the power in Sparta, but the other royal family wants their turn to rule. Their son, Acayo, attends school with Nikolas and makes every effort to assert dominance.  In addition to scheming royals, there are also two young ladies who threaten to come between Galen and Nikolas. The mysterious and powerful Zoi and Korinna have secrets that threaten not only the boys’ friendship, but also Sparta itself.

Prophecies. Sacrifices of blood. Gods and goddesses. As a reader I couldn’t have been more captivated by the story. I have always been fascinated by Greek myth and Ancient Greek culture. This book blended the elements of Greek study that I love with elements of Spartan life that I have never known before. Acevedo does a wonderful job of explaining the rituals and giving background on the time period without making it sound like a lecture. Each historical fact is woven carefully into the story, which makes it all the more interesting to read.

Galen is a truly heroic main character. His loyalty to Nikolas combined with his bravery in the face of a fight and dream of one day wearing the red cloak, regardless of his station in life, makes his journey exciting to watch. With each chapter it becomes more and more clear just how Spartan he really is, despite the class in which he was raised. By the end, Galen has truly earned his red cloak and as a reader I found myself rooting for him every step of the way.

However, as I read I found it harder and harder to keep up with all of the action. There is a complicated sequence of events that leads Galen to discover something within him he could never have imagined to be true. The pace of the story was fantastic because it urged me to keep reading and I honestly didn’t want to put it down. But, I found that with this pace and all of the information I was getting occasionally meant that I glossed over some really important pieces of the puzzle. I found myself re-reading to pick up a breadcrumb or two that I lost along the way.

Once I had all of the pieces the story fell neatly into place and I was back to being a happy reader. I love that this story was mostly about friendship. It was about two boys, who against all odds become brothers. It was a journey of self-discovery. Figuring out who you are as a person and who you are among your people. Personally, as a young woman who is searching for her place in this world, I found myself totally attached to Galen’s quest.

This story is epic. It has everything! Packed with action, romance, adventure, and even magic there is so much to love!  As I read I kept track of all the new facts I had learned. I was inspired to read more about Sparta, which allowed me to create an even better picture in my mind of Acevedo’s intricate and beautifully described world. That world made me love the story even more. I am so glad that I stumbled across this book. I sincerely hope that you consider picking it up…mostly because I really need someone to talk to about the ending!

P.S. As if she weren’t bad ass enough…this book was self-published. Super cool. Super brave. If you want to know more about the reason she chose to do that, you too can gently stalk her awesome blog here.

5 out of 5 Stars

Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo
CreateSpace (2011)
Paperback: 310 pages
ISBN: 9781463719319

Todd’s Review of Timeline by Michael Crichton

MichaelCrighton_TimelineAh, Michael Crichton.  What a genius.  I’m sorry, I just get a bit caught up when talking about Mr. Crichton, whom I believe was way ahead of his time in his depth and breadth of knowledge of both science and technology.  Reading his works are just as relevant today as they were a decade or more ago when they came out, as the predictions he made about the advancements of science are not only just as valid as they were then, but they’re even coming true in some instances!  Anyway, after reading Jurassic Park (and I was long overdue for that) I was hooked.  After a trip to the Strand I picked up a copy of Timeline after hearing multiple good things about it.  I was excited to see what Crichton could do with a more science-based story line  and I can happily report I was not disappointed one bit.

Timeline begins with a couple on vacation driving in the New Mexico desert who come upon a man named Joe Traub that is seriously dehydrated and babbling incoherently.  After finding help, he is taken to a local hospital, where he soon dies of cardiac arrest, but it’s not due to the dehydration.  Chillingly, an MRI appears to show that the man’s blood vessels do not line up correctly, which led to his bleeding to death.  They discover that Traub is a physicist for a company called ITC, although its headquarters are miles from where Traub was actually found.  We then learn that ITC is attempting to cover up a large and expensive project that Trub had been working on.  Meanwhile, we are introduced to a team of researchers in France led by Professor Edward Johnston that are studying the ruins of the medieval towns of Castelgard and La Roque.  When Johnston realizes that ITC, who funds a major portion of their work, is holding out on him and has way more detailed information about the sites that he is researching than he has himself, he decides to fly to ITC to voice his concerns.  While he’s gone, however, his researchers discover a chilling find: a note, written in the medieval time period and buried in the ruins, that is not only written in modern English, but is from Johnston himself asking for help!  What happens next is a story of quantum technology, time travel, the year 1357, and much, much more.

I think the best part about Timeline is the detail.  Don’t get me wrong, the plot is quick and the characters really come into themselves over the course of the novel, but I think Crichton’s attention to detail really made this novel shine.  The way in which Crichton explains the quantum technology behind time travel is amazing, and the detail he goes into when describing the actual construction of the machine and how the characters are transported back into time is fantastic.  I could almost feel myself in the chamber watching the characters get smaller and smaller as their bodies are compartmentalized and sent back in time.  Of course, just like his other works, the human aspect of his stories are spot on as well, as they had me rooting for Chris and Kate’s romance to finally happen and laugh at how seriously Andre took his preparations for traveling back to medieval time.  In all, Crichton has created another awesome addition to his already solid portfolio of science fiction work, and it is serving as more impetus for me to go out and read all that he has to offer.  I’m leaning towards Airframe next, although preferably not when I’m on a plane!  So, if I haven’t convinced you already, go out and read Timeline, or any Michael Crichton for that matter.  You can thank me later.  Happy reading!

5 out of 5 Stars

Timeline by Michael Crichton
Fredrick (1999)
Hardcover: 464 pages
ISBN: 06794557815

Adam’s Review of Pantheons by E. J. Dabel

Zeus. When that name was said in my house growing up, I always thought of the picture of the Parthenon my mother had in the living room. I also thought of the most powerful God in the world and all the myths my YiaYia (Grandma in Greek) use to tell me.  Growing up in a Greek household, often times my bedtime stories were replaced by those of my ancestors and the myths of why certain things occurred in the world. With that being said, I was really excited to read Pantheons by E.J Dabel for two reasons. One, I really enjoyed reading his last piece of work, Albino (review here), and two, I’ve always enjoyed hearing/reading mythological stories (they are much better than fairy tales if you ask me).

The novel starts off with an introduction of the Gods and how they are still in existence, yet in a different form than you’d expect. In ancient times, all of the head Gods refused to fight in the Fourth Great War because of what Odin, the chief God of Norse, prophesied  He foretold that a great darkness would arise after the conflict. So, when the Gods refused to fight, the powers to be took away their immortal powers and replaced them with strong, but mortal, teenagers.

The story then picks up in the present day with an orphan named Isaiah Marshall and his group of friends Jeremy, Pip, and Monty, also known as the Red Rovers.  Isaiah doesn’t know anything about his past or where he came from, but constantly has a vision of a lady who he believes to be his mother. After a chance encounter with Principal Webb, the principal of Kaliber Academy, Isaiah and his friends are offered the chance to enroll in the academy and Isaiah learns the truth about his identity. He learns that he is a minor God, meaning his parents were both Gods. His father was Zeus and his mother was Metis, one of the wisdom Goddesses from ancient Greek mythology. Principal Webb, the mystery stranger who was so nice Isaiah, is actually Prometheus, one of the last two titans of Greece. He promised to look after Isaiah when his mother was killed. From this discovery comes a story of self discovery, mixed with information about various Gods and Goddesses from different ancient civilizations.

E.J Dabel is an excellent character writer. He is able to write characters that people will relate to and root for. The way he wrote the main protagonist Isaiah was really outstanding. He really makes him seem like any other teenager, with flaws and all. I was really looking forward to reading this, especially after reading Albino and seeing how he made those characters jump off the page. I think being a big movie fan makes me want to have characters to root for. These characters, both good and evil, jumped off the page and made the story come to life in my head. I thought all the minor details were really important and really made for a fuller story.

One thing that immediately came to my mind while reading this novel is how great of a read it would be in a middle school language arts class. Maybe it’s the teacher in me that has me in a constant mode of cross curriculum, but I think this could be used while learning mythology, or about Ancient Greece  in Social Studies. With some of the material, especially having to do with the Gods and Goddess, I found myself checking up the facts because it had been so long since I had studied this. Not only was the book entertaining, but also it was really interesting and I think it could definitely be used to introduce kids to the ideas behind the Gods and Goddesses of the ancient world.

With everything said and done, I really enjoyed reading Pantheons. I thought Mr. Dabel was able to once again create a protagonist that the reader can truly root for and see a little of themselves in. I think teenagers in particular will truly enjoy the novel, as it is fun and adventure mixed into one. If you want to learn more about ancient Gods and Goddesses and don’t want to read a history textbook, I think this would be a great introduction.

4 out of 5 Stars

Pantheons by E. J. Dabel
Sea Lion Books (2012)
eBook: 257 pages

Special thanks to Sea Lion Books for my review copy!

Adam’s Review of Albino by E.J. Dabel

Have you ever wanted to visit another world and live a different life than the one you had been living? What if in this new land, you were crowned Emperor and were meant to lead the people against an evil emperor who only wanted to destruct the world and cause harm to the people who live in it. All of these questions are explored in the novel Albino written by E.J Dabel.

In the beginning of Dabel’s story, we meet Albino.  Albino is a peculiar mouse. He is all white with red eyes. He lives with Farmer Springer, whom he is able to communicate with. One night during a particularly bad storm, Farmer Springer begins to reminisce with Albino about the night he found him almost 50 years ago. Also living with Albino and Farmer Springer is a boy from the street named Darl. Albino believes that only Farmer Springer can communicate with him, until Darl makes it known that he can understand Albino as well. The morning after the violent storm Darl takes Albino and throws him in the river, hoping to get rid of him forever. Albino awakens in a far-off land called Nothengarrd where he is introduced to Morgenbrisa, another mouse who happens to be a princess. Later, he is introduced to more friends including Lita (another princess), a raccoon, a wise crow, and a flying squirrel. Initially when Albino gets to Nothengarrd he is referred to as an abomination because he is half mouse, half rat. Later through some discovery it is revealed that Hoge Koning (the Emperor of Nothengarrd) has to defeat the Loucura (Emperor of the East) and his creations of Ma’ladees. Will Albino step up and become the emperor he is destined to be?

For a book that is supposed to be for younger readers, this book had a lot of heart. From the first few chapters, I thought the story was going to be about Albino and his life on a farm and then trying to get back to the farm, á la The Wizard of Oz. But as I read more, I realized it was more like The Chronicles of Narnia than Wizard of Oz. From the first page of the book, the character of Albino intrigued me because he seemed like a truly unique form of the lead character role. He was really well written and really was the heart of this story (hence naming the title after him). Albino went had major growths and transformations in the novel that you can chronicle through Dabel’s excellent writing in each chapter.  Many times we see main characters portrayed as weak at first, but then they’re suddenly leading armies in no time. Dabel made Albino progress at a realistic pace, adding extra struggles to the story which were really powerful.

Dabel wrote this story in a very interesting way, one which made it much more powerful and realistic. Whether it was having the animals use items that they found in the forest as clothing, or in the way in which he described the conflict in the work, Dabel was able to emphasize the important parts and create a story that I wanted to continue reading. The inclusion of pictures of the characters really helped me put faces to the characters and give them more personality. Maybe it’s because I somehow make movies out of everything I read, but I think Albino and the books that will follow it would make an excellent movie.

All and all, I enjoyed Albino more than anticipated. At first glance the story seemed a little far out there and I don’t really like mice or rats in real life, so I had to get the thought of subway rats out of my head.  However once I did that, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I think anyone from 9 to 109 will enjoy this book because of its classic story plot mixed with new school ideas. I am very interested to see how the rest of the series plays out!

4 out of 5 Stars

Albino by E.J. Dabel
Sea Lion Books (2012)
eBook: 217 pages

Special thanks to Sea Lion Books for my review copy!

#90 A Review of Changeling (Order of the Darkness #1) by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory is and has been my favorite historical fiction author for years now.  She single-handedly got me OBSESSED with learning about the British Tudor period.  Each and every time she comes out with a new book I run around my apartment, shouting the news, then enter a period of nail-biting anticipation until its actual release.  When I heard that Gregory was beginning work on a young adult series, I was pumped that an entire new audience would get to experience her writing.

The first installment in Gregory’s new Order of the Darkness series, Changeling takes place smack dab in the middle of the Italian Renaissance: 1453.  We first meet Luca Vero, a 17-year-old genius who, after being kicked out of a religious order due to heresy charges (also known as using science to counter religious beliefs), is inducted into The Order of The Dragon: a secret group commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to investigate odd “dark” occurrences across Europe.  We then meet Isolde, a bright teenage girl who has the misfortune of being sent away to a nunnery following her father’s death in order to prevent her from inheriting his estate.  For some unknown reason, the nuns that inhabit the convent where Isolde resides begin to report having strange visions, and Luca and his order are sent to investigate.  Despite their attempts to the contrary, Luca and Isolde find themselves developing feelings for each other.  Luca vows to make sure that his investigation is very thorough to explore all avenues of possible explanations.  After a successful yet harrowing escape, they find themselves traveling all across Europe, discovering all sorts of mysteries and mystical creatures under investigation by The Order of the Dragon. Will they be able to discover the true meaning of all these strange occurrences?

I have loved almost all of Gregory’s other books, so the bar was set pretty high for Changeling.  The book is really divided into two parts: a mystery in the Abbey and a mystery the group finds on the road during their travels.  The whole first half of the book (Abbey mystery) was interesting and intriguing.  Diving into Isolde and Luca’s back stories was fascinating, as we learn about Isolde’s family and Luca’s constant thirst for knowledge (it’s this thirst that is essentially what drives him out of his monastery.)  The second half of the book is where it got a little crazy for me.  The group winds up near a village where legend has it that a werewolf has been caught.  Luca obviously doesn’t believe that such creatures exist and decides to open an investigation.  The outcome of the investigation was a bit too off the wall for me.

Will I continue reading the Order of Darkness series? Hell yes.  Luca’s sidekick Freize is hysterical, and his attachment to Isolde’s “sister” Ishraq is adorable.  I’m interested to see how things progress between Luca and Isolde as well.  With both of them having sworn sacred oaths to God (being a nun and a monk) it’ll be interesting to see what Gregory does with their relationship.  As always, Gregory’s stellar writing was a delight to read.  Her ability to clearly describe every scene and circumstance is what draws me to her novels time and time again.  I’m so happy she’s chosen to bring her delightful skills as a writer and knowledge as a historian to a whole new generation.

3 out of 5 Stars

This is my thirty-ninth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Changeling by Philippa Gregory
Simon Pulse (2012)
Hardcover: 272 pages
ISBN: 9781442453449

Todd’s Review of A Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner

Ever since I read A Time to Kill by John Grisham many years ago, I’ve always liked courtroom dramas.  I’m not sure if it’s the looming suspense of whether or not the main character will be found guilty, or the heroic struggle of the protagonist attorney struggling against seemingly impossible odds to protect his client, but this genre really catches my interest.  So, I was obviously excited when offered the opportunity to read A Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner.  This is his first novel, and Mitzner has done a great job of entering the genre with an exciting and fast-paced read.

A Conflict of Interest begins by introducing us to Alex Miller, a prominent New York defense attorney at the firm Cromwell Altman.  The youngest partner in the firm’s history, Alex has experienced a wave of popularity that makes him well-liked amongst his fellow partners and clients alike.  Unfortunately, his personal life has not experienced the same successes as of late.  His father recently passed away suddenly, leaving his mother alone in Florida, far away from Alex and his family.  Additionally, his relationship with his wife has been strained due to his long hours at the office.  Things get more complicated when Alex meets Michael Ohlig, a longtime friend of his parents, at his father’s funeral.  Although he doesn’t go into specifics, he tells Alex that he is being investigated for securities fraud, and would like Alex and his firm to represent him.  Alex is able to keep this a secret from his mother for a while, but eventually she finds out, and is very distraught over it.  Additionally, Alex is paired with Abby Sloane, an associate at the firm who is widely regarded as on the short list for the next partner position that will open up at the firm.  Not only is she a great lawyer, but she is beautiful, and spends more and more time with Alex as they work on Ohlig’s case.  Of course, this puts even more pressure on Alex’s marriage, and threatens to derail his career if he were ever caught with Abby.  However, there is something much more sinister at play, and it is much bigger than any infidelity.  The twist at the end of this novel is one that no one saw coming (especially not me!)

Going in to this novel, I was pretty sure I’d like it, although I thought there may be a slight danger of encountering the inherent problem that all courtroom dramas face: how to make court proceedings exciting.  Don’t get me wrong, there is the potential for a lot of drama in a court case, but the difficulty is in making all the legal jargon translate into a gripping story.  Fortunately, Mitzner does this expertly.  He meticulously explains the lawyer-speak that pops up throughout the novel, and weaves a great story that draws the reader in with every page.  The romantic tryst dovetailed nicely with Alex’s impassioned defense of Ohlig in the trial, and every time I turned the page there was a new layer to the plot.  The twist at the end was one of the best I’ve read in a while, and I give Mr. Mitzner a lot of credit for how he played it out.  It definitely won’t disappoint you, and it’s no wonder that this book won Suspense Magazine‘s best book of 2011 award!  So, what are you waiting for?  Go read this one!

5 out of 5 Stars

A Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner
Pocket Books (2012)
Paperback: 512 pages
ISBN: 9781439196434

Special thanks to Pocket Books for sending me my review copy!

#84 A Guest Review of Pride and Pyramids by Amanda Grange and Jacqueline Webb

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Egypt with Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy and their family! Ok, I didn’t really go to Egypt with them, but it felt like I did while I read Pride and Pyramids by Amanda Grange and Jacqueline Webb.  My review of the book was posted today over on the Austenprose blog!

Pride and Pyramids picks up fifteen years after the events of Pride and Prejudice.  The Darcys along with their children, cousin Edward, and several other new characters, trek down to Egypt for an adventure.  What happens when they get there can only be described as Egyptian myth……

To read my whole review, click here.