Tag Archives: sci-fi

Mirror at the Heart of Time (The Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek Book 3)

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Mirror at the Heart of Time (The Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek Book 3) by [Laporta, Mark]

Mirror at the Heart of Time is a brilliant conclusion to an equally brilliant series that will leave readers ecstatic, on the edge of their seats, and heart broken to see such great characters go, but it’s well worth it.
In the thrilling conclusion of “The Changing Hearts of Ixdhan Daherek,” Ixdahan and Lena face the universe’s greatest threat yet: a force that seeks to erode time itself. After all they’ve been through together, defeating a culture based on a miracle diet, getting a girl from the future back to her time, and finally figuring out their relationship once and for all should be a piece of cake…right?

In case you haven’t noticed, I adore these books. The wonderful characters, the outlandish conflicts, the strange worlds and aliens, all of it. Mirror at the Heart of Time is no exception. In addition everything I loved about the first two books, the trilogy’s conclusion reaches a level of maturity that makes it a must-read for fans of YA, especially fans of YA sci-fi and fantasy.

I’ve talked at lengths about Laporta’s great world building and creative story telling in the reviews for Heart of Earth and Heart of Mystery, but I can’t emphasize enough how great his characters are, especially in this final installment. It’s been quite the adventure watching Ixdahan and Lena grow as characters over the course of these books and Laporta gives them the perfect send off, both for the characters as well the readers, I think.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth mentioning again: If you write YA, sci-fi or otherwise, I highly recommend this series just to see how Laporta writes teenagers, because he does it brilliantly.

So, if you’re a fan of YA, sci-fi, or you want to take a few hours and feel like a kid again, check out the entire Changing Hearts series. It’s a smart, funny, endearing trip through the cosmos you won’t soon forget.

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“Heart of Mystery”– Mark Laporta

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Plot: 5/5       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 3/5        Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

 

51wgxgwbihl-_sx331_bo1204203200_   When an unlikely intergalactic alliance comes to light, Ixdahan Daharek (AKA Derek) and his human best friend, Lena Gabrilowicz, must save not only the Earth this time, but the very fabric of space itself. Between their search for alien cookware, stopping a clone army, and calming down a moody robot, Ixdahan and Lena must also figure out their feelings for one another once and for all. But no pressure, right?

 

Guys. I love these books so much. Mark Laporta officially has a spot on my “Favorite Indie Authors of All Times” list and I haven’t even been reviewing for a full year yet. “Heart of Mystery” is just as funny, creative, zany, endearing, and memorable as “Heart of Earth,” if not more-so since it builds on such a great foundation.

 

Just like the first installment, the sci-fi elements are funny, colorful, and an absolute joy to read. Between the new, strange aliens and the action there’s never a dull moment, no matter what species Derek is around and, yet again Derek and his friends are some of the best teenagers I’ve ever read.

 

Laporta knows how to tap into the most universal aspects of being a teenager and bring them to life in the most outlandish situations. Derek and Lena not only grow as an individual characters, but as teenagers entering adulthood, which can be hard to capture, regardless of the YA subgenre.

 

I don’t want to give too much away, but I just want to give an example. There’s a scene where Derek is talking with another character about the gravity of his situation and what the adults are asking of him. The conversation turns to Derek himself and how important it is for him to stick to his morals, especially in a situation with such dire consequences.

 

That kind of message is so important for young people, especially in times like these. Not only that, but Laporta makes the world around Derek and his friends so much fun and exciting that the message is bound to stick. I know the scene itself will stick with me for a long time and I’m 24.

 

So, if you like bizarre worlds, even more bizarre conflicts, and wonderful characters, go read “Heart of Earth,” if you haven’t already, and read “Heart of Mystery” intermediately after, regardless of your age. Your inner kid will thank you. And don’t forget to look for the conclusion to Derek’s adventures in “Mirror at the Heart of Time,” set to be released this summer!   

Succubus– Brandon Varnell

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Succubus– Brandon Varnell

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 3/5       World Building: 4/5

“Succubus” is a decent read, but unfortunately, it’s anime/manga tropes are probably going to loose readers who aren’t already into the medium.

Christian has repaid the Catholic church for their protection with his work as an Executioner, a killing machine charged with the extermination of supernatural threats to humanity. Vampires, werewolves, ghouls, Christian can handle it all. But when the church sends him to destroy a succubus, he quickly discovers that he’s over his head. Nothing about Lilith, his target, adds up. Succubi aren’t supposed to be afraid of men, yet Lilith is terrified. Supernatural beings aren’t supposed to be captivated by her either, yet Christian has to fight them off. Can Christian figure out what’s going on and get the job done, or will this be his last mission from God?

The mystery that drives this plot had me curious from the start and held me until the end. It’s nearly impossible to take a simple creature, like a succubus, turn it on it’s head, and not grab the reader’s attention. Varnell does a great job revealing this world’s secrets bit by bit, laying a trail of clues that you can’t help but follow and enjoy, at least a little bit.

Unfortunately, Varnell’s obsession with anime bleeds through the rest of the book, making anything outside the central plot awkward, annoying, or dull unless you share his passion.

From the very first chapter it was obvious that Varnell was trying to narrate a manga or anime rather than write a novel. The action is over-ornamented and drags on, which works well for a visual medium, but not so much for a written one, Christian is every bad-ass hero with a heart of gold and a tragic past, and Lilith is every cookie-cutter cutesy heroine from the last twenty-ish years of anime. She even yells, “Kya!” on occasion, which grated on my nerves a bit. These tropes have been overused enough in actual anime and manga. We really don’t need novel versions.

In conclusion, if you’re into anime or if you’re at all nostalgic for it, you might enjoy this. If the phenomenon is foreign to you or you’ve had your fill of it, there are definitely better urban fantasy titles out there. Maybe check those out first.

Class of ’59– John A. Heldt

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Class of ’59– John A. Heldt

Plot: 3/5        Characters: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5         World Building: 5/5

Mary Beth McIntire just wants a quiet summer in 2017. Mark Ryan wants to know what’s hidden in in the basement of the same house in 1959. When Mark discovers a key and a few mysterious crystals, he gets his answer and Mary Beth’s quiet summer is ruined thanks to his appearance. The summer vacation that follows was more than Mary Beth and her younger sister, Piper could imagine in this decade, or the fifties.

I want to preface this review by saying that I have the utmost respect for John Heldt. He breaths life into the past, his dedication to research and accuracy is admirable, and he clearly has a passion for what he does.

That’s probably why “Class of ‘59” felt like such a step down after “The Mine” and “Indiana Belle.” Especially “Indiana Belle.” 


To be fair, it’s as well researched and put together as Heldt’s other works. If you have any sense of nostalgia for the 1950’s, this is still definitely the book for you, but it could have been much more. While his other works had interesting conflicts and/or exciting plots, “Class of ‘59” felt like fluff show casing how great the 1950’s were. Both “The Mind” and “Indiana Belle” felt like well-rounded snapshots, so I was hoping for something similar here. What conflict exists is underplayed in favor of small talk and simply strolling around the era.

So, if you want to take a break and step into the 1950’s and like romance, “Class of ‘59” is a solid read. Like Heldt’s other books it’s also a good example of how to put together and execute a historical era. For you writers out there. However, if you’re looking for something with a bit more excitement, you might want to take a look at some of Heldt’s other work.

Bad Bloods: November Rain– Shannon A. Thompson

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Bad Bloods: November Rain– Shannon A. Thompson

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 4/5

“Bad Bloods” is a solid work of dystopian YA that will delight any fan of the genre. It also includes an angle that is too often overlooked by other authors in the category.

Serena was born a bad blood–a person with strange unique powers. In the city of Vendona, that’s an automatic death sentence. Before Serena can be executed, a prison guard helps her escape, setting into motion a chain of events that will determine Vendona’s political future and every bad blood’s right to be seen as human.

While I can’t say “Bad Bloods” is particularly original–we’ve seen a lot of stories like this in the past ten years or so–I think it still works. The plot is engaging, the characters are interesting and the bad bloods’ powers are unique. What really sets “Bad Bloods” apart is a world building aspect many dystopian YA seem to forget:

The political climate of “Bad Bloods” is eerily similar to our own.

This past election year has been hard on everyone and I don’t want to focus on it too much (this is a book review, after all), but it’s hard to deny that the question of who gets what fundamental rights has been front and center lately. When I realized that “Bad Bloods” dealt with a very similar dilemma, I got chills and made me want to read on.

I’m not sure if Thompson meant for the major conflict to come across like that, but that’s how I interpreted it and I think it makes “Bad Bloods” stand out in the dystopian YA genre for the better.

If you liked books such as “Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” or even James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride,” I’d definitely say you should check out “Bad Bloods.” It has all the things dystopian readers love about the genre, plus an extra kick. So, if you’ve got some free time over the New Year’s holiday, head over to Amazon and check out “Bad Bloods” for yourself.

Indiana Belle–John A. Heldt

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Indiana Belle–John A. Heldt

Don’t miss your chance to get Indiana Belle for free on Chirstmas on Amazon!

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

This is the second novel of Mr. Heldt’s that I’ve read and I’m beginning to think he can do no wrong. His dedication to portraying history in all of it’s nuances, layers, difficulties, and beauty is admirable and his ability to craft brilliant and unique stories shines across the lines of genre and time alike.

When Cameron Coelho began his doctoral dissertation, he never expected to find a photograph of the beautiful Candice Bell, nor did he expect to fall in love with her. The possibility of stepping back in time to save her from an untimely death in 1925 never even entered his wildest dreams until he met her distant cousin, Geoffrey Bell, who just so happens to know how to time travel.

When I first read the description for this book, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. As some one who doesn’t usually like romance, I didn’t expect much. I figured Heldt’s world building would be just as good as “The Mine,” but the plot would be a passable indie love story as best.

Oh, boy. Was I ever wrong.

I was right about the world building, at least. Heldt continues to floor me with his expertly crafted depiction of the past. Not only does he paint wonderful, creditable scenes with his words, but he captures the 1920’s in it’s entirety. Yes, the Roaring Twenties were new and exciting, but it wasn’t all jazz and flapper dresses for everyone. I don’t want to give anything away because I really want everyone to check out this book, but as someone who’s biracial–White and Black–I really appreciate the other half of my heritage being acknowledged in this time period. I feel like the experience of Black Americans is often over-looked when talking about history outside of the Civil Rights Era, so I really appreciate that Heldt included that experience and handled it well.

Not only is the history well done, but it’s woven in with the story beautifully. The two work together to create a unique and unforgettable narrative with plenty of twists, turns, and a climax that will have your heart racing and pages turning.

And then there’s Candice. Oh my days, is Candice Bell a delight. Anytime she’s in a scene she absolutely steals the show. She captures the sense of independence that the 20’s are so often associated with, but still stands out as her own own character, making her the strong female protagonist romance novels so often try to create, yet so often fall short of doing, in my opinion. In fact, if you writing romance, or if you find you struggle to write women regardless of genre (which is a longer conversation for another day), check out Indiana Belle for Candice alone. She’s worth it.

So, whatever you usually read–romance, historical fiction, mystery, sci-fi, you name it–take a break and get whisked away to the 1920’s with Indiana Belle no time travel required.

Alpha Male–Joshua Corey Mays

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Alpha Male–Joshua Corey Mays

Plot: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Characters: 3/5       Entertainment: 3/5       World Building: 3/5

Alpha Male is an interesting thought experiment about the world of super heroes and their actions, but the areas where super hero stories usually shine, the characters and the action, it falls a little flat.

Thanks to Alpha Male, the city has grown quiet. As a result, few people see any real need for him and treat him either as a celebrity or a washed up attraction, until a new super villain comes to town, anyway. With the city looking to him once again for protection, can Alpha Male rise to the occasion? Or have his days of catching common criminals caused him to loose his edge?

I have to admit, Mays has done an brilliant job exploring the long-term and far-reaching effects a super hero would have on a big city. From the police force, to the lives criminals have after Alpha Male has captured them, to the manifestation of the resentment people feel due to Alpha Male’s collateral damage, Mays puts a great deal of thought into how the hero exists in his world. Not a stone is left unturned and there were quite a few that I hadn’t expected to show up, which as impressive. So, if you enjoy idea-driven books, especially of the sci-fi/fantasy type, I think Alpha Male would be a good piece to add to your reading list.

If you like more story or character driven works, however, you might not enjoy this as much. I still can’t put my finger on why, but none of the characters really clicked for me, Alpha Male least of all. To me, he’s just not an enjoyable character to watch, which really hurt the story since we’re supposed to want to see him save the day. In a similar vein, while the action is passable and definitively has some creative scenarios, it never felt as exciting as one would expect from a super hero piece.

Over all, Alpha Male explores some really interesting ideas and premises, which definitely make it worth your time if you enjoy books with that sort of focus. If you’re looking for the fun characters and exciting action that usually comes from the super hero genre, you may want to keep looking.