Star Trek-The Next Generation:Armageddon’s Arrow by Dayton Ward

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It is a new age of exploration and the U.S.S. Enterprise is returning to her roots. Sent on a mission to the Odyssean Pass, it is a far-flung region of space that has only been mapped by unmanned probes but is believed to have inhabited worlds. As they approach a star system with two such worlds, Captain Picard and crew come first upon a massive alien vessel.

The derelict ship shows signs of being adrift in space for decades and upon closer inspection a small crew in suspended animation is found. The Enterprise crew soon learn this ship is an ultimate weapon, sent from the future and designed to bring an end to a war that has raged for generations.  With both sides claiming this doomsday ship, Captain Picard must mediate some kind of truce before one side or the other uses the weapon for its ultimate purpose.

Those who know me know I have been a Star Trek fan for a LONG time – like I joined the fandom in the early 90’s long time. So I have definitely read my fair share of Star Trek books. I got out of reading them for a time but came back with Armageddon’s Arrow and I am glad I did.

While there are many of the characters we Next Generation fans are familiar with, there are also numerous new characters added. This mix of old and new is refreshing and enough to bring new readers in while keeping older readers (like myself) happy.

With Armageddon’s Arrow, Ward presents a difficult dilemma – just how far is someone willing to go to end a war? It is one that is handled with aplomb, however to say too much will give away the ending.

Fast-paced with occasional less frenetic passages, Arrow is an excellent addition to the Star Trek universe. There is enough to please old fans and welcome new fans. For those who are fans this is a definite must-read.

A History of What Comes Next (Take Them to the Stars #1) by Sylvain Neuvel

Always run, never fight.
Preserve the knowledge.
Survive at all costs.
Take them to the stars.

Over 99 identical generations, Mia’s family has shaped human history to push them to the stars, making brutal, wrenching choices and sacrificing countless lives. Her turn comes at the dawn of the age of rocketry. Her mission: to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, and secure the future of the space race.

But Mia’s family is not the only group pushing the levers of history: an even more ruthless enemy lurks behind the scenes.

A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them… 

When I originally picked up A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel, I was intrigued. As someone who has had a lifelong love of space and science fiction, I have always enjoyed reading books where characters dream (and often achieve) going to the stars.

Unfortunately though, what I got when reading A History of What Comes Next was vastly different than what I was expecting. While the general story itself was quite interesting, the writing was often dry and lackluster. The characters of mother Sarah and daughter Mia were difficult to connect to. It was difficult to actually care about what happened to them over the course of the book. Much like the characters do with the people around them, we too are held at arms’ length and are not let in close.

Neuvel relies heavily on the scientific and technical details throughout A History of What Comes Next. And while this is fine for some scenes, it simply does not work for others. It also means a good bit of background information is left out. Like, who exactly are the Kibsu? Why must there only be two? Why do the daughters look exactly like the mothers? What is the significance of the necklace mother passes down to daughter?

None of the questions are answered and when there is the occasional interlude into previous eras it leaves one with only more questions and few answers.

There is a second book in the series and I am curious about it. It continues where the first book leaves off with Mia. I will likely be reading it only to see if any of my questions are answered.

It would be hard for me to recommend this book to any but the most hardcore space enthusiasts out there. Perhaps if the book were handled differently, written in a smoother style it would be easier to read and enjoy.

Provided for Review: Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

This book was provided for review by NetGalley and the author. Thank you!

Trigger Warnings: Physical and emotional abuse, alcohol addiction, mentions of rape, threats of rape, torture, murder, gore, misogyny.

I originally decided to read Iron Widow because of one blurb I saw on Netgalley:

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

Now while I don’t quite agree with the categorization of Iron Widow being a YA book, I do agree with everything else. Iron Widow IS a strangely wonderful blend of ideas both new and old. The characters are taken from Chinese history as well as Chinese literature and they are given a spin that will allow even those who aren’t familiar with their original stories to connect with them.

Set in the nation of Huaxia, Iron Widow is a futuristic reimagining of Medieval China. It is a nation that is constantly under attack by alien robots known as Hunduns. The only way to defeat the Hunduns is through the use of Chrysalises, giant mecha made from the spirit metal of defeated Hunduns. It takes two people to pilot a Chrysalis; male pilots who are regarded as heroes and female co-pilots who are more often than not forgotten.

Wu Zetian volunteers to become a co-pilot so that she may take revenge for her older sister’s death. It is her main driving force even though she knows she will likely die achieving it. When Wu is able to achieve her revenge, that small taste of power spurs her on. Her abilities make her an asset even as she is considered a threat.

In reading Iron Widow, I not only thought of Pacific Rim but I also found myself thinking of the classic anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. For those who are not familiar, Evangelion featured EVAs which were also biomechanical mechas created to battle similar type creatures. They too feature a human pilot – though the EVAs have one pilot while the Chrysalises have two. The pilots in both are young and must also follow the orders of those above them.

Zhao’s writing in Iron Widow is in my opinion quite well done. The action scenes are well-paced and are nicely interspersed with the more character-building scenes. Scenes that feature Wu’s “down-time” do not detract from the overall story but instead, add to the creation of a character that the reader can connect to. We cheer for Wu as she struggles and succeeds.

The only thing I did not like – and which I hope Zhao will expand upon in the second book – is the whole backstory of the Hunduns and the Chrysalises. We are given a tantalizing tease at the end of the first book and I am hoping that we learn more in the second.

I enjoyed reading Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao. I am very glad I was allowed an early peek through Netgalley and I am eagerly looking forward to the second book in the series.

Provided for Review: Burden of Truth (After the Green Withered #2) by Kristen Ward

I thought I understood the truth.

I thought I knew the whole story.

But no one really did.

In a country defined by scarcity and control, Enora Byrnes leaves the watchful eyes and secret agendas of the powerful and enters a society living on the fringes. Life beneath the surface brings her face to face with a world struggling to survive. Armed with knowledge and honed into a weapon for the resistance, she fights alongside those whom society deems rebels and uses her skills to steal a secret kept hidden from humanity. Enora becomes what she has hunted: a traitor.

As Enora embarks on a fateful quest, will she find the one thing that could give her world hope or a truth that is far worse than she ever imagined? 

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

Burden of Truth is the sequel to After the Green Withered. Read my review for the first book here.

Picking up almost immediately after where After the Green Withered left off, Burden of Truth picks up the story of Enora Byrnes as she tries to learn more about the people behind the DMC.

Having decided to join the resistance, Enora is faced with numerous difficult decisions and must deal with the sometimes heart-breaking consequences. It is not an easy path she and Springer have decided to take.

Much like with the first book, Burden of Truth is a fast paced and multi faceted story. Many of the same characters from the first book return with a few new ones introduced along the way. Time has passed for everyone and it hasn’t always been kind.

Enora continues to agonize over her choices, again and again saying she has blood on her hands for the things she has done. Compared to what other characters have done over the course of the two books (and even beforehand), Enora’s so called sins are a mere drop in the bucket.

Readers looking for a happy ending where Enora and Springer somehow defeat the “evil” DMC should look elsewhere. The ending of Burden of Truth is a truthful one, just not a happy one. Considering the world that Ward has created in her novels, it is also the only plausible one.

As much as I enjoyed reading Burden of Truth, it was a difficult book to read at times. Simply because the base premise of the story is relatable. It is so easy to picture a future as described and it is frightening.

Provided for Review: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

I’m embarrassed, still, by how long it took me to notice. Everything was right there in the open, right there in front of me, but it still took me so long to see the person I had married.

It took me so long to hate him.

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be.

And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and both Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up.

Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

This book was provided for review by Netgalley. Thank you!

The basic premise of The Echo Wife is quite good. Evelyn Caldwell is an award winning scientist, her work with cloning is second to none. Unfortunately, her awards comes with a cost – namely, her marriage to Nathan. When Evelyn suspects Nathan of being unfaithful, she hires a private investigator to discover the truth. The truth is something Evelyn never would have expected; Nathan is indeed having an affair and the other woman is an exact duplicate of Evelyn herself.

For such a promising premise and such an intriguing cover, sadly The Echo Wife does not deliver. On more than one occasion I contemplated actually not finishing this book and writing a short review saying just that. However, because I was curious as to how it would end I continued to read and did finish the book.

For me, the majority of the problems I saw with The Echo Wife come from the main character herself. The story is told from Evelyn’s point of view with all her internal thoughts and feelings. And she is a mess. She is almost always upset by something, either from something someone did (as when Martine tidied up Evelyn’s townhouse) or from something someone did not do (such as her co-workers not noticing she was upset despite her keeping her feelings to herself). Evelyn comes across as self-righteous and overly emotional and that became tiring after a while.

Overall, while I did enjoy reading The Echo Wife it was also a struggle. Would I recommend it to my readers? Yes, provided they take my advice and take everything in the book with a healthy grain of salt.

It Devours: A Welcome to Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

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Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the small town of Night Vale. Working beside the town’s top scientist Carlos, her guiding principles are fact and logic. These principles are put to the question when Carlos gives her a unique assignment; investigate the strange rumblings and disappearances that have been occurring around town.

Not wanting to disappoint her boss, Nilanjana follows the clues to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God – and to Darryl, one of the congregation’s most devout followers. Grappling with her beliefs as well as her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect there is more to the congregation that meets the eye. And that they are planning a special ceremony that could threaten the lives of every person in town.

Welcome to Night Vale is a currently ongoing podcast that mimics the style of NPR and small town talk radio. The difference being that Night Vale is not your typical town. Strange and mysterious events happen aplenty and the town is populated with a wide variety of individuals – from a mysterious glow cloud (all hail) to a literal five headed dragon and from numerous humans of all walks of life to some who are mostly human. And for the most part, the citizens of Night Vale get along well enough.

The reader who decides to pick up It Devours should have some prior knowledge about Welcome to Night Vale. While they don’t need to be fully caught up on the podcast, some knowledge about the town and characters is essential. The novel itself focuses on two original characters – Nilanjana Sikdar and Darryl Sanchez – but other characters such as Cecil and Carlos do make appearances. There are also references to the hooded figures, the black helicopters, and the Smiling God – all of which have been referenced before in the podcast.

This aside, It Devours is an interesting book. The two main characters come from opposite side of a unique spectrum. Nilanjana believes in science – that we should question everything and always seek the truth. Darryl believes in his religion – that we should question nothing and should believe the truths given to us. Naturally they butt heads but they both eventually realize they are simply different sides of the same coin. They both want the same thing even if they end up going about it in different ways.

The ideas of religion versus science are handled very well in this book. Neither is lauded above the other, neither is declared “right”. And the individuals who proclaim that their way is the right and only way are actually shown the error of their ways. Whether it be by being eaten by a giant sand worm or by realizing that they are in fact the creator of the tremors that are decimating the city.

The characters themselves are also presented in an uncommon manner. Very little is dedicated to their actual physical appearance. Instead, the reader is encouraged to get to know Nilanjana and Darryl by their words; their thoughts and actions dictating the kind of person they are. The same can be said of all the characters of Night Vale. So little is known about what they physically look like, the only exception being we know that Carlos has “perfect hair”. This allows the reader to imagine themselves or any person in any of the roles.

In general, the average reader could possibly enjoy It Devours. While knowledge of the universe via the podcast does make the read more enjoyable, the opposite could also be true. By reading the book one becomes interested in the universe and seeks out the podcast. Either way, I enjoyed It Devours and recommend it to my own readers.

The Mechanical: Book 1 of the Alchemy Wars by Ian Tregillis

Every so often an invention comes along that changes the world. It revolutionizes it’s particular field and nothing is quite the same afterward. One example – and one that is important to the story – is the pendulum clock. Invented in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens, is was a breakthrough in timekeeping, allowing accuracy unheard of in its day.

The Mechanical takes place in a world where the pendulum clock wasn’t Huygens only great invention. Along side the clocks, he also created a clockwork man called a Clakker. Imbued with a mixture of alchemy and science, these mechanical men and women are considered the perfect tool. They are able to fill any role – soldier or servant. They are tireless and obedient and they allow the Dutch to become a world power. Yet what the Dutch do not know – or perhaps deny knowing – is that the Clakkers are thinking and feeling beings and that they desire their freedom.

Our story takes place in 1926, but it is a very different age. The Dutch have built a grand world on the backs of their metal men conquering much of the known world. The French have been defeated and now live in exile in what know as Nova Scotia, Canada. Though the French have a better understanding of chemicals, scientific discovery and spies among the Dutch, and even with a shaky cease-fire between the two powers, the French know it is only a matter of time before they fall to the Clakkers. However the French believe they have found a way to not only defeat the French but to free the Clakkers.

There are three separate narratives creating this story, each showing a different view of this world. At first they seem separate and only as the book goes on do we see how entwined they truly are. I won’t go too much in to it though because to say too much will spoil the plot. And believe me dear reader, discovering how everything fits together is half the enjoyment of this book.

What also makes this book enjoyable is how it makes you think. Not only does it make you question how we define what means to be a human but also what it means to truly be free. It also asks that question ‘what is a soul?’ – it is something that can be measured or even manufactured? Questions that have been asked for millenia are posed again but without being preachy or sad but inquisitive.

To sum up, this book is EXCELLENT. With fabulous writing set in a fascinating well-built world, characters that are interesting and diverse and a truly original plot, this is a very good read. I am definitely looking forward to the second (and third? and more?) book in this series.

Pines (Wayward Pines #1) by Blake Crouch

Wayward Pines, Idaho, is quintessential small-town America – or so it seems.

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrives in search of two missing federal agents, yet soon is facing much more than he bargained for. After a violent accident lands him in the hospital, Ethan comes to with no ID and no cell phone. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off.

As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into his colleagues’ disappearance turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he make contact with his family in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what’s the purpose of the electrified fences encircling the town? Are they keeping the residents in? Or something else out?

Each step toward the truth takes Ethan further from the world he knows, until he must face the horrifying possibility that he may never leave Wayward Pines alive…

Often times when I am looking for books to add to To Read list I will add titles that just sound interesting. Maybe I’ve read something from the author before, maybe I haven’t. Maybe something on the cover catches my eye. Or maybe something in the blurb just piques my interest.

Such is what happened with Pines, the first novel in the Wayward Pines series. Blake Crouch is an author I have reviewed before on here and when looking at some of the other titles he’s written the Wayward Pines series stood out. As a fan of the “survival horror” type video games (ie Silent Hill and Resident Evil) I was especially intrigued and added the title to my queue.

Oh my goodness dear reader, I am so glad I did. It has been some time since a book has held my attention so fully that I read it in one evening. There were times I had to set it down and walk away to take care of one thing or another but I just as quickly returned because I simply had to know what happens next.

If you are familiar with the “survival horror” genre, whether it be via video games, novels, etc. then the basic plotline of Pines will not seem new. Indeed it relies on several familiar tropes that are standard – the perfect little town, the citizens that are a little too friendly, contact with any one outside of the actual town cut off for whatever reason. These things are de rigeur for stories of this type and Crouch uses them all very well.

As in his other novels, Crouch’s writing is tight paced. The action is not just physical but psychological as well. The main character Ethan is easy to sympathize with. As one event leads to another and still there is no way to leave the sleepy little town, one begins to wonder if perhaps it is Ethan himself who is off. In watching him find dead end after dead end you also begin to feel his frustration and despair. And when he does learn what is going on, his horror as well.

Since Pines is the first novel in the Wayward Pines trilogy, I fully expected the story to end on a cliffhanger. I expected few if any questions to be answered and if any were they would simply lead to more. Pines is odd in that it answers most of the questions raised throughout the novel. There is an ending but it is also left open for the subsequent novels in the series. Where Crouch takes the story next, I am not sure but I am curious to find out.

Readers who enjoyed shows like Twin Peaks or X-Files will more than likely enjoy travelling to Wayward Pines. I whole heartedly recommend at least the first novel to my readers. As I have already gotten the second and third books from my local library, readers should stay tuned for those reviews as well.

Provided for Review: Highfire by Eoin Colfer

In the days of yore, he flew the skies and scorched angry mobs—now he hides from swamp tour boats and rises only with the greatest reluctance from his Laz-Z-Boy recliner. Laying low in the bayou, this once-magnificent fire breather has been reduced to lighting Marlboros with nose sparks, swilling Absolut in a Flashdance T-shirt, and binging Netflix in a fishing shack. For centuries, he struck fear in hearts far and wide as Wyvern, Lord Highfire of the Highfire Eyrie—now he goes by Vern. However…he has survived, unlike the rest. He is the last of his kind, the last dragon. Still, no amount of vodka can drown the loneliness in his molten core. Vern’s glory days are long gone. Or are they?

A canny Cajun swamp rat, young Everett “Squib” Moreau does what he can to survive, trying not to break the heart of his saintly single mother. He’s finally decided to work for a shady smuggler—but on his first night, he witnesses his boss murdered by a crooked constable.

Regence Hooke is not just a dirty cop, he’s a despicable human being—who happens to want Squib’s momma in the worst way. When Hooke goes after his hidden witness with a grenade launcher, Squib finds himself airlifted from certain death by…a dragon?

The swamp can make strange bedfellows, and rather than be fried alive so the dragon can keep his secret, Squib strikes a deal with the scaly apex predator. He can act as his go-between (aka familiar)—fetch his vodka, keep him company, etc.—in exchange for protection from Hooke. Soon the three of them are careening headlong toward a combustible confrontation. There’s about to be a fiery reckoning, in which either dragons finally go extinct—or Vern’s glory days are back.

This book was provided for review by the author and the kind people at NetGalley. Thank you!

The copy of Highfire reviewed was an Uncorrected Proof provided by NetGalley. Any changes done after distribution were done at the discretion of the author and the publisher.

Being from the state of Louisiana, I am always interested in books (and movies and TV shows) that are set in this state. I almost always find myself comparing the fiction with the truth. Sometimes the two are so far apart as to be laughable and sometimes the two are actually quite close. When this happens, it is always a pleasant surprise.

Highfire is one of those books where fact and fiction are fairly close. At least when it comes to South Louisiana. And while Colfer does take a few small liberties (dancing alligators) for the most part his portrayal of this little corner of the world is pretty accurate.

Thankfully, Colfer sets the scene in the bayou backwaters around the city of New Orleans. It is much easier to fudge things here since the waterways are constantly changing. What doesn’t change is how the people there live and Colfer seems to get this mostly right. He does not try to make any one character sound too ridiculous or have a bizarre accent that no one down here has. There is a certain cadence to South Louisiana speech that Colfer did try to capture in the first part of the novel and it did not feel natural. Thankfully, the prose shifted away from that later on.

The characters that inhabit Highfire are all unique. It is very easy to cheer for Squib and Vern. Likewise, it is very easy to jeer at Sheriff Hooke. There is one particular character I would have liked to see more of before their departure – not named here because of spoilers. They provided a good dose of humor in to what could have become a too heavy story.

I really enjoyed reading Highfire by Eoin Colfer. Because this is a fantasy with a dragon, the action does go over the top in some scenes. Yet it is done in a way that is also kind of believable. The end is also left open with the understanding that we might once again visit the bayous of South Louisiana and a vodka swilling dragon. I certainly hope so.

Provided for Review: Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Ever since Margot was born, it’s just been her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: a photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. Was it to hide from her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply in to Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing this book for review.

Trigger warnings: Emotional manipulation, Emotional abuse, Mentions of gaslighting

For as long as Margot can remember, it’s just been her and her mom. The two of them just managing to scrape by. The struggle to make it from one day to the next becomes more and more difficult and at times the line between who is mother and who is daughter is blurred.

Desperate to try and stay in her mother’s good graces, Margot decides to try and buy back some of their things from the local pawn shop. Buried at the bottom of a box, Margot finds an old bible and tucked among the pages is a photograph. On the back is a name and a phone number as well as the name of a town – Phalene.

As pieces begin to come together, Margot believes she’s found what she’s been wanting her whole life. A family. It is only that the longer she spends there, the more she realizes not everything is as it seems. Even perfect families have their secrets.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power is one of those books that while the subject matter made it difficult to read at times, neither could I put the book down.

In the first chapter we are introduced to Margot and her mother Jo, and it is here we get our first glimpses of how dysfunctional their relationship is. Their relationship is not a good one, it could easily be described as toxic. A truth that Power does not shy away from and instead lays bare. In showing the dichotomy between Margot and her mother, we see the abuser and the abused. One feeding in to the other in a never ending cycle.

Burn Our Bodies Down is not an easy book to read. While classified as Young Adult, the subject matter might be a little too difficult for some readers. Truthfully, some adult readers might have trouble as well as some scenes could be considered triggering.

This does NOT mean that Burn Our Bodies Down is a bad book – the truth be told, I thought it was a very good book. It is only that a handful of scenes may hit a little too close to home for some readers and would thus take the enjoyment out of an otherwise enjoyable book.

Under most circumstances, I finish my reviews with the answer to the question of whether I would recommend this particular book to my readers or not. With Burn Our Bodies Down, I do recommend it but I also advise my readers to not go in blind.