Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pawn: A Chronicle of the Sibyl's War by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn kicks off a great new space opera trilogy with Pawn: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War. Zahn is no stranger to space adventure and Pawn shows he is still hitting on all cylinders.

19-year-old Nicole and frenemy/street thug Bungie along with the ER doctor they’ve kidnapped to treat Bungie’s wounds are in turn abducted and find themselves on the spaceship Fyrantha where they have been recruited as part of a maintenance crew.
Nicole finds that she is a Sibyl, which means with some pharmaceutical help, she can understand the living ship’s instructions and relay them to others. Nicole discovers she has it better on Fyrantha than she ever did on the streets of Philadelphia. Bungie, however, is desperate to escape and Nicole’s fear of his wrath leads her to explore areas of the ship which should be off limits. She discovers that there are several alien races on board beyond the ones who abducted her and that the ship holds a lot of mystery. How big is it? What is its purpose? And who is really in control?
Zahn does a great job of letting you see the ship through Nicole’s eyes, with new discoveries and new mysteries around every corner. Her actions have consequences both intended and unintended. Nicole’s life has been spent keeping her head down and trying to survive. But she is skilled at reading people, and her newfound and growing confidence on board Fyrantha sees her start to come out of her shell and steer her destiny rather than be swept away by it.
Pawn is a great story of discovery and adventure. Zahn captures the wonder of space and starships and aliens. The characters are solid and interesting, the action is exciting and the mystery will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next. Pawn kicks off a space opera adventure trilogy that will keep you up until you finish it and then have you eagerly awaiting the next installment. Fans of his previous work will love it and it’s a great place for new fans to jump in. Highly recommended!
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.
Description: Nicole Lee’s life is going nowhere. No family, no money, and stuck in a relationship with a thug named Bungie. But, after one of Bungie’s “deals” goes south, he and Nicole are whisked away by a mysterious moth-like humanoid to a strange ship called the Fyrantha.
Once aboard, life on the ship seems too good to be true. All she has to do is work on one of the ship’s many maintenance crews. However, she learned long ago that nothing comes without a catch. When she’s told to keep quiet and stop asking questions, she knows she is on to something.
Nicole soon discovers that many different factions are vying for control of the Fyrantha, and she and her friends are merely pawns in a game beyond their control. But, she is tired of being used, and now Nicole is going to fight.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Rising by Heather Graham and Jon Land

The Rising by Heather Graham and Jon Land is an ambitious sci-fi thriller featuring two young protagonists, a world-threatening mystery and lots of action. Alex Chin is captain of the football team and one of the most popular kids in school and on track to a college scholarship. Samantha Dixon is his tutor and left her own athletic career behind to pursue academics. She has a highly coveted NASA internship that places her on her own path to success. A freak football accident lands Alex in the hospital. Alex’s doctor discovers a medical anomaly and is murdered and so are Alex’s adoptive parents, who die trying to preserve secrets about Alex that even he is unaware of. When he flees for his life, Samantha refuses to leave his side. They end up on the run and unsure of who to trust. To survive, they must unravel the secrets of Alex’s past and prevent a disaster that could bring about the end of the world as we know it.

Graham’s skill with suspense and romance blend well with Land’s strength in action sequences. The action centers around Alex and Samantha’s efforts to discover the truth and prevent disaster from happening, all while on the run up and down the California coast. It soon becomes apparent that more than one group is after Alex and Samantha, some of whom want to help, some who don’t. The action scenes are well done and interesting. The mystery of who Alex is and why he is there is a little convoluted and ultimately unsatisfying. The main characters are believable and have some depth to them, but aren’t terribly interesting. The other characters are a bit thinly drawn so it’s hard to know what to make of them.

The audio version of the book is narrated by Luke Daniels. Daniels does an effective job distinguishing among the characters in the book. Each voice is quite distinct. He also complements the pace of the story with the pace and emotion of his reading. This is sometimes hampered by the structure of the book which is broken up into small chapters with some of the breaks coming in mid-conversation for reasons that are unclear. Some of the choices he makes for character voices are a little over the top and verge on distracting.

The Rising is a solid sci-fi thriller that concludes its story arc and sets itself up for a sequel. The mystery is a little underwhelming and characterization, particularly of the antagonists, could be stronger but an entertaining read.

I received an advance copy of this book.

Description: Twenty-four hours. That's all it takes for the lives of two young people to be changed forever.
Alex Chin has the world on a plate. A football hero and homecoming king with plenty of scholarship offers, his future looks bright. His tutor, Samantha Dixon, is preparing to graduate high school at the top of her class. She plans to turn her NASA internship into a career.
When a football accident lands Alex in the hospital, his world is turned upside down. His doctor is murdered. Then, his parents. Death seems to follow him wherever he goes, and now it's after him.
Alex flees. He tells Samantha not to follow, but she became involved the moment she walked through his door and found Mr. and Mrs. Chin as they lay dying in their home. She cannot abandon the young man she loves. The two race desperately to stay ahead of Alex's attackers long enough to figure out why they are hunting him in the first place. The answer lies with a secret buried deep in his past, a secret his parents died to protect. Alex always knew he was adopted, but he never knew the real reason his birth parents abandoned him. He never knew where he truly came from. Until now.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Ararat by Christopher Golden

Ararat starts on the mountain of the same name, the fabled resting place of Noah’s Ark. When an avalanche reveals a new cave, the race is on to be the first to explore the site. Getting there first is not the dangerous part though. What lurks inside is.

Adam Holzer and his fiancee Meryam Karga are adventurers, authors and documentary makers. When they win the race to the cave and the right to explore the ark, the mysteries begin. When they discover a sarcophagus with an ancient creature inside, one with horns, things get decidedly worse.

Christopher Golden does a wonderful job of creating a slow-building tension that invades you as you read. The kind that will have you jumping at sudden noises and seeing faces in shadows. One of the clever things Golden does is have a multinational and multi religious crew exploring the ark. Many are scholars in different disciplines and some are native guides. This mixture fuels the discord that would naturally occur in a discovery of this magnitude. The sense of unease is magnified in the face of a blizzard which traps the crew inside the ark with no hope of escape even if there wasn’t an evil presence trapped with them. When people begin to go missing, natural paranoia ratchets up, in some cases into blind panic.

Golden’s use of shifting first person narratives helps you get to know a large and interesting cast of characters. Along with Adam and Meryam, there is Ben Walker from the National Science Foundation accompanied by linguist Father Cornelius Hughes and U.N. observer Kim Seong as well as native mountain guides Feyiz and Hakan. These, as well as other characters, each have their own agendas and fears which fuel the conflicts. The sense of foreboding present at all times leads to a lot of self-examination especially as they are increasingly unsure of who or what they can trust.

Ararat is an entertaining thriller with steadily mounting tension and horror. It also manages to be thoughtful in its exploration of how different cultures and religions inform both our faith and our fears. Highly recommended read.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: Christopher Golden’s Ararat is the heart-pounding tale of an adventure that goes wrong…on a biblical scale. When an earthquake reveals a secret cave hidden inside Mount Ararat in Turkey, a daring, newly-engaged couple are determined to be the first ones inside…and what they discover will change everything.

The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah’s Ark. When a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses. Inside the coffin they find an ugly, misshapen cadaver―not the holy man they expected, but a hideous creature with horns. Shock and fear turn to horror when a massive blizzard blows in, trapping them thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain. All they can do is pray for safety. But something wicked is listening to their prayers…and it wants to answer.