Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Redd Becker Book Review

Sci-fi world building

Pierce Brown’s dystopian world is built on the brutal power of classes, each with their own color designation, with Golds in charge. Born as a slave in the Red’s mining community, Darrow is set on a course to free the world. A lofty challenge and common plot-line, not unlike Suzanne Collins Hunger Games.

As the story develops, a plethora of characters emerge. Brown had fun creating plot twist after twist. Some changes I anticipated, but many ingeniously altered my expectations, such as Mustang’s allegiance. None were out of character, however.

The action ramps up when Darrow competes in a deadly game against the elitist of Gold youths in order to establish their hierarchy. Obstacles come at Darrow from all directions.

Cliff-hanger chapter ending kept me at night. I forced myself to stop reading mid-chapter, rather than be propelled to the next chapter.

Sci-fi World Building in Red Rising

This novel is often sighted as an example of world building, so I had to read it. Brown creates a multi-layered world with individualized cultures, although his world is built around socio-political issues we know. Slavery becomes a key topic, as does the abuse of power.

Brown endeavors to create not one setting, but three very different aspects of his world. The world of enslaved Reds functions deep within mines. For me, this was the best part of the book, as Darrow shows us his world, from inside a slave colonies perspective.

From there Darrow finds himself a pawn of a ‘carver’ who recreates him physically, but at the premium price of working for the rebellion by infiltrating the world of Golds. The novel really takes off when Darrow competes for his place among the elite of the elite Golds.

Although each world came to life for me, Brown used extensive first person exposition to inform his readers of all aspects of culture and environs. This interested me, because exposition is exactly what teachers advise students not to do when world building. Brown uses his explanations well however. It’s in the details he chooses to tell about settings that keep us engaged.

I’m tempted to continue with the series, but I have got other books on the shelf for now.

Red Rising by Pierce BrownRed Rising (Red Rising, #1) by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #1
Published by Del Rey (Random House) on January 28th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 382
Goodreads

"I live for the dream that my children will be born free," she says. "That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them."

"I live for you," I say sadly.

Eo kisses my cheek. "Then you must live for more."

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity's overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society's ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies... even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

 Redd Becker Book Review

An ancient style Rome sets the background for Sabaa Tahir’s world, where an austere life and a harsh regime take their tole. The king orders death as retribution for any sign of rebellion.

From the ashes of this by Sabaa Tahircivilization a girl, desperate to protect her brother, risks everything. By spying on a military commandant, she hopes to gain the information needed to save his life. 

Sabaa Tahir writes An Ember in the Ashes from two protagonist’s point-of-view. Laia lives an impoverished life, while Elias claims the position as the leading student warrior.

Through Elias’s intellect and ability, he rises through the ranks of his school, consequently becoming a threat to Laia and the rebells. Although Elias shines as a leader and becomes the apparent ruler for the next dynasty, he doubts his desire to serve the brutal regime.

Romance plays a secondary role to the plot, but romantic tensions entangle Laia and Elias. As with many romances, when they become reluctant alleys, they can’t deny their attraction.

Sabaa Tahir engaged me from the start

Tahir clearly lays out the dynamics of her plot and characters early. In the first scenes we meet Laia’s family including worries, worships and warts. The empire enforces its rules harshly, intimidating its citizens with their all-mighty military. They quickly retaliate in response to the actions of Laia’s brother, which puts Laia between them. Laia’s struggles demand our empathy, and the focus of family creates a tension we all relate to.

This story of friendship has it all including: loyalty, wickedness, romance, jealousy, revenge, betrayal, fear, family, cruelty and hope. Enjoy the ride.

For more information on Tahir check out the interview on Bookstacked and NPR.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill on February 9th 2016
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 446
Goodreads

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.   Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.   It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.   But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.   There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

From the Hardcover edition.

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

Redd Becker Book Review

I picked up Chuck Wendig’s book, Under the Empyrean Sky, because I liked the sci-fi inspired cover. His reputation precedes him as the author of many Star Wars books, however, so it shouldn’t have taken me the cover to delve into his books.

by Chuck WendigAs the first in The Heartland Trilogy, the story focuses on farmers resisting the government, because they are forced to grow a modified corn plant that is taking over the land. A timely idea. 

Chuck Wendig writes prolifically and has a huge following. He wrote this book in third person in a uniquely personal style. Although the style didn’t motivate me, his books appeal to thousands. His name appears on the NYT Best Seller list often.

Wendig’s blog Terribleminds reflects his prolific creativity and varied interests. His books sit front and center as we expect, but he also writes about game design, food, pop culture, his family and anything else he chooses. Warning: his language may not be for everybody.

Chuck Wendig Controversies

Wendig’s Star Wars novel, Aftermath, created a lot of controversy in 2015 over the inclusion of a gay character. The Guardian wrote a review that included Wendig’s response to the complaints.

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck WendigUnder the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy, #1) by Chuck Wendig
Published by Skyscape on July 30th 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 354
Goodreads

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow. And the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie, his first mate and the love of his life, forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry, angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

The Martian by Andy Weir, a sci-fi adventure on Mars

Redd Becker Book Review

Andy Weir’s tale of an astronaut stranded on Mars captured my mind as well as my imagination. This is my second read of The Martian and the details of the story fascinate me. I particularly admire Andy Weir for figuring out The Martian by Andy Weir, a story from Marsthe science required to execute the story.

The plot is simple–the struggle for survival under unsurmountable odds. An astronaut becomes stranded on Mars, when a dust storm and equipment failures cause the rest of the crew to leave. Fortunately the stranded astronaut’s background as a botanist and chemist enables him to devise incredibly ingenuous solutions.  The logs of his progress tell the story. Although his prospect of survival appears dim, it’s clear Mark doesn’t loose hope in being rescued.

I really enjoyed The Martian. Weir writes about what interests him and it comes through in every scene. Regardless of the geekiness, the book was fun. Even the ending didn’t disappoint, including Weir’s philosophical summary.

The Magic is in the Details

The trials of growing  food enough to sustain him for over a year was only one of our hero’s challenges. Although Weir describes it all, including technical calculations and equipment issues that reflect Weir’s knowledge of the space program, his descriptions aren’t dumbed-down for lay readers. I can imagine many a learned mathematician and scientist reviewing the details to prove or disprove Weir’s descriptions for themselves. For most of us, however, the story felt plausible.

The chemicals, gases and equipment descriptions add to the story and in many respects make it the hit it became. The story contains more technical details than you think you want, but it went smoothly and just when my interest of the technical wained, something changed to renew my attention.

For a majority of the story, Weir writes in first person, which draws you into the Mark’s situation. Although emotions are largely missing, Weir interweaves plenty of dry humor to keep your spirits up. When contact with NASA finally occurs, Weir shifts to third person in order to present happenings from the Earth perspective, as well as what his comrades, who remain in space as they return home, are doing.

A Geek’s Adventure on Mars for Everybody

This geek’s story of survival hits a universal chord with most readers, as shown by their reviews on Goodreads. With over half-million reader’s the average review remains over four stars. That’s an excellent recommendation for so many readers to agree on.

If your interest in Mars goes deeper, National Geographic wrote an interesting article on why we haven’t planted ourselves on Mars yet.

The Martian by Andy Weir, a sci-fi adventure on MarsThe Martian by Andy Weir
Published by Crown on February 11th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 369
Goodreads
four-half-stars

A mission to Mars.

A freak accident.

One man's struggle to survive.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars' surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, Mark won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark's not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.
As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive.
But Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Remember Yesterday by Pintip Dunn (Forget Tomorrow #2)

Redd Becker Book Review

Pintip Dunn fills every chapter of Remember Yesterday with driving action.  by Pintup DunnWe quickly learn our heroine’s sister, Callie, committed suicide to stop future memory research. The nation’s leader pushes on, however, with her vision to mold a society with precognition. A society that already knows its future because future selves send information backward in time. The chairwoman’s plans include winnowing out anyone who doesn’t have precognition. The young Jessa commits herself to fulfilling her sister’s wish to stop the project.

Jessa makes an intriguing heroine. She’s dynamic, conflicted and opinionated. Since she and her twin possessed the power of precognition, she believes she has a chance of stopping the research.

The tension of romance muddles Jessa’s perspective, however, when she collaborates with the young scientist, Tanner, to save her sister. Jessa is both aroused and ethically repelled by what Tanner represents to her. But the twist at the end puts their relationship in new light.

Pintip Dunn’s story comes full circle by the conclusion. Fresh imagery make this a fun read. This is the second book of the series, and Dunn leaves plenty of room to continue to story.

Pintip Dunn Wins the  RITA

Although Goodreads readers didn’t classify Dunn’s book in the Romance genre, Dunn won the RITA Award from the Romance Writers of America for Forget Tomorrow in 2016. Dunn placed in many other award lists as well, which recognizes her fresh writing style, intriguing heroines and driving plots.

For a list of 25 great paranormal romances, check out the  Best Fantasy Books website.

Remember Yesterday by Pintip Dunn (Forget Tomorrow #2)Remember Yesterday (Forget Tomorrow, #2) by Pintip Dunn
Published by Entangled: Teen on October 4th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Goodreads

Follow-up to the New York Times bestselling novel, Forget Tomorrow!
Would you change the past to protect your future?
Sixteen-year-old Jessa Stone is the most valuable citizen in Eden City. Her psychic abilities could lead to significant scientific discoveries, if only she’d let TechRA study her. But ten years ago, the scientists kidnapped and experimented on her, leading to severe ramifications for her sister, Callie. She’d much rather break into their labs and sabotage their research—starting with Tanner Callahan, budding scientist and the boy she loathes most at school.
The past isn’t what she assumed, though—and neither is Tanner. He’s not the arrogant jerk she thought he was. And his research opens the door to the possibility that Jessa can rectify a fatal mistake made a decade earlier. She’ll do anything to change the past and save her sister—even if it means teaming up with the enemy she swore to defeat.

EarthSea: The Other Wind by Ursula LeGuin

Redd Becker Book Review

The Other Wind (Earthsea Cycle, #6)

The Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin enchants many readers with well reason. The addition of The Other Wind follows suit. This story evolves around Alder, a young sorcerer who dreams of his dead wife. He becomes tempted to breach the wall entrapping her in the world of the dead, but fears the consequences. 

Alder’s dreams of his wife’s ghost persist. He wants to break down the wall between the dimensions, but tearing it down may cause a riff in Earthsea by freeing all dead souls, not only his wife. To find a solution Alder goes on a journey to see Ged, once Archmage of EarthSea. Then he travels to Havnor to find the king who  takes Alder to talk to a dragon in the form of a woman. Only she can mend the riff in the wall caused so many years ago, when dragons and humans parted ways. 

EarthSea

In many of LeGuin’s books, including the EarthSea series, she creates characters with humane issues, then she places them in a strange and wonderful fantasy world. She takes us on journeys where people are tempted, ache to do the right thing, but fear the consequences of their actions. Humane themes drive LeGuin’s stories. In The Other World she deals with issues of the death of those we love.

The Other Wind stands on its own as a story, although reading earlier books in the series definitely fill in references made in this book. A tale with dragons, wizards, kings and a journey woven within very humane challenges. What more could I ask in a fantasy story?

Ursula LeGuin’s written many short stories and five novels based around her fictional world of EarthSea. Wikipedia lists them all.

The Clearing by Heather Davis, True Love is Timeless

Redd Becker Book Reviews

The Clearing by Heather DavisRead Heather Davis’s love story for Valentine’s Day

Heather Davis enjoys writing romances with a paranormal twist. In The Clearing she creates intrigue when her heroine, Amy, discovers that a meadow near her aunt’s trailer is a portal back in time to 1944.

Amy meets Henry near the clearing. The timing is perfect.  Amy, who lives in our present time, moved to a new high school where her family hopes she makes friends, but her past still stings too much to reach out. Henry, however, has grown tired of the time-loop his family is trapped within during WWII.

The teens find solace in each other, but they realize it can’t go on forever. Both Amy and Henry fear repercussions from remaining in the other’s time period. Amy never expected to find friendship in Henry, but the pangs of love and isolation compel her to return to the clearing to find him. As each teen grapples with their emotional and physical isolation, Davis probes the effects of love on their lives and the pressures that arise from it.

The Clearing is written in 1st person through Amy’s eyes and 3rd person close through Henry’s eyes. Besides romance across the ages, Davis explores facets of family and friendship. While Amy builds a relationship with her aunt and negotiates living in a small town, Henry’s family prepares to return to 1944.

The last chapter of The Clearing provides an appropriate and interesting twist that left me satisfied as a reader.

Accolades for Heather Davis

Heather Davis’s paranormal  romances have gained recognision. HAUNT ME won the Golden Heart award for Best Young Adult Romance Manuscript in 2006, the year after that Davis’s novel Amber Hickenbottom made the finals list for the same award. Davis has a book trailer for The Clearing on Youtube.

Cozy Mystery List blog has a list of Valentine’s Day mysteries you may enjoy and Michelle Krys, author of the young adult paranormal romance Hexed, has a list of Valentine’s Day romance novels on her web site.

The Clearing by Heather Davis, True Love is TimelessThe Clearing by Heather Davis
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on April 12th 2010
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Time Travel, Young Adult
Pages: 228
Goodreads

In this bittersweet romance, two teens living decades apart form a bond that will change their lives forever.
Amy is drawn to the misty, mysterious clearing behind her Aunt Mae’s place because it looks like the perfect place to hide from life. A place to block out the pain of her last relationship, to avoid the kids in her new town, to stop dwelling on what her future holds after high school.
Then, she meets a boy lurking in the mist—Henry. Henry is different from any other guy Amy has ever known. And after several meetings in the clearing, she’s starting to fall for him.
But Amy is stunned when she finds out just how different Henry really is. Because on his side of the clearing, it’s still 1944. By some miracle, Henry and his family are stuck in the past, staving off the tragedy that will strike them in the future. Amy’s crossing over to Henry’s side brings him more happiness than he’s ever known—but her presence also threatens to destroy his safe existence.
In The Clearing, author Heather Davis crafts a tender and poignant tale about falling in love, finding strength, and having the courage to make your own destiny—a perfect book to slip into and hide away for awhile.