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.

Gifts, Annals of the Western Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Redd Becker Book Review

Gifts by Ursula Le GuinGifts is all about power. Le Guin explores both mental and physical aspects of it. People born with power, the illusion of power and creating the illusion of power where none existed before. She probes how people use power, abuse it and are distracted by it. How people enslave others with it, fool themselves by it and accept or reject power whether in themselves or others.

Le Guin accentuates the effects of powers on society by creating a world where magical powers inherited through one’s blood lines range from killing people to turning rocks to dust.

The powers depicted in Gifts include: ‘wasting people’ so they die within the year; twisting limbs; blinding or making people deaf; taking people’s will; making people follow you or become subservient to you; rendering people brainless idiots and being able to talk to animals. Her main character, Orrec’s, power is ‘undoing’ things or dissolving them. It’s considered one of the most odious powers. Odious enough for Orrec’s father to persuade him to blind himself.

The powers Le Guin portrays in Gifts can apply to power in all societies. Power of influence over others, revenge, holding people in line, submission to power or fear of one’s own power.

Both Sides of the Coin

Relief comes from an outsider who questions everything Orrec believes about the powers that bind his world. The outsider explains incidents that occur as natural, but Orrec can’t see the truth. He remains blind, because he believes the lore he was raised within.

Orrec’s girlfriend, Gry, realizes that power works for good and evil. She refuses to use her gift for the family business of calling wild bore, bear and deer to the hunt. Instead she uses her power to talk to animals,to heal them and to train dogs and horses. She questions whether all powers have good and evil possibilities. She asks Orrec to consider the positive use of his power to ‘undo’ things and suggests the power’s original purpose may have been to heal rather than kill.

Le Guin foreshadows the end early in the story, but it comes with a certain satisfaction as the protagonist finally comes to terms with issues of power in his society, family and in himself.

Le Guin: Master Story Teller

I find myself returning to Ursula Le Guin’s books for a thought-provoking-science-fiction story that doesn’t rely on mega battles. She incorporates humane themes within unusual circumstances and environments. The combination equates to a good read.

For those interested in writing: Ursula Le Guin writes Gifts in 1st person POV. Notice how carefully she uses the pronoun ‘I’, so it isn’t overused.  A master storyteller with many awards, Le Guin balances backstory, action scenes and dialogue with the narrators thoughts, emotions  and telling of the story.

You may find more information about Ursula Le Guin at the Nebula Awards website.

Gifts, Annals of the Western Shore, by Ursula K. Le GuinGifts (Annals of the Western Shore, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Series: Annals of the Western Shore #1
Published by Harcourt on April 1st 2006
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 286
Goodreads

Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability--with a glance, a gesture, a word--to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.
In this beautifully crafted story, Ursula K. Le Guin writes of the proud cruelty of power, of how hard it is to grow up, and of how much harder still it is to find, in the world's darkness, gifts of light.
Includes a reader's guide and a sample chapter from the companion title Voices.

 

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

Redd Becker Book Review

The Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1) byI thought The Young Elites was going to be a typical rags to riches adventure, with a prince challenged to take his rightful place on the throne. Although it is a story of both a prince and princess vying for power, I was pleasantly surprised.

The protagonist, Adelina, was not the good girl I expected and yet my empathy was with her all the way. The circumstances of her love interest was more convoluted and obscured then expected.

Lu writes in third person close. Most chapters are in the protagonist’s POV, which helps to build empathy toward her, however, the perspective changes in some chapter provided information and subplots from various angles.

Snippets of literature from their world start each chapter. These provide insights to their world’s culture and an idea of where the chapter is heading. I liked the snippets better than similar headings in some stories.

The Young Elites’ Plot

Children altered by a sickness leaves them with physical defects and sometimes special powers. The king of Kenettra persecutes those effected, the malfettos. His queen decides to take over the throne and kill them. Adelina’s brother, Enzo, the rightful heir to the throne has been exiled as a malfetto. He enlists other malfettos to form the Young Elites in order to overthrow the throne and take his place as the rightful heir.

Adelina’s powers are slow to show, but when she kills her cruel father she is enlisted by Enzo, who saves her from death and enlists her help. Complications arise when Adelina’s sister is taken by the Queens’s assistant as hostage.

For those who like to write: The Young Elites is a wonderful example of subplots, over subplots.

You may want to check out Marie Lu’s final book in this series, The Midnight Star. Or another review of the popular Young Elite’s series at ReadLove.

The Young Elites by Marie LuThe Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1) by Marie Lu
Series: The Young Elites #1
on October 7th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 355
Goodreads

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.
Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.
Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.
Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.
Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.
It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.