Review of Splinters by Fiona J. R. Titchenell & Matt Carter

The Prospero Chronicles #1

Fion Titchenell and Matt Carter co-author the Prospero Chronicles. In book one Ben goes to a funeral of an old friend where he becomes an by Fiona Titchenell and Matt Carterunintentional participant in an alien species’ quest to take over the world.

We follow the story from both Ben and Mina’s perspective in 1st person. Each chapter clearly delineates the perspective, so there is not confusion.

The story is often told with tongue-in-cheek humor. In many ways this horror story is wrapped in humor, the young fresh carefree humor of youth.

Fiona Titchenell and Matt Carter Collaboration

Spliters is one of a series of three in the collaboration of Fiona J. R. Titchenell and Matt Carter. An interview on Smashwords with Titchenell describes the process they use to work together.

“When Matt and I are working on a project together, we construct the outline together and then mostly alternate the chapters between us, so we’ll be writing a pair of chapters concurrently, then we’ll trade them, make notes to each other, adjust accordingly, and continue on to the next pair… It usually takes us about four drafts to get a manuscript ready for an outside editor. Draft two fixes major continuity errors and adds in any parts we wanted to include but forgot in draft one. Draft three cuts the fat and smooths emotional continuity, and Draft four is usually down to fine-tuning.”

Bravo for their process and the results of their co-creating.

Chapter 1 Analysis

Many first chapters set up the challenge of the protagonist and give a good sense of the setting.  Splinters provides a solid setting, while it oozes with clues. Some clues may mislead the reader until they dive further into the book. The first chapter end leaves readers with a pile of questions to peak their interest…

An abundant use of commas pepper a multitude of run-on sentences. The commas can be distracting. Short sentences periodically break the run-on sentences up and help create much needed white space, but a cleaner punctuation style might work better.

Review of Splinters by Fiona J. R. Titchenell & Matt CarterSplinters by Fiona J.R. Titchenell, Matt Carter
Series: The Prospero Chronicles #1
Published by Createspace on June 6th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Goodreads

Under normal circumstances, Ben and Mina would never have had reason to speak to each other. He’s an easy-going people person with a healthy skepticism about the paranormal; she’s a dangerously obsessive monster-hunter with a crippling fear of betrayal. But the small Northern California town of Prospero, with its rich history of cryptid sightings, miracles, and mysterious disappearances, has no normal circumstances to offer.

When Ben’s missing childhood friend, Haley Perkins, stumbles out of Prospero’s surrounding woods and right into her own funeral, Ben and Mina are forced to work together to uncover what happened to her. Different as they are, their unlikely friendship may be the only thing that can save the town, and possibly the world, from its insidious invaders.

“A snapping, crackling, popping homage to classic horror.” —Kirkus Reviews.

“Whip-smart dialogue... genuinely terrifying Splinters, the descriptions of which will have fans of monster films utterly enthralled... A promising series opener, this will satisfy those readers who like their scary stories to be as clever as they are chilling." —KQG, the Bulletin of The Center for Children's Books.

“The stakes are high. The action is intense." —Washington Independent Review of Books.

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s novella entertains while addressing racial prejudices. Okorafor, one of today’s science fiction rising stars, integrates what she ‘knows’ by drawing from her Nigerian family experience and trips to Africa. As with many great sci-fi writers she tackles social issues in other world sceneries with aplomb. Racism is forefront in Binti. Our empathy becomes so closely tied to  the protagonist, that we can’t help but question what we would do in Binti’s place.

by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor leads us to believe that we will learn about Binti’s trials as the only one like her at the most elite university of her species. Laced with racial innuendos, issues of perspective and misconceptions about those one judges predominates the first half of the story.

Okorafor then turns that theme upside down. When the transport ship falls to an alien species and everyone except Binti dies, she finds herself the linchpin between species. Her challenge becomes staying alive. At this point, her race is both her blessing and curse. She must confront her fear of loosing her complete identity, not just as a minority within her species, but as a species. The twists that transpire intrigue on both the storytelling level and the emotional level.

Chapter 1 Analysis of Okorafor’s Binti

For those interested in writing: I embarked on a study of opening chapters a few months ago in the hopes of learning from other writers. Every writer has strength which they have honed in their opening chapter. Their commitment to their strengths means a great deal in the success of their writing style, especially in Chapter One. Writing styles vary. Each narrative voice comes through with unique distinction. Undoubtedly, an author’s style will charm some readers while turning others off.  Regardless, a writer’s commitment to their strengths appear paramount.

I found writers who break all the rules that teachers impart to me and have come to believe that when an author’s writing style rings true, than that style should be used, regardless of a pundit’s advise.

As a novella, I wondered whether Binti‘s beginning would be different than longer novels. Okorafor does not use standard chapters, so I studies the first 2,739 words, an approximate chapter.

Written in first person we quickly become immersed into Binti’s world and feel a familiarity with her. No lengthy descriptions orient or bore the reader. Instead setting descriptions sprinkled throughout scenes and internal thoughts continually remind us where the story takes place.

Backstory accounts for over a third of opening scenes. Although many teachers baulk at pulling the reader out of a scene with backstory, in sci-fi world building the technique works well. Okorafor’s success including backstory largely works because of her choice of content. Well chosen details provide insight and intrigue. In many case the backstories also create the feeling that one is eavesdropping on Binti.

Okorafor uses simple language to create pictures. Although she uses some wonderful action verbs, power words don’t ever dominate  the scenes. Instead, repeating words such as “whisper” creates both a link throughout the text, as well as, creating mood. She keeps a nice flow with sentence cadences that read easily. Plenty of double alliterations accelerate the feel of read. (Such as “…promise to pay…”

Okorafor sprinkles similes liberally throughout. This enhances images and provides another window into the other worldliness of Binti’s environs.

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi OkoraforBinti (Binti, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Binti #1
Published by Tor.com on September 22nd 2015
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction
Pages: 96
Goodreads

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Book Review, The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson

Jaleigh Johnson  gives us an adventurous heroine and a by Jaleigh Johnsonprince who befriends her in this steampunk adventure. Lina, an archivist’s apprentice has a penchant for getting into trouble. Small, agile and inquisitive she wanders the archivist’s underground city where she stumbles upon lost treasures, information and a prince-in-hiding.

Johnson provides a wonderful setting amidst a culture of archivists who study artifacts of unknown origin and puts them in museums. I particularly like the prince’s tour of the archivist’s museum. A magical cat who causes a conveniently-timed fire and a sentient ship named Merlin also provide intriguing twists.

The plot, although thinly veiled beneath Lina’s antics, revolves around a prince deprived of his rightful place in the palace. Simon, a a fellow apprentice, provides Lina clues to the prince’s predicament. Simon’s grudge against her gives him plenty of motive, while his role as lead apprentice gives him the opportunity to spy–or worse. Who is behind the attempted assassinations of the prince remains a mystery until the end.

Jaleigh Johnson writes for Young Teens

Straight-forward language, appropriate for young teens walks readers through each step of action. Johnson covers some details in action sequences too much for my taste. The descriptions can drag scenes, but for those who need or like them they are there.

Point-of-view (POV) plays back and forth between Lina and the prince’s perspectives, sometimes with no chapter delineation. Johnson foregoes the customary chapter change for POV when action within a scene dictates. Sometimes the very next paragraph is from a different point of view. The first time stopped me reader, but I didn’t lose track of the characters and was good-to-go onward.

The power of love appears a prime motivator for Johnson’s characters, including Merlin, the  sentient ship, who remained parted from those of his kind for centuries within the archivists’ mountain.

Book Review, The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh JohnsonThe Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson
Series: World of Solace
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Goodreads

From Jaleigh Johnson, the acclaimed author of The Mark of the Dragonfly, comes another thrilling adventure in the magical world of Solace.    Lina Winterbock lives in the mountain strongholds of Solace. She’s an apprentice to the archivists, the wise men and women whose lives are dedicated to cataloging, studying, and preserving the objects that mysteriously fall from the sky in the scrap towns.    Lina should be spending her days with books, but the Iron War has changed everything. The strongholds are now a refuge, and the people Lina once counted on no longer have time for her, so she spends her days exploring the hidden tunnels and passages of her home. The strongholds are vast and old, with twisting paths, forgotten rooms, and collapsed chambers, some of them containing objects that have been lost and forgotten even by the archivists.    And in one of the forgotten chambers, Lina discovers a secret.    Hidden deep in a cavern is a half-buried airship like nothing she has ever seen before. She’s determined to dig it out and restore it. But Lina needs help, and she doesn’t know anyone she can trust with her secret.    Then she meets Ozben, a mysterious boy who has a secret of his own—a secret that’s so dangerous it could change the course of the Iron War and the world of Solace forever.  

Book Review, Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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.

Book Review, 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.

Book Review, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An ancient style Romesets 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 theranks 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.

Book Review, 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.

Book Review, Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

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.

Book Review, 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.

Book Review, The Martian by Andy Weir

A Hard Sci-fi Adventure on Mars,

Andy Weir’s tale of an astronaut stranded on Mars captured my mind as well as my imagination. This is my second read of TheMartian 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.

Book Review, The Martian by Andy WeirThe 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.