The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas #bookreview #YA #fantasy #LGBTQ

Welcome to The Sunbearer Trials, where teen semidioses compete in a series of challenges with the highest of stakes, in this electric new Mexican-inspired fantasy from Aiden Thomas, the New York Times bestselling author of Cemetery Boys.

“Only the most powerful and honorable semidioses get chosen. I’m just a Jade. I’m not a real hero.”

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all―they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body used to fuel the Sun Stones that will protect the people of Reino del Sol for the next ten years.

Teo, a 17-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds, has never worried about the Trials…or rather, he’s only worried for others. His best friend Niya―daughter of Tierra, the god of earth―is one of the strongest heroes of their generation and is much too likely to be chosen this year. He also can’t help but worry (reluctantly, and under protest) for Aurelio, a powerful Gold semidiós and Teo’s friend-turned-rival who is a shoo-in for the Trials. Teo wouldn’t mind taking Aurelio down a notch or two, but a one-in-ten chance of death is a bit too close for Teo’s taste.

But then, for the first time in over a century, Sol chooses a semidiós who isn’t a Gold. In fact, he chooses two: Xio, the 13-year-old child of Mala Suerte, god of bad luck, and…Teo. Now they must compete in five mysterious trials, against opponents who are both more powerful and better trained, for fame, glory, and their own survival. 

I’ve been wanting to read this author for quite a while. I’ve had one of his books, Cemetery Boys, in my TBR for quite a while, but just haven’t gotten to it yet. When I was approved for an ARC (audiobook version) of The Sunbearer Trials, I knew it was time to get acquainted with his work.

Similar to The Hunger Games, competitors are chosen and must complete several trials. But in this case, only the competitor with the least amount of points should die. Teo isn’t worried for himself. He’s a Jade, and for more than a century Sol has only chosen Golds to compete. He’s more concerned for his best friend Niya, a strong competitor. Golds have trained for the trials their whole lives, so when the names of two Jades are announced, everyone is shocked. Teo is an underdog and not expected to do well against the Golds, but he has no choice but to compete. I liked that he’s a go with the flow kind of guy, but also possesses a rebellious streak that tends to get him in some trouble.

The competitions are exciting, dangerous, and highly creative. Participants face both physical and mental challenges. After each was completed, I was as anxious to hear the ratings as the characters. I loved the relationships between them whether they were friends, siblings, or parent-child. All are so well-portrayed and heartwarming. As expected, some competitors form alliances, but by the end most of them support each other in some way. And that twist at the end! Not many books surprise me, but I didn’t see that one coming. It’s brilliant.

André Santana is a wonderful narrator, and I’d highly recommend the audiobook version if you enjoy them. With the competitors having various powers and the competition, Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games are perfect comp titles for this book. I’d advise fans of those series to jump on The Sunbearer Trials.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks

An Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist20942135Memories are the most dangerous drug.

Jonah Everitt is a killer, an addict, and a memory thief.

After being hired to kill a ranking officer of the Pacific Rim Coalition and download his memories, Everitt finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a terror cell, a rogue military squadron, and a Chinese gangster named Alice Xie. Xie is a profiteer of street drugs, primarily DRMR, a powerful narcotic made from the memories of the dead. With his daughter, Mesa, missing in post-war Los Angeles, Everitt is forced into an uneasy alliance with Alice to find her.

Mesa’s abduction is wrapped up in the secrets of a brutal murder during the war’s early days, a murder that Alice Xie wants revenged. In order to find her, Jonah will have to sift through the memories of dead men that could destroy what little he has left.

In a city where peace is tenuous and loyalties are ever shifting, the past and the present are about to converge.  – Goodreads.com

 What a dark, riveting, and grim world the author has created in this dystopian sci-fi novel.  And what a backdrop for this compelling, complex, and fast-moving story filled with action, suspense, and an interrogation sequence that was 24’s Jack Bauer-worthy.

Jonah Everitt didn’t have an ideal life before his world was thrown into chaos, but he loved his wife and daughter and I appreciated the glimpses the reader is given of his ‘normal’ life.  Those flashbacks allowed me to see how Jonah learned to adapt to his environment and become a survivor, while simultaneously trying to keep his family together as his daughter became increasingly distant.  Jonah is a strong protagonist with many flaws, but also very vulnerable, which makes him completely human and entirely believable.

I enjoyed the sci-fi aspects of this story and thought the idea of people being able to relive some of their memories when they chose could give them a momentary reprieve from their horrific circumstances.  On the flip side of that, the idea that someone else could go through your memories, learn your deepest secrets, strengths and weaknesses, was chilling.

If you’re looking for unicorns and rainbows, this isn’t the book for you.  The atmosphere of Convergence is bleak, gritty, and hopeless for the most part, but this was a captivating and exciting read with some excellent descriptive writing.

I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Positive by David Wellington

In the bestselling vein of Guillermo Del Toro and Justin Cronin, the acclaimed author 22547942of Chimera and The Hydra Protocol delivers his spectacular breakout novel—an entertaining page-turning zombie epic that is sure to become a classic

Anyone can be positive . . .

The tattooed plus sign on Finnegan’s hand marks him as a Positive. At any time, the zombie virus could explode in his body, turning him from a rational human into a ravenous monster. His only chance of a normal life is to survive the last two years of the potential incubation period. If he reaches his twenty-first birthday without an incident, he’ll be cleared.

Until then, Finn must go to a special facility for positives, segregated from society to keep the healthy population safe. But when the military caravan transporting him is attacked, Finn becomes separated. To make it to safety, he must embark on a perilous cross-country journey across an America transformed—a dark and dangerous land populated with heroes, villains, madmen, and hordes of zombies. And though the zombies are everywhere, Finn discovers that the real danger may be his fellow humans.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets World War Z and I Am Legend in this thrilling tale that has it all: a compelling story, great characters, and explosive action, making Positive the ultimate zombie novel of our time. – Goodreads.com

If you’re saying to yourself, “Oh, it’s a zombie book, I don’t like them because they’re stupid and gory and I don’t want to read about people getting eaten,” just hang on a minute.  Yes, this book has zombies and yes, they eat some people here and there, but are they the primary focus?  Absolutely not.  This book is so much more.

Finn has lived his whole life behind a wall, only knowing safety and never having seen a zombie, but when it’s discovered he may be infected, he’s tossed out of the only home he’s ever known and forced to learn how to survive.  During this process, he learns his biggest threat may be other humans, not zombies.  He picks up survival skills along the way from various characters – some who survive and some who don’t.  In writing fiction, a general guideline is that your MC must undergo a change of some kind from the beginning of the story to the end and honestly, Finn could be the poster child for that rule.  Seeing his transformation from a teenager who probably wouldn’t survive the night into what he became was part of what kept me so riveted.

Besides Finn’s character development, the story line was so engrossing I couldn’t wait to see what happened next and I honestly didn’t know how it would end.  There were a few hokey lines toward the end and occasional repetitive phases, but I chose to overlook those and focus on what was happening instead.

I highly recommend this to any horror/post-apocalyptic/zombie fans because it offers a new angle, but also to those of you who just enjoy a good story – because that’s definitely what Positive is.  Give it a try.  Positive is scheduled for publication April 21, 2015.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss.

The Last Orphans by N.W. Harris

One horrifying day will change the life of sixteen-year-old Shane Tucker and every other kid in the world. 22030244 (1)

In a span of mere hours, the entire adult population is decimated, leaving their children behind to fend for themselves and deal with the horrific aftermath of the freak occurrence. As one of the newly made elders in his small town, Shane finds himself taking on the role of caretaker for a large group of juvenile survivors. One who just happens to be Kelly Douglas—an out-of-his-league classmate—who, on any other day, would have never given Shane a second glance.

Together, they begin their quest to find out why all of the adults were slaughtered. What they find is even more horrifying than anything they could have expected—the annihilation of the adults was only the beginning. Shane and his friends are not the unlucky survivors left to inherit this new, messed-up planet. No, they are its next victims. There is an unknown power out there, and it won’t stop until every person in the world is dead.

A spine-tingling adventure that will have you gasping for breath all the way until the last page, The Last Orphans is the first book in an all-new apocalyptic series. – Goodreads.com

The decimation of the adult population isn’t new material in YA books, but what happened after that in this book was original.  The Last Orphans didn’t shy away from the realities that could occur in a post-apocalyptic situation.

The action begins almost immediately and there is very little down time between action sequences.  Shane was so easy to like – a nice guy who loves his granny, loyal friend, and secretly crushing on the hottest girl at his school.  He is saddled with an enormous amount of responsibility, but handles it well and tries to do the best for everyone.  Besides Shane, there’s a good supporting cast of teenagers from different walks of life that add some diversity to the story.

The author did an excellent job with imagery – having been to northern Georgia numerous times, I felt like he really nailed the descriptions.  The action sequences were exciting, well-written, and easy to visualize.

Something I found a little difficult to buy into was the fact that Shane and most of his friends  seemed to be expert shots with weapons they’d had little to no experience with, especially military weapons, although it certainly added to the thrill of the action sequences.

The Last Orphans is a fast-paced, quick read and the surprise ending gives the reader a hint of what’s to come in the next book.

I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Sacrifice (The Elemental Series) by Brigid Kemmerer

Earth. Fire. Air. Water.17149158

One misstep and they lose it all. For the last time.

Michael Merrick understands pressure. He’s the only parent his three brothers have had for years. His power to control Earth could kill someone if he miscalculates. Now an Elemental Guide has it in for his family, and he’s all that stands in the way.

His girlfriend, Hannah, understands pressure too. She’s got a child of her own, and a job as a firefighter that could put her life in danger at any moment.

But there are people who have had enough of Michael’s defiance, his family’s ‘bad luck’. Before he knows it, Michael’s enemies have turned into the Merricks’ enemies, and they’re armed for war.

They’re not interested in surrender. But Michael isn’t the white flag type anyway. Everything is set for the final showdown.

Four elements, one family. Will they hold together, or be torn apart? – Goodreads.com

This is the final book of The Elemental Series and I’m sorry to see it end.  My son and I have read these books together and, throughout this YA paranormal series, I’ve been so impressed with the sensitive and intelligent way the author has dealt with issues such as the death of parents, emotional and physical abuse, homelessness, a teen struggling with his sexuality, and a young woman realizing her self-worth – all very relevant topics teens are dealing with today.   These books stress the importance of friends and family, both the family you’re born into and the family you make.

From the earlier books, I knew that at the age of 18, Michael took on a huge responsibility in becoming guardian for his three younger brothers in order to keep his family together and, although I would have liked to see more of Chris, Gabriel, and Nicholas in this book, this was Michael’s story.  Michael has always shown strength, but being in his head was very stressful – he has the responsibility of caring for three teenage boys, running the family business, maintaining a relationship with his girlfriend, and even more importantly – keeping all of them alive.  He’s under an incredible amount of pressure and in this book, we see his life start to fall apart.

Hannah, Michael’s girlfriend, doesn’t make his life much easier, and I was disappointed in her character.  I would have expected more maturity from someone with her life experience.  On the other hand, I also would have expected Michael to have included her in the circle of trust regarding the family secrets much earlier.

Sacrifice was full of action and twists and a couple of times I thought I knew who the antagonist was, but it was a complete surprise.  The ending seemed a little abrupt and left some things unfinished, but I’m hopeful the author may return to these characters in the future.

Sacrifice is scheduled for publication September 30th, 2014.  This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

 

Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson

18490786The stunningly creative, epic sequel to Wilson’s blockbuster thriller and New York Times bestseller Robopocalypse

“The machine is still out there. Still alive.”

Humankind had triumphed over the machines. At the end of Robopocalypse, the modern world was largely devastated, humankind was pressed to the point of annihilation, and the earth was left in tatters . . . but the master artificial intelligence presence known as Archos had been killed.

In Robogenesis, we see that Archos has survived. Spread across the far reaches of the world, the machine code has fragmented into millions of pieces, hiding and regrouping. In a series of riveting narratives, Robogenesis explores the fates of characters new and old, robotic and human, as they fight to build a new world in the wake of a devastating war. Readers will bear witness as survivors find one another, form into groups, and react to a drastically different (and deadly) technological landscape. All the while, the remnants of Archos’s shattered intelligence are seeping deeper into new breeds of machines, mounting a war that will not allow for humans to win again.

Daniel H. Wilson makes a triumphant return to the apocalyptic world he created, for an action-filled, raucous, very smart thrill ride about humanity and technology pushed to the tipping point. – Goodreads.com

Three years ago, I read Robopocalypse, the first book in this series, was completely enthralled, and excited when I learned Steven Spielberg had purchased the film rights.  Flash forward three years, and I was ecstatic when I saw Robogenesis on NetGalley.

Initially, I had a hard time remembering these characters, but they came back to me as I read and recalled how much I liked Mathilda and Cormac, among others.  Although the first book was primarily humans vs. robots, what’s left after the devastating war is even more chilling – humans vs. humans, robots vs. robots and, again, humans vs. robots.  The author has extensive knowledge of robotics, which is very evident in the book, but I didn’t find it difficult to follow.  There were times, especially the nail-biting, action-packed last few chapters, where I’d lost hope and wondered how anyone would survive, but I won’t give away any spoilers.

Something I really enjoyed was how the author ‘humanized’ some of the robots – Houdini and Arbiter Nine Oh Two – and allowed them to display human emotions, which was especially difficult with Houdini, who didn’t talk.  On the other hand, I felt like too much time was spent in Mikiko’s head, with an excessive amount of description that could have been skipped.

Equally character and action driven, this book was darker, but offered more in-depth characterization than the first and I would highly recommend it to sci-fi/post-apocalypse fans; however, reading the first book is a must to understand this followup.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

The Last Town (Wayward Pines #3) by Blake Crouch

Welcome to Wayward Pines, the last town.  20423680

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrived in Wayward Pines, Idaho, three weeks ago. In this town, people are told who to marry, where to live, where to work. Their children are taught that David Pilcher, the town’s creator, is god. No one is allowed to leave; even asking questions can get you killed.

But Ethan has discovered the astonishing secret of what lies beyond the electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and protects it from the terrifying world beyond. It is a secret that has the entire population completely under the control of a madman and his army of followers, a secret that is about to come storming through the fence to wipe out this last, fragile remnant of humanity.

Blake Crouch’s electrifying conclusion to the Wayward Pines Series, now a Major Television Event Series debuting Summer 2014 on FOX, will have you glued to the page right down to the very last word. – Goodreads.com

This was the third book in the Wayward Pines series, and I’m hoping it won’t be the last.  I reviewed the second book last summer and since this is going to be a mini-series on Fox this summer, you need to start reading to be caught up in time!

All three books in this series were engrossing, but I especially struggled to find a good stopping place with this one.  Without giving anything away, I felt like the characters were up against a wall and had little to no option in their situation.  I was anxious to see what they would do and found myself reading into the early morning hours to discover their fate.

Although the primary antagonist(s) is obvious, lines become blurred as the story continues, with some characters questioning their own motives.  I liked that aspect because there are shades of gray in everything and it made for better characterization.  It also made me wonder what I would do in the same situation.  The plot twist at the end left my mouth hanging open – I was completely blindsided.  The pacing was quick, the characters both likeable and detestable, the action nonstop, and the stakes high – all of which explain why I read this book in less than two days.

I would highly recommend this series to sci-fi, fantasy, and thriller lovers.  If you haven’t discovered Blake Crouch yet, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more about him after the mini-series this summer.  The Last Town is scheduled for publication July 15, 2014.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

 

 

Close Reach by Jonathan Moore

19481077In a riveting tale of suspense and terror on the high seas, Jonathan Moore pits human beings against nature—and something far deadlier: one another.

Kelly Pratihari-Reid and her husband sail their yacht into Antarctic waters, thinking their gravest concerns will be ice and storms—and their cracked marriage. A British girl shrieking across a short-range VHF frequency ends that illusion. It’s coming, she screams. It saw us and it’s coming back! Her voice is drowned by a tide of signal-jamming static, and Kelly sees a target on the radar screen: A ship is coming for them.

Thus begins an unforgettable cat-and-mouse game across stormy polar seas and dire landfalls. Kelly’s pursuers will test her to the limits of her endurance—and beyond. For the ship in her wake is crewed by pirates, with a young leader trained to use the most sadistic tortures in pursuit of his ultimate objective . . . a goal as shocking as it is horrific. – Goodreads.com

Wow – this book didn’t waste any time in getting directly to the action.  It’s a good thing it was a short read because once I started, I most definitely didn’t want to put it down.

The cover very appropriately displays how this couple was surrounded by a vast ocean and had no one in close proximity who could help them.  They literally only had each other and with the situation they were in, that was a very scary thought when reading this book.

At the beginning, I had my doubts about Kelly, afraid she would be useless in a crisis, but she surprised me and turned out to be very strong and resourceful.  Some readers may be horrified by her actions – I wasn’t one of them.  I was with her all the way.

Being set on a yacht, all the sailing jargon flew right over my head and I admit I skimmed through a lot of it, but it was obvious the author was either an experienced sailor or had done his research.  Other than that, I was glued to this book and the description of “a riveting tale of suspense and terror” is exactly what you can expect from this novel.  The pacing was perfect, the writing flowed, and I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath at some parts.  I would highly recommend this to suspense/horror fans who don’t shy away from extreme situations.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Severed by Gary Fry

When an unknown virus is unleashed on London, it turns everyone in its path into violent, zombie-20742681like killing machines, leaving their souls separated and floating away to form a giant halo above the capital. Flesh and spirit, dead and alive, they are both. They are severed.

As a beleaguered government brings in scientists to work on an antidote, the problems become even more complex. The virus spreads. The mayhem grows. There’s no solution in sight and time is running out.

Enter Stephen Hobbs, a hard-drinking, womanizing academic with a violent past of his own. Due to his special skill set and experience, he is enlisted to figure out what the virus is and how to stop it. Despite his own demons, Hobbs may very well be humanity’s last chance to survive becoming…SEVERED. – Goodreads.com

This book demonstrated what could happen when a person loses the capacity to exercise moral restraint and chooses emotions versus morals – and it was not a pretty sight.  Imagine if you were able to actually say what you really thought to someone and act on any emotion you felt with no regret or remorse.  Mayhem doesn’t come close.

There really weren’t that many likeable characters in this book – in fact, most were loathsome.  The MC, Stephen Hobbs, was especially hard to connect with, but on the flip side of that, his character arc was profound, making made him more intriguing than likeable.

This was a quick read and the action started from page one, so I appreciated the fact that the backstories were woven in instead of having to sift through the first several pages to get to the real plot line.  Naturally, in a book of this genre you have to suspend disbelief, but if you enjoy this type of book, that’s not a negative.  I’ve also read Conjure House by this author, review here, a creepy novel I’d recommend to horror fans.

Something I missed with this novel was the lack of anyone to root for, a charismatic protagonist instead of Stephen Hobbs, who was more of an antihero.  I also felt like his mother seemed to be two different people, at times making statements that seemed inconsistent to her character.

DarkFuse is an independent publisher of modern horror, suspense, and thrillers and after reading a few of their books, I can say I haven’t been disappointed.  Severed is scheduled for publication April 1, 2014.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Quarantine (Alone #3) by James Phelan

In a dangerous, devastated New York, one 16-year-old Australian boy finds himself alone…

It’s now or maybe never sixteen year old Jesse has spent eighteen days in post-apocalyse New York, 17214425waiting for help that never comes. He owes it to his new friends, Rachel and Felicity, to go beyond their temporary refuge to find other survivors who may hold the key to escape. Could the collective at Chelsea Piers have the answers or prove to be just another distraction in his quest? Meanwhile, Jesse is burdened with guilt and sadness at the fate of his other friend, Caleb, who has fallen prey to the virus and become a Chaser. So when it emerges that a cure-all serum may be available, Jesse determines to secure it to save his friend. At any cost perhaps even his own future. – Goodreads.com

I seem to be on a roll lately for reading books I didn’t realize were part of a series.  I thought I had the basic gist of the first two books – Jesse was visiting New York from Australia when the virus hit and lost some friends along the way – no problem keeping up with that.  As I got into the book, I realized I didn’t understand the different degrees of viruses (some Chasers were passive, others more aggressive) or the prior relationship between Jesse and Caleb, things I assume the two other books in the series could explain.  And then I got to the epilogue and was completely thrown for a loop – I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but it seemed like it was supposed to be a shocker.

The group dynamics at Chelsea Piers were thought-provoking as far as how people react in the aftermath of a disaster, what they believe in, and if they choose to take a course of action or wait for rescue.  However, I felt the “insta-love” of Paige for Jesse was implausible – she was ready to make life-altering choices for him after only knowing him a couple of days for seemingly no reason.

The pacing held my attention, the book was well-written, and there was a lot of action, but I still felt like some pieces of the puzzle were missing and questions left unanswered as to the military involvement.  Jesse was an admirable protagonist – likeable, determined, fearless, and seemed to have his heart in the right place.  Although I enjoyed reading this book, I’d still recommend starting at the beginning of the series.

I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.