SciFi Book Review: The Toll

The Toll by Neal Shusterman

Synopsis:
Citra and Rowan have disappeared. Endura is gone. It seems like nothing stands between Scythe Goddard and absolute dominion over the world scythedom. With the silence of the Thunderhead and the reverberations of the Great Resonance still shaking the earth to its core, the question remains: Is there anyone left who can stop him?

The answer lies in the Tone, the Toll, and the Thunder.

Review:
The Toll is book 3 in the Arc of a Scythe series. It’s an impressive 640 pages, which is much larger than the previous installments. But despite it taking longer to read, it never felt slow. With even more mystery and suspense than before, this finale is hard to put down. I don’t like spoilers, so I wont talk about details. But the new and returning characters are just as diverse and engaging. With such a big cast of characters, you would think it would get confusing, but it never does. And the Thunderhead has an even bigger role this time. I thoroughly enjoyed this series, especially The Toll. This finale is big, climactic, and gives us a satisfying end to an epic journey.

Mystery Book Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon

Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove

Synopsis:
It is 1890, and in the days before Christmas Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are visited at Baker Street by a new client. Eve Allerthorpe – eldest daughter of a grand but somewhat eccentric Yorkshire-based dynasty – is greatly distressed, as she believes she is being haunted by a demonic Christmas spirit.

Her late mother told her terrifying tales of the sinister Black Thurrick, and Eve is sure that she has seen the creature from her bedroom window. What is more, she has begun to receive mysterious parcels of birch twigs, the Black Thurrick’s calling card…

Eve stands to inherit a fortune if she is sound in mind, but it seems that something – or someone – is threatening her sanity. Holmes and Watson travel to the Allerthorpe family seat at Fellscar Keep to investigate, but soon discover that there is more to the case than at first appeared. There is another spirit haunting the family, and when a member of the household is found dead, the companions realize that no one is beyond suspicion.

Review:
Sherlock and Watson head to a castle to help a young woman being haunted. Sherlock quickly discovers how someone is leaving the ominous twigs, but not who or why. Despite being unwelcome by most of the rest of the household, Sherlock continues his investigation as time is running out.

This latest Sherlock Holmes mystery is a bit of a slow burn. However, the characters are engaging and entertaining. I enjoyed this intriguing mystery. And it certainly kept me guessing the whole time. While part of the mystery was easy to uncover, I didn’t see the big reveal coming. I look forward to more installments from this author.

SciFi Book Review: Rebel

Rebel: A Legend Novel by Marie Lu

Synopsis:
Eden Wing has been living in his brother’s shadow for years. Even though he’s a top student at his academy in Ross City, Antarctica, and a brilliant inventor, most people know him only as Daniel Wing’s little brother.

A decade ago, Daniel was known as Day, the boy from the streets who led a revolution that saved the Republic of America. But Day is no longer the same young man who was once a national hero. These days he’d rather hide out from the world and leave his past behind. All that matters to him now is keeping Eden safe―even if that also means giving up June, the great love of Daniel’s life.

As the two brothers struggle to accept who they’ve each become since their time in the Republic, a new danger creeps into the distance that’s grown between them. Eden soon finds himself drawn so far into Ross City’s dark side, even his legendary brother can’t save him. At least not on his own . .

Review:
Rebel takes place 10 years after the last book in the Legend series. The previous novels concentrated on Day/Daniel and June. But this final installment focuses on Eden, Day/Daniel’s younger brother as well as Daniel. The narrative switches back and forth between the two. It’s a new, fresh story with enough complexity to make readers think. The system behind Ross City is fascinating, with a points system giving a better (or lesser) quality of life according to the good or bad that an individual does.

The characters are engaging. And the story is full of suspense, drama, and a bit of romance. I don’t really remember the details of the previous novels, as it’s been years since I’ve read them. But it’s easy to jump into this novel, as it works well as almost a standalone novel as well. This YA science fiction series ends with an exciting and endearing finale.

Fantasy Book Review: Cryptozoology for Beginners

Cryptozoology for Beginners by Matt Harry

Synopsis:
Only six weeks after a handful of teenage sorcerers defeated a team of anti-magic mercenaries called the Euclideans, Trish, Owen, and Perry are called back into action when they discover that the world’s cryptids (aka magical creatures) are disappearing. They’re partnered with brusque team leader Jacinda Greyeyes and their former nemesis Bryan Ferretti in a mission to travel all over North America, collecting famous cryptids like the jackalope, the chupacabra, and the altamaha-ha.

But when another team of teenage sorcerers suddenly vanishes, the spell casters set out for Germany, Egypt, and the Seychelles to uncover why the Euclideans have been abducting and experimenting on magical creatures like the unicorn and the sphinx. The secrets they uncover threaten to divide them, and reveal a truth that will permanently upend the way the world sees sorcery.

Review:
Cryptozoology for Beginners is the direct sequel to Sorcery for Beginners. The novels are written as a story, but with fun facts that make it feel like a guide as well. The young teens are novices in magic when they learn it’s up to them to help protect Earth’s mythological creatures. There are a lot of diverse creatures highlighted that make this book a lot of fun. Trish, Owen, and Perry gain a couple more teammates as they are tasked with collecting cryptids. But it seems like the Euclideans are always right behind them. The characters have grown, despite the annoying and bullying Bryan. I was a bit confused on why there’s so much focus on the kids coupling up in what seems like a Middle Grade fantasy series. The book isn’t written with a young adult feel, despite YA romance (both straight and gay), so I was put off a bit. But the story is fast-paced and full of adventure and suspense. There are a couple of big surprises along the way that add to the dramatic aspect. And a climactic finale leads to an ending that doesn’t disappoint.

SciFi Book Review: Shatter War

Time Shards – Shatter War

Synopsis:
Earth’s past, present, and future have shattered in “the Event,” yielding a terrifying new world of prehistoric monsters, lost cultures, strange technologies, and displaced armies. Coming from different points throughout history, a desperate band of survivors join “Merlin,” a mysterious figure who may be their only hope to save the world–if he can be trusted.

When their twenty-third-century ship the Vanuatu is sabotaged by an unknown enemy and thrown far off its course, the team must discover who is responsible, even as they are split apart and fight to survive in the war-torn Shard world.

Review:
In the first novel, Time Shards, the story was mainly just getting to know characters and monstrous creatures killing several of them off. This sequel is more plot-driven, as the surviving group on Merlin’s ship try to help him fix the world, with time running out. There is just as much suspense as before, but even more riveting. And I enjoyed the different locations as well as time periods this time. And the characters are complex and engaging. I really enjoyed this fast-paced sequel, maybe even more than the first. And I look forward to the next in this exciting series.

SciFi Book Review: Across the Void

Across the Void by S.K. Vaughn

Synopsis:
Commander Maryam “May” Knox awakes from a medically induced coma alone, adrift in space on a rapidly failing ship, with little to no memory of who she is or why she’s there.

Slowly, she pieces together that she’s the captain of the ship, Hawking II; that she was bound for Europa—one of Jupiter’s moons—on a research mission; and that she’s the only survivor of either an accident—or worse, a deliberate massacre—that has decimated her entire crew. With resources running low, and her physical strength severely compromised, May must rely on someone back home to help her. The problem is: everyone thinks she’s dead.

Back on Earth, it’s been weeks since Hawking II has communicated with NASA, and Dr. Stephen Knox is on bereavement leave to deal with the apparent death of his estranged wife, whose decision to participate in the Europa mission strained their marriage past the point of no return. But when he gets word that NASA has received a transmission from May, Stephen comes rushing to her aid.

What he doesn’t know is that not everyone wants May to make it back alive. Even more terrifying: she might not be alone on that ship.

Review:
Across the Void immediately reminded me of The Martian meets the Netflix show Another Life. May wakes up on a seemingly empty ship with only the AI to help her get back home. And both have memory loss. We also get frequent flashbacks of the past leading up to the Hawking II launch. A couple times it was a bit confusing, trying to figure out when the scene was supposed to take place. But it did flow well, as the reader learns along with May what happened in her past and in her current situation.

This standalone, scifi novel was a lot of fun. There is plenty of drama and intense suspense. The story was engaging and plot-driven. It’s an impressive-sized book, and though not always fast-paced it kept my attention. And though a couple things were predictable, it didn’t lessen the tension. The climactic ending builds to an exciting and satisfying ending.

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