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Review: “Eye Of The Draco: Darkfall” by Kadin Seton

Title: Darkfall
Author: Kadin Seton
Series: The Eye Of The Draco
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: CreateSpace, 2013

I have to admit, this one has me a bit conflicted. On the one hand, there were a number of things that kind of bugged me about this book. On the flip side, I couldn’t stop reading it. Seriously, I read almost half of it at one sitting, staying up long after I had intended to be asleep. Add that to the fact that I only just realized that this was a self-published book, and it definitely earns its four stars. Maybe it deserves five–the things that bugged me are mostly matters of personal taste, after all, but then again reviewing is largely a subjective practice so I’m just going to stick with that rating. I received a free digital copy from the author in exchange for an honest review, but that had no impact on my assessment except to ensure that I got to read the book.

The world as we know it is done for. The Draco, alien invaders from a distant star, struck before we could react, purging the Earth of its inhabitants while leaving our infrastructure intact for their own use. Within days, most of the population was dead. Now the only thing standing between the Draco’s colonization efforts and the utter extermination of humankind are a few small resistance groups scattered here and there. Alison “Allie” Spencer belongs to perhaps the most unlikely of all of these groups–a paramilitary organization of children, commanded by a prematurely-greying nineteen-year-old, spending their days hiding in basements and by night trying in vain to figure out how to hurt the invaders. It seems an impossible task, as the Draco are all but invulnerable to our weapons, but that’s not stopping them from trying. But against the might of an interplanetary invasion force, what can a handful of kids do? They’ll be hard pressed even just to survive, let alone strike back…until an astonishing discovery changes everything….

Like I said, there were a few things that bugged me about this book. The fact that I couldn’t stop comparing it to the TV show Falling Skies, for one thing. For another, a couple high-school science geeks armed with scavenged books, electronics, and a single piece of Draco tech are able to reverse-engineer a connection to the invaders’ wireless power grid while the underground US government is as stumped as ever? That strains my suspension of disbelief. The nineteen-year-old “General” of Sector Three is starting to go grey? Did you really have to do that in order to make him distinguished enough that we readers would respect him? Give me some credit–he’s pretty bad-ass, and I liked him just fine without that incongruous detail.* Most annoying to me, personally, was the interpersonal drama being set up for the next book. I have a deep personal disdain for that most popular of devices in nominally-YA literature, the “love triangle.” Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. It just bugs me. Here, the author is setting up not a triangle but a square, possibly even a pentagram if reports of a certain character’s death turn out to have been greatly exaggerated. Moreover, the book ended on a “down” note that just left me depressed.

BUT…..

Like I said, I couldn’t put it down. The annoyances were minor in comparison with how gripping the plot turned out to be. Sure, some elements were a stretch, but I didn’t really care at the time. It mirrored some elements from Falling Skies, but I liked that show, and a number of those elements are tropes now anyway. And the “love pentagram” really didn’t come into play until the very end. Beyond that, this is hands down the most professional self-published novel I have ever seen. The cover art is far beyond what I’m used to seeing in these cases, even if the eye there depicted once again recalls the Skitters from Falling Skies. I don’t recall seeing a single typo or bungled punctuation mark in the entire book, which is sometimes more than I can say for actual professionally-published books. Most importantly of all, the book was just plain fun. Will I read the sequel when it finally comes out? Most certainly! I look forward to it, in fact….

CONTENT: Occasional R-rated profanity, not prolific but nevertheless present. Explicit but not gratuitous sexual content. Strong violence, consistent with the war being waged.

*While leading a teenage resistance to an alien invasion would most certainly be stressful, contrary to popular myth studies show zero evidence that stress causes grey hair.

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Review: “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Title: All You Need Is Kill (AKA Edge Of Tomorrow, to tie in with the film)
Author: Hiroshi Sakurazaka (Translated from Japanese by Alexander O. Smith)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Haikasoru, 2011

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that my first contact with this book was the trailer for the film starring Tom Cruise. Think Groundhog Day, but with an alien invasion. The trailer was amazing, I thought, and I still intend to see the movie, but I somehow missed the memo where they mentioned that this was a book. Obviously I found a copy, and it was incredible. I’ll be the first to admit that my reading has not been all that geographically varied, if only because there are so many books I still need to read that were published right here at home, but this was incredible. I heartily recommend it.

The novel opens as Keiji Kiriya goes into battle for the first time. Keiji is a “Jacket Jockey,” operating a mechanized battle suit (think Iron Man’s armor, minus the repulsors and integrated weaponry) in the war against the alien Mimics. Keiji survives the first few minutes of combat while friends fall all around him, and he even manages to kill a couple Mimics before he is mortally wounded. The world fades to black…and he wakes up in his bunk, with the attack set for tomorrow afternoon. Initially, he thinks this has all been a really weird dream, but when everyone persists in following the script in his head he figures out that something far stranger is going on. No matter what he does, Keiji cannot seem to survive the battle….but every death is a lesson learned, and Keiji is a good student. Throw the Full Metal Bitch into the mix, and Keiji might finally have a shot at ending the loop.

Everything about this novel was well done, if not always original. After all, the time-loop plot isn’t exactly new ground, but Sakurazaka definitely throws a new spin on things and gives us a very fun sci-fi romp. That’s what we signed on for, isn’t it? Keiji and Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski are both incredibly well-rounded characters, and while certain actions may take you by surprise at the time, everything they do makes sense in the long run. Some of the bit players are a bit two-dimensional or stock characters, but this is mostly because they are never given the time to develop–keep in mind, the whole thing happens over a 48-hour period so far as anyone but Keiji is concerned. You can’t expect a side character to develop between loops when they don’t know they’re looping. The Mimics were a well-conceived enemy, rooted in our fears that if aliens do exist, they will be very much like us in their behavior. The alien inhabitants of an overpopulated planet have targeted our world for colonization, and the Mimics are their scouts and terraforming apparatus. In fact, I got a bit of a Lovecraftian vibe from them. Maybe that was just me though. There were certain elements where the Japanese heritage of the story came through–the robotic power suits, for one thing–but on the whole I thought it translated very well. Two thumbs up!

CONTENT: R-rated language, but I didn’t find it gratuitous. Instead it was used naturally, either to drive home a point or as characters face their death in combat. I can’t honestly say my language wouldn’t get salty in this situation either…. Brutal violence, sometimes graphically described, and sometimes with a heavy emotional impact. Some sexual content, not too explicit.

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Review: “Eviction Notice” by Robyn Wyrick

I received a free copy of Eviction Notice (*****) through the Goodreads FirstReads program with the understanding that I would review it after reading. This affects my review only in that I probably never would have read this book otherwise–not for any lack of interest, but since I typically buy used books (budgetary considerations) and this was self-published, I probably never would have seen a copy otherwise. In fact, because it is self-published, I’m including the link to the Kindle version on Amazon, which is currently only about $3. You probably won’t find another way to get ahold of the book, and I highly recommend finding a copy.

Things are not going well for Alice Able. She’s recently divorced, she’s broke and unemployed, and emotionally a wreck. She’s planning to end it all, until she discovers that all life on Earth is about to be destroyed unless she can stop it…. We start out with high school seniors Sarah, Jenny, Gary and Barnaby as they set out to pull off an epic senior prank. They settle for a crop circle, setting off the series of events chronicled here. Their crop circle coincidentally mirrors the one being used a couple thousand miles away as a landing beacon, causing a fateful delivery to go awry. As a result, intergalactic trader Aloon and his misfit crew, Scrap and Carl, are alarmed to discover that not only has their delivery failed to arrive but the resulting breach of their contract is punishable by death. In order to buy a grace period in which to attempt to locate their cargo, Aloon quickly claims Earth as his property and then uses it as his collateral. If his claim is found to be valid, all life on Earth will be evicted. Investigating this claim are Clayton and Tyler, two bureaucrats from the council. Seeing that the USA is the dominant power on the planet, that it is a democracy, and that Iowa is the first state to vote in an election, they decided that whoever is first on their voting registry must be the person in charge. (Makes sense, right?) Thus, they show up at Alice Able’s door to inform her of the situation and ask if she has any comment?

Across the board, I absolutely loved this book. It was incredibly funny, and Wyrick shows a definite flair for taking the stereotypical scenes from films in this vein and turning them on their head to make you laugh. That said, the beginning was a little flat for me. Wyrick takes a moment from the climax and just drops you in, then goes back to the beginning. Sometimes this would work, but in this case you don’t know any of the characters yet and it is just confusing. Add that to the lack of comedy in these opening bits, and you think you’re in for a mediocre Independence Day knock-off. Then the first couple chapters are a bit slow. After that it really picks up though, so much so that I ended up giving it five stars. The voice of the book is excellent, if initially a bit confusing. One of the characters, Sarah, acts as the narrator for the story. All well and good, but she isn’t directly involved in most of it–and would have no way of knowing some of the included details, such as characters’ inner thoughts–and so the format becomes third-person-omniscient with scattered episodes of first-person narration. I was initially confused, but I got over it. I certainly wouldn’t change anything, as the resulting voice is incredibly fun. You just have to purposefully not think about how the narrator knows certain things. Like I said, well worth the read!

Content: Pretty PG. Mild language, a little violence (sometimes comedic), little to no sexual content.

For more information, I link here to the book and author’s websites.

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