Blog Tour: Strange Days by Constantine Singer [Review + Author Guest Post

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Happy Tuesday all and welcome to day two of the Strange Days Blog Tour! I was ecstatic when Penguin Young Readers reached out to me to be a part of this blog tour. I have been craving a good science fiction book lately and this one definitely hit the spot for me.

Strange Days by Constantine SingerCover
Release Date: December 4, 2018
Genre: Contemporary/Science Fiction (YA)
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis: Contemporary fiction with a sci-fi edge, perfect for fans of Ernest Cline and Marie Lu. 

Alex Mata doesn’t want to worry about rumors of alien incursions–he’d rather just skate and tag and play guitar. But when he comes home to find an alien has murdered his parents, he’s forced to confront a new reality: aliens are real, his parents are dead, and nobody will believe him if he tells. On the run, Alex finds himself led to the compound of tech guru Jeffrey Sabazios, the only public figure who stands firm in his belief that aliens are coming.

At Sabazios’s invitation, Alex becomes a Witness, one of a special group of teens gifted with an ability that could save the Earth: they can glide through time and witness futures. When a Witness sees a future, that guarantees it will happen the way it’s been seen, making their work humanity’s best hope for stopping the alien threat. Guided by Sabazios, befriended by his fellow time travelers, and maybe even falling in love, Alex starts feeling like the compound is a real home–until a rogue glide shows him the dangerous truth about his new situation.

Now in a race against time, Alex is forced to reevaluate who he can love, who he can trust, and who he needs to leave behind.

Debut author Constantine Singer’s fresh-voiced protagonist leaps off the page in this captivating novel that weaves sci-fi and contemporary fiction.

Strange Days by Constantine Singer is a fun science fiction/contemporary YA novel that will keep readers invested and intrigued in Alex’s journey through his new reality of alien invasions and time travel. Singer deftly brings Alex and all of his inner turmoil to the page in a way that is accessible to readers, regardless of their age or gender. I have always had issues feeling anything for male POV characters in contemporary fiction besides wanting to smack them upside the head. While I did want to throw things at Alex every once in a while, I also genuinely felt for him and understood why he did the things he did. I think many young readers will see themselves in Alex. The rest of the characters in the novel are well written and while there is a pretty full and diverse cast, each character gets enough time for you to know and love them.

The technology was one of my favorite parts of the story. I loved the idea of “glides” and how they worked. While I consider myself a huge fan of time travel (where my Whovians at?), I have a hard time with time travel novels. But the way time travel was used in this story was unique and it didn’t make my brain hurt.

While I did figure out the plot twist early on, it did not mar my enjoyment of this novel at all. This story is one heck of a ride and I’m glad I went on it. The writing style is pretty straight forward and while it isn’t the usual fantastical style I go for, it felt right for this story. There was a grittiness and immediacy to this novel that got its claws into me. I read the book in a day and a half because I just wanted to know how it was all going to play out. Strange Days is the kind of book that will act as a gateway for readers of all ages looking to get into science fiction.

Thank you to Penguin Young Readers and Constantine Singer for the opportunity to read an advance reader copy of this novel. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own and not influenced in any way.

About the Author

2148587_singer_constantine_jConstantine Singer grew up in Seattle, then earned his BA from Earlham College and his Masters from Seattle University. He currently lives in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with his family, and teaches history at a high school in South LA. He is of the opinion that all foods are better eaten as a sandwich or a taco. This is his first novel.

Author Guest Post

Top Sci Fi Books for people who are just starting to get into SciFi

I put out a request on my Facebook feed for help with this list and was overwhelmed by suggestions from a horde of middle-aged sci-fi nerds like myself, so I drew up some criteria.  To be on this list, a book:

  1. has to have stood the test of time (nothing less than 10 years old),
  2. have at least one tentacle in a realm outside of science fiction,
  3. have wormed its way into the broader literary psyche on its merits as a piece of literature,
  4. use science fiction as a tool to explore human things
  5. be a book I still think about years after reading it.  

I figure if a book has done all of that, even if someone isn’t that interested in science fiction they might be willing to give it a read.

The list, in no particular order:

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    Still one of the silliest, funniest, strangest books ever written in any genre.  Follow Arthur Dent as he travels the universe with his friend who he’s just learned is an alien.  Original home to 90% of the dorkiest references ever made on the internet. If you don’t like sci-fi, don’t worry, it’s so cleverdumb you won’t even notice the spaceships.
  2. The Tripods Series by John Christopher
    Published in 1967, they may be the first YA sci-fi and have all the hallmarks of YA literature – character-based conflict, young mains, and a focus on friendship/interpersonal relationships.   The story is amazing – Europe in a future where alien colonizers have control of the Earth and maintain their control by “capping” all humans in their early teens. The caps render the people compliant, but there’s a small but growing resistance….
  3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
    It’s the first great book of science fiction.  I read it in high school because I was forced to, but I’ve read it a dozen times since because I love it.  We all know the essential story – a man dabbles in God’s realm, creates life, and it all goes wrong – but the nuance and beautifully human rendering of the monster and the reflections on the nature of humanity and love are what bring me back.  If you like Gothic lit like the sisters Bronte, this would be a great intro to science fiction.
  4. Octavia Butler – Anything but I’d suggest the Earthseed Series
    I don’t think any list of introductory science fiction would be complete without Ms. Butler.  She used science fiction as a venue for exploring the ramifications of and circumstances which created our current issues, specifically with race and gender.  The Earthseed Series also explores climate change and the origins of faith, which make it the ultimate book series for the current time even though it was written 25 years ago.
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Not the whole series)
    To me, Hunger Games is the ultimate blend of science fiction and young adult sensibilities.  The intimate personal relationships are defined by the setting and the setting is a perfectly drawn hidden future-history in which the clues to what led the world to its current place are believable, allowing us to reconstruct the events which created the Hunger Games without ever being told.  On top of that, the technology is astonishingly well visioned.
  6. Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C. Clark
    This series has fallen by the Sci-Fi wayside in recent years, but I’m hoping that the speculation surrounding Oumuamua will bring it back to the forefront.  The story is essentially a visitor from space story but is beautifully rendered and doesn’t bother answering any of the questions it raises until much later in the series.  It is the purest science fiction book on this list because its entire focus is on discovering and interacting with an alien race’s technology, but it reads like a grand adventure.
  7. Contact by Carl Sagan
    Carl Sagan wrote a lot of incredible books and it was a toss-up between this and Childhood’s End for the list.  I went with Contact because it’s a great introduction to science fiction in that it focuses entirely on the human story and uses the sci-fi elements to accentuate the humanity in its characters.  It gets a little ethics-heavy at places because Sagan, but it’s well worth the read.
  8. Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
    We can’t ignore graphic novels or anime if we’re talking science fiction – they’re the largest and most fecund subsets of the genre and are the well-spring of amazing ideas and great art that filters into everything we see and read.  Akira is one of the earliest Animes to cross over to the “mainstream” here in the West, and it’s a great story even if you don’t generally think of yourself as an anime fan.
  9. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
    I read this book as an early teen and images from it have stuck with me ever since.  I didn’t understand it at the time – it’s very heady in terms of both science and politics – but it turned me into an anarcho-syndicalist for much of my teens and early twenties.  It’s on this list because it speaks to what sci-fi does best – explores our current world’s problems in a controlled petri-dish scenario and allows us to think through the ramifications of our decisions, our political ideas, our religions, and our social structures.  The other book that would’ve been here is one of my favorites of all time, 1984 by George Orwell, but us teachers ruin that book for too many kids so I left it off.
  10. Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
    I hemmed and hawed about including this on the list.  Vonnegut can be problematic, especially in how he draws women, and this book is no exception.  Even so, it’s still one of my favorites and a good introduction to science fiction for several reasons.  First, it is a perfect exploration of why humans mess things up – the world ends in the book because individual people made a series of understandable and very human decisions which collectively led to disaster.  Secondly, it’s the book in which Bokononism is developed and the world needs more Bokononists.

 

Thank you to all for stopping here for this blog tour! Be sure to check out tomorrow’s stop over at The Young Folks with an Author Q&A!

The Backlist: The Illuminae Files

Hello all! I’m back with another set of backlist reviews. This time around I look at The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. This trilogy was one of my surprise reads of 2018. I constantly avoided these books, honestly, because I hated the bright orange cover of Illuminae. Well, you know the saying about judging book covers and ooooh boy did my aversion to orange kick me in the teeth because The Illuminae Files are STELLAR!

 

Illuminae | Read March 1 -3, 2018 | 5 Stars

HOLY HECK I LOVED THIS BOOK! I didn’t know to expect going into this read, but a fast paced, hilarious, and INTENSELY CREEPY science fiction story that was told in an incredible and unique format was not it.

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Me for basically the entire book.

To say this book exceeded my expectations would be a vast understatement. The story stars Kady Grant, a spectacularly snarky computer hacker, Ezra Miller, her very pretty and very recent ex-boyfriend, and AIDAN, who I won’t say much about because I’m not sure if it’d count as spoilers but hot damn they are the best character. There is inaudible profanity, snark, slow burn creepiness, snark, space battles, snark, dire situations with dire consequences, and oh, did I mention the SNARK? This little quick review doesn’t even begin to describe all the awesome held within the obscenely orange cover of this book. If you like science fiction, or want to dip a toe into this genre pool, I 1000% recommend this book. Honestly, it is probably my favorite book read in 2018.

 

Gemina | Read March 7 – 16, 2018 | 4.5 stars

Oh boy, was I full of trepidation going into this one. I’m never a fan when a story suddenly shifts to the perspectives of whole new characters for large chunks of the story. What if these new characters didn’t fill the snarky, murder-y desires of my heart? But my fears were for naught BECAUSE HOLY HECK I LOVED THIS BOOK! Honestly, I have but one issue with this book and I’ll save it for the very end of this review because it is a spoiler (don’t worry, I’ll put up a warning before it hits). In Gemina, we get a new main trio to love, along with a cast of awesome and/or villainous characters. Hanna is the rich, spoiled, but well-trained daughter of Jump Station Heimdall’s captain. Nik is the attractive bad boy from the station’s crime family who supplies Hanna with drugs and snark. And Ella is Nik’s cousin who put’s Kady’s wit and hacking skills to shame. All three of them are forced to work together as a BeiTech strike team attack the jump station. But there is another sinister and creepy plot going on throughout the jump station and basically everything crescendos into glorious chaos. This book is another intense and snarky space adventure told in the same amazing format as the previous book. And now we come to the…

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SPOILER ALERT!

Literally the ONLY reason I knock this book down to a 4.5 is because of the author’s fall back on killing off a main character in an emotionally traumatic way and then bringing them right back. I LOATHE when this becomes a repeat thing. And while it was handled in a different way than in Illuminae, it still irritated me a bit.

END SPOILERS!

 

Obsidio | Read March 17 – 24, 2018 | 4 stars

I struggled with the rating of this one. Honestly, as I write this I am still wavering if I should kick it up to 4.5. Because this was a fantastic end to this trilogy. But I can’t explain much without being completely spoilery. I’ll dance around it for a bit and see if I can figure out how to say it. This book brings us yet another new set characters and I think these are the ones that deeply explore the emotional trauma of war/invasion the most. The scenes on the occupied surface of Kerenza are intense. It reminded me a lot of Season 3 of Battlestar Galactic. But even with how emotionally impactful the concept of the Kerenza scenes were, I felt like I had very little left to give the new characters. I think they were still well written and the Kerenza plot was good, but I spent most of the time waiting for scenes with the original crew. The plot is tense, and the action is superb. There are twists and turns and some damn fine writing. Certain things that are revealed in this book kinda blew my mind a little bit. As an ending goes, it was wholly satisfying.

SPOILERS BELOW FOR WHY I KNOCKED THIS ONE DOWN TO 4 STAR

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The authors pulled the “dead but not dead” fake out AGAIN! I was so damn angry with this. So angry. It’s lazy and I saw it coming a mile away. It makes me even angrier considering how often Jay Kristoff harps on other writers for lazy writing (his Instagram stories are amusing AF). And now that I’m typing this out I am fully okay with a 4 star. Either kill your darlings or don’t. You shouldn’t have it both ways. Especially more than once. Ugh.

END SPOILERS

 

All in all, I am angry at myself for staying away from these books for so long (*shakes fist at orange cover of Illuminae*). While I had one consistent issue with these books, I still consider them one of my new favorite Sci Fi series. I’d give the trilogy as a whole 4.5 stars. Kaufman and Kristoff have a new Sci Fi series that they are working on and HOLY HECK I CANNOT WAIT!

 

Thanks for joining me for another Backlist post! I’m not sure which ones I’ll be doing next. I must go stare at my shelves and see what jumps out at me.

In which I finally review a book and that book is CARAVAL!

 

Do you want a book with two sisters escaping an abusive home to what is basically a carnival themed LARPing convention? Do you want a book with deliciously descriptive passages and scrumptious scenes that make you question if you want to stay in your reality? Do you want a book where you don’t know who to trust, especially the sexily secretive, rough and tumble love interest?

Then Welcome, Welcome to CARAVAL!!!!

“She didn’t realize how toasty it had been in the tavern until she escaped into the brittle evening. Crisp, like the first bite of a chilled apple, smelling just as sweet, with hints of burnt sugar weaving through the charcoal night air.”

First of all, I LOVE the writing in this book. The author, Stephanie Garber (who, for the record, is such a nice human), pieces together words in such a wonderous way. She weaves beautiful webs of descriptions that I often found myself stuck in them. I would stop reading and just stare in awe at certain passages. I fell straight from the pages of this book on to the streets of Caraval.

The main plot of the books revolves around Scarlett and Donatella Dragna (those NAMES!!), who find themselves at the mysterious Caraval. Donatella goes missing on the first night and it is up to Scarlett, with the assistance of Julian, the handsome sailor who helps Scarlett through Caraval, to find Donatella and beat the game. But who can Scarlett trust when everything is part of the game and you don’t know who the actors are?

And this is where my two main issues with the book come into play. While I love mysteries and the whole “Can I trust this person?” guessing game, it starts to wear on my nerves when EVERYTHING can be a lie or a trick. And I got just to the edge of annoyed with this book. It wasn’t overboard, but the constant threat of trickery started to wear thin by the end.

Which brings us to the end. That moment when the magic got sucked away in a sudden vacuum of truth. I felt like the big reveal of the story was rushed and every lovely bit of magic disappeared. Caraval was no longer a fun, twisty game, but simply a drawn-out ruse to help the Dragna sisters escape their miserable and abusive home life. If the execution of the ending had been a little better this would have been a five-star read for me.

At the end of the day, this was a solid four star read for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a carnival themed story. I liked all the characters, except Donatella who I wanted to smack every time she was on the page. I’ve heard a lot of people say they thought Scarlett was whiny but I just didn’t feel that way. I will say that though I am not a fan of Donatella, I am thoroughly intrigued for the sequel, Legendary! I’ll be going to the Launch Party tonight and I can’t wait to hear Stephanie Garber talk about this book!

 

My next review (Bad Things Play Here by Chani Lynn Feener) should be up by the end of the week! Until then, happy reading!