Grids and Grit

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Finding a purpose in life is difficult and sometimes you need a little push to get you moving in the right direction to find it and yourself. Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi follows a teenage boy on a summer adventure to acquire grit.

Scott Ferdowsi has a history of giving up on things, including learning how to play instruments, writing a novel, and the summer internship his father acquired for him. Scott isn’t sure what he wants out of life, but he’s relatively certain that he doesn’t want to follow the path outlined for him by his parents. With his parents visiting his grandfather in Iran, Scott is left at home in Philadelphia for a month, leaving him free to explore what he wants. Traveling to Washington, D.C. to talk with a Georgetown professor who studies grit (without anyone knowing where he’s going), Scott unwittingly embarks on a journey where he meets some interesting people, one of whom writes crossword puzzles, who help him realize his grit.

A quick, relatable, and entertaining read, this coming-of-age story highlights the wonder of discovering the world and yourself. Though a nice story that demonstrates the intrinsic drive many people may have but don’t realize and subsequently utilize, most of the action is instigated and perpetuated by coincidental events or meetings, which is a plot contrivance that I’m not overly fond of due to its flimsy nature, but if you suspend your disbelief to get beyond that, it’s a light enough story of self-discovery. The book has some decently diverse characters in its cast, but there were aspects to their diversity and general characterization that were merely surface level, leaving much to be desired on a deeper, more complex level.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

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Celestial Sojourn

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With the capabilities of space travel rapidly growing, it seems possible that alien life will be found relatively soon. In The Tabernacle of Legion by Kevin Schillo, the consequences of finding evidence of alien life are vast.

Through routine asteroid mining, a strange artifact is found that defies all known science. Deeming this artifact as a remnant of alien origins, the drive to go there and interact with it in order to learn more about it increases. Working with NASA, a company’s spaceship intended for shuttling billionaires to vacations on Mars is utilized for this mission and manned with five of the most qualified astronauts. But humans aren’t the only creatures intent on reaching this artifact as an incredibly old being has resurfaced from an icy tomb in the Antarctic and is determined to reach the artifact and assume his destiny.

An intriguing premise that builds upon the current trend of commercialization of space exploration and travel. I enjoyed the concept of alien beings having a hand in shaping the trajectory of humanity’s technological development, though some additional context for the nanobot enhanced beings could have helped provide a greater clarity and cohesiveness for the narrative as a whole as that’s one area that felt incomplete in the story. Aside from some grammatical editing issues, the writing was generally quite good and provided plenty of detail, even if it was repeated a few times throughout the text; however, the dialogue felt a bit stilted, being either too idealistic or on-the-nose for the situations the characters were in, which took an element of reality away from the plausibility of the narrative.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Murderous Machination

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By giving in to one life-long desire hell is unleashed on Earth in Matthew Stott’s Apocalypse Hill. 

Mary has grown up terrified and terrorized by her father since the age of six when he murdered her mother in front of her. After years of torment from both her father and the Yellow Man whispering to her, Mary builds up her courage, finally killing her father and brother with her mother’s knife in their house on Apoc Hill. But little does she know that her vengeance releases a horror unto Apoc that begins with the town being covered in a yellow pollen-like substance and culminates in the people of Apoc turning into soulless zombie-like killing machines. Two citizens of Apoc, author Bill Reed and a young girl named Alice, struggle to survive in the apocalyptic landscape their home has turned into, coming to rely upon one another to bring normalcy back to their world.

With character dialogue written concisely, this zombie/horror narrative provides a new perspective on the cause of a zombie outbreak and the rules that govern their behavior.  There’s a larger scope to the plot than the characters and situations presented within this narrative; the more supernatural aspect to the plot, however, is not strongly developed, leaving the the strange happenings as more of a shock factor than an actual part of the story (though this is the first in a series related to this narrative, it should be able to establish the key things well enough from the outset to get and keep reader interest and attention).

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Devil in the Details

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Playing with chalk has an innocent, childlike quality to it, but for one group of friends in C. J. Tudor’s The Chalk Man it has a sinister undertone

In 1986 Eddie and his friends develop a code of chalk drawings to secretly communicate with each other to arrange various adventures and meet ups. One day the chalk drawings lead the group to discover the dead body of a local girl, which threw the quiet, small English village into the scandalous spotlight. Thirty years later, the group of friends has each received a mysterious chalk figure in the mail. When one of the friends winds up dead, Eddie tries to save himself by launching into investigation mode to figure out what happened to that girl decades ago, even if the truth is unfathomable.

Quickly paced, the narrative alternates between the past and present of Eddie’s life, bringing forth relevant details to help build the suspense. There were a few too many coincidences throughout the story that built toward the ending, and though I’m often fond of unreliable narrators, the lack of an adequately seeded build left me a bit unpleasantly jarred at the end. Well-written overall with a familiar boyhood adventure story but still unique, this is a strong debut novel that grips readers’ attention and provokes thought on knowing and understanding people’s motivations.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Fractured Futures

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Some crimes are so bizarre that they defy logic and reason, taking years to understand and solve. But in The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch it’s possible for special members of NCIS to travel through Deep Time to possible futures to get the leads needed to solve a case now.

Shannon Moss is an NCIS investigator, seasoned in navigating Deep Space and Deep Time, but the case she’s assigned to in 1997 of a slain family of a Navy SEAL, who was presumed MIA while on the disappeared Deep Time ship the U.S.S. Libra, and his missing daughter is wreaking havoc on both her personal life, with her connections to the location where the murders took place, and the future of the world, with the impending doom of Terminus moving closer and closer. In trying to find the missing girl, solve the case, and help prevent the end of the world, Shannon collaborates with standard law enforcement, but also travels to possible futures to gain clues to aid the current investigation.

Though reliant on science fiction elements to achieve time and space travel, as well as discuss a multiverse-esque possible futures scenario, the rest of the novel wasn’t too sci-fi heavy and instead focused more on aspects of a crime procedural. I found it an intriguing concept to essentially work toward reverse engineering a point of divergence, where you know the future and you try to make the necessary modifications to the past to alter the events of the future to a more desirable outcome (although let’s not say that the epilogue is a narratively desirable outcome)- ultimately it makes you question what reality is and how you’re related to it. Various acronyms were used for quite a long time in the text before they were explained to the reader, which is something that I always find irksome, particularly in a novel where there are many acronyms or field-specific jargon in use.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Programmable Prognosis

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It seems inevitable that machines are the future. I. A. CRISPR: Does Artificial Intelligence Dream of Genetic Engineering? by L. A. Spangler presents a developing scenario where genetics and artificial intelligence research intersect.

A team of four incredibly intelligent and capable scientists are lead by a driven man, Jacek, to combine the capabilities of artificial intelligence with genetic editing in a pursuit to benefit human kind. Spurred by Jacek’s desire to find a cure for his comatose sister, the team works tirelessly to create a functioning prototype of their machine as they struggle to secure funding to keep their research going. Leaving the realm of academia for a corporate pharmaceutical funder, the team finds they have some new obstacles to overcome in their endeavor to marry AI and genetic engineering, including a silent threat of misuse from a teammate.

An intriguing and frightening premise, particularly with the continually increasing technological development and discussion surrounding artificial intelligence, the concept of utilizing AI to help research and cure diseases is fascinating and not incredibly far-fetched. Though relatively well-crafted, this book feels incredibly expository as it sets up the basics of the characters and events to come later, which are teased in the book’s synopsis but not yet addressed or developed much in this book, instead of having much standalone action that drives the scenario forward. Throughout the text, I found that there were some consistent proofreading issues, particularly around plurals and missing words in sentences (aside from the dialect used by the Russians), that pulled me out of the story.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

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