May 30, 2020

 

Book Review - Unique, Ordinary #2 (by Starr Z. Davies)

Title: Unique
Series: Ordinary (book #2)
Author: Starr Z. Davies
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery & Thriller, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Readers
Publisher: Pangea Books
Release Date: June 2nd, 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 426
 


"He lost everything. His dad, his best friend, and the woman he loves.

Ugene and the other test subjects escaped Paragon. They thought they were finally safe. But the battle for freedom is far from over.


When a rogue group calling themselves the Protectorate offers to help Ugene, he worries that his friends are falling into another dangerous trap. The struggle for freedom becomes a desperate fight for survival. Ugene is determined to stand up for what’s right and save the oppressed citizens of Elpis from persecution by Paragon and the Directorate.


The deeper Ugene digs, the more he uncovers about the Directorate’s sinister secrets, the Protectorate’s true goals... and the dangerous game he is about to play.


It’s time for the deception to end. It’s time for the truth to finally come to the surface…


And it’s time for everyone to finally learn that being Powerless isn’t weakness."

Unique (Ordinary #2)
(read an excerpt on starrzdavies.com)


- Review -
What Made Me Read It
I was sent a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The author described the first book of the "Ordinary" duology as a young adult sci-fi dystopian novel, inspired by her love for superheroes like Batman and Spiderman; Starr Davies also mentioned she gained a reputation as the "Character Assassin", while pursuing a degree in creative writing, for her "habit of utterly destroying her characters emotionally and physically". Having greatly enjoyed book #1 of the series, I was curious to see the conclusion of the story and what laid in store for Ugene and the people of Elpis.


The Plot
After barely escaping with their lives from Paragon Tower, Ugene and the small group of surviving test subjects are taken in by the Protectorate, a group of freedom fighters whose mission is to rescue and protect those targeted by the Directorate and Paragon, expose their lies and take down the system. But after everything he went through at the hands of Dr. Cass and the betrayals suffered during his confinement, Ugene finds it hard to trust anyone. Something about Willow Barnes, the leader of the Protectorate, doesn't feel right and Ugene is suspicious of her true goals.


But with the looming threat of Proposition 9, he is once again faced with a hard choice. Burdened with the responsibility of keeping his companions safe and haunted by feelings of guilt and sorrow over those he lost - close friends, his long time crush Bianca and his own father - joining the cause and help make a better future for all the people of Elpis might be the only way to protect his friends. All he has to guide him is the book left behind by Celeste with another one of her cryptic prophecies: A man who hides behind The Shield is safe. A man who raises The Shield is the Hero. Ugene has been powerless all his life and doesn't feel he's up to the task... but one doesn't need powers to have brains.


The Good
"Unique" is the second and last book of the 'Ordinary' duology, a young adult sci-fi novel set in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world, told in the first person through the eyes of the main character, a powerless teenage boy living in a world of powered people, struggling to protect his friends while making a stand against a corrupted system. In book #1 ("Ordinary") we were introduced to the seemingly utopian society of Elpis, built after a devastating civil war between humans with enhanced abilities and those without which left the planet a barren place incapable of sustaining life. As more people were being born with weaker powers or succumbing to degenerative diseases, Ugene volunteered as a test subject in Dr. Cass' research to stop Regression, in the hopes of gaining powers of his own and help save his father from a fatal condition. When the research turned out to be both a lie and a life-threatening experiment, Ugene and his fellow test subjects joined forces to fight their way out of the facility.


Book #2 ("Unique") takes up where book #1 left off. The story is once again divided in 3 parts: part 1 introduces the rebel group Protectorate, as Ugene and his fellow survivors take refuge in their hidden base; part 2 shows the impact of Proposition 9 in the impoverish neighborhood of Pax; part 3 follows Ugene as he sets out to expose and stop Directorate Chief Seaduss' plans for the people of Elpis.


The plot is fast-paced, with thrilling action sequences where the rebels fight and evade the Directorate's DMA (Department of Military Affairs) militia forces, and an ongoing mystery with plenty of suspense and political intrigue as Ugene tries to unravel both the Directorate's plans and the Protectorate's true goals. The worldbuilding is complex and imaginative: The Shield, an old underground military base built before the Purge repurposed to offer sanctuary for those sentenced to death by the Directorate; the Consumption Tax and Proposition 9, a controversial law that forces regressing citizens with weak powers and debts to join the military forces; recessive genetic allele mutations and PTPD (post-traumatic powerloss depression), a genetic explanation to how powers are developed... all these elements help build the powered society of Elpis and explore the social and class discrimination of its citizens, moving the plot forward.


The characters are well developed and realistic, with believable motivations and goals, be it survival or pursuit of power at any cost. Ugene in particular shows strong emotional growth throughout the story: from dealing with feelings of guilt over losing so many test subjects during their escape from Paragon Diagnostics, burdened by the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the remaining survivors, overwhelmed by the unwavering trust placed in him and torn between the love of two girls; to his determination to expose the lies told by the Directorate and end a repressive system, to think big and help create a better future for everyone while confronting bullies and ghosts from his past.


All in all, a truly engaging series with a great and satisfying ending.


Final Rating

"Unique" is the second and final book in the 'Ordinary' duology, a young adult sci-fi novel set in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world, fast-paced with thrilling action sequences, an ongoing mystery and plenty of suspense and political intrigue. Recommended for those who enjoy science fiction and stories about characters with super powers, personal struggles and moral dilemmas.



• • • •


- About the Author -
Website: starrzdavies.com
Twitter: @SZDavies
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction
 

STARR Z. DAVIES is a Midwesterner at heart and lives in Wisconsin with her husband and kids. From a young age, Starr has been obsessed with superheroes like Batman and Captain America, which inspired her novel, ORDINARY. If Starr had a superpower, she would be an Empath because she is an emotional sponge and easily relates to how others feel.
 

While pursuing a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, Starr gained a reputation as the "Character Assassin" because she had a habit of utterly destroying her characters both emotionally and physically.
 

In her free time, Starr loves watching Doctor Who and anything with superheroes, reading books (duh!), writing about her favorite fantasy stories (Song of Ice and Fire, Mistborn, The Wheel of Time), and staring out the window as she dreams up more stories. Oh, and sometimes she steps out the door!
 

5 Fun Facts About Starr:
  1. Starr is short for Starrburst, her given Native American name.
  2. Starr is a big fan of cheesy puns and 5th grade humor and will often laugh at her own jokes before anyone else. Ex: What’s ET short for? Cuz he’s got small legs!
  3. Starr's favorite quote is from Batman Begins (of course, a superhero!): “It’s not who you are, but what you do that defines you.” She tries to live by this ideology.
  4. Starr loves to fantasize about who would star in a film as her characters. In fact, she sometimes “casts” actors on her social media feeds by posting pictures. After seeing Detective Pikachu, no one else but Justice Smith would satisfy her as Ugene.
  5. If she were to choose a superhero whose personality is most like her own, Starr would be Spiderman—nerdy, awkward, and witty, but always eager to do the right thing to help others.
(source: starrzdavies.com)


Previous in the series: Ordinary, Ordinary #1 (book review)

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May 25, 2020

 

Book Review - There Was A Silence: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol IV (by T.E. Mark)

Title: There Was A Silence: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol IV
Series: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark (Volume #4)
Author: T.E. Mark
Genre: Science Fiction, Anthologies
Publisher: Paragon Independent Publishers
Release Date: February 2nd, 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 422 


"A University of Chicago Neuroscientist, plagued since childhood with visions of a post-apocalyptic Earth, explores the 3rd degree of consciousness to confirm her belief that our world ended in a nuclear holocaust nearly 100 years earlier. THE 3rd DEGREE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
 

Peyton Webb is unknowingly creating alternate futures with his newest novel. And the survivors of one of those futures are desperately trying to conquer time travel in an effort to send someone back to 2019 to stop him from finishing it. THERE WAS A SILENCE
 

Capitoline-E is the world’s largest, most illustrious city-state. For those in the restricted sectors, it’s a vast open-air prison and an Orwellian nightmare. When Jin Cress’ family is targeted by the ruling elite, he must choose between his comfortable existence and a battle for the right to control his own mind. BORDERS

In this sensitive, often amusing tale of a failed screenwriter faced with execution over a drug debt, we are invited into Michael Lemont’s world of dreams, inadequacies and his struggle to remain a 17-year-old party guy. Along the way to understanding the supernatural forces which intervened in his murder, Michael will uncover the difference between what is fun and what is important. PLAIN AND SIMPLE"





- Review -
What Made Me Read It
I was sent a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The author described it as "stories [that] examine the human condition in various contexts; in each story, a question is posited, an exploration made and conclusions are reached", and the synopses detail post-apocalyptic settings, paranormal events and mind-altering states which impact the choices each character makes. After reading and thoroughly enjoying the previous anthologies "Dreams Inc." and "Net 2.3", this next installment was a must.
 

The Good
"There was a silence" is a collection of 4 novelettes, some set in the near to far future, with each story exploring how our mind and awareness affect and determine our reality. But they're also grounded in today's world, looking into all too familiar current global issues: humanity's penchant for self destruction and war, immigration and close down borders, nationalism and fascism, technological surveillance and social propaganda... so even though the novelettes are set in post-apocalyptic futures, the characters still share the same human flaws, dreams and hopes of today, making each narrative feel realistic and relatable.
 

Written in a screenplay format combined with a lengthier narrative structure, each novelette could easily be adapted to a full-length movie or tv show, moving from scene to scene instead of chapters and alternating between different points of view and time frames. Fast-paced and thrilling with plenty of suspense and action sequences that will keep you on the edge of your seat, unexpected twists and turns to keep you guessing until the very last line, but also thought-provoking moments that will make you wonder what you might have done were you in the character's position.
 

Each story is unique and independent so the anthology doesn't feel like a variation on a single theme, but instead explores different possibilities in diverse situations. Because this volume deals with the mind, some stories are (appropriately) a little confusing at first when switching between different timelines, but the author manages to weave all the subplots together in brilliantly connected endings. The main characters are 3-dimentional and realistic, with recognizable and relatable doubts and insecurities, goals and motivations. Despite the short length typical of a novelette, each story is imaginative, evocative and with enough background details and information to gives us a strong sense of the worldbuilding and the characters.
 

"The 3rd Degree of Consciousness" -  Zarinah Fadish is a neuroscientist in her mid 40s who believes life on Earth ended 100 years ago. And if the world is dead, then who are they, where are they, and how much of the reality everyone perceives is actually real? Conducting a series of experiments in the 3rd Degree of Conscious, a chemically induced state where a person experiences reality free from the perceptions of the conscious mind and the fantasies of the subconscious, Farish hopes to find time capsules buried in a post-apocalyptic landscape that might contain the answers. But not everyone wants Fadish to uncover the truth. Rating 5/5 - a story that focus on humanity's drive for self-destruction and war and makes you question what's real and what's not, and how much our conscious minds dictate our reality; it got a little confusing when the main character's own sense of reality gets all messed up but it fits the plot with a brilliant twist and ending I did not see coming.
 

"There Was a Silence" - Peyton Webb is a 40-year-old best-selling novelist still reeling from the death of his wife and struggling to finish his latest satirical novel of an imaginary fascist regime. In the utopian world of 2245, 55-year-old Secretary General Carmina Bartome finds herself under pressure from the general assembly of the city-state of New Athens to step down, and in order to fulfill her father's dream of a united world, she must quickly devise a daring plan that will keep her in office. In the post-apocalyptic world of 2245, 55-year-old Science Advisor of the post-war Western Coalition Carmina Bartome works under constant attacks by wasteland gangs, desperate to find a way to send someone back in time to 2019 and stop the man who started it all. Rating 5/5 - a little predictable about halfway through but still thrilling and with a hint of humor; one of the timelines didn't seem relevant at first but it did show that, even in the best possible worlds, there are always those who choose power over freedom and those who fight for a better future.
 

"Plain and Simple" - Michael Lemont is a 31-year-old failed screenwriter turned small-time drug dealer after losing his family due to his own inability to grow up and take responsibility. Michael hides his failures and insecurities behind a mask of sarcastic humor and frequent partying with a select group of friends; but when a supernatural event stalls his own execution at the hands of his wannabe drug boss, Michael is forced to reevaluate his choices while trying to figure out how and why life gave him a second chance. Rating 4/5 - a slow-paced story set in current days Los Angeles that plays with the struggle of wannabe actors and screenwriters, who take on menial jobs in order to make ends meet while trying to make it in Hollywood; the way the author breaks the 4th wall as the main character interacts with the reader while recalling past and current events is a work of art, but it was hard to keep track of the different timelines, the lovey-dovey and epiphany scenes were predictable and the open ending frustrating so it lost a star... but that's a matter of personal taste.
 

"Borders" - In the first decade of the 22nd century the ancient Greek style city-states have been reinstated all over the world, segmented into closed and rigidly controlled racial and ethnic sub-sections, their population secretly monitored and controlled by the Guardians, trained to think for you, manipulate you, damage you and neutralize you. Jin Cress is a 19-year-old driven young man of latin descent assigned to Capitoline-E's Sector C16, who learns to think for himself and becomes a Knower not under the control of the Guardians. Feeling their power threatened by Jin's self-taught abilities, Councellor Royce Ami (a high ranking Guardian) and Commander Itani Tor (Capitoline E's Ministry Administrator) target Jin's family while Eric Federo, a rebel who spent his life moving people around from police-controlled restricted sectors to places without curfews, gangs and electromagnetic borders, has plans of his own for the young man. It's up to Jin to decide what to do with his knowledge and either join the system or rebel against it. Rating 5/5 - not the end I was hoping for but still a great tale about racial segregation, totalitarian regimes, mass control and manipulation, liberty of thought and freedom of choice.
 

Final Rating
"There was a silence" is an anthology of 4 fast-paced and thrilling novelettes set in a near and far future, written in a screenplay format with suspenseful plot twists but also thought-provoking moments. Recommended for those who enjoy sci-fi stories in post-apocalyptic settings that make you question the nature of your reality.


• • • •

- About the Author -
Website: mthomasmark.wordpress.com
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
 

"Life may be different than the way we perceive it. In many ways, it should be different.This is why I write."
 

T.E. Mark - Writer / Screenwriter


T. E. Mark is a Freelance Writer, Screenwriter and Violinist living in the United States. He was born in Bath Somerset where he lived for five years before coming to the US in 1981. He currently resides in San Francisco California.
 

Though best known for his fiction writing, he crafts articles for national and international magazines such as DISCOVER, ET Energy and Home Power, and often writes on education issues for major US universities.
 

His full-length novels and shorter Novelettes display his thought-provoking visions of our potential future and blunt, often sarcastic views of our present state of affairs. His screenplays are strong and compelling and always leave you with questions.
 

In a recent Author Interview, Mark was asked: What three pieces of advice he would give to new writers? He responded:
  • “Never use words like phlegmatic in print unless your intent is to piss people off. There are better ways to impress. Design an office block or bridge or something cool like a solar power car or skyscraper.”
  • “If you don’t have anything to say, read other writers’ books until you do.”
  • “Practice. Read and write every day and never quit.”
Mark also reads and writes poetry – publishing a selection of his personal favourites at the website titled: The Urban Scratch Project. When asked ‘why’ during a 2018 book signing he offered this response:
 

Ray Bradbury
 

TE Mark has studied Music, Architecture and English in the United Kingdom and the United States. He’s a member of Writers International, The International Writers’ Guild and continues to write and teach the violin and viola from his Bay Area cooperative.



Previous in the series: Dreams Inc.: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol II (book review)
Previous in the series: NET 2.3: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol III (book review)
Next in the series: Binary: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol V (book review)

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