Amaris Jensen is a regular 17 year old college girl when she gets the earth-shattering news of her father’s tragic death. Ever since the mysterious disappearance of her mother, Amaris’s father was all she had. Now she’s sent to live her life with her cousin Sandon, who is a lab scientist and a self-defense trainer for 7 other girls at Amaris’s new school. Amaris eventually grows close to them and starts to find her when she begins uncovering strange secrets about the girls and her cousin. Amaris finds herself pulled into a vortex of myths, magic, precious stones, secrets and danger.
What starts off simple and straightforward, quickly escalates to a new and exciting level in the first few chapters. Her father’s sudden death due to a sickness Amaris never knew about, shatters her idea of normalcy and routine. She is then forced to live with an estranged cousin Sandon, who Amaris expects the worst of, but the new father figure in her life takes her by surprise.
Sandon and Amaris’s relationship develops and grows effortlessly. You can really feel Amaris’s pain and longing for normalcy, and when things start to go awry you are just as confused as she is. Which makes the mystery, and the big reveal, so much better. For Sandon, Amaris is much more than a cousin, she is like a daughter. Amaris struggles with leaving her old life behind, but she finds friends in unlikely people. I really appreciated that, while the novel was easy to read, I never really knew what was coming. The protagonist’s strength of character and depth of thoughts is very well portrayed by the author and the range of moods that Amaris wanders through is deftly characterized. This is a highly emotional novel. Amaris goes from crisis to mystery and back all the while trying to cope with the loss of her family. Emotion can be a hard thing to capture in novels, but Casey Hansen does a fantastic job of showing not telling. A few editorial errors exist but they are easy to overlook when all you want is to find out what happens next.
Black Box is a clever title for this thriller novel from Casey J. Hansen and perfectly suits the mood and unexpected ending of the story. This is not a Scooby-Doo mystery; their are layers here that you must peel back slowly. When Amaris finds out that there were initially 10 girls to begin with and now 3 of them have mysteriously disappeared, just like her mother, the book really finds legs and you’re carried along for a thrilling ride. The number of ways in which Amaris’s world crumbles throughout the story is something well worth reading. This thriller is exciting, addictive and is highly recommended.
Pages: 225 | ASIN: B01MQGCJ4J
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H.A.L.F. tells the story of H.A.L.F 9, a Human-Alien Life Form that escapes from the military facility where he was created. What was your inspiration for this imaginative and thrilling novel?
The original idea and plot for this story came to me one day as I was driving in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, listening to a techno-rap song called “Cowboys and Aliens”. What can I say – it was a hot day in the desert! I’ve long been fascinated by the remote area in southern Arizona, the borderlands between Mexico and the U.S. There’s a military testing range out there and not much else. That song on that day got me thinking about how alien conspiracy theorists talk about a secret underground base. And I thought what if such a base is under the missile testing range? And what if there really are human-alien hybrids? And why would a shadow government want to create such a being? The series has been great fun for me, a huge X-Files, Twilight Zone and Star Trek fan. Fun to create my own alien worlds and adventures!
H.A.L.F. 9 forms a bond with other teens that he comes across and their relationships are dynamic and deep as well. What themes did you try to capture when you were creating the relationships the characters had?
When I write a first draft, I generally don’t think about themes. I also don’t spend time outlining relationships before I write. I try my best to let the characters “speak” and for the relationships to evolve organically.
But once the first draft is written, with the assistance of my content editor, I fine tune. In The Deep Beneath, I had not originally intended for H.A.L.F. 9 to become romantically interested in Erika. But he’s a 17 year old guy who’s never been around girls his own age! Of course he’s interested in her!
As for the three human teens, I spent a lot of pre-first draft planning time creating a relationship backstory for them. On the advice of an early editor, I decided to have Erika and Jack having problems in their boyfriend/girlfriend relationship right off the bat. That’s not a typical starting point in a YA book and I think it was good advice. Over the three books, readers get to see complex relationships play out. And I think that’s more like what life is really like. Even with people we love deeply, we don’t always get along. There are ups and downs. But will we stick with someone through thick and thin? Or bail on them when the going gets tough?
Ian and Erika are best friends. Like many best friends in coming of age stories, their relationship is tested by the difficult circumstances they’re thrust into. The circumstances of the story force them to journey beyond their small town and into the wider world. And oh what a world they step into! They each are confronted with moral dilemmas and the choices they make affects their relationship.
What emerges is a story that over the 3-book series is about loyalty, trust, and having each other’s backs. Not only do we see this in how the three older teens deal with each other, but also through how Erika is teaching H.A.L.F. 9 about living in the human world.
As I’m just finishing up revisions on the third and final book in the series, ORIGINS, I’m going to miss these characters! I’ve enjoyed writing their relationships and watching them grow.
H.A.L.F 9 has telekinetic and telepathic powers which make him a valuable asset to the government. These powers are used in unique and interesting ways. How did you handle the use of these powers in the novel where they were believable yet useful?
I was inspired to give H.A.L.F. 9 the powers that he has from my research into a real top secret military project called Project Stargate. It was started in the 1970’s and the purpose was to research the potential of “psychic warfare.” This was during the cold war and they were seeking to create a “remote viewing” spy network but there was also this idea that enemies could potentially be taken out from thousands of miles away using only the mind.
Of course they didn’t produce much in the way of results. The funding dried up and the program ended (allegedly ;-).
These sorts of top secret programs inspired the story. What if aliens had stronger psychic abilities than humans, and if a human-alien hybrid was engineered to have the stronger alien psychic abilities, what could it do? Media often portrays aliens as having much more developed psychic abilities than humans, so I thought it would be believable for a human-alien hybrid to have these sorts of powers.
Giving the hybrid being these abilities was like creating superpowers or a magic system. So I had to think of its limits. That led to a rather unique problem for the hybrid beings that acts as a limit on their “magic” and is, I think, one of the more unique aspects of the series.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
H.A.L.F.: ORIGINS (H.A.L.F. 3) will be available August 24, 2017! I’m so excited for it! It has been a super difficult book to write due to all the threads that spread out in book 2. But I think that readers will find the wrap up exciting and satisfying – and all questions will be answered!
H.A.L.F. 9 has taken his first breath of desert air and his first steps in the human world. Created to be a weapon, he proved too powerful for his makers and has lived a sedated life hidden from humans. But H.A.L.F. 9 has escaped the underground lab he called home, and the sedation has worn off. He has never been more alive. More powerful. Or more deadly.
Erika Holt longs to ride her motorcycle east until pavement meets shore. She bides her time until graduation when she’ll say adios to the trailer she shares with her alcoholic mother and memories of her dead father. But a typical night in the desert with friends thrusts Erika into a situation more dangerous than she ever imagined.
Circumstances push the two together, and each must make a fateful choice. Will Erika help H.A.L.F. 9 despite her “don’t get involved” rule? And will H.A.L.F. 9 let Erika live even though he was trained to kill?
The two may need to forget their rules and training and if either is to survive the dangers of the deep beneath them.
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Breaking Magic takes place in a world where people are genetically engineered for jobs and no one is able to question their function in society. What was your goal when you started and how did it change as you were writing?
This question is interesting, because I’m not really a plotter. The details of each story tend to evolve as I’m writing, and in the case of Breaking Magic, things changed a lot. What the villain did to recreate the world of Imbera according to his own evil design was more complicated than I originally expected. It allowed me to be quite creative in terms of my protagonist’s journey. My goal was to show that everyone has unlimited potential – no matter what society tells them, or the obstacles they face. That did not change, but the story behind it certainly did!
The story follows Callax, one of the workers, as he struggles to overcome his predetermined life and learns more about the world. What was your inspiration for his character?
Callax is the storyteller, and he shares what he learns and the emotions he is feeling without much of a filter! He gets scared sometimes and he says the wrong thing as often as he says the right thing, but he’s brave and determined too. I wanted Cal to be someone the reader could relate to and care about.
In Breaking Magic the Opta are the ruling class and the Exta are the workers. What themes did you use to develop these two contrasting groups?
The overriding theme is the importance of hope, even in the face of the impossible odds that the Exta are facing. The Opta needed to appear invincible, so their leader, the Breaker, is an intelligent antagonist. The Exta are not allowed to grow up, they are engineered to be only fragments of their potential selves, and his magic uses a sinister combination of joy and pain to disorient them. Yet they never quite stop hoping, and this gives them the strength to fight.
How does this book fit into your Legacy of Androva series and what is next for Callax?
Breaking Magic was a great opportunity for me to take a minor character and bring him into the limelight in a standalone book. I expect that Cal will turn up again at some point, but for the sixth book I am writing Galen’s story. Galen is a seventeen-year-old Androvan magician from Seeking Magic, the third book in the series, who abandoned his world two thousand years ago for love of a Terran girl. I plan to return to the core series in the seventh book!
Callax is fifteen, and he already knows he won’t ever grow old. Twelve years after leaving the childstation he will be summoned to the Gathering, where life essences are taken by a deadly, irresistible spell. On his world, this is one of the many ways in which the Exta serve the Opta. His best hope is to avoid an early binding by staying out of trouble.
But in protecting his younger brother Benedar, he was noticed by the Breaker, the evil magician in charge of the Gathering. The closer Callax gets to the ruling house and the girl who lives there, the more he learns, and the greater the danger. A danger he might not understand until it is too late. Callax thinks the Breaker’s defeat will save him, but he is wrong.
Additional information: Although Breaking Magic is part of the Legacy of Androva series, it can also be read independently. If you have read Controlling Magic and want to know more about Imbera, Breaking Magic is Cal’s story. The book retells part of Controlling Magic from Cal’s point of view. Recommended for lower young adult.
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H.A.L.F by Natalie Wright tells the story of H.A.L.F 9, a Human-Alien Life Form that escapes from the military facility where he was created. During the course of his escape, H.A.L.F 9 meets teenagers, Erika, Jack and Ian, with whom he strikes up a friendship. Among other abilities, H.A.L.F 9 has extreme telekinetic and telepathic powers which make him a valuable asset to the government and one that they are not willing to lose. The government, claiming ownership of H.A.L.F 9’s life, sets out to retrieve him. Having no human technology that can match H.A.L.F 9’s power, they have to enlist a force stronger and more cunning than even H.A.L.F 9 is prepared to face.
Right from the start of the book the characters are likable and relatable. Even though the first couple of chapters were a bit confusing, each one was intriguing enough to make me want to keep reading. It isn’t immediately obvious how the characters in the first chapters are related to one another, but once you do discover the connection the direction of the story makes perfect sense. The writing is actually done very well for a Young Adult novel; which the book appears to be, as all the main characters are teenagers. I was very surprised at how each chapter really kept me on the edge of my seat; my interest in finishing the book never waned. Most books have at least a few chapters that are somewhat slow but I didn’t find this to be the case with H.A.L.F., it kept a great pace and remained interesting throughout. I think the struggle within H.A.L.F 9 between his alien and human personalities were done incredibly well. Having spent hardly any time at all actually interacting with humans on a personal level, he isn’t quite sure what to make of the new feelings that he experiences outside of the facility. For instance, there is a moment at which he finds himself wanting Jack to feel pain, even though he can acknowledge that Jack has never done anything to deserve his ill will. H.A.L.F 9 isn’t able to recognize that he feels this way toward Jack because of Jack’s romantic involvement with Erika, whom H.A.L.F 9 is also developing romantic feelings towards. I also appreciated how this aspect of the characters relationships is subtle and not the focus of any particular chapter in the story. Sometimes Young Adult fiction does not have a good balance of romance to substance but this book does not have that problem.
Natalie Wright does an excellent job with the element of surprise. I don’t want to give any spoilers so I will just say that in several places throughout the book the outcome that I was imagining is not at all what came to pass. I eagerly await the next installment of this series.
Pages: 293 | ASIN: B00R6U32CA
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Breaking Magic is the fifth book in the Legacy of Androva series. This emotional story takes place in the world of Imbera. The inhabitants are on an island and divided into two classes, the Opta and the Exta. The Opta are the ruling class, old, never aging, living a life of luxury. The Exta are the workers, made to work, sorted into units and worked to the bone until the age of eighteen when they are gathered by the Opta for nefarious purposes. For two thousand years, this has gone on. It is only when Cal starts remembering things that the world takes a dangerous turn.
In Breaking Magic, the story focuses on Callex who is a worker, in the lowest of the units, repairing roads and buildings, cleaning, and other hard labor. He cannot read or write, but he is physically strong. All the Exta’s are paired with an older child. Things start going astray in Imbera when Cal picks up his new little brother and discovers Benedar is a thinker, not a worker like him.
With the help of his friends Cal soon learns that everyone is genetically engineered to contain certain traits to make society function. When otherworlders appear in Imbera they learn of magic and spells and start to uncover their own pasts and hidden locked away parts of themselves. But with this new revelation comes a price and they must discover how to save their world.
Alex Vick creates a dramatic novel by expanding on Cal’s story in the Legacy of Androva series. Cal’s character slowly develops through the story, each new layer being pulled back as the story progresses, leaving you with a fascinating character in the end. The bond that is formed within the circle of friends brings the reader in and makes them a part of the group. You are on the edge of your seat waiting for the next clue so you can help Cal and his friends uncover the next missing piece of their world. Like the Exta’s, the reader learns more with each passing event. It’s all brought together with a compelling narrative that makes it difficult to put the book down. Breaking Magic is an entertaining and drawing novel for both young adult and adult readers, it will captivate you and give you hope for society. It shows that just because things are one way, doesn’t mean things can’t change, and just because your told your one thing, doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to always be that thing. Breaking Magic is a novel of hope and overcoming inner struggles and is a fantastic read.
Pages: 330 | ASIN: B071H5ZWDQ
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Have you ever imagined what it would be like to live inside your favorite video game? Karen Glista’s novel, Embellished, the first novel in The Chronicles of Orian trilogy, takes us on a wild ride with a story about teens who find themselves inside the world of the M.M.O.R.P.G. game, The Battle of Orian. While playing the game during a lightning storm, Bekka, Travis, and Matt are suddenly transported into the antiquated world of Orian. Bekka, a teen suffering from a rare genetic disease, finds herself fully healed from her earthly ailments and rises up the royal rankings. Meanwhile, her brother, Travis, and his friend Matt continually search for an escape back to Earth. Their only hope for escaping this world is finding the only other human from Earth, also trapped in the game, before they’re all killed by dangerous creatures.
Embellished is so much more than a fantasy/paranormal romance with a fair amount of compelling, steamy scenes. Embellished transcends genre boundaries through incorporating elements of adventure, suspense, and gruesome battle scenes. What makes it even more exciting to read is the development of its deeply complex characters and intricately woven plot with twists that’ll leave you gasping.
The novel opens with a group of teens playing The Battle of Orian on a stormy night in Texas, when lightning strikes their home and catapults the teens into the world of the game. Little do they know that their real-life bodies on Earth are rapidly deteriorating. Luckily, they know how to defeat evil spiders, bears, and violent Vadarcs, a sub-human species.
While the novel begins by focusing on Travis, who becomes the leader of the group, the perspective shifts to his sister, Bekka. She starts as a somewhat timid, soft-spoken individual, as her body on Earth was ravaged by the rare Marfan’s disease, but once she begins to find her voice, Bekka truly blossoms into a bold, outspoken, and open-minded heroine. I thought that it made the story so much more compelling to give Bekka these strong character traits, since it added suspense to the decisions she had to make.
Glista does a great job of capturing the inner feelings that any person would have when faced with a love triangle. Bekka befriends Atharia and even becomes betrothed to Atharia’s brother, the devastatingly handsome Vallas. But during a harrowing attack, she and Atharia are taken captive by a belligerent Vadarc tribe. After she meets Zandar, a half-Human Vadarc who exudes masculinity and passionate sensuality, Bekka wonders if she can ever go back to her life with Vallas again. She has the chance to choose between Vallas and Zandar – attracted to the different qualities within both men, she is torn between her desire for passionate, romantic love, or for safety and security.
Glista also masterfully incorporates multiple themes that add multiple layers to the novel. For example, Bekka discovers that there are deeply entrenched discriminatory practices between the Humans and Vadarcs, and after learning the history of the Vadarcs, Bekka begins to preach open-mindedness to her Human friends. I thought this was an extremely vital and current theme to have as it relates pretty directly to racial issues within today’s world.
As the first novel in the Chronicles of Orian trilogy, Embellished provides a bit of closure at the end, but it’ll definitely be interesting to see what happens to Bekka, Travis, and Matt in the next installment.
Pages: 302 | ASIN: B01M5BZVQ1
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In the final installment of the Lisen of Solsta trilogy, Blooded by D. Hart St. Martin takes us on a gruesome journey as we learn how Lisen as Empir of Garla will affect the future of the Garlan people. After ascending to the throne, Lisen must make major decisions while facing her own physical and mental battles alone, especially when she’s captured by rebel Thristans for a period of time. On the verge of a devastating war, Lisen and the holders of Garla face the bloodthirsty Thristans in a battle that reveals the truth of the hermit’s prophecy and whether peace can ever truly arise between the two nations.
In Blooded, the concluding piece of the Lisen of Solsta series, Lisen becomes Empir Ariannas—without Korin at her side, though, she struggles with this new sense of authority. As a result, Nalin becomes a vital figure who assists Lisen with developing the knowledge and skills needed to rule over Garla, and he becomes even more important when Lisen is captured by rebel Thristans. Blooded also follows Korin’s return to his homeland, Thristas, and he experiences his own dilemmas, as he realizes his connection to Lisen is much deeper than he originally thought—in this world, where gender norms are shattered, men or women can carry a child, and Korin is carrying his and Lisen’s baby (unknown to Lisen).
Hart St. Martin’s impressive fantasy world construction throughout the entire Lisen of Solsta series kept me so absorbed in the story that I couldn’t put this last book down—I had to know how the series ended because I felt genuinely invested in these carefully-constructed characters. For example, along with everyone else in Garla and Thrista, Lisen resembles a human, but she has a flat chest, a furry belly, and a marsupial-like pouch. In Blooded, we learn more about the “unpouching” or birthing process in this world by witnessing two important “outcomings” or births. St. Martin makes these moments suspenseful and full of emotion by showing two birthing events from different perspectives.
While Korin is raising his and Lisen’s child in Thristas, Lisen faces her own mental struggles when she realizes that the Thristans are planning to go to war with Garla. This climactic moment in the plot, where Lisen and her Council devise a plan for war, showcases the dynamic development of both Nalin’s and Lisen’s characters throughout the series.
During Lisen’s abduction by the rebels, Nalin becomes a strong-minded, confident leader, commanding Lisen’s Council to make major decisions in Lisen’s absence. On the other hand, Lisen sets aside her typical sarcastic, sassy attitude and at times she reveals her emotional turmoil a bit more, as she feels overwhelmed by death piling up around her and the possibility of war. Bala, a significant character from Tainted, becomes instrumental to the plot of Blooded once she’s granted a spot on Lisen’s private Council—when the Garlans go to war, Bala shows her true colors as an assertive leader for her troops.
It’s rare to find a series of books that keeps your interest until the very end, and the end of Blooded and the Lisen of Solsta series left me feeling a great sense of closure. With characters that felt so real within a uniquely constructed fantasy world, this series captures the best aspects of the fantasy genre while also pushing the genre’s boundaries through constructing a gender non-conforming world.
Pages: 420 | ASIN: B00R8K8XXQ
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