Publisher: Ballantine Books Genre: Science Fiction Pages: 496 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 stars
Ryland Grace has to save the earth. By himself. In space. And he doesn’t remember who he is.
Grace awakens onboard a spaceship many light-years and many literal years away from earth and from any other human. He has to learn not only who and where he is but why because Earth is in danger of being wiped out. Grace is their only hope for survival. And the clock is ticking.
Space is big. Really big. But Grace may not be as alone as he thought he was. With his unlikely partner and his memories slowly returning, he uses science to navigate his way through problems and challenges on an interstellar adventure filled with suspense, survival, and an unusual friendship.
Will he save Earth in time?
Project Hail Mary is my favorite book of the year. If you enjoyed Andy Weir’s 2011 novel The Martian, you will enjoy his newest novel Project Hail Mary published May 2021. Think The Martian meets Interstellar. There are a lot of welcomed similarities to his first novel: cheeky humor amid a grisly survival situation, lots of fascinating science, and a lone astronaut trying to survive. Except this time, it’s not the whole earth trying to save one astronaut—it’s one astronaut trying to save the whole earth.
The science Andy Weir weaves throughout the whole book is intriguing and complex, yet it is never overwhelming for novices or distracting from the story. Like in The Martian, the protagonist uses his expert knowledge to problem-solve and the science always moves the plot forward in exciting and page-turning ways. Project Hail Mary brings in microbiology, astrophysics, the theory of relativity, and even communication theory. Woven together are two storylines—the current events of Grace aboard his spaceship and revealing flashbacks back to earth of Grace in his memories.
Despite all the science, Project Hail Mary’s real story is about connection. I won’t share any spoilers, but I will say that the strange partnership—and real friendship—Ryland Grace makes on his adventure is one of the best parts of the novel. The friendship invites intriguing questions about language, communication, life, possibilities, and what it means to be human. Or not human. Despite all the science happening in the novel, the emotional story is what really shines in this novel.
In addition to the novel’s exploration of beyond-human connection, it’s also about connection with our own planet. Project Hail Mary is a piece of speculative fiction. Speculative fiction… well, speculates. What if this happened? What would we do? Even through imagined stories, speculative fiction theorizes about our current world. These “narratives” [are] concerned not so much with science or technology as with human actions in response to a new situation created by science or technology…speculative fiction highlights a human rather than technological problem.” Project Hail Mary is ultimately an optimistic story about saving the earth, which gifts the same optimism to readers living in a very real world with fears and anxieties about climate change and environmental collapse. This story gives us hope.
Publisher: Leo Flynn Genre: Science Fiction Pages: 44 Format: e-Book Buy Here My Rating: 3/5 stars
Mara’s Awakening follows Mara Keres, a half-robotic peacekeeper who has fallen from grace. She has been kept in solitary confinement in a high security space prison for six years, but is finally released into the general prison population, her captors beliving she is finally broken.
Still a fighting spirit, Mara immediately teams up with her new cell mates, Ishali, a half snake man, and Mallory, a human woman with a secret, to escape the prison. However, that is easier said than done, especially since Mara has made some powerful enemies who would like to see her dead. But who exactly are these enemies, and what did Mara, a renowned peacekeeper, do to find herself surrounded by criminals and hunted at every turn?
Starting off with the good, I really enjoyed the mystery this story presents in regards to how Mara wound up a criminal. Throughout the story the reader is introduced to several people from Mara’s past, all of whom seem to have a great deal of vitriol towards her for quote “betraying them.” Likewise, Mara seems to believe that the government in fact betrayed her—specifically referencing a council that is implied to be in control of the entire galaxy. This framing provides an engaging dichotomy where the reader is unsure if Mara is indeed a criminal or if the government is behind something nefarious. This makes for a fascinating read where the reader cannot trust anyone and must piece together the story from context clues and hints in the dialogue.
A small detail I also enjoyed was how the author gave the main character a distinct way of speaking. Mara speaks with a twang in her voice that is reminiscent of the cockney accent. This distinction helps establish that Mara doesn’t belong, as she is the only character who speaks that way in the entire book. It isolates her from the rest of the world and really drives home how she is, in a sense, adrift and abandoned. I really appreciated how this detail was able to establish so much about Mara’s character without feeling forced.
However, where the book lost me was with the establishing of the setting. It’s important to note that this book is the first in a series of short stories that together tell the story of Mara. This means that the book had very few pages to establish the setting, the characters, and the plot for the entire series, and while the author did establish what the overarching plot of the book to be, the setting was underdeveloped. Through context clues the reader can determine that the prison is on some sort of spaceship, and that there are different species besides humans, but the overall universe where the characters live and the rules of said universe are left unexplained. This causes specific aspects of the book to feel disjointed and sudden. For example: when Ishali, the half-lizard man, is introduced the reader learns his species name, but not much else. The only way I was able to identify that he is a half-lizard man is by one sentence that references him having a lizard-like tail. However, the book doesn’t explain anything about his species nor does it clarify what they are, leaving me to guess that he is some sort of lizard-human hybrid. These disjointed pieces make the book feel like the first chapter to a book—which in a way it is—but since the next chapter would be found in the next book, it leaves the reader a little lost to the world where Mara’s Awakening takes place.
Overall, I loved the setup of the mystery and the characterization of Mara—especially in regards to Mara’s connection to the government—but was disappointed by the limited development of the setting. However, I do expect that the author will divulge more information in his second book, Mara’s Choice, so hopefully this limitation will correct itself with time. If you’re looking for a quick sci-fi read this summer with an excellent mystery and you don’t mind a little confusion, Mara’s Awakening is only 99 cents on Amazon and is definitely worth the read.
Are you looking for a new series to transport you back to the glory days of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games? Trust me, I’ve been there—worrying I’ll never find anything as good as the adventures I went on with Tris Prior and Percy Jackson. Procrastinating buying that new book in the bookstore because it could never give you the same feelings of nostalgia of reading Twilight for the first time? I get it, but it’s time to move on. There are bigger and better books out there; just as there are more characters to grow with and tropes to fall in love with. I promise. And with everything going on right now, a series is just the heavy duty escape into a magical world to occupy you for more than a few days. So, here are five book series to get your reading mojo back—adding a book to each series the further you read on.
Six of Crows—Leigh Bardugo. Starting off with this duology, Six of Crows introduces a slew of characters for you to meet: a witch hunter, sharpshooter, a former servant with a talent for stealth and knife-wielding, and many more. This character-driven plot consists of heists and cons against the Ice Court, wealthy merchants, and crime bosses. With only two books, it’s an easy way to ease back into reading.
This series is part of the Grishaverse, which means there is a separate series called The Shadow and Bone trilogy that you can read after! This series is also coming to Netflix April 23.
Caraval—Stephanie Garber. This is the first trilogy I read after my three year slump of reading, and it totally kick started my reading addiction again. These three books follow the two sisters Scarlett and Tella Dragna as they find themselves at Caraval, an exclusive once-a-year performance in which the audience gets to participate to win a special prize. Things take turn, however, when the sisters end up in a sinister game fighting for love and family.
As you dive deeper into the series, you discover mysterious forces and secrets that go back to before they were even born—all orchestrated by the anonymous ringmaster and the all-powerful Fates.
Crave—Tracy Wolff. A great recommendation for all vampire lovers, Wolff’s series takes place at Katmere Academy: a school full of shapeshifters, witches and vampires. For Grace, this is the last place she wants to be…that is, until she meets Jaxon, a charming vampire with deadly secrets. This young adult series is the next series to sink your teeth into.
The fourth book of this series comes out September 28th, 2021—plenty of time for you to catch up on this series full of twists, romance, and deep fantasy lore; so sit back, relax, and read as slow as you want to.
The Heroes of Olympus—Rick Riordan. If you took quizzes to see who your godly parent was, this five-book series is for you. Chances are, if you’ve already read the original (beloved) Percy Jackson series, then you’ve already heard about this series. Whether you brushed it off or thought it wouldn’t live up to its hype, this is your sign to finally read them. It mixes familiar faces from Camp Half Blood and introduces new ones from Camp Jupiter to unite seven half bloods to fulfill another prophecy and save the world.
The Heroes of Olympus series expands on the mythological world and gives the characters from the original series another chance to continue their story, set a couple months after The Last Olympian.
A Court of Thorns and Roses—Sarah J. Maas. Sarah J. Maas is taking the world by storm with her A Court of Thorns and Roses series. This is the first series in a long time where I’ve stayed up until two in the morning just to finish reading. Classified as a “New Adult” genre, this series can be described as Beauty and the Beast meets magical kingdom of faeries. If you’re into amazing world building and obsessing over characters, I highly recommend it, 11/10. While only four books are out on the market right now, Maas is under contract to write two more, ensuring the perfect amount of satisfaction and anticipation in a series.
P.S. If you like this series you can level up and go for Sarah J. Maas’ seven book series, Throne of Glass. Psst…this series is completed. Yay!
The Stormlight Archive—Brandon Sanderson. Last but not least, we have Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re not afraid of commitment, I highly suggest it and I applaud you for diving head first into reading again. Although there are only four books out, there are ten planned.
So, if you’re ready to invest six to ten years on a series, this one is perfect to get you back into the reading saddle. Happy reading!
Now more than ever, many people are finding their way to books. As the real world becomes progressively more and more like a dystopia, books provide a welcome escape to the turbulence of our everyday life. If you’re anything like me, this past year has made you even more dependent on fictional worlds to help make sense of the real one. While this escapism if often found in books, it’s also commonly found in the world of film and TV shows. In the spirit of fueling your next binge-reading and binge-watching experiences, I thought I’d provide some escapism series that have a film counterpart (or, at least one in the works). These selections are all made up of at least three books in the core series, and many include spin-offs or related works.
Shadow and Bone—Leigh Bardugo. Soon to be a Netflix series, now is the perfect time to read the Shadow and Bone series. The first book in the trilogy follows orphaned soldier Alina Starkov, who unwittingly reveals dormant and powerful magic to save her best friend when her regiment is attacked. She begins training with the Grisha—the magical military elite—under the guidance of their infamous leader, the Darkling, who believes that Alina’s power might be the key to saving their war-torn country. As Alina trains, she makes a dangerous discovery that threatens those she loves and her entire nation.
In addition to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Grishaverse also includes the Six of Crows duology and the King of Scars duology, whose final book was just released last month!
Dune—Frank Herbert. Lauded as one of the best science fiction novels of all time, you’ve likely heard about the adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya set to be released later this year. Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family on the desert planet Arrakis, who is tasked with ruling the desolate land and safeguarding the melange—a drug that is highly-coveted for its abilities to extend life and enhance consciousness. When Paul’s family is betrayed and destroyed, he goes on a journey to avenge his family and bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.
As an added perk for those looking to escape in the barren deserts of Arrakis, the Dune series contains many prequels and sequels written by both Frank Herbert himself as well as his son, Brian Herbert. For a complete list of the books in the Dune series (both novels and short stories) in chronological order, check out the Dune website here.
A Darker Shade of Magic—V.E. Schwab. For those who have recently read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and have fallen in love with Schwab’s magical writing, I’d draw your attention to her older fantasy series, A Darker Shade of Magic. Schwab crafts a world of four parallel Londons: Red London, where magic and life are celebrated; Gray London, a poor land without magic; and White London, a city slowly losing its life force due to constant magical warfare. As for the fourth London, Black London, nobody speaks of it anymore. Almost nobody can travel between the Londons, as the magicians capable of teleporting between the worlds (the Antari) are all but extinct. One of the last remaining Antari, Kell, acts as a messenger between the Londons—as well as an unofficial smuggler of valuable artifacts, a side gig that often gets him into trouble. His misadventures cause his path to collide with Delilah Bard, a cutpurse looking for adventure.
The Shades of Magic trilogy, while not as well-known as some of the other series on this list, is also slated for a film adaptation in the (hopefully) near future by writer Derek Kolstad.
Outlander—Diana Gabaldon.Outlander follows Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, as she returns home from the war in 1945. While on a second honeymoon with her husband, she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles of the British Isles and finds she is suddenly an outlander in a war-ravaged Scotland in the year 1743. As Claire attempts to navigate this violent world, she finds a companion in the young Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser. As their lives become more closely intertwined, Claire finds herself torn between two different men from two irreconcilable lives.
The Outlander series is currently eight books long, with a ninth set to be released sometime this year and a tenth promised after that. The series has also been adapted into a TV show, with 12–16 episode seasons for each book. The show just aired its fifth season—based on The Fiery Cross—last year, and has been renewed for a sixth and seventh season.
During brunch a few weeks ago, I was gifted a new book by a friend for my reading pleasure. The New Deepby Hunter Codner was emblazoned on the front cover. Any day that begins with the collection of a new book is a great day to me and to many fellow bibliophiles, but what my friend said next changed the context of this particular book: it was written by a coworker of my husband.
It’s not unheard of for book lovers to be avid writers as well—for many it’s our dream to write that novel, build our own world, tell our own story, and the biggest step towards that goal, in the words of Stephen King, are to “read more books.” So I took a second long, good look at this new book in my possession. At the fabulous artwork on the cover, at the professional matte paperback finish of it, and finally at the name of the author, which suddenly rang a bell to me as an individual my husband had mentioned speaking and working with. For me, it hit close to home: it made the goal of publishing a novel so much more real and tangible. I took it home and, with a stack of TBR books on my nightstand, I devoured The New Deep in one evening, late into the night. I was enamored with the rich characters and sci-fi world of Hunter’s debut novel, and in addition to wanting to tell the world about the success and triumph of an acquaintance from our very own neighborhood, I had a need to ask him about how he went about making “the dream” happen. So as follows is my interview with the author of The New Deep, and I hope that his story provides some ideas for my fellow writers considering the avenue of self-publication, and inspires you to check out Hunter Codner’s excellent new addition to the science fiction genre.
Did you always set out to write and publish a novel? I’ve wanted to write a novel for a while now, but I never got past the world-building stage. I finally decided to push through and do it after I went to Gen Con last year and saw all the folk in author’s alley. From there, I knew that I wanted to write and publish a book.
What was a big motivator for you to develop your idea and pursue a novel-length story? There were two enormous motivators for me to push through with the story. One was that I knew I absolutely wanted to write a book and share it with people. The second was that I had been working on my science fiction world for over a decade and finally had the drive to do something with it. Then inspiration struck—surprisingly, not from any science fiction source but from D&D. I had this idea of a spaceship that wasn’t really a ship but instead a giant mimic, and I went from there.
What were some of your biggest challenges? One of the largest challenges was striking a balance between my job, my hobbies, and trying to write. After finding that balance, I hit a hard wall about fifteen thousand words into the story. I had to eventually just take time off work so that I could push myself over the wall and finally finish the story.
When you finished, what were your first thoughts? I didn’t really believe it, but I was also super pumped—not as much as my husband, though. It was like being on a super tough hike, and finally, I had reached the first significant milestone. Right after I finished, I started researching about the next steps for the process.
How did you begin the proofreading/editing process, and how did you get in touch with an editor? For an editor, I lucked out in that I had a friend who wanted to become an editor and was going to school for it, so I offered my book. Unluckily for her, I’m a new author, and at that time, I was even less knowledgeable than I am now and just sent her first draft, untouched. Bless her heart, she was patient with me and worked with me for almost an entire year and through many drafts/revisions until we had a workable product.
What motivated you to pursue self-publishing rather than using a publishing company? I decided on self-publishing after I finished the first draft, and I saw it was only the length of a novella (after the editing process, it did reach novel-length). I didn’t think that a publishing company would want to take up a thirty-thousand-word story from a new author (and after some research, I was correct). After researching self-publishing, I realized that Amazon had made the process so easy that there was no real reason I shouldn’t.
What was your biggest source of information for the process of self-publishing? Oh man, the site two sites I think I visited the most were Reedsy and the Kindle Direct Publishing main site. Reedsy is a great blog with articles about writing and publishing that really helped me figure out the process and things I needed to get done. The KDP site has an FAQ section that goes through everything. They cover not only the things you need for publishing through KDP, but also guides on typesetting, layouts, and cover design. Besides those two though, there are so many different sources of information for people wanted to self-publish: one quick Google search, and you’ll have a tsunami of useful info.
How did you go about choosing the designs and getting copies of your book printed? Lucky for me, my husband is a graphic designer and artist. He insisted that not only did he want to draw the cover of the book, but also draw chapter art. Later, when I was typesetting and laying out the interior of the book, he also found me a great font to use for chapter headings and cover. As for physical copies, surprisingly, Kindle (Amazon) does that as well, and it’s pretty straightforward. While I highly recommend hiring someone to layout out your book, Amazon does have step-by-step guides on how to properly layout your book for print.
What has been the most rewarding thing about self-publishing your first novel? The most rewarding moment was when I finally hit publish for the physical copies on Amazon. I had spent maybe a week and a half working on the layouts for the book, then uploaded them and ordered my proof copies to make sure everything was ready to go as we believed. Thank God we did. In the flurry of getting the book ready to publish, I had missed so many tiny things that it made the book look sloppy. My husband, editor, and I spent a weekend pouring back through the book—both digitally and physically—until we felt that we had caught everything. So, when I finally hit publish the next weekend, it was a sigh of relief.
What advice do you have for other writers? Would you suggest for them to pursue self-publishing? My advice would be that no matter how ready you think that the first draft is for someone to see, it’s not. Don’t send anything before the third draft to an editor, and look for some good honest beta readers to look at your story, too. As for self-publishing, I suggest going through the process even if you don’t plan on hitting publish, just so you know each point of the process of publishing a book.
Lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Sure, currently I’m listening to the audiobook version of the first Redwall novel.
You can purchaseHunter Codner’s debut novel The New Deep at Changing Hands Bookstore here.
Thank you to the author for providing this ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press Genre: Science Fiction Pages: 517 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
As I’m sure many of you know, this novel is the prequel to the Hunger Games series. It is set 63 years before Katniss’ Games and follows President Snow, known at this time as Coriolanus Snow.
Snow is only 18, and his family is facing hard times as the effects of the war play out. The story begins the morning of the reaping for the 10th annual Hunger Games. Snow is determined to get into University, and needs to mentor a winning tribute to help solidify his spot. The odds are not in his favor when he is assigned the girl tribute from District 12.
Much to his surprise, his tribute wows the crowd all on her own. Determined to win, no matter the cost, Snow takes a chance on her. He grows close to her as their fates are largely intertwined in a game unlike any before, leaving him to wonder, was it all worth it?
There were a lot of mixed expectations towards this novel—some people were upset that President Snow was getting a prequel when he was very clearly a terrible person. While I would love a prequel about Finnick or Mags, I also love a good villain origin story and couldn’t wait for this novel to come out. The moment I saw it on the shelf at Target, I ran to pick it up and, honestly, it exceeded my expectations.
I fully expected it to be a story that showed Snow as an empathetic, caring person who was turned sour by a negative experience. Without giving too much away, I can say the story subverted my expectations completely. While he certainly did not have the upbringing I expected, his goal was always clear. Various obstacles were thrown in his way, all adding to his character but never wavering his stance. In that way, the star of the story is the first person point-of-view. His actions and his thoughts are so different at times, if we weren’t constantly in his head, that we would have no idea. It appears that from a young age, Snow mastered the art of performance. While he certainly isn’t an admirable character, he sure is an interesting one. The connections between his actions and circumstances in this novel, to that in original Hunger Games novel are beautifully done and I loved finding them laced throughout. I had more ah-hah moments than I can count!
The only reason I didn’t give this novel a full 5/5 stars is because of the ending. There was one unanswered question that I still haven’t found the answer to, which caused some of the ending to feel anti-climatic. It is too small of a detail, though, for me to not highly recommend all Hunger Games trilogy lovers give it a read.
Even if you absolutely despise President Snow, this will be a treat for you. I truly hope it becomes a movie soon so I can enjoy it all over again!
Times might be strange right now, but the book publishing industry is still bringing forth promising reads. While the current moment likely has your TBR pile stacked to the ceiling, I say half the fun of being an avid reader is looking for future books to salivate over. With that in mind, and just needing a break for the stress of life moment-to-moment right now, I’ve curated a list of five science fiction and fantasy books that are forthcoming in the fall of 2020.
While August might not technically be the fall, that does not make me any less excited for this book! Maria Dahvana Headley is the author of The Were Wife, a modern retelling of Beowulf from the perspective of Grendel’s mother; and this new translation seems like it will be equally tantalizing. This translation is said to have an eye gear toward gender, genre, and history, and I can’t wait to revisit this classic tale through the scope of the twenty-first century!
It is hard to believe that it has been sixteen years since Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, was published! That book has remained in my heart since the first time I read it all those years ago, and is one that I go back to often. So, maybe I am being dramatic, but I feel like I have waited my whole adult life for Susanna Clarke to publish another novel. While Piranesi is said to be much shorter than Clarke’s debut, it does not sound any less enchanting. It is a tale of a man who lives in an endless magical house that contains countless corridors, an infinite amount of statues, and even an entire ocean, and is about a newfound truth turning his reality upside down.
Versatile author extraordinaire V.E. Schwab will be back this fall with her new adult fantasy book. The story is said to be about a young woman who trades immorality for being forgotten by everyone she meets. The young woman carries on this way for over three hundred years, until one day, a man remembers her name. I have never read anything by Schwab that did not have me instantly hooked, and this book does not sound any different.
Author Nicole Glover’s debut novel, from JJA Books, is about a magic wielding African-American couple in post-Civil War Philadelphia who use their powers to investigate a murder that the police won’t touch. Said to be a mash-up of The Dresden Files and Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, this book combines elements of traditional fantasy, mystery, and history. I can’t wait to get my hands on it, as it combines some of my favorite things, and because the narrative sounds so exciting and fresh!
What would a list of forthcoming science fiction and fantasy novels be without the genre’s darling, Brandon Sanderson? The uber-successful author will be publishing the fourth installment of TheStormlight Archive this fall.Coming in at over one thousand pages, this book should keep readers busy, at least for a few hours. It is said to pick up with the human resistance taking on the enemy, only to find that the situation is a stalemate. From there, the war with the enemy develops into an arms race that begins to unveil secrets of the past. Sanderson can almost do no wrong, and I am sure that this book is going to be fantastic!
Changing Hands Phoenix and the ASU Center of Science and the Imagination (Go, Sun Devils!) are partnering to celebrate the launch of Future Tense Fiction: Stories of Tomorrow, a new science fiction short story collection. The anthology explores the consequences—good and bad—of change and what tomorrow might bring for humankind. Authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Maureen F. McHugh—two of the contributors in this anthology—will be joining Changing Hands and ASU for the book launch.
Paolo Bacigalupi is the author of The Windup Girl, Ship Breaker,The Drowned Cities, Zombie Baseball Beatdown, The Doubt Factory, The Water Knife, and Tool of War. His work has won a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and has been nominated for three Nebula Awards and four Hugo Awards.
Maureen F. McHugh is the author of China Mountain Zhang, After the Apocalypse,Nekropolis,Half the Day Is Night,Mission Child, and Mothers and Other Monsters. She lives, writes, and teaches scriptwriting in Los Angeles, California.