Another Reason Why You Ought to Visit the Underworld: A Review of Disconnect by Imran Siddiq

cover-for-disconnectWhen I say “Underworld” I’m not actually talking about life after death, but the depressing underground world of Imran Siddiq’s novel Disconnect.  It’s a place where families grow up in darkness and dependent on the refuse of those who live in Overworld.  Right away I want to let you know that this book is not written in “American” English; some readers like that, some don’t.  I’ve never minded as long as I could understand the structure, and I was able to follow Siddiq’s writing just fine.  Now, on to the good stuff:

Disconnect clocks in at a light 279 pages and is told from the point of view of Zachary, the only son of single-father Marcus.  Zachary and his dad live on a space base orbiting Jupiter and they reside in the ghetto underground district known as Underworld.  Overworld and Underworld rarely interact, but Zachary happens to find a working Intercom while scavenging.  Thus his adventures begin.

Through the intercom, Zachary talks to a girl named Rosa.  She’s the only child of Ambassador Kade.  Zachary and Rosa talk several times, and even meet in person.  In their time together, however, the teens discover a sinister plot by the ruling council to clean out Underworld—of everyone and everything.

I liked this book for several reasons, one being that the main character is a boy.  I like female main characters a LOT, but it was refreshing to read something from a male perspective and especially from one that was so genuine.  Zachary grew up simply, and so he thought about things simply.  For example, when he overheard some sketchy communications between soldiers, I (the reader) understood what was going on, but Zachary didn’t—and of course he wouldn’t!  He grew up in Underworld where there was no politics!  I’m glad Siddiq maintained the integrity of Zachary’s voice no matter what happened.

What I found lacking in Siddiq’s writing was overall fluidity.  His story was very interesting and had many exciting parts, but it really, really, really needed work with a fine-toothed comb to smooth out phrasing and compositional issues.  Verb agreement, sentence structure, and so on needed some serious work.  I don’t say that to be rude, just straightforward—if you enjoy a good story and can power through somewhat novice writing, then Disconnect is for you.  I give it 3.5 stars.

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Derelict by Lisa Cohen

Derelict is a light sci-fi novel about four teens who are stuck on a backwater asteroid station. At first, all any of them can think about is escaping the station and their horrible parents, but things take a turn for the worst when they actually realize their dreams. Join Ro, Jem, Barre, and Micah as they first revive an ancient derelict spaceship and then struggle to survive the consequences.

Each of the teens are especially good at what they do, though it’s not immediately obvious how some of their talents will help the crew survive. In fact, watching some of the more esoteric skills prove useful was one of the big draws of this story for me. The other major draw was seeing the way that these teens overcame their upbringing.

Saying anything more would probably involve major spoilers, so I’ll let you read this human interest story for yourself. Note that while this story is YA, it does involve some swearing, a hint of lesbian love (unfulfilled and off-screen), a small scene of violence including self-violence (in order to escape), and drugs (a fictional drug similar to marijuana which forms the fulcrum of one or two major plot developments).

Lastly, this is considered a first draft. While it is well-written for what it is, it still involves a fair number of misspellings and other rough spots.

Peter and the Monsters: A Review of Darren Pillsbury’s Series

Copyright Darren Pillsbury

Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Notice: This series was free when I read it, but it has since been published. You can find it at Amazon or other major self-publish sites. The first book in the series is available for free by clicking on the following link: Peter and the Vampires

Darren Pillsbury has published an exciting new series featuring Peter Normal. The story begins when Peter, a ten year-old from California, moves to his grandfather’s haunted mansion. Well, ok, the mansion itself isn’t haunted, but it sure looks like it should be. In the very first story of the series, Peter learns that this is only a technicality, for a tribe of dead bodies “live” in a patch of woods nearby (Peter and the Dead Men). Worse, these Dead Men all want Peter to die!

This was my favorite of the series because I really liked all the unanswered questions and mystery surrounding the Normals. I also felt like the way that Peter defeated the Dead Men was very clever (while realistic, given his age). This one is also a good showcase of what you should expect from the series; most of the stories follow the format of Peter having to defeat a group of enemies within a short story and stumbles across a piece of the larger puzzle: why is Peter in constant danger?

When I read this story on Mr. Pillsbury’s blog, it was a daily post; you better believe that I was reading this daily!

Despite being essentially a children’s story, be aware that there might be the occasional swear word. These instances are very rare (I believe the first doesn’t show up until book 3), but they do exist. When I raised this concern with the author he explained that he took his cue from Harry Potter: kids that age really do swear/ hear swear words and those words have a touch of the forbidden which appeals to Pillsbury’s target audience.

There are also brief mentions of sensitive issues such as religion and witchcraft.

Rating changes depending on the book but I would say that Peter and the Trick-or-Treaters is the only book to score less than a 3 out of 5. I’ve been told that each of the books has a (long) preamble explaining what has already happened in previous books so they can be read out of order. That said, I would still recommend reading them roughly in order (except Peter and the ToT’s, which can be safely skipped without missing anything).

Virtual Reality Cookies are Sweet but Need Meat: A review for Gamers, by Thomas K. Carpenter

Once upon a time I saw an incredibly delicious cookie. I had no self-control, so that little morsel was taken care of within 90 minutes time. Now you probably understand that I’m talking about a book, not a baked treat, and that book is Gamers by Thomas K. Carpenter.

gamerscover

Image courtesy of Amazon.com

This is a true young adult dystopian coming in at 324 pages and a near carbon-copy of Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series. This book is fun to read, the concept is creative, and the idea that someone could “hack” life for real is pretty darn cool, in my opinion. Having said that, this book is pretty typical of mainstream YA sci-fi except Carpenter leaves out a bucketload of stuff that’d catapult his book from being a great self-published novel to a bestseller. Now on to the good stuff:

Gabby is a high school student living in a nerd’s dream: every activity in life is gamified and everything can earn you lifepoints (e.g. getting good grades, solving problems, brushing teeth, etc). Gabby’s deal is she’s quite good at LifeGame. She even hacks it to help her friend Zaela, who isn’t so great.

The plot thrust is that Gabby makes contact with an insurgent group called the Frags. They’re losers in the LifeGame but know the truth about the gamified reality. I loved this part of the book most but it was the smallest section! I hardly got to know the Frags at all or what they’d discovered about LifeGame’s sinister control factor. It was just a taste before Carpenter threw me into Gabby’s “Final Raid.” Some extra exposition at this point would be greatly appreciated, not to mention helpful for the novel’s character development.

Gabby’s “Final Raid” was a sort of fantasy adventure to earn her last lifepoints before graduation. This section took up well over fifty percent of the text. It was quite entertaining to read but did little to satisfy any curiosity I had about LifeGame, the government, the Frags, or how Gabby was going to deal with life after high school. Basically, if Carpenter were to make Gamers about 100 pages longer, there would be better character development and interaction overall, especially between Gabby and her friend Zaela. The concept of LifeGame is a sweet treat but it’s the people that make everything compelling.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.