CassaStar by Alex J Cavanaugh

My first review is a novel by fellow blogger and debut novelist Alex J Cavanaugh. His novel CassaStar is science-fiction, not one of my favourite genres, but I like to support fellow bloggers so I determined to read CassaStar. I'm glad I did.

First, here is the blurb:

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…
Few options remain for Byron, a talented young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude. Slated to train as a Cosbolt pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life. Much to his chagrin, Bassa, the toughest instructor in the fleet, takes notice of the young pilot. As war brews on the edge of space, Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive. Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

Here is an excerpt from a review by the Library Journal:

“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal

CassaStar is a story about friendship set in a science fiction world. I must admit I didn't get into it straight away as I had to become familiar with a world completely alien to me.

Before I read CassaStar, my exposure to science fiction was The Matrix movies, which I loved, and the Star Wars and Star Trek television series. CassaStar is 'hardcore' sci-fi yet is described by the author as 'low tech.'

The world building is sparse, giving the reader a sense of the setting without an inundation of details. Once I got my head around 'multiple direction disrupter shots, Cosbolts, Cassans, Vindicarn, teleporters and telepods and Guaard' I could see where I was, what this world looked like.

The characterization is excellent. Even though the main character, Byron, is painted in arrogant and proud brushstrokes, I cared what happened to him, and found myself holding my breath as he mastered the rigorous training and launched into battle. Byron is an immensely talented young man. He dreams of becoming a Cosbolt pilot on Guaard, mainly to escape Cassa and be somebody. His parents are dead and he'd been raised by his older sister. He doesn't trust anyone and keeps his mental shields up at all times. This is problematic when he even shields his thoughts from his navigator, Tindel.

CassaStar is a beautiful love story but it is not your typical romantic love story, rather it's a deep friendship between the arrogant Byron and his friend Bassa, an experienced instructor with a tragic past. For a character who tries to keep his mind shuttered, Byron comes to experience a deep friendship with Bassa. The change in Byron is shown when Byron is 'stunned and humbled' by Bassa's friendship...'Byron dropped all inhibitions regarding their connection. He wished he knew how to reciprocate the sentiment and convey the depth of Bassa's impact on his life. And at that moment, with his mind open, he realized that Bassa already knew.' (pp.177-178.)

There are many exciting moments in the story with space battles against an alien race, laser hits and explosions, (which are screaming out for film rights) but the core of CassaStar is the intense progression of Byron and Bassa's friendship and how they change and grow throughout the story.

I felt the language was more formal than it needed to be; simpler words would have had greater impact. This may just be because I'm a great fan of the clipped, spare prose of the Michael Connellys and Jeffrey Deavers of this world.

Alex's use of the telepathic abilities of Cassans in multiple points of view was an integral part of the story and I found this easy to follow.

Overall, CassaStar was a wonderful read that I would recommend to anyone interested in character-driven science fiction. CassaStar sucked me in to the world of Guaard where the sun never shines. I'll be looking forward to reading the sequel...which brings me to this...

CassaStar has been likened to Star Wars, but it's Star Wars without Darth Vader and Princess Leia. There's no real villain and no female characters at all except an appearance by Byron's sister. I was left wondering - aren't there any Cassan women? what do these Cassan women do? are there any on Guaard? I hope in the sequel there are some strong female characters and at least one villain to act as a foil to Byron's elegant aloofness.

CassaStar is suitable to both YA and adult readers. It is a great debut novel and I will be using it with my Year 10/11 students.

Well done Alex J. Cavanaugh, science fiction writer and blogger.

L'Aussie's Verdict: 7.5/10

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

Another book from 2010. This is actually the book I read right before reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Took me a few days but it was easier to read a book quicker when I had limited internet access. And I did like this book. At the time, I considered going to a conference where the topic was faeries in fantasy though I ended up not going. I hadn't read many faery books, so this might be another first, though I don't remember for sure.

From Goodreads: Laurel was mesmerized, staring at the pale things with wide eyes. They were terrifyingly beautiful—too beautiful for words.

Laurel turned to the mirror again, her eyes on the hovering petals that floated beside her head. They looked almost like wings.

In this extraordinary tale of magic and intrigue, romance and danger, everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever.

I liked this book for the most part. The faery (or fairy if you want to spell it that way) element is an interesting one for me. While I love faeries, I'll admit I haven't read many books that have them even though they are another popular topic. Yet, I could tell this book had a different approach to them.

This is the first book in a series, as most books are or so it seems these days. Hard to find single novels in fantasy/young-adult but I guess that's good since I write series (lol). I haven't read the second book nor have any plans of reading the second book because I have too many books in my to read pile, but I might consider reading it in the future. Which probably is an indication of my opinion over the novel. It was good but not great. I actually bought the book at a conference called Sirens. So, it's one of the few hardback books you'll see me review.

The main character is a female that is interesting. She does have the new girl situation, which is common but she has... parents! Yeah, surprising but it works. They don't get in the way of the story at all and I like that they aren't killed off, though there is a story line about them and her but I won't give any of that away. And the boy character she meets in the beginning of the book is one I liked and could cheer for. It's nice to see a character who is there despite the danger but doesn't do it to take over or necessarily be the savior, she is still the focus.

One thing I didn't really like about this book is the love triangle. I don't like them in general and the way this one just randomly seems to show up and how her feelings are shown for the second one didn't make sense to me. But it had to be that way. I commend the author for staying within the main characters point of view even though it made the love triangle harder to believe. The reader has to learn things when the main character does. People who like stories with love triangles may have no problems with the one in this book, but it's not quite something I can enjoy as much.

Overall, it's a good story with a different approach to a common fantasy creature that readers of YA fantasy might enjoy. It's not epic fantasy, but the story is interesting and can captivate a readers attention.

Dawn's Verdict: 7/10

Beautiful Darkness

In a young adult literary world where mortal girls seem to be constantly falling for immortal, perfect boys, the Caster Chronicles series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is wonderfully refreshing, and number two of the series, Beautiful Darkness is no exception.

Synopsis from Goodreads: "Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen.

Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems.

Firstly, the series is written from mortal Ethan's point of view, and while he doesn't appear to be the most 'manly' of male characters out there, it makes for a nice change. Secondly, he falls in love with Lena, who is the paranormal (a Caster who is basically a witch) of the story, and as a character, she is far from perfect. In fact, in Beautiful Darkness it almost gets to the point where she is a tad annoying and as a reader I was (almost!) rooting for Ethan to dump her and turn to another major female character. Ethan's character however has just the right amount of teen angst, heroism and general likability to make him one of those protagonists that sticks with you for a long time.

Beautiful Darkness is the sequel to Beautiful Creatures, which I enjoyed, but didn't find particularly special. Beautiful Darkness seems to step it up a notch and I found myself fully engrossed in the authors' world building. The setting is gothic, haunting, and so well dispersed throughout the novel (rather than being info dumped in chunks) that I really felt like I was walking through the world with Ethan and Lena. The southern setting is probably one of the most unique aspects of the novel, since at times the plot did seem a little formulaic, but the setting alone makes both novels a worthwhile read.

Beautiful Darkness does feel like the 'middle book' of the series, where they fall in love in the first book, fight in the second, and most likely, fall in love again in the third. Beautiful Darkness was also very long, and could have been condensed. The plot doesn't really kick in until about 150 pages in, but when it does it picks up the pace dramatically. The last third of the novel is filled with enough action to satisfy anyone, and it is crafted with so much tension that I literally could not put it down until I got to the end.

The Caster Chronicles series is a worthwhile read so far, and even if you don't find #1,
Beautiful Creatures to your liking, I do recommend Beautiful Darkness. It's definitely made me more excited about the 3rd in the series which apparently comes out this year.

7 out of 10 from me. Worth the read.

WritersBlockNZ's Verdict: 7/10

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

As the title suggests, my first review for this blog is The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. I read the book during summer of 2010 and am currently waiting for the second book to come out in paperback. Might explain my paperback policy on my about page in the future. But on to the review.

This was my first zombie book. First zombie anything actually, so I was unsure as to whether I'd like the book or not. And yes, they may be called unconsecrated in the book but let's face it, they are zombies. While I was supposed to watch all the zombie movies (like Dawn of the Dead) for policy debate, I never did because even with the capitalism approach, they didn't really interest me and I get bored easily with horror movies. Why did I read this book? Honestly, with a title like "Forest of Hands and Teeth" and the awesome cover, I just had to give it a chance.

Synopsis from (GoodReads): "In Mary's world there are simple truths. 
The Sisterhood always knows best. 
The Guardians will protect and serve. 
The Unconsecrated will never relent. 
And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. 

But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future-between the one she loves and the one who loves her.  

And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?"

I loved this book. While I didn't know what to expect since it was my first zombie book ever, it also was the only book in 2010 that I read in a single day. I did take a break to sleep but once I was up I kept picking up the book to read more. With each finished chapter I wanted to read at least one more to find out what happens next. This is against some difficult odds because not only was I less interested in zombies before reading the book but I also tend to have an anti-love-triangle policy. This does have a triangle but it's one I actually was able to tolerate and even understand.

What keeps this from being a perfect book? Honestly, the beginning. While it was okay, there were slow parts and I came close to putting it down several times during the first several chapters. Oddly, those are the chapters the synopsis discusses and it's also a common thread I've heard among my friends on this book. It was a little harder to get through the first section but once the breach happens things get very interesting fast. They are some good elements in the first chapters and it sets up the world of the novel, which is far after the "birth" of the unconsecrated. Also, about the main character is the fact that there are certain qualities she has that may detour some readers. She definitely has flaws, which is good, but certain ones may be off putting for others because it's hard to keep reading if the main character isn't liked enough.

The world is another good element. Even the zombies had an approach taken with them and while they do have the urge to bite, I don't remember reading the cliche zombie line of "brains!" Which is good. I really think between the world, the characters and the stakes of the conflict that people will enjoy this book whether or not they usually love zombies. If reading this book, I will warn, do not expect a perfectly happy ending. It's not a romance novel but the ending works for the character and plot of the story. I can't wait to see what happens in the next book, The Dead-Tossed Waves.

For these reasons, I rate the book an 8.5 out of 10. Not perfect but really good.

Verdict: 8.5/10 


Welcome to Reading at Dawn.

sunrise at Machu Picchu by urbanbushido

~ The Blog ~

As might be obvious, this is a reading blog where we will review books after reading them. This is something I've been thinking about for a few months now. While I don't do enough reading, or at least I didn't do enough during 2010 or a couple of years before it, I want to change that part of my life. I have a reading group that is getting started and we are close to picking out first book. And I have a tub full of books I want to read that I bought last year. While there are a number of book reviewing blogs already out there, I took careful consideration as to whether I would start one of my own or not. But I'm going for it anyways. And I'm fortunate to not have to do it alone.

~ The Books ~

We don't have a genre restriction here and will read whatever we can get our hands on. Sure, each reviewer may have a personal preference but this blog is for any books read. It may make for some chaotic genre throwing and the occasional crossover when two people want to review the same book but that's part of the fun. One goal, however, will to never give away spoilers. Reviews aren't going to be fluffy, happy all the time either but there shouldn't be a cruel/mean/bad-for-no-reason on any type of book here. The reviews for books are going to be honest but respectful.

~ The Reviewers ~

I am not alone here, thankfully. There are two other reviewers who have joined me in my possibly crazy idea of starting a book reviewing blog. On the right of the blogs posts are two sections to get to know all three main reviewers for this blog. The first set is a link to our blogger accounts that will show those profiles and other blogs. Below that are personal pages and each one is personalizing their page with information they deem fitting to talk about books, reviewing and their reading in general.

Reviewers are: Dawn Embers(Me), L'Aussie and WritersBlockNZ.

Aside from Me, L'Aussie and WritersBlockNZ, we will be open for the occasional guest blogger. None are scheduled yet but this is the first post so who knows what the future will hold. I have one reviewer in mind for a guest post so far but won't worry about that until the blog has been up for a couple of months. Guests will need to email me, but there will be a page up with instructions for anyone who wants to do a review for the blog.

~The Future ~

This is a starting point and there is more to come in the future. Already there has been talk of giving away books on this blog, which is always fun. Also, I have some swag from Promise by Kristie Cook to giveaway in the future. I'm also tempted by new book cover posts from a particular blog that I like to view but won't start that just yet since it involves certain efforts that I haven't worked on yet. As for the rest, who knows. Don't want to get too ahead. First comes the reading and reviews, maybe someone will follow the blog and we'll move forward from there. So...


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