Rogue Superheroes by Matt Cowper: Unintended Consequences Wreak All Sorts of Havoc on the Heroes’ Lives

Rogue SuperheroesRogue Superheroes

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #2

Kindle Edition, 242pg.
2019

Read: March 7- 8, 2019

When we left Nightstriker at the end of The World Savers, he was trying to apply the new convictions he’d adopted after The Elites encounter with the Giftgiver and his followers. Yes, the primary task for heroes like himself was to take on super-human threats, but other sources of injustice should be in their sights as well. Starting with corrupt politicians and government officials. Nightstriker, who seems to accumulate intelligence on everyone he stands next to in line at Starbucks, had plenty of dirt on them all — and starts releasing some of this information to the Press. Suddenly, officials are forced to resign in droves — and the stresses on the fault-lines of society increase exponentially.

Suddenly, the nation seems on the verge of civil war, and Nightstriker comes clean to the team about what he’s done. Before they can even decide how to react, their HQ is attacked and the President identifies Nightstriker (and because of him the rest of the Elites) as the source of the leaks and exposé stories. As they try to get out of the rubble that was their HQ, a new, government-controlled, team of heroes comes to arrest them. Before the Elites can really wrap their minds around what’s going on they’re on the run, hiding and licking their wounds.

So the Elites have to clean up their image, defeat the new team, and try to help fix the mess that Nightstriker inadvertently created by not thinking things through as he should have. It’s a good thing they’re super-heroes, or this could be very daunting.

That’s not the whole book — like before, a significant portion of the book is devoted to Sam (Blaze’s) continued maturing and the growth of his powers. There are heavy prices for him to pay along those likes I have to say, but especially for the reader — it’s all worth it. The rest of the team have strong storylines — and a good number of people from the previous book make appearances (some pretty significant). It’s easy (and right) to focus on his “Big Three” and what’s going on with them, but without the rest of these characters, the book wouldn’t work.

In the midst of a story where the stakes are so high — Cowper throws in a lot of smaller stories, a good number of scenes that aren’t involved in the overall story, but develop the characters well. It’s a well-balanced story, just enough of things that aren’t the overarching stories to round out things so you can take in all the details of the rest.

I cannot tell you how many times Cowper did things with these characters I didn’t see coming. Things happened to people (powered or not) and then the heroes reacted in ways that were shocking. Despite the fact that this is only the second book in a series, Cowper is clearly playing for keeps and won’t be satisfied with simply injuring some characters. More than once, I had to go back and read a couple of paragraphs again just to make sure that Cowper had the chutzpah to do what I thought he did. “I couldn’t have read that right, because that’s just . . . nope, he did do that.” It wasn’t deconstruction and shocking moves for the sake of it, there was a reason for it all and it served the story, but wow.

But that’s not to say that everything is dark and grim — yes, Cowper’s Super-Hero stories are more like a movie directed by Zack Snyder than one directed by Patty Jenkins or Jon Favreau, but there are moments of joy, of small victories, even a little romance. The moments with Blaze and Metal Girl continue to be enjoyable and are a great break from the Nightstriker drama (even when the moments with the two aren’t happy times). The character Anna, introduced late in The World Savers proved to be another source of relief from the tensions — which is odd, because things don’t really go that well for her for most of the book.

Slab and Buckshot continue (in my opinion) to be under-served, but they both had opportunities to shine here, and we saw more aspects of their character. I do understand why they don’t get the time devoted to them that Metal Girl, Blaze and Nightstriker get — I really do. Also, I’ll probably complain about Slab’s use until Cowper gives him POV chapters that make up at least a third of a novel. Still, Cowper uses the characters well and I like them a lot — he’s probably right to give them the “screen time” that he does. It’s better to leave readers wanting more, anyway, right? Rather than a “I don’t know why we spent so much time with Buckshot, when we could’ve got some more awkward flirtation from Blaze” situation.

A quick note — I thought the original cover for The World Savers was just fine. But the new cover, that matches the look of this cover, is just outstanding (as is this one). It’s a small thing, but the covers are great.

I had a blast with The World Savers, but Rogue Superheroes surpassed it on every front, and I was excited to read it. I’m not sure how Cowper continues the story from where it is — The Elites and the world around them were pushed to such extremes in these pages that topping this book might prove too much to try — but if instead of trying to climb that mountain, he goes around it just right, it could be very satisfying. I am really looking forward to seeing how he proceeds (and how wrong he proves me).

For solid super-hero action, a dash of intrigue and some jaw-dropping outcomes, Rogue Superheroes will satisfy any reader, and I encourage you to go grab it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion about it.

—–

4 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

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Coming Attractions (I hope…)

The last three nights I’ve sat down to write my next post and have promptly fallen asleep before finishing a paragraph. Which is quite annoying, because I’m not more tired than normal (I don’t think) and I am very excited about these three books.

So in lieu of an actual post, given largely as proof of life, here’s a quick glance at what’s coming down the pike. Hopefully starting in 24 hours.

Who Killed the Fonz?Who Killed the Fonz?

by James Boice

This is funny, heartfelt, a goofy idea, and a far better book than it has any right to be.

Rogue SuperheroesRogue Superheroes

by Matt Cowper

This takes everything he did right in The World Savers and improves on it (at least a little) while continuing the story.

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Set in the same kingdom as Kill the Farmboy, and features (at least for a couple of pages) the same characters, but focuses on a new cast. I figured this was going to be almost as good as its predecessor, but it’s better in every way — better characters, better story, and more laughs. None of which I’d have thought likely.

Not Everyone is Special by Josh Denslow: A Short Story Collection that’ll Gobsmack You at Least Once

Not Everyone is SpecialNot Everyone is Special

by Josh Denslow


eARC, 160 pg.
7.13 Books, 2019

Read: February 2 – 24, 2019

I’m not sure what to say about this collection of 15 short stories. They’re all really well-written — there was one or two I didn’t care for, two that I really liked — but they all showed skill, craft, and achieved what I think Denslow intended to achieve. But I’m not sure that I can muster up any excitement over the collection.

Some of the stories fall into the SF/Speculative Fiction category, but by and large these are “General Fiction” (whatever exactly that is). Some are comic, some are very tragic (I think you could make the case for all of the stories containing elements of both).

“Proximity” a bittersweet story about a young man on the brink of maturity (but resisting stepping over it) who happens to be able to teleport is one of the best things I’ve read in months. A great combination of imagination and story, that sadly, I read the same day I read the best novel I’ve read so far this year, and completely forgot about until I started flipping through this book again while writing this. (but, man, am I glad I remember it now…)

Then there’s “Mousetrap,” which starts with the line,

I want to find a not scary way to tell my sister that I’m contemplating killing myself, but I don’t want her to think that it has to do with the fact that she asked me to start paying rent.

And openings don’t get much better than that (the story lives up to it).

There are a handful of other really high high points in this collection. I can’t talk about “Dorian Vandercleef” beyond encouraging you to read it — but you really should. “Blake Bishop Believes in Love” is sweet, grotesque and unpleasant (intentionally so). “Extra Ticket,” a story about a teenager dealing (and not well) with grieving over a friend’s death would serve as a handy example of the concept of “poignant,” if you ever find yourself in need of one.

I might not be over-the-moon with this book, but I did like it. I can even see me being in a situation where I’d re-read parts or all of it (I don’t normally re-read short story books, but I’m not opposed to the idea). I would absolutely read more by Denslow — long form or short form. Not Everyone is Special is a good book — some of the stories might even be more than good. I’d absolutely encourage you to get your hands on this to judge for yourself. I promise you’ll find at least one story that’ll knock your socks off.

—–

3.5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Unstoppable Arsenal by Jeffery H. Haskell: Well, that escalated quickly . . .

Unstoppable ArsenalUnstoppable Arsenal

by Jeffery H. Haskell
Series: Full Metal Superhero, #2

Paperback, 286 pg.
2017

Read: January 28, 2019


This book is just pure entertainment — it’s not trying to be anything else. You’ve got a super-genius whose inventions and investments have made her super-rich (to fund further inventions, primarily) who has used this genius to turn herself into an Iron Man-like superhero. She’s pretty much done all this to enable her to find her parents — which she did at the end of the last book. She starts this book by going to retrieve them from their imprisonment.

But they’re not prisoners — they’re content, happy, hard-workers in a lab with utterly no memory of a daughter. Kate, Amelia’s friend and telepath determines their minds have been altered and the only one who can restore their memories is the one who altered them. Launching Amelia’s next big quest.

She soon discovers that there are a lot of powerful telepaths who are unaccounted for and maybe the conspiracy she’s been theorizing about isn’t a bunch of evil masterminds undermining the super-heroes of the US. Maybe, there’s some mind control shaping the questionable decisions.

As if all this isn’t enough, Amelia meets an actual, no fooling, mythological figure who forces her to realize there’s more than just science afoot in the world, and she’s told that literally the future of the human race depends on choices she’s making.

All this is told in the same fast, dynamic and engaging voice and style that characterized this first book. Haskell can tell a story in a way that seems effortless, which is too easy to overlook and take for granted. I put this down and had to fight the impulse to grab the next installment right away and not stop until I’d run out of books in this universe to read.

Oh, and there’s a killer last line, and I’m excited about what that development is going to bring.

I don’t have a lot to say really — this is just a fun series. Period. Great super-hero action, with just enough depth to satisfy, without going so far that it slows things down. I don’t know what Haskell’s long-term plans are, but I could read another half-dozen of these books, easily.

—–

3.5 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

The Disasters by M. K. England: Some Fun YA Popcorn SF

The DisastersThe Disasters

by M. K. England


Hardcover, 352 pg.
HarperTeen, 2018

Read: January 29 – 30, 2019

           We sit in silence while al-Rihla, the jewel of the colonies, gradually takes over more and more of the viewport. It looks exactly like it did on the pages of my textbooks, only so much more. I let my eyes linger for a moment, taking in green continents outlined in rich red sand and huge, intensely blue oceans that glitter below. I know we’re in a life-or-death situation, but it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the view. I can see why all the antiexploration crap went away once a few humans actually got out here. Who could look at all this and not want it? It’s bizarre–I’ve only seen Earth from space once, and I was busy trying not to die at the time. Now I’m looking down on a completely different planet, in person, in space, while flying a ship I stole.

I’m actually here. This is all I’ve ever wanted, though I didn’t get it in the way I wanted.

And in a few painfully long minutes, I’ll find out whether I get to live to see the other seven colony worlds one day, or if I get to die in a dramatic crash and kill all my new friends instead.

Fantastic.

Nax Hall is a would-be pilot, would-be space colonizer, and would-be anything but a failure in the eyes of his family. Sadly, after a day at the Ellis Station Academy (the only way to achieve two of those goals, and his best shot at the third), he’s been cut from the program. He’s not the only one — three others have been, too. As they wait for the shuttle to take them back to Earth, a terrorist group of some kind attacks the Academy. With a little luck, the expelled students escape in the shuttle that was destined to take them to Earth.

But they quickly realize that space fighters won’t allow the ship to land on Earth where they can alert the authorities about what happened at the Academy — so they have to hyperjump (or whatever it’s called in this world — I already took the book back to the library and can’t check) to colonial space. They quickly learn that the terrorists have used their escape as a means to frame them for the atrocities committed at the Academy and they now are on the run from the same authorities they were hoping to help them.

Thankfully, between the four of them, they have an almost perfect crew — a pilot, a diplomat, a medic and a technician/copilot. They soon find themselves aligned with a computer expert with ties to black-market entities that can help them spread the word about what happened at the Academy and what it might mean for the future of Earth’s space colonies. These five plucky teens are all that stands between humanity and widespread destruction.

England has a gift for action scenes — they were energetic, dynamic and enough to sink your teeth into. Nax’s flying, in general or in combat, was the highlight of the book for me. I could’ve used a little more of it, even though that would have been gratuitous. I’m not above gratuity in the right place. There’s a strong sense of fun in the narrative — despite being up against impossible odds, these kids are living their dream (just not in the way they wanted, as Nax put it in the quotation above). There’s a good deal of bonhomie between the makeshift crew, which builds gradually over the book to the point where they’re a tight bunch of friends at the end. This sense of fun is grounded by the dangers they face and the costs they’re paying, just enough to keep this from being a romp.

The characters aren’t that complex, although England makes a couple of attempts at it. Their backstories are interesting, to the degree that she explores them (which isn’t much). We get enough of Nax’s crewmates’ backstories to explain their presence on the ship, but not much more. We get plenty about Nax in bits and pieces — which is good enough, he’s the star of the show (and should be). The bad guys aren’t much more than stock villains, mostly a faceless group or two conspiring to do evil things. That’s fine with me, this isn’t the kind of book that promises complex opponents with compelling reasons for their activities, mustache-twirlers with lots of henchmen are good enough.

Here’s my major complaint with the book — the politics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that politics shouldn’t enter into fiction. Particularly Science Fiction. I’d prefer to see more of it — at least more diversity in political views, too much of the politics in SF is so culturally homogeneous one could easily believe no other opinions existed. But before I get gong on that line, let me get back to The Disasters. The politics and societal struggles of the late 22nd Century are apparently identical to those of 2018. Now, I’m not suggesting that Earth’s culture should have worked everything out and the struggles of today will be a distant memory — but they should’ve changed somewhat. The way these problems are seen, expressed and argued about should be different. England just comes across lazy in her approach to these ideas. It’d be like someone writing about Irish cops in 2019 Boston the same way people wrote about them in 1850.

Thankfully, while it flavors much of the book, the characters don’t spend that much time actively discussing it, so it’s easy to forget about. What you’re left with is popcorn fun. A bunch of underdog kids, rejects from society (while really being exceptional), find themselves in a place to save the world (more than 8 of them, technically). There’s some good action — again, the flight scenes are great — a couple of chuckles, and a solid ending. It’s a couple of hours of escapist entertainment when it’s at its best (which is pretty often).

—–

3 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen: A Dad. A Daughter. And Time Travel. (Kleenex may be required)

When I really love a book and don’t know how to express it, I tend to ramble. Case in point:

Here and Now and ThenHere and Now and Then

by Mike Chen

eARC, 336 pg.
Mira Books, 2019

Read: January 15 – 16, 2019

You can have fun with a son
But you gotta be a father to a girl

That’s Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, not Mike Chen — but the spirit of the book is in that second line, so I’m going to use it. I found myself singing those lines a lot while thinking about the book. If you’re a father to a daughter, you will love this book. I don’t think it’s necessary to appreciate the book — non-parents, mothers, people with sons should still be able to see how good it is and to empathize with the characters. But I can’t imagine any Father of a Daughter won’t see themselves (and Daddy’s Little Princess) in these pages.

In the past, I’ve said something about not really liking non-Doctor Who Time Travel stories. I’m starting to think it’s because I haven’t been reading the right kind of Time Travel stories. In the last year (give or take), I’ve read and loved four Time Travel novels — All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai, Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor, Paradox Bound by Peter Clines, and now Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen. In all of them, the tropes of Time Travel are honored — while played with a little bit — but are really just excuses to tell very real emotional stories about some pretty great characters. Which is what Who does best, too, now that I think about it. So maybe for me, Time Travel has to be a means to an end, not the end itself.

Maybe I should leave the introspection for another time, and just get on with talking about the book, eh? My point was supposed to be that, like Matsai, Taylor and Clines, Mike Chen has surprised and excited me beyond expectations and hopes.

The day I started (and fell in love with) this book, I tried to explain it briefly to someone. I did so in a way that was clearly reductionistic (because, that’s what you do in a couple of sentences), spot on, and yet horribly inaccurate — all at the same time. Here’s what I said: It’s a gender-flipped Outlander, except the protagonist goes to the future instead of the past, and they use science-y stuff to the Time Travel instead of magic-y stuff.

Kin (pronounced /ˈkēn/) is, or was — or will be — a Secret Agent for the Temporal Corruption Bureau in 2142. He came back to 1996 to prevent a Twenty-Second Century criminal from altering the timeline for their own profit — and did so. But things went wrong in carrying out the mission and he was unable to be returned to his time. So he got stuck in 1996 for a bit. For him, it was 18 years. For the TCB it was a couple of weeks. For Kin, he had to give up hope of rescue, get a job — and then he fell in love, got married and had a kid. He has a nice life — he’s a success in IT for a video game company, he’s a pretty decent amateur chef and is working on trying out for a reality show for home chefs, his wife is great, and his daughter is, too. Miranda’s fourteen, a soccer star, wicked smart, a SF nerd and loves her parents.

Then his partner Markus shows up to bring him back to their time — Kin’s largely forgotten his former, er, past, er…other life and has really become a resident of 2014 (this is explained in science-y wibbly wobbly, timey wimey terms that actually make sense in context), so Markus has to take him by force. Once he’s back to his future, Kin starts remembering his life — his job, his hobbies, his utter ineptitude in the kitchen — and his fiancé (Markus’ sister). But it doesn’t come back to him immediately, and he has to work at it.

One thing he can’t do, is let go of his Twenty-First Century life, and he schemes for ways to remain a part of Miranda’s life. For awhile, this works — but only for a while. The instant it starts, every reader knows that Kin won’t be able to fly under the radar forever and he gets found out. It turns out that what he’s doing risks the future — but the only fix the TCB has in mind will mean Miranda’s death. While Kin can understand their decision, there’s no way he can let that happen to his daughter.

I don’t think I’ve said (much) more than the publisher’s blurb — but I can’t say much more without spoiling. And trust me, Chen’s version is much better than mine would be.

Kin is a great character — he’s thoughtful, skilled, smart — and human. He makes a lot of mistakes, his judgement is shaky (not just when it comes to Miranda, either) — but he tries to do the right thing. His loved ones — in all eras — are people you can believe are in his life and you can see why he cares for them, and you do too — because of Kin. That’s all I’m going to say about the other characters because I can’t talk about any of them without ruining something.

The world of 2142 is just about perfect — it’s different than 2014, but there are straight lines connecting it all. It’s the little changes that make it right — often Kin’s perspective allows us to see it. Like the offhand way he mentions to someone that temperatures are 5 degrees lower in 2014. Or the way he reacts to a recreation of 21st Century fast food. There are things about Mars that are just tossed off in conversation without explanation that clearly mean humans are doing something on the surface of the planet. Don’t ask me what — Chen doesn’t say. It even took me seeing him use the phrase a couple of times before I realized what it meant. But once I did, I got very excited about how he pulled it off. There are many subtle details like these that really make this a believable read.

The story and the writing are imaginative and playful — you will smile a lot while reading this. But the instant that Markus shows up and says it’s time to go, you just know that your heart is going to get broken in these pages. And you will be right. Thankfully, Chen will give you almost as many reasons to be happy — some small, some big. It’d have been very easy to make this maudlin or depressing. He could’ve also make this a playful romp. Chen instead walks the tightrope between the extremes in a performance worthy of Philippe Petit. The pages fly by, I really couldn’t believe how quickly I read this — part of it was because I just had to find out what happened to Kin, Miranda and the rest — but part of it was Chen’s writing. Despite hitting you with all that he hits you with, it’s very (and at times, deceptively) easy to read.

(this next paragraph could get a bit spoiler-y. But not really, just in vague sentiments, no particulars…Still, skip if you want)
This worked for me on just about every level and on just about every front — it checked all of my boxes and did just about every superlative thing I can think of. But the ending — I loved the ending, don’t get me wrong — just felt a little too easy. Things worked a little too well. Which the fanboy in me loves, but . . . I dunno, the book was filled with twists and struggles and challenges and the in the last three or four chapters everything was a little too easily overcome — and even the challenges melted away. And yes, I cheered, but I wanted Kin and everyone to have to work a little harder for my cheers. So, I’m docking this 1/2 star. (which is easy to do because on Goodreads/Amazon/NetGalley I have to round up, because they won’t accept half-stars, so the ratings average still gets to stay high).

Heart, soul, laughs, and heartbreak — I don’t know what else you want out of a time travel story. Or any story, really. Characters you can like (even when they do things you don’t like), characters you want to know better, characters you want to hang out with after the story (or during it, just not during the major plot point times), and a great plotline. This book is about as good as it gets. Grab your copy now while I start eagerly anticipating Chen’s next book.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from HARLEQUIN – MIRA via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. These are my own honest — and hopefully not convoluted — thoughts and opinions.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen: A Dad. A Daughter. And Time Travel. (Kleenex may be required)

When I really love a book and don’t know how to express it, I tend to ramble. Case in point:

Here and Now and ThenHere and Now and Then

by Mike Chen



eARC, 336 pg.
Mira Books, 2019

Read: January 15 – 16, 2019

You can have fun with a son
But you gotta be a father to a girl

That’s Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, not Mike Chen — but the spirit of the book is in that second line, so I’m going to use it. I found myself singing those lines a lot while thinking about the book. If you’re a father to a daughter, you will love this book. I don’t think it’s necessary to appreciate the book — non-parents, mothers, people with sons should still be able to see how good it is and to empathize with the characters. But I can’t imagine any Father of a Daughter won’t see themselves (and Daddy’s Little Princess) in these pages.

In the past, I’ve said something about not really liking non-Doctor Who Time Travel stories. I’m starting to think it’s because I haven’t been reading the right kind of Time Travel stories. In the last year (give or take), I’ve read and loved four Time Travel novels — All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai, Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor, Paradox Bound by Peter Clines, and now Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen. In all of them, the tropes of Time Travel are honored — while played with a little bit — but are really just excuses to tell very real emotional stories about some pretty great characters. Which is what Who does best, too, now that I think about it. So maybe for me, Time Travel has to be a means to an end, not the end itself.

Maybe I should leave the introspection for another time, and just get on with talking about the book, eh? My point was supposed to be that, like Matsai, Taylor and Clines, Mike Chen has surprised and excited me beyond expectations and hopes.

The day I started (and fell in love with) this book, I tried to explain it briefly to someone. I did so in a way that was clearly reductionistic (because, that’s what you do in a couple of sentences), spot on, and yet horribly inaccurate — all at the same time. Here’s what I said: It’s a gender-flipped Outlander, except the protagonist goes to the future instead of the past, and they use science-y stuff to the Time Travel instead of magic-y stuff.

Kin (pronounced /ˈkēn/) is, or was — or will be — a Secret Agent for the Temporal Corruption Bureau in 2142. He came back to 1996 to prevent a Twenty-Second Century criminal from altering the timeline for their own profit — and did so. But things went wrong in carrying out the mission and he was unable to be returned to his time. So he got stuck in 1996 for a bit. For him, it was 18 years. For the TCB it was a couple of weeks. For Kin, he had to give up hope of rescue, get a job — and then he fell in love, got married and had a kid. He has a nice life — he’s a success in IT for a video game company, he’s a pretty decent amateur chef and is working on trying out for a reality show for home chefs, his wife is great, and his daughter is, too. Miranda’s fourteen, a soccer star, wicked smart, a SF nerd and loves her parents.

Then his partner Markus shows up to bring him back to their time — Kin’s largely forgotten his former, er, past, er…other life and has really become a resident of 2014 (this is explained in science-y wibbly wobbly, timey wimey terms that actually make sense in context), so Markus has to take him by force. Once he’s back to his future, Kin starts remembering his life — his job, his hobbies, his utter ineptitude in the kitchen — and his fiancé (Markus’ sister). But it doesn’t come back to him immediately, and he has to work at it.

One thing he can’t do, is let go of his Twenty-First Century life, and he schemes for ways to remain a part of Miranda’s life. For awhile, this works — but only for a while. The instant it starts, every reader knows that Kin won’t be able to fly under the radar forever and he gets found out. It turns out that what he’s doing risks the future — but the only fix the TCB has in mind will mean Miranda’s death. While Kin can understand their decision, there’s no way he can let that happen to his daughter.

I don’t think I’ve said (much) more than the publisher’s blurb — but I can’t say much more without spoiling. And trust me, Chen’s version is much better than mine would be.

Kin is a great character — he’s thoughtful, skilled, smart — and human. He makes a lot of mistakes, his judgement is shaky (not just when it comes to Miranda, either) — but he tries to do the right thing. His loved ones — in all eras — are people you can believe are in his life and you can see why he cares for them, and you do too — because of Kin. That’s all I’m going to say about the other characters because I can’t talk about any of them without ruining something.

The world of 2142 is just about perfect — it’s different than 2014, but there are straight lines connecting it all. It’s the little changes that make it right — often Kin’s perspective allows us to see it. Like the offhand way he mentions to someone that temperatures are 5 degrees lower in 2014. Or the way he reacts to a recreation of 21st Century fast food. There are things about Mars that are just tossed off in conversation without explanation that clearly mean humans are doing something on the surface of the planet. Don’t ask me what — Chen doesn’t say. It even took me seeing him use the phrase a couple of times before I realized what it meant. But once I did, I got very excited about how he pulled it off. There are many subtle details like these that really make this a believable read.

The story and the writing are imaginative and playful — you will smile a lot while reading this. But the instant that Markus shows up and says it’s time to go, you just know that your heart is going to get broken in these pages. And you will be right. Thankfully, Chen will give you almost as many reasons to be happy — some small, some big. It’d have been very easy to make this maudlin or depressing. He could’ve also make this a playful romp. Chen instead walks the tightrope between the extremes in a performance worthy of Philippe Petit. The pages fly by, I really couldn’t believe how quickly I read this — part of it was because I just had to find out what happened to Kin, Miranda and the rest — but part of it was Chen’s writing. Despite hitting you with all that he hits you with, it’s very (and at times, deceptively) easy to read.

(this next paragraph could get a bit spoiler-y. But not really, just in vague sentiments, no particulars…Still, skip if you want)
This worked for me on just about every level and on just about every front — it checked all of my boxes and did just about every superlative thing I can think of. But the ending — I loved the ending, don’t get me wrong — just felt a little too easy. Things worked a little too well. Which the fanboy in me loves, but . . . I dunno, the book was filled with twists and struggles and challenges and the in the last three or four chapters everything was a little too easily overcome — and even the challenges melted away. And yes, I cheered, but I wanted Kin and everyone to have to work a little harder for my cheers. So, I’m docking this 1/2 star. (which is easy to do because on Goodreads/Amazon/NetGalley I have to round up, because they won’t accept half-stars, so the ratings average still gets to stay high).

Heart, soul, laughs, and heartbreak — I don’t know what else you want out of a time travel story. Or any story, really. Characters you can like (even when they do things you don’t like), characters you want to know better, characters you want to hang out with after the story (or during it, just not during the major plot point times), and a great plotline. This book is about as good as it gets. Grab your copy now while I start eagerly anticipating Chen’s next book.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from HARLEQUIN – MIRA via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. These are my own honest — and hopefully not convoluted — thoughts and opinions.

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4 1/2 Stars