Cover Shot! Midnight City by J Barton Mitchell

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

Ever since I read The White Mountains by John Christopher when I was a kid, I have loved alien invasion books.  None of them have been able to stand up to The Tripods series, though.  Perhaps Midnight City by J Barton Mitchell will finally satisfy my craving for an incredible, impossible to put down read with defeated teens attempting to gain freedom from their alien oppressors?

In stores October 2012




In a post-apocalyptic world controlled by alien invaders, two teens and a young girl with mysterious powers embark on a dangerous journey. What they find will change everything…

Earth has been conquered. An extraterrestrial race known as The Assembly has abducted the adult population, leaving the planet’s youth to fend for themselves. In this treacherous landscape, Holt, a bounty hunter, is transporting his prisoner Mira when they discover Zoey, a young girl with powerful abilities who could be the key to stopping The Assembly. As they make their way to the cavernous metropolis of Midnight City, the trio must contend with freedom fighters, mutants, otherworldly artifacts, pirates, feuding alien armies, and perhaps most perilous of all: Holt and Mira’s growing attraction to each other.

Midnight City is the breathtaking first novel in the Conquered Earth series, and a stunning work of imagination from debut author J. Barton Mitchell

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Review: Desert Blade by Elle Drake



Title: Desert Blade

Author: Elle Drake

Publisher: Carina Press



May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In the post-apocalyptic Midwest, now a ravaged dust bowl, former guardsman Derek Covington must find help for a sick boy. With nothing but memories of all he lost, Derek crosses the desert alone in search of the doctor who saved his own life ten years ago. Drifter gangs who loot and pillage don’t dare come near, for Derek has a formidable weapon: a prosthetic arm with a deadly blade.

For a decade, Dr. Lidia Sullivan has fantasized about the handsome guardsman who’d been in her care. And now she can’t deny his dangerous request. But as they make the treacherous journey back to Old St. Louis, they must contend with much more than fierce desert winds and their unthinkable attraction. A fearless gang has spotted Lidia—a rare woman—and will fight Derek to the death to get her. And though he risks his life to save her for the sake of the child who needs her, she fears there’s one thing Derek will never risk: his heart.

27,000 words


I love post-apocalyptic stories, so when I saw this novella on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.  The setting is a devastated Midwest, which has been turned into a lifeless desert.  Small settlements scrabble to make a living amidst the desolation, preyed upon by vicious drifters who kill anyone unlucky enough to wander across their path. 

The story starts with Lidia, a young doctor, helping to save the life of Derek, a Guardsman who has been wounded in the violent and fiery riots sweeping across Chicago.  In an effort to improve crop yields, scientists instead unleashed a virus that killed most of the plant life, setting off riots as desperate people, starving and panic-stricken, lashed out in bloody uprisings that left death and destruction in their wake.  When the staff from her hospital is evacuated, Lidia and Derek are separated during the ensuing chaos to stop the convoy and secure the valuable supplies being transported with the medical personnel.

Ten years later and now practicing her valuable medical skills in a small oasis amid the dust bowl that surrounds her small but thriving community, Lidia is shocked when Derek re-enters her life. Taking her from her safe haven and promising to protect her on a journey to his settlement, he needs her to help save the life of a friend’s young son. The resulting journey is both dangerous and exciting, as Lidia confronts the sizzling attraction that she still feels for the brooding, lethal man.

I love the premise for this story.  The Midwest has been turned into a desert, murderous bands of roving killers menace anyone stupid enough to travel beyond the guarded walls of the small communities that are slowly rising up out of the ruins of society.  Lidia actually lives a fairly comfortable life; she’s a doctor, and her life-saving skills are highly valued in her community.  She has enough to eat, she is safe within the walls of Leavenworth, and she is content with her life.  Right up until Derek re-enters her life, destroying her contentment and making her re-evaluate her present, and more importantly, her future.  He is like a raging inferno, and she is helpless against the force of her attraction for him.

While I found Derek to be a complete jackass at first, his stubbornness did grow on me.  He is aggressive, decisive, and once he sees Lidia again, he decides that he wants her.  All to himself, even if it means putting her in danger as he escorts her to his outpost near what is left of St Louis.  They have no doctors there, and they need one desperately.  Everyone in this ruined America needs a trained healer, so I was appalled that Derek would put Lidia’s life in danger and attempt to take her through the desert all by himself.  Ugh!  Derek!!  What were you thinking, other than that you wanted a chance to get into her pants?  I really wanted to hate this guy because that behavior was about as selfish as it got, but, gosh darn it, I couldn’t!  He’s so cocky and self-assured, and that held a certain amount of charm for me.  But still!  Dude! You almost got her KILLED!

Desert Blade is a fast paced romp through world on the brink of complete ruin.  It’s a fun popcorn adventure, with lots of action, fighting, and Derek and Lidia running for their lives. The world is interesting, the attraction between the protagonists is red hot, but there is a lack of depth due in part to the short length of this story. If you enjoy sci-fi romance or stories with post-apocalyptic settings, you will like this quick read.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by publisher


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Review:The Comet’s Curse by Dom Testa


Title:  The Comet’s Curse

Author: Dom Testa

Publisher: Tor Teen

ISBN: 978-0765360779


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When the tail of the comet Bhaktul flicks through the Earth’s atmosphere, deadly particles are left in its wake. Suddenly, mankind is confronted with a virus that devastates the adult population. Only those under the age of eighteen seem to be immune. Desperate to save humanity, a renowned scientist proposes a bold plan: to create a ship that will carry a crew of 251 teenagers to a home in a distant solar system. Two years later, the Galahad and its crew—none over the age of sixteen—is launched.

Two years of training have prepared the crew for the challenges of space travel. But soon after departing Earth, they discover that a saboteur is hiding on the Galahad! Faced with escalating acts of vandalism and terrorized by threatening messages, sixteen-year-old Triana Martell and her council soon realize that the stowaway will do anything to ensure that the Galahad never reaches its destination. The teens must find a way to neutralize their enemy. For if their mission fails, it will mean the end of the human race….


I haven’t read many sci-fi novels lately, so when I was given the opportunity to read The Comet’s Curse, the first book in Dom Testa’s Galahad series, I jumped at the chance.  The premise intrigued me; 251 teens are sent away from Earth after a comet unleashes a deadly plague on the planet.  Nobody over the age of 18 is immune to it, and there is no cure.  Fearing that the disease will continue to wipe out a bigger and bigger percentage of the population, a noted scientist urges a desperate plan to save humankind, instead of waiting for a cure that may never come.  Proposing to send a group of gifted young adults into space in search of a new home, his plan is met with mixed reactions.  Some openly oppose wasting the time and money on saving such a small group of kids.  Others see the wisdom of this last ditch effort to preserve the species, and agree to devote the time to implement the desperate plan.

I loved this book when the focus was on the kids on the space ship.  They have had to say good-bye to their families and their homes, and they will never see any of their old friends again.  They have the sad knowledge that everyone left behind will eventually succumb to the virus.  They also have a lot of pressure placed on each and every one of them.  In order to ensure their survival, they all have to work together and learn everything they can to help once they find a new planet to colonize.  They have to know how to raise enough food to feed everyone, how to build shelters, how to provide for themselves entirely.  They will lose contact with everyone from Earth early in their journey, so they are essentially on their own. 

With so much at stake, and so many different personalities packed into a small space, there is bound to be some drama.  Without adults to guide them there is also a lot of self-doubt.  Are they handling each crisis correctly?  Will they be able to fend for themselves?  The chapters spent on the ship kept me totally engaged in the plot, and I was reluctant to set the book aside.  I wanted to know how Triana, the young leader of this group of kids, would handle the challenges tossed her way.  How would she keep the peace between the crew, when even she has clashes with some of the members of the Council, the small group in charge of the mission?  I thought these chapters were great, and started wishing that most of the action took place on the ship.

Which brings me to what I didn’t enjoy about The Comet’s Curse.  There is a ton of set-up, and I found that the pacing for these chapters bogged the story down.  Unbearably so, at first.  We are spoon fed all of the background details behind the comet and the mission to save mankind, and I thought it was a little boring.  I got that the virus was terrible and it attacked its victims in different ways, making it almost impossible to discover a cure.  I got that Dr Zimmer, the man behind the Galahad mission, and Dr Scofield, his most ardent opponent, had vastly differing ideas about how to handle the very dire situation confronting every single human on the planet.  The problem with these chapters were that we are told every tiny detail, but not in a compelling way.  These sections were dry and failed to hold my attention.

Now that the set-up is over, though, I am looking forward to the next book.  The teenaged characters are likeable and engaging, and I want to see how they handle all of the challenges that they are sure to face.  What are they going to do, once they leave the solar system and lose contact with Earth?  What are they going to do when they start to really get on each other’s nerves?  I enjoyed the soap opera elements of the story, and I’m hoping for more interpersonal conflict as the series moves forward.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by publisher


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The Galahad Legacy Blog Tour with Dom Testa and Giveaway!

To celebrate the release of The Galahad Legacy, the final book in Dom Testa’s Galahad series, Tor Books is hosting a scavenger hunt blog tour!  You can win the entire Galahad series, as well as learn more about Dom and his books.  Today I have an excerpt from The Galahad Legacy for you to enjoy.  If you want to read all of the excerpts, please visit this link at Tor Books.


“Well, besides the smoky haze, I could see things moving around inside. Various sizes. Very graceful. Almost…peaceful.”

Lita stared at Triana for a moment, then said: “The thing you brought back. I take it that was one of the…graceful creatures inside the…” She chuckled. “I don’t know what to call anything.”

A wry smile creased Triana’s face. “Well, for the sake of this discussion, and until we know more, let’s just continue to call the things outside our ship vultures. We can call the floating blobs amoebas. And the thing I brought back…”

She hesitated, then finally shrugged.

“Well, we all know exactly what it looks like, so let’s be blunt. We’ll call it a jellyfish.”


Please visit Bookshelf Banter tomorrow for the next excerpt from the second chapter of The Galahad Legacy.

Want to learn more?  You can follow Dom Testa at these websites:

* Follow Dom on twitter: @HeyDomTesta

* Like Dom on facebook:

Watch Dom discuss his books:

Dom will be making several public appearances in April.  If you live nearby, stop in to say “Hi”

* Saturday, April 14th:  Murder by the Book, Houston, TX;  11:00 am

* Wednesday, April 18th and Thursday, April 19th: Texas Library Association Annual Conference, Houston, TX; various times

* Friday, April 20th:  Barnes & Noble, 1000 Research Drive, Austin, TX; 7:00 pm

* Saturday, April 21st:  Barnes & Noble, 15900 La Cantera Parkway, San Antonio, TX; 2:00 pm


You can enter for a chance to win the entire Galahad series!  Following gets you extra entries.  Open to US and Canadian addresses only.

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Didn’t win?  You can order the series from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below:

Interview with Aubrie Dionne, Author of the New Dawn Series

Aubrie Dionne is the author of the New Dawn series, a sci-fi romance offering from Entangled Publishing.  Since there aren’t many sci-fi romances out there, I was curious about Aubrie’s series, so I asked her to drop by the virtual offices for a chat.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Aubrie Dionne] Coffee lover, flutist, blogger, closet unicorn lover, driven, hard working, a little too intense at times, clothes hoarder, eye shadow guru, princess wannabe, afraid of public speaking, abhorer of eggplant, pizza devourer, cookie monster.  That about sums it up.

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about your New Dawn series?

[Aubrie Dionne] This series follows colony ships as they leave a post apocalyptic Earth searching for paradise planets to restart mankind.

There’s everything I’d want in a space opera: spaceships, mysterious aliens, answers to the universe, laser battles, scary monsters, handsome space pirates, evil space pirates, desert planets, ice worlds, jungles, I could go on forever!

[Manga Maniac Café]  How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the series?

[Aubrie Dionne] I’m a big worry wart, and I worry about the end of the Earth all the time. I think I watched too many of those Ancient Alien episodes about the Mayan Apocalypse. Anyway, I wondered what it would be like if we could colonize other planets. What if people had to live their whole lives on a ship and each generation furthers the mission to the paradise planet? You know, normal things a musician thinks about while sitting in orchestra counting her rests.

[Manga Maniac Café] What has been the most challenging aspect of writing the series?

[Aubrie Dionne] Ummmm….tying it all together! The third book is my masterpiece. I thought about it for many long and hard hours trying to tie in every single thread from the last three books. I didn’t want anyone to say: what about those mysterious aliens, where did they go? Or what happened to Aries and Striker? Or, she never explained the golden liquid stuff in the orb. I wanted everything wrapped up and dealt with in a satisfying way. That was hard. I’m not sure I pulled it off. You’ll have to read the series to make your own judgment!

[Manga Maniac Café] Why did you decide to write science fiction romance?  What appeals to you most about the genre?

[Aubrie Dionne] I grew up watching Star Wars and Star Trek, so you can see where the inspiration came from. I wish there was a new Star Wars movie every six months, but sadly, they are all done. (WHY? Secret message to George Lucas- make more. ) So, I had to write my own space opera to keep myself busy!

[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Aubrie Dionne] Music, my flute playing, Star Wars and Star Trek (as stated above), all movies to a certain extent, and other books of all genres.  

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Aubrie Dionne]  Computer, internet-for research, Radio Gaia internet radio.

[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Aubrie Dionne] OMG I have to share this but it’s embarrassing: The Secret of the Unicorn Queen books 4-6. umm. Yeah. The series is beyond awesome if you’re twelve years old in the 80’s. Check it out.

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Aubrie Dionne] Play music, spend time with my family, plot in my head!

Thanks for this fantastic interview!

[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!

You can learn more about Aubrie by visiting her website and her blog.

Aubrie’s New Dawn series is available now! You can order the books from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the links below:


Thanks to Bewitching Book Tours for arranging this interview!


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Review: Gantz Vol 15 by Hiroya Oku


Title: Gantz Vol 15

Author: Hiroya Oku

Publisher: Dark Horse

ISBN: 978-1595826626


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Gantz is getting absolutely intense! Our protagonist, the eternally awkward otaku boy named Kei, has hunted a bevy of odd and dangerous aliens living in Japan. The Onion Alien was strange enough, but then there were the dinosaur aliens and eventually some vampires who might not be aliens at all. Gantz moves along at a furious pace, drowning readers in blood and violence, but then holds back for a few tender (and sometimes excessively sexy) moments here and there. It’s a crazy ride so far, a guilty pleasure for many readers. See who Kei is told to hunt next! It will certainly be a surprise.


I haven’t picked up a volume of Gantz in a while, and since I had a free weekend with the New Year’s break from work, I eagerly dove into a few manga series that I have allowed myself to get behind on. I couldn’t think of a better time to catch up, so Gantz was one of the first ones I picked up.

I find this series enjoyable when the hapless characters are trapped in the room, about to be sent off on another mission.  It’s exciting, tense, and explosive once the hunt begins.  The rest of it, I can do without.  The story slips into the realm of ridiculousness whenever Kei is doing something other than blasting aliens to tiny, bloody bits.  I just don’t find him an interesting character, and I can’t relate to his teenage boy issues.  I don’t care if he gets his rocks off or not, and I find his preoccupation with ginormous breasts tedious.  So I remind myself, yet again, that the series isn’t really intended for me, and I flip pages as quickly as I can to get back to the stuff that I like – all of the mindless violence and gore.  Yeah, go figure.

In this volume, Kei is blundering through his personal relationships yet again.  He has gone off to see Reika behind Tae’s back, not thinking that a popular idol like Reika would be stalked by paparazzi.  When their picture appears in the paper, he is soon the talk of his school, and quiet, timid Tae discovers his indiscretion.  At least he had the decency to feel guilty for hurting her feelings.  When she is caught up in his next mission, Kei worries that she will get killed if she keeps hanging out with him, so he is even more determined to break up with her.  Too bad that stupid black ball isn’t going to let that happen.

I suffered through the first half of this volume, but the ending had me all caught up in the action again.  Argh!  It’s insidious!  I don’t want to like Gantz, but all of that over the top destruction keeps me coming back for more.  I have only one more volume in reserve, so hopefully Rightstuf will have a Dark Horse studio sale soon…

Grade: B- for the first half of the book

  B+ for the rest of the book

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Laddertop Vol 1 by Orson Scott Card and Emily Janice Card


Title: Laddertop Vol 1

Authors: Orson Scott Card, Emily Janice Card

Illustrator: Honoelo A Ibardolaza

Publisher:  Tor/Seven Seas

ISBN: 978-0765324603


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

An original science fiction manga by the bestselling author of Ender’s Game and his daughter

Twenty-five years ago, the alien Givers came to Earth. They gave the human race the greatest technology ever seen— four giant towers known as Ladders that rise 36,000 miles into space and culminate in space stations that power the entire planet. Then, for reasons unknown, the Givers disappeared. Due to the unique alien construction of the Laddertop space stations, only a skilled crew of children can perform the maintenance necessary to keep the stations up and running.

Back on Earth, competition is fierce to enter Laddertop Academy. It is an honor few students will achieve. Robbi and Azure, two eleven-year-old girls who are the best of friends, are candidates for the Academy. They will become entangled in a dangerous mystery that may help them solve the riddle of the Givers…if it doesn’t destroy the Earth first!


When I first received this book, I have to admit that I wasn’t in a huge rush to read it.  What I actually thought was here’s another successful writer trying to cash in on the graphic novel wagon.  When I sat down to read it, I found that I was entertained by this introduction to the Laddertop comic series, and by the end of the book, I wasn’t as put off by the art, which is bland and generic, and it did grow on me more than I thought possible.

Writing with his daughter, Emily, Card does what he does best – he creates compelling young characters who make me want to learn more about them.  Thrusting his young protagonists into situations where they more clever and adaptable than the adults around them, they must rely on their own brains and courage to survive to the next page.  Robbi and Azure are two eleven year old girls who are working hard to succeed at Laddertop Academy.  If they are selected to serve on the space stations that were given to Earth by the alien Givers to power the planet, they will have achieved a high honor. 

As is typical of a Card story, not everything is as it seems.  It seems like working on the space stations would be an honor, but the reality seems a little different. Exploited by people who have become wealthy off of the gifts from the aliens, the kids will actually be performing unglamorous maintenance, which sounds like it might be dangerous, in addition to be thankless.  Once Robbi arrives at the space station, she wonders why she keeps having disquieting dreams, and she begins to question her role at Laddertop.

I read the book in one sitting, and when I finished, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  I would have liked to have the second volume, so I could just dive right into the mystery Robbi is pondering without having to wait.  If you are familiar with Ender’s Game, Laddertop shares some similarities, and you will feel right at home.  If you didn’t like Ender’s Game, chances are you won’t like this story either.  It takes a bit of belief suspension to accept that the fate of the world rests in the hands of a couple of kids, and that theme resonates here.  If you are a fan of Orson Scott Card, you will most likely enjoy this sci-fi adventure, though you might want to wait for the rest of series to be released before sitting down to read it.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Deadman Wonderland Vol 3 by Takaoka and Kondou


Title: Deadman Wonderland V 3

Author: Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou

Publisher:  Tokyopop

ISBN: 978-1427817433


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Ganta’s desperate struggle for survival continues as the second round of the Carnival of Corpses kicks off, but when he is matched against Minatsuki, Ganta learns that his new friends are not what they seem…and it may cost him his life! Yo, having infiltrated Ward G, trespasses into the ring and reveals that Minatsuki is his sister. Although memories of Ganta’s childhood friend, Shiro, return to him when he needs it the most, his savior may prove to be a devil in disguise. This downward spiral into the insanity of "Deadman Wonderland" holds startling revelations!


Deadman Wonderland is the perfect example of one of the reasons I feel like  I have lost my manga mojo.  I was thoroughly enjoying this action-packed sci-fi series when its US publisher, Tokyopop, abruptly shut their doors for business.  Stu Levy, per his own infamous Tweet, was bored with the publishing industry.  Books were too old-school for him, so he turned his back on all of his fans and totally rained on their parade.  Bye-bye almost ten years’ worth of collecting the old fashioned, boring books his publishing company had been blitzing the market with.  Bye-bye series that I had come to love and anticipate, and in part prompted me to start this blog in the first place.  Ouch!  Talk about a slap in the face…

Deadman Wonderland is the type of series I didn’t have much interest in when I first heard about it.  I’m not a big fan of horror yarns or stories with graphic violence, though after taking a look at some of the titles I am following, I am going to have to admit that I do like some of these kinds of books.  While this title doesn’t have a lot of over the top violence, it does offer its fair share of blood sprays, explosions, and destructive combat scenes.  After reading the first volume, I was hooked.  How is Ganta going to survive and get out of Deadman Wonderland?  Will he survive the Carnival of Corpses?  At first glance, it doesn’t seem that he will survive very long, with his skinny frame and gullible nature.  Better for US fans if he had only lived the span of four graphic novels – we wouldn’t have been left hanging when yet another manga publisher shuttered their offices.

This volume has Ganta facing off against Yo’s sister in the second round of the Carnival of Corpses.  Minatsuki is a psychopath, and she gets off on lying and killing.  Her hair is her deadly weapon, and she can whip her opponents to bloody ribbons with about as much effort as it takes a normal person to yawn.  Their battle gets off to a fierce and furious start, and it looks like Ganta’s going to go down fast.  Then Yo arrives to complicate matters even more for the hapless Ganta.

I like this series, and I don’t know why.  The action is mind-numbing, the plot is erratic, and most of the characters are one-dimensional.   Still, there are enough twists and suspense to keep me turning the pages.  I like Ganta quite a bit, and I want him to survive, to find out why he’s in DW, and to somehow find freedom for himself.  I also like Shiro.  I want to know everything about her.  A few little crumbs of information were scattered throughout this volume, but not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Since I only have the first four volumes of the series, I will have to tune into the anime series to find the answers that I’m looking for.  If you find the manga for a decent price, I would suggest snapping them up and giving them a try, especially if you enjoy action-adventure titles. 

Grade:  B

Review copy purchased from Amazon