Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Review: I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

Blog tour banner for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

I’m so excited to be today’s stop on the blog tour for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen!  This book is completely, utterly wonderful, and I’ve been dying to talk about it ever since I finished it last month. So, without further ado, here are a synopsis and review of I Heart Robot. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of the book!

About I Heart Robot

Book cover for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

Sixteen-year-old Tyri wants to be a musician and wants to be with someone who won’t belittle her musical aspirations.

Q-I-99 aka ‘Quinn’ lives in a scrap metal sanctuary with other rogue droids. While some use violence to make their voices heard, demanding equal rights for AI enhanced robots, Quinn just wants a moment on stage with his violin to show the humans that androids like him have more to offer than their processing power.

Tyri and Quinn’s worlds collide when they’re accepted by the Baldur Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. As the rift between robots and humans deepens, Tyri and Quinn’s love of music brings them closer together, making Tyri question where her loyalties lie and Quinn question his place in the world. With the city on the brink of civil war, Tyri and Quinn make a shocking discovery that turns their world inside out. Will their passion for music be enough to hold them together while everything else crumbles down around them, or will the truth of who they are tear them apart?

Review

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 10.01.47 PM
A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I Heart Robot is easily one of my favorite books of the year so far. It’s got wonderfully realistic characters – including a lovable protagonist – and raises fascinating questions about artificial intelligence and what it means to be human.

The book is set in a world where robots are utilized for everything from housekeeping to childcare to intelligence operations. They cook food, serve in the military, and even provide “companionship.” The most advanced robots are capable of thinking, feeling, and creating, but in spite of this they are still treated as nothing more than machines to be used – and in some cases abused – by their owners. It isn’t long before the robots begin to demand rights, and protests, uprisings, and violence abound.

Caught up in this civil unrest are the book’s two narrators, Tyri and Quinn. Tyri is a teenage girl torn between her passion for music and the expectation that she follow in her mother’s footsteps and pursue a career working with robotics and technology. Quinn is a run-away companion droid whose dearest wish is to be human and move people with his music. When the two musicians’ paths intersect at a prestigious orchestra, neither realizes just how big an impact they will have on each other’s lives and on the fight for robot autonomy.

I loved just about everything about I Heart Robot, but my favorite part would have to be Quinn. He’s such a sweetheart: adorable, shy, and vulnerable, with an air of innocence about him. Suzanne van Rooyen possesses a remarkable ability to demonstrate Quinn’s humanity without ever letting the reader forget he’s an android, and I enjoyed seeing how she translated human needs, wants, and habits in robots. Getting “drunk,” for example, involves a robot inserting a flash drive in their USB port and downloading a code that scrambles their electronics and leaves them with a pleasant buzz. Becoming tired is caused by a fuel cell that is running low on hydrogen, and forgetting something is due to a software glitch or processing error. Even feelings are a result of programming, and Quinn spends most of his money on emotion upgrades, “complex code packages unraveling emotions in [his] core and throughout [his] circuits.”

“The uncertainty in my voice sounds so natural, so human. Sometimes I forget that under the layers of synthetic flesh, I’m a snarl of electronics.”

This begs the question: Can a robot really be considered a person if their emotions and abilities are dictated by coding and programming? Does this make their feelings less valid? Aren’t humans also dependent on a kind of programming – DNA? How do personality and choice factor in? What exactly does it mean to be human? I loved exploring the answers to these fascinating questions!

“We have shared something more than a smile, but I cannot name it. A glitch in my software or some intangible human thing my AI simply cannot process.”

Something else that makes this book a stand-out is how believable and multi-dimensional the secondary characters are, especially Tyri’s boyfriend and best friend. They’re not the perfect friends or the asshole friends but the real friends, the ones who mess up and disappoint you and anger you but also love and support you. They’re insensitive and hurtful at times, caring and helpful at others. Life and friendship aren’t black and white, and I like that this book reflects that.

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About Suzanne van RooyenAuthor photo for Suzanne van Rooyen

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Sweden and is busy making friends with the ghosts of her Viking ancestors. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When she grows up, she wants to be an elf – until then, she spends her time (when not writing) wall climbing, buying far too many books, and entertaining her shiba inu, Lego.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Giveaway

Want to win a copy of Heart Robot? Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to be one of five readers who will receive a digital copy of Suzanne van Rooyen’s book.  The contest is open internationally, and winners will be selected on April 27, 2015.

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February 2015 Book Recap – In Song!

Book Recap – In Song! is a monthly feature where I create and share a playlist inspired by the books I read during the previous month. 

Book cover for A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan1) The Song: “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence
The Books:  Sleeping Beauty Retellings
There’s no better song to represent a trio of novels about Sleeping Beauty than one about being woken up and brought back to life: “Wake me up inside / Wake me up inside / Call my name and save me from the dark / Bid my blood to run / Before I come undone / Save me from the nothing I’ve become.”

Book cover for Nameless by Lili St. Crow2) The Song: “Haunted” by Evanescence
The Book:
 Nameless by Lili St. Crow
Cami has always felt like a part of her is missing, and she can’t shake the feeling that there’s someone out there watching her, hungering for her. The scenes in Nameless where Cami feels the pull of this mysterious someone’s power have a creepy, dreamlike quality, just like “Haunted.”

3) The Song: “Mama Do” by Pixie LottBook cover for Ember by Bettie Sharpe
The Book:
 Ember by Bettie Sharpe
This song explores what it’s like to engage in the kind of relationship that your mother would NOT approve of, and it depicts the conflicting swirl of emotions that come with being attracted to someone in a way you can’t deny or control. Guilt, pleasure, helplessness, thrill – they’re all there, in the song and in Ember.

4) The Song: “The Light” by Sara BareillesBook cover for Towering by Alex Flinn
The Book:
 Towering by Alex Flinn
When a handsome young man – the first one she’s ever met – appears at the foot of Rachel’s tower, Rachel falls head over heels for him. He quickly becomes Rachel’s entire world, someone she trusts blindly and would do anything for – even if it means leaving her tower: “And if you say we’ll be all right / I’m gonna trust you, babe / I’m gonna look you in the eyes / And if you say we’ll be all right / I’ll follow you into the light.”

5) The Song: “I See Fire” by Ed SheeranBook cover for Courvalian: The Resistance by Benjamin Reed
The Book: Courvalian: The Resistance by Benjamin Reed
“I See Fire” conjures images of a band of warriors bravely deciding to fight to the end, even if it means giving up their lives. This, plus the mentions of brotherhood in the song, made it a solid fit for Courvalian: The Resistance, which tells of three brothers going to battle against a tyrannical king.

What do you think? Are there any other songs you feel would be a great match for the books I listed above? If so, please share in the comments section – I’d love to hear from you!

Review: Transcendence by C. J. Omololu

Transcendence Book Cover Transcendence
C. J. Omololu

When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.

As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.

Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live

Review:

I try to avoid blanket rejections of entire subgenres, but stories about people finding out they’ve lived multiple lifetimes have never really resonated with me. With that in mind, I wasn’t certain Transcendence was the right book for me, but I figured I’d at least give it a chance. I now have to applaud C. J. Omololu for being the first author to write a book about reincarnation that I actually liked.

What separates Omololu from the pack is that she doesn’t automatically package “reincarnation” with “destiny” and “soul mates.” I have a hard time buying into the concept of two people who are somehow drawn together through space and time, find one another against overwhelming odds and fall head-over-heels in love after simply locking eyes.

Transcendence is a refreshing departure from this trope. There’s definitely an element of romance in the story, but it doesn’t require every couple to be soul mates in the sense that the person you fall in love with in one lifetime remains the person you are in love with for all eternity. It is much more complex than that. In Transcendence, not everyone who dies is born into a new body immediately after their death; it may take years before they come back as someone else. This means that one partner might be born into a new life in a small town in Canada, while the other partner might not return for another 50 years, and then possibly on a different continent or even as a different gender. Meanwhile, the first person may have fallen in love with someone new, married them, and had children with them. The second partner may do the same as well. If the former lovers do have the opportunity to reconnect, the relationship may not work out in this lifetime.

Think about the implications of this for a moment. Imagine falling blissfully, irrevocably in love with someone and knowing that after you die you may never see them again. Imagine knowing that if you do see them, centuries later, they will likely be unavailable. Even if they are available, you will know that each of you have loved someone else, been intimate with someone else, maybe married someone else and loved them deeply. You’ll both have lived entire lifetimes in which the other had no place, created memories that neither of you will possibly be able to share. The idea of this is heartbreaking, and even though this theme of changing relationships is only tangential to Transcendence, not central, it was one of my favorite things about the book. The author deserves a lot of credit for looking beyond the old “our love will be enough for all eternity” cliché.

Review: Idolism by Marcus Herzig

Idolism Book Cover Idolism
Marcus Herzig

Seventeen-year-old Julian Monk never expected to be a famous singer, but when opportunity strikes, he strikes back and throws himself headfirst into that new, exciting world of record deals, TV interviews and screaming fan girls.

His band mates are rather less enthusiastic about that new life they never really asked for. Dealing with their newly acquired fame and fortune is one thing; dealing with Julian is quite another. His sudden and unexpected metamorphosis from the shy and timid creature they have known all their lives into a surprisingly charismatic public speaker and global superstar takes everyone aback, and when Julian sets off on a very public crusade to replace faith and bigotry with reason and compassion, he raises more than just a few eyebrows. He raises hell, and his friends are no longer having any of it.

Meanwhile at the Vatican, a former televangelist is elected Pope. Hell-bent on transforming the Church into a modern, ‘hip’ institution, Pius XIII is giving his PR advisor a headache or two. Intrigued by Julian’s radical way of inspiring some people while antagonizing others – including his own friends – simply by preaching love and understanding, the new pope can’t help but wonder where he heard that storyline before. They say God has a plan for every man, but this man has a plan of his own - and it involves a teenage atheist pop star.

Review:

My enjoyment of Idolism depends on how I choose to view it. If I look at it as a book about a band’s sudden rise to fame and fortune and how their friendships and relationships change as a result, I really like it. If I look at it as a book about a young man’s religious revolution, it leaves something to be desired.

The book focuses on four British teenagers – Julian, Ginger, Tummy, and Michael – whose amateur band Puerity is selected to play at their school’s anniversary ceremony. Shortly before the gig, the teens uncover a secret government plan to mandate religious education classes in public schools. Julian uses the anniversary ceremony as an opportunity to unmask and oppose the plan, and scandal erupts, drawing media attention and thrusting Julian and the rest of Puerity into the public eye.

The band’s musical talent and Julian’s penchant for making dramatic speeches catapults Puerity into the spotlight, making them famous practically overnight. As you might imagine, this unexpected lifestyle change requires some adjustments for the band members. As iTunes sales soar, tours are scheduled, and bank accounts fill, the dynamic among the band mates noticeably shifts.

Julian, aware that his newfound fame gives him the means to make his voice heard on the subject of religion, takes full advantage of the spotlight. Tirelessly touring, making TV appearances, and staging incendiary music videos, Julian uses his music as a platform to speak out against what he refers to as the dangers of religion. He considers it a hindrance to humanity, standing in the way of true decency and enlightenment, and he won’t rest until he sets the world free from these supposedly harmful paradigms.

Julian’s approach makes his friends a little uneasy. They aren’t completely comfortable with Julian’s provocative methods of spreading his beliefs and stirring people up. They never expected – or wanted – to become famous rock stars, and the fact that this fame comes with the transformation of their normally shy, awkward friend into someone unrecognizable makes them even more wary. Add to this the many complications of fame, such as never-ending scrutiny, lack of privacy, and familial differences of opinion, and you’ve got the recipe for drama.

This is the aspect of the book that really appealed to me. I enjoyed watching how the teens’ lives were transformed by their sudden stardom. It was interesting to see how each individual handled fame differently, with secret relationships, family tension, and even time in an Italian jail all figuring into the plot.

Another strength of Idolism is that it features some great wording and humor. At one point, Ginger is aghast at her concert outfit, which consists of a purple satin jacket with feathers growing out of the pocket. She describes herself as “looking like a prostitute walking Sesame Street,” which amused me to no end. Another sentence I found particularly wonderful was, “You’re a deer in the headlights of enlightenment, wisdom, and reason; startled and scared.” These are just a couple of examples of Herzig’s great wit and descriptive abilities, which pleased me greatly.

As much as I appreciated Idolism’s positive elements, though, I had a big problem with one aspect of the book: I just couldn’t get behind Julian as a character. For one thing, he’s awkward and strange. As Ginger puts it, “On a normal day Julian displayed all the regular mental and emotional features of your average seven-year-old[…].” Although he’s highly intelligent, Julian’s not great at interacting with people and is described in several situations as being almost retarded. He gets so caught up in his own head that he becomes blind to those around him. He can ramble on about a given topic for hours, becoming so enrapt in his speech that he doesn’t even notice when his audience sneaks out of the room. He simply continues to prattle on, obliviously preaching to an empty room.

One of Julian’s favorite topics about which to speak is religion. He vehemently opposes any and all forms of religion, eschewing believers as ignorant and cowardly. He views religion as a tool wielded by authorities to control the masses and keep people compliant and tractable. He also disagrees with faith and prayer, seeing them as excuses for people to absolve themselves of all responsibility, instead relying on a non-existent god to solve their problems for them.

Although I consider myself a Christian, I was surprisingly not bothered much by Julian’s ideology. There are one or two passages in the book that did offend me, but for the most part I was able to tolerate Julian’s disdain for religion. If anything, it inspired me to more carefully examine my own beliefs. Am I a Christian simply because I was raised that way, or because I actually believe in Christ and what He stands for? Do I have valid reasons for being defensive towards Julian’s statements, or is my frustration simply a knee-jerk reaction not backed up by a logical argument? In this way, reading Idolism was a very helpful exercise in self-awareness.

So, if Julian’s beliefs aren’t necessarily what bothered me, what was my problem with him? I think what rubbed me the wrong way was that I saw no evidence that Julian practiced what he preached. Ginger, Tummy, and Michael refer to Julian as heroic and glorious and wise, campaigning for love and kindness over bigotry and hypocrisy. They consider him a role model, fighting for a better world, but I just couldn’t see him that way.

Julian talks a big game, but I never once witnessed him doing anything that could be considered loving or kind. This is the kid who laughed when an old man fell down the stairs and died, which doesn’t strike me as being particularly compassionate. He supposedly loves all of mankind, so I expected him to try to help the downtrodden, such as feeding the hungry, providing aid, donating money, etc. This never happened, though. For all that Julian talks about how people should be like Jesus – who he saw as a good example of love and kindness, if not as the son of God – he sure doesn’t follow his own advice. Jesus fed the hungry, healed the lame and blind, and provided comfort to the outcasts of the world; Julian can’t even be bothered to donate any of his vast, newly acquired rock-star wealth to charity.

All in all, I just wasn’t a fan of Julian, which is what kept Idolism from earning a 4- or 5-star rating. Still, I definitely enjoyed the other, non-Julian elements of the book, such as the relationships between the other band members and the whole televangelist-turned-media-mogul-turned-Pope twist. And so, my final recommendation? It’s worth reading, as long as you’re not particularly sensitive about religion.

A free copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour and Review: Grunge Gods and Graveyards by Kimberly G. Giarratano

Grunge Gods and Graveyards Book Cover Grunge Gods and Graveyards
Kimberly G. Giarratano

Parted by death. Tethered by love.

Lainey Bloom’s high school senior year is a complete disaster. The popular clique, led by mean girl Wynter Woods, bullies her constantly. The principal threatens not to let her graduate with the class of 1997 unless she completes a major research project. And everyone blames her for the death of Wynter’s boyfriend, Danny Obregon.

Danny, a gorgeous musician, stole Lainey’s heart when he stole a kiss at a concert. But a week later, he was run down on a dangerous stretch of road. When he dies in her arms, she fears she’ll never know if he really would have broken up with Wynter to be with her.

Then his ghost shows up, begging her to solve his murder. Horrified by the dismal fate that awaits him if he never crosses over, Lainey seeks the dark truth amidst small town secrets, family strife, and divided loyalties. But every step she takes toward discovering what really happened the night Danny died pulls her further away from the beautiful boy she can never touch again.

Review

When I was a kid, I used to like hanging out in graveyards (I was a weird child – what can I say?). I would spend hours walking up and down the the rows, reading the tombstones and wondering about the people buried there. Thinking about those people and the lives they’d left behind always gave me a feeling of wistfulness; how could someone be there one day and gone the next? What business had they left unfinished? Who was remembering and missing them?

 These are some of the questions that Giarratano focuses on in Grunge Gods and Graveyards. The book tells the story of Lainey Bloom and Danny Obregon, two teenagers whose burgeoning romance is abruptly cut short when Danny is killed in a hit and run accident. After the accident, vicious rumors spread through the town, painting Danny as an arsonist and Lainey as an obsessed, love-crazed girl who literally chased Danny into the path of an oncoming car. When Danny’s restless spirit returns to Ash seeking closure, Lainey determines to help him get to the bottom of the events surrounding his death, hoping to clear both of their names and help Danny get the closure he needs to cross over and be at peace.

Grunge Gods and Graveyards can be classified as a mystery novel, but I was much more interested in watching the interactions between Lainey and Danny than I was in the whodunnit aspect. One of the tragedies of Danny’s untimely death is that he died just as he and Lainey had decided to give their relationship a shot. Their romance ended before it could truly begin, before they could discover what they might have been together.

After Danny’s ghost returns, he and Lainey attempt to pick up where they left off. As you can imagine, though, it’s no easy task to carry on a relationship where one party is alive and the other is deceased. For one thing, Lainey can’t confide in anyone, can’t talk about Danny (or to him when they’re in public) without people thinking she’s crazy. Danny wants more for Lainey than a life of isolation with no one but a ghost for company, but Lainey can’t imagine going on without him.

In addition to their emotional challenges, Danny and Lainey also have physical obstacles to their relationship. Danny hasn’t quite mastered his ghostly abilities, meaning that he and Lainey usually can’t touch one another. When they are able to touch, though, look out – these scenes are hot enough to make you sizzle!

Danny is easily the highlight of this novel. I loved everything about his character, with the exception of his poor taste in dating bitchy Wynter Woods prior to hooking up with Lainey. He seems so real, not just in the sense that his character is believable (though that is the case), but in the sense that he seems like a genuine, caring, laid-back guy who’s easy to be around and who will always make you smile.  I also appreciate that Danny stands out from the host of other popular kings-of-high-school in YA literature. He’s a musician, not a jock, and he’s Mexican, which sets him apart from the rest of his white-bread town.

As much as I enjoyed Danny’s character, I felt there were some inconsistencies in the characterization of some of the book’s other players. For example, Lainey’s father bounces back and forth between sympathetic father and ruthless dictator, and her best friend abruptly switches from Most Understanding Friend in the World to Cold, Unforgiving Jerk in the span of a few pages.

I also was a little skeptical of the number of antagonists in the novel. Just about everyone in Lainey’s life, from her family and friends to her classmates and the entire administration of her high school, seems to be conspiring against her. I understand people being turned off by her erratic behavior, but it was a bit implausible for the entire community to be out to get her.

Still, don’t let this turn you off from the book. Giarratano’s smooth writing style and Danny and Lainey’s charmingly bittersweet love story more than make up from any rough spots. Grunge Gods and Graveyards is definitely worth a read!

A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Grunge Gods and Graveyards is available for purchase at: AmazonBarnes & NobleGoogle Play, iBooks, and Kobo.

About the AuthorPhoto of Grunge Gods and Graveyards author Kimberly G. Giarratano

Kimberly G. Giarratano, a forever Jersey girl, now lives in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and small children. A former teacher and YA librarian, Kimberly adores Etsy, Jon Stewart, The Afghan Whigs, ’90s nostalgia, and (of course) everything YA. She also speaks Spanish, but is woefully out of practice.

Kimberly always dreamed of being a published author. Her other dream is to live in Key West, Florida where she can write in a small studio, just like Hemingway.

You can visit her blog at kimberlyggiarratano.com or tweet her @KGGiarratano.

Visit Other Stops on the Grunge Gods and Graveyards Tour:

7/7 ZigZag Timeline

7/10 The Caffeinated Diva

7/10 Big Al’s Books & Pals

7/12 Cubicle Blindness Book Reviews

7/14 The Gal in the Blue Mask

7/15 The Gal in the Blue Mask

7/16 Big Al’s Books & Pals

7/16 Pandora’s Books

7/17 Laurie’s Thoughts & Reviews

7/17 The Story Goes…

7/18 Observation Desk

7/20 Mama’s Reading Break

7/20 Elizabeth Corrigan, Author

7/20  The IndieView

7/21 The Story Goes…

7/22 Book Lovers Life

7/23 Wag the Fox

7/25 Manuscripts Burn

7/25 KBoards