Friday, December 11, 2015

Project Alpha by D.J. MacHale, 2015

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Earth is about to go dark. Without a new power source, life as we know it will be toast. A global competition is under way to determine which four kids will join the secret mission that might just save us all. Project Alpha is a contest of physical challenges, mental puzzles, and strategic alliances. The battle is fierce. Who will lead the team? Who will pilot the most complicated space ship ever built? Who will be a friend? An enemy? And how will they survive over a year stuck on a space ship together?
Once chosen, the Voyagers will journey to the far reaches of space, collecting unique elements and facing unbelievable dangers. The future of our planet is in their hands. Sure, they’ll be the best in the world . . . but can they save the world?
The action is on the page, on your device, and out of this world! And you don't have long to wait, 6 books are coming all in one year!

Do you have what it takes to be a Voyager? Find out at VoyagersHQ.com.
(224 pages)

I've had my eye on this series for a while, ever since Patrick Carman (creator of the series) announced it on his website. How could I not be intrigued by a series that resembled the 39 Clues franchise in format, featured books written by some of my favorite authors (Patrick Carman, Wendy Mass, Jeanne DuPrau), and had a cool sci-fi premise to boot? So when I saw on Bloglovin that Ms. Yingling Reads was reviewing the second Voyagers book, I clicked over to see what she thought of it - and then, when the review included a giveaway by the publisher for the first two books in the series, I eagerly entered and crossed my fingers to win.

I think you can guess what happened: that's right, I won the giveaway! I am now the proud owner of Project Alpha, Game of Flames, a Voyagers phone case, and a little button to put on my iPhone's home button. I know, I'm so awesomely lucky. Don't begrudge it to me too much, though, I really needed these books. I found out I won the giveaway a few days before we closed on the new house in Indiana, and the package with my prize showed up a few days after we'd moved in. I was so worn out from unpacking and scrabbling to catch up with my missed schoolwork (not to mention emotionally exhausted from leaving my home of four years) that nothing was ever so wonderful to me as curling up in bed with the nice, shiny new books I'd been wanting to read for months.

Escapist pleasure aside, did I enjoy Project Alpha as much as I'd hoped I would? Why, yes indeed. While full of lots of tropes (the humanesque robot, crazy-realistic training simulations, and imminent threat of total power loss all ring particularly familiar), it handles them in a fun, compelling manner that drug me along every step of the way. Some of the characters also seemed slightly familiar (the overachieving bully and the genius, yet emotionally-suppressed girl both stuck out as old friends), but I didn't really mind very much - this is just that sort of book, you know? And I feel like the characters will develop away from their initial stereotypical roles as the series progresses. They will likely develop in still-predictable ways (who's betting the overachieving loner winds up realizing she needs the others' help?), but again - something about the way they're presented makes that okay, like I'm surrounded by old friends I've know in some form or other my entire life.

Honestly, my only real complaint with Project Alpha is that it was paced rather strangely. The first good chunk of the book is devoted to the almost Hunger Games-like competition between the eight contenders for the four spots on the ship, and then the last little bit (and I meant little - maybe the last fourth?) follows the team as they begin their travels, go to a planet, have an adventure, etc. It felt to me like the book should have ended with the announcement of the teams, and then the second book should have followed them as they began their journey and had their first adventure in space. The tone of the book shifted so completely from "intense interpersonal competition" to "Ah, attacking creature from a foreign planet!" that it kind of threw me off and made me wonder why the people behind the scenes decided this was the best way to tell the story.

Anyway, I've only read the first two books so far (keep an eye out for my review of Game of Flames!), so I don't know how the series will hold up by the sixth book, but so far it's been really great. It's the perfect mix of compelling characters, familiar tropes, and suspenseful plot, and I am just lapping it up.

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