Title: Sleeper (Book I in the Toy Soldiers series)
Author: S. M. Johnston
Release Date: December 2, 2013
Publisher: Entranced Publishing, Rush
Genre: Upper YA/NA speculative fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Blurb: A new heart should mean new life, not a living nightmare.
Mishca Richardson’s life is at an all-time high after her heart transplant. With new boyfriend, Ryder, the two of them have the perfect summer romance. Even the nightmares that have been plaguing her sleep since her operation can’t dull the high she’s on.
Things start to unravel as Mishca develops superhuman abilities. She does her best to hide them so as not to end up a science experiment in a lab. But she can’t ignore the instant attraction she experiences when she meets her university professor, Colin Reed.
Torn between the blossoming love and the obsession, Mishca must decide if she wants Ryder or Colin. But the organization responsible for her changes and her connection to Colin, is moving to secure Mishca for himself so that she can be the weapon he always intended her to be. If Mishca can’t resist her programming she’ll have a lot more to worry about than romance.
“SLEEPER is a fast-paced adventure filled with mystery, romance, action, and humor. Mishca and Ryder rank up there with my favorite heroines and heroes ever! S.M. Johnston is an author to watch out for.” ~Wendy Higgins, author of Sweet Evil, Sweet Peril, and Sweet Reckoning.
Being dead and coming back to life runs the risk of something from the other side crossing over with you. Even with a medically controlled death and revival like mine. At least that’s what Nerissa theorised when we discussed what could be with my new attributes. With my friends staring at me in horror, I’m beginning to think she could be right.
There’s no strain or sweat from me as my hands come together, bending the iron bar in my hands. I avoid eye contact with my friends for a moment, focusing instead on my shadow on the sand.
Nerissa does her best impersonation of a goldfish before closing her mouth back up. Her blue eyes plead with me. “You’ve got to entertain the idea now that you could be—”
“Possessed? Come on.” Ryder runs his hand though his hair. Not that his theory is any better.
The sun peaks over the bush-clad mountains that skirt the hidden beach we’re on. We’re lucky Nerissa’s parents have this holiday house, just north of Brisbane. Hopefully, no one will see me being put through my paces.
Finlay places his pen against the clipboard. “Okay, so we know you’re unbelievably strong. What do you want to try next?”
I toss the iron bar on the ground. “I don’t know. What else is on your list?”
“Hearing and speed are obvious ones,” he replies. “So how about one of those?”
“We could do them together if you run to the end of the beach and then wait to find out if you can hear us?” suggested Ryder.
“Sure,” I reply.
Nerissa clicks on the stopwatch. “Ready. Go!”
My muscles tense and coil, and then spring to life. The wind whips around me and in seconds I’m at the other end of the beach. I pause, waiting for the old pain in my chest to start up, but it doesn’t. My eyelids scrunch up as I focus on picking up distant voices.
“How far do you think that was?” Ryder’s words come though like an echo down a tube.
“Maybe two hundred metres?” replies Finlay. “It’s more than the length of a footy field.”
“What’s the sprint world record?” pipes up Nerissa.
“Not as quick as that,” says Ryder, with a tinge of concern in his voice. “Do you think she can hear us?”
“If she can, she’ll know I think Ryder would like some superhuman loving tonight,” says Finlay with a laugh.
“Eww. Could you be any more crass?” complains Nerissa.
I snort, and then relax and let their voices drain away. I jog back. That’s the farthest away I’ve been able to eavesdrop. It’s mainly been hushed whispers that I’ve picked up so far. It’s not something I get all the time, just when I want to, thank goodness.
“Could you hear us?” asks Ryder once I’m closer.
I nod, shooting Finlay a dirty look.
“She heard me all right,” he laughs.
“How do you block it out? I’d go insane hearing everything all the time.” Nerissa makes no attempt to hide her concern.
“It doesn’t work like that. It’s like I tune in on conversations,” I reply, trying to reassure her.
“I wonder if you can hear me through the trees,” says Finlay as he starts up the beach, flinging his folder in the sand. “Wait a few moments and then listen for me.”
“Are you okay?” asks Nerissa, looking me up and down.
“Sure. Who doesn’t like being a human guinea pig?” I try to smile, but it falters. She swoops in and embraces me. I sigh. “I’m sick of being different.”
“You know that doesn’t matter to me.”
I nod into her shoulder. She releases me, smiling, and I can’t help but grin back.
“Can you hear that knucklehead?” Ryder looks up into the foliage that hedges the beach.
I drop Nerissa’s hand and lean forwards. “Nope, not a peep.” I wait a bit more and when I still can’t hear Finlay I call out to him, “Okay, you can come out now!”
“What’s he playing at?” huffs Nerissa.
I dash up the sand, following his footsteps, but pause when I reach the vegetation. Most of the grass is curving to the right with the breeze, but there’s a small line that’s bent to the left. I follow that line up, and then as it veers off in a crocked path, the grass is replaced with dirt and rocks. Up ahead, a freshly spun spider web hangs limply, broken. I head towards it and continue that line as I see small rocks overturned, their dark bellies showing where they’ve been kicked out of the dirt. Suddenly, there are no signs of previous movement and I stop in my tracks and survey my surroundings. Bark, on the ground at the base of a tree. On the trunk is a bare patch.
“Come down, Finlay.” I don’t even bother looking up.
“Good at tracking too, eh,” he says as he shimmies down.
“I guess,” I reply.
We walk in silence until we get back to the others. Finlay picks up his board and writes.
“Care to share?” Nerissa asks.
“I purposely stayed quiet. I wanted to see if she could find me,” he replies, looking up at me. “And she did. The girl’s got tracking skills, too.”
“I guess noone will want to play hide-and-seek with me anymore,” I snap.
“Did you ever do karate?” asks Finlay.
“No,” I respond, cocking my head at him as he puts his stuff down.
“Surely your parents would have gotten you to do self-defence classes,” he continues, taking a few steps towards me until we’re just an arm’s length apart.
My skin prickles and I watch him cautiously. Without warning, he throws a right hand punch at my head. I easily sidestep him, grab his arm, and snake my arm around his until it’s locked in. Eyes narrowed, I hyperflex his arm back until he groans with pain and taps his leg. I stay still. Behind me, Ryder and Nerissa are yelling out for him to cut it out and for me to release him.
“I’m tapping out, Mishca,” he gasps. “It means I yield and you can let me go.”
Reluctantly, I ease off the pressure and start to unwind my arm. Before I’ve released him fully, he swings a left. My hand catches his fist and I clench my fingers. I sweep out his legs with a swift kick, and then jump on his chest, pinning his arms with my knees. I then strike at his face, stopping my hand millimeters from his face.
“Oh, I like this position.” Finlay grins. “Maybe I should jump you more often.”
“Oi!” cries Ryder, lifting me off his friend.
“So what was that all about?” I brush the sand off my knees as I wait for an answer.
“I wanted to see if you could fight. You’ve never had any training, yet you instinctively took me down.”
“And so easily,” chimes in Nerissa.
Finlay pulls a face as he gets to his feet. “I don’t know what’s caused this change, but looking at this list, I think we’ve forgotten one.”
The rest of us whip our heads towards him. He looks me up and down. It’s obvious he no longer sees the stuck-up rich girl he thought I was when his mate and I started dating a couple of months ago. I was so scared when the three of them saw me catch the boulder that they’d be spooked. But they’ve got a fascination with me now that seems to be preoccupying them.
“What?” asks Ryder.
“Do I have to spell it out? She’s like a female Superman. We haven’t gone through all his powers.”
The image of me in spandex flashes through my mind. With my almost-afro, caramel skin, and almond-shaped eyes, I think I’d make a pretty kick-arse cartoon hero.
I stare intently at Ryder. While my boyfriend is in my sights, my mind starts drifting to Colin. Tearing my eyes away from his face, I concentrate instead on his clothes, trying to push away any other thoughts.
“Nope, no X-ray vision,” I say.
This gets me a wink instead of a blush. “Such a shame, too.” Ryder lifts up his T-shirt to show his ripped abs “But all you have to do is ask if you want to see me out of my clothes.”
I can’t help but grin.
“I think we can count out heat vision, too,” says Nerissa, pulling her blond hair into a makeshift ponytail. “Mishca was staring so hard that Ryder’s clothes would have spontaneously combusted if she had that power.”
Finlay shakes his head. “You guys are missing the obvious one.” He pauses and looks up.
“Hell no,” I say, folding my arms.
He could just be taking the Mickey out of me. It’s always hard to tell with him.
“You know that the Supes is an alien. Maybe you’re an alien,” he teases.
I want to punch that Roman nose right off his face.
“I’m not an alien.”
It’s true I don’t know who my real parents are. But I’ve got a birth mum and father somewhere, and I’m going to find them.
“Prove it.” Finlay folds his arms defiantly. “Try and fly.”
“Come on, mate,” starts Ryder, but I signal to him that it’s okay.
“This is crazy,” says Nerissa in a shrill voice.
“Not as crazy as me being possessed,” I shoot back with a wry smile.
I take a few steps back and focus on the rocks at the end of the beach. My legs start to pump, building up speed quickly. I jump up a couple of metres, the air rushing past my face. Stretching my body out into the “conventional” flying position, I try to guide myself towards my goal. It only takes a couple of seconds before my face meets the ground and I’m eating sand.
My Review: Sleeper was an unique and enjoyable despite having a few things that I didn't like(more about that later). I love the fact that the story is set in Australia which is huge departure from the (U.K./US setting). Mishca (the MC), thankfully wasn't a Mary Sue. She had her flaws and strengths. Mischa is the sort of girl you want to hang out with and want to befriend. The characters themselves had their own personalities and there was never a time when characters seemed to blur. One of my favorite characters was Ryder.
He was a genuinely sweet guy and he wasn't an Edward Cullen clone (thank God). The supporting cast was great like Mischa's mom and Dad along with Mishca's friends. The story itself is quite fascinating. After Mischa gets a heart transplant, she starts getting nightmares along with supernatural abilities. The mystery makes the reader want to read more as they dying to know the answer.
The twist at the end is great and I am looking forward to seeing what will happen next. However, I didn't like the fact that there was a love triangle involved. Personally, I really don't care much for love triangles to begin with so once it appeared in Sleeper, I groaned. I also had a problem with the insta love and the teacher/student romance.
But for the most part, I thought Sleeper was a great read and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a story filled with romance and mystery
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About the Author:
Sharon is a writer from Mackay in Queensland, Australia who has short stories published in anthologies and was also runner-up in the Australian Literary Review's Young Adult short story contest with KARMA. By day she is a public relations executive and by night she writes weird fiction and soulful contemporaries while her husband, two sons and cat are fast asleep.
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