Formula Q by Alexander Charalambides

Hard-charging jetcar driver Vittoria Tarno and her intrepid racing team Goofé Troupé take their legendary racing prowess to Mars in this heart-stopping, totally cinematic look at next-gen interplanetary auto racing.

But this spectacular spectator sport turns into a dangerous death duel somewhere along the way and you, the lucky reader, will be riveted to your chair for the ride of your life.

Master storyteller Alexander Charalambides has once again crafted an instant YA/NA classic that will entertain anyone who enjoys racing, gaming and stories about lovable, irreverent underdogs — all served up with a healthy dose of standout science fiction.

In Formula Q, the author expertly sets up a dangerous no-win situation for the perennially trash-talking troupe when mega bad guy Admiral Suresh invites them to tour the red planet’s racing venues and vie for the coveted, ruby-encrusted Spearhead of Ares.

Only problem is, racing rules are radically different on Mars and each race more closely resembles a death-defying demolition derby than the elite Grand Prix events that Goofé Troupé dominates back on Earth.

In addition to highly detailed racing tactics narrative and a sophisticated video game feel throughout, there’s also a surprising depth to each of the major players that begs an almost involuntary bond between reader and character. Daytona Dave, Normal Dog, Father Gravity, The German — they all bring a creative something extra to the story, often adding a startling depth that makes the reader root for them both on the track and off.

But back to the races. After setting a new speed record, Vittoria is squarely in the crosshairs of Martian competitors and fans alike, whose planetary pride has been wounded by her success. Even a gesture of peace at a local mall’s retro arcade backfires, and some brilliant back seat driving to help one of the rival team members best a game’s high score goes unrewarded. But it does allow the Earthians to better understand that winning isn’t everything on Mars — it’s the only thing. And it often means the literal difference between living and dying for these people.

Excellent writing, expertly crafted dialogue and a few memorable turns-of-phrase also make this book a must-read:

For example, on viewing Mars’ domed and sparkling capitol city for the first time from planetary orbit, Vittoria sums up her impression succinctly: “From here the whole thing looks like Christmas in an anthill.”

And, speaking of Mars’ strongman dictator Admiral Suresh’s quirky proclivity for big words and archaic pronouns, Dave observes drily: “He hollers like a drunk in a thesaurus factory.”

Where does it all end? Do Daytona Dave and the rest of Goofé Troupé return home victorious — or with their collective tails between their tail pipes? It’s a winner-take-all exciting finish you won’t want to miss.

Five-plus stars to Formula Q. It’s three cuts above the usually cliched YA fare, and a rare good read.

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