Book Review: Head On

Finished Reading: Head On
Lock In
#2
by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Sci-Fi mystery

Head On

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, Lock In.

In the near-future world set up by Lock In, some of Earth’s population are paralyzed and are only able to interact with the world through robot bodies or by stepping inside another human known as an “Integrator.” In this world, a sport known as Hilketa becomes popular, which features these paralyzed people (known as Hadens) on the field in their robots (“threeps”) basically using weapons to beat each other up and score points by removing each others’ heads and running it through goal posts. When one of the players dies during the game, the FBI is brought in, which gives us a chance to see Haden FBI Agent Chris Shane in action again.

This book had a lot of what made Lock In so amazing, with the same easy-to-read and smoothly flowing writing and dialog, the same intriguing world where the prejudice toward Hadens emulates both racial prejudices and bias against disabled people, and the same complex conspiracies behind the initial death. I didn’t like it quite as much as I did the first book, but only subtracted half a star for this sequel.

In the first book, there was a major legislation on the horizon that would seriously financially hinder most Hadens, basically cutting off most government funding for them. The looming question of whether or not it will pass plays a role in the book. This book, set about a year later, shows some of the downfall after it did pass, and many Hadens–and by extension many companies that were involved with Hadens in some way–are worried about their financial future. It was interesting to see how the dust had started to settle after that decision.

We saw a lot more of the housemates that Chris first met in Lock In, and I really liked the way they added to the story. There were some fun scenes and conversations involving a cat that brought smiles to my face. And speaking of smiles, while I was reading this book, my husband made multiple “apply directly to the forehead” references, which made it all the more noticeable (and amusing) to me when I caught a reference in the book (I won’t presume to say for sure that it was intentional by Scalzi…but the way it was worded does not seem like it could be coincidence).

The mystery as a whole, and some of the rabbit trails the agents followed to solve it, wasn’t as enthralling to me as in the first book, which is the main reason for my slightly lower rating. However, overall, it was still a lot of fun to read. I would be quite happy if Scalzi decided to write a third book in this world. I would recommend this book for fans of near-future sci-fi and for mystery lovers, and while I will say that it’s probably very possible to read this book without having yet read the previous book, Lock In was really good and explained the whole Haden syndrome more anyway, so I’d still suggest starting there.

Find out more about Head On

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

Combine the following 3 elements into a scene, short story, story synopsis, etc:
prisoner of war
flat tire
bid for immortality

(These elements were 3 randomly drawn cards from my Storymatic deck.)

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Covers

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is a freebie about book covers. I’m going to keep it simple, since I’m still new to all of this keeping track of books I’ve read and want to read, and I’m definitely not ready to get detailed with a list like this. So I stuck with books that are on my Goodreads shelves and found 10 books with covers I really like for one reason or another. Here they are, in no particular order:

wingfeather

1. The Wingfeather Saga books by Andrew Peterson
If you click on the link above, you won’t see these covers. The series came out between 2009 & 2014, but the covers above are from a re-release. Those shown are the only 2 (of 4) that have new covers yet, but I’m guessing the other 2 eventually will as well. I actually do like the look of the original covers too, but it was these that first drew me to the series.
Shown here: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (read my review of this book) and North! or Be Eaten

2. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
I’ve always really liked the macabre cover to this book, which is a play about two minor characters from Hamlet. I remember reading it in high school, and then watching the movie with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth and that tennis court scene. My love of the cover might be as much nostalgia as anything, but it still counts!

3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
I’ll be honest–I might be more in love with the cover of this book than the synopsis (which is interesting, don’t get me wrong), but someday I’ll have to actually read it and find out if I like it.

4. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
I really like the way they made the cover (front and back) with a distressed look, so that it would look like it had been around since the 90s (when the book was set). (Read my review of this book.)

5. Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren
I had this book for over a year before I read it, and the cover always made me muse about just what was going on in that plot. The synopsis also mentions the neighbors’ house, which “defies the laws of physics.” Both are a good teaser for what’s inside the book. (Read my review of this book.)

6. Lock In by John Scalzi
It may not be the most visually appealing cover, but, like the previous book, I stared at this for a long time before I ever got around to reading it. And like with the previous book, it made me really curious about what was inside. (There’s a reason why when I started back into a heavy reading habit last year, these were some of the first books I read.) Knowing what the book is about, the cover is quite fitting. (Read my review of this book.)

7. The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels
I don’t think I have to explain why this cover appeals to me so much. If you’re viewing this post, you probably love books as much as I do, and a cover like this is just beautiful! From what I’ve read of the synopsis, it sounds like the book will be equally as wonderful for book lovers (I haven’t read it yet).

peregrine

8.  Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
I only heard about this series for the first time recently, but I was able to pick up books 1 & 2 for good deals, so I plan to start into it soon. For now, though, I really like the way the author took actual vintage photographs and used them to inspire the stories, and how employing them for the covers turned out.
Shown here: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City

summoner

9. Summoner series books by Taran Matharu
I really enjoy the covers of the all of the books in this series (a trilogy of 3, plus a prequel). The trilogy covers all feature the main character, showing him decked out in whatever gear he acquired in that book, and with some iteration of his summoned demon, who was practically like a character himself. The third book is my favorite cover of the trilogy (shown on the left) for many reasons, some of which are a bit spoilery. And the prequel cover, which features a different character, I chose to also show mostly because it’s so beautifully purple.
Shown here: The Battlemage (read my review of this book) and The Outcast

colors

10. True Colors series books by various authors
Though I’ve been a bit hit-or-miss in my love for the stories themselves, I really love the covers in this series of books. I’ve read 2 of them so far, and have a 3rd coming up on my TBR. They’re all basically stand-alones (maybe a little overlap of characters) about true crime stories in history, and they all have a color in the title. Most of the covers, then, are black & white, with one item of the same color as in the title standing out (as seen in the 2 I shared above).
Shown here: The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken (read my review of this book) and The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

What book covers are you crazy about? Link your own TTT post in the comments so I can see what you did with this week’s freebie!

Book Review: The Land Beneath Us

Finished Reading: The Land Beneath Us
Sunrise at Normandy #3
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Land Beneath

Clay Paxton is training to be a U.S. Army Ranger in advance of the Allied invasion of France in WWII. Leah Jones is a librarian on the military base where he’s training. He has no future, due to a recurring dream that he sees as a premonition of his death during the invasion. She has no past, orphaned at the age of 4 and torn away from her baby sisters, with no familial connections. A marriage as friends gives them both something they need, and shortly thereafter, Clay ships off for further training, expecting never to return. Neither can anticipate what will happen in the months leading up to D-Day.

This book is just so beautiful in so many ways. The main characters are both so kind and compassionate, so often willing to put others before themselves, and yet both have flaws to try to overcome. The events throughout the book meld together so well, and yet, not everything turns out perfectly. And the writing itself is clear, with a style that I found I particularly enjoyed.

I am not a history buff at all, so understand I have very little basis to say this, but I felt that the book was very well researched. With real events, real locations, and even some real people from history who were participants in this part of the invasion, it all felt very real for me.

As far as the romance goes, I know everyone has their preferences–what they like and don’t like in romance. This one hit all of the right buttons for me. I requested the ARC specifically because of 3 words in the synopsis: “marriage of convenience”. I have always loved stories where a romance develops between two people who married because they felt they had to. And it absolutely did not disappoint. There was something in the last quarter of the book that started to bug me a bit (being vague to avoid spoilers), but it paid off in the best scene ever!

I also love the fact that the romance isn’t right there in your face the whole time. It’s not the main plot, while a few other things happen as a vehicle for it. The rest of the story is full in its own right, and the romance is interweaved into that so wonderfully. I also love how both characters are so incredibly faith-driven and turn to God for help and strength constantly. Both of these characters are paralleled with Biblical characters–Leah with her namesake who was unloved by her husband. And Clay even more strongly with Joseph, who was cast into a pit by his brothers, which is how Clay feels about his own situation.

When I first requested this ARC to read & review, I saw that it was #3 in a series, but it looked to me (with a quick glance) that the novels were stand-alones. While reading, I quickly realized that they aren’t really. The three books in this series are about 3 brothers, and the other two appear in this book in some form too. This book ties up a storyline that I’m sure must thread through the first two books in some way. I’m a little sad that I read the last one first, but I loved this one so much, I’m going to have to read the others very soon! And then I’ll probably go on to try a different series by this author. This book will be the standard by which I measure all Christian romances in the future, and I don’t see it getting much better than this.

In case it’s not clear from my review, I absolutely recommend this book to all who enjoy Christian romance, Christian historical novels, and/or books with a strong focus on forgiveness and finding a place to belong.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review!

Find out more about The Land Beneath Us

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Weekly Writing Update: January Week 4

Last Sunday, I said I hoped to be done with the read-through of draft 2 of “Outcast” (book #2 in my series) by Tuesday of this last week. However, a combination of some early mornings (which means early nights, cutting into my prime writing time) and a change in the chapter structure slowed me down.

I will vaguely explain (to avoid spoilers) that this book has 2 main storylines that are being told in an alternating pattern through maybe 2/3 of the book. But where certain scenes and revelations from both of them coincide is crucial. In the first draft, which was a vastly different story, I had a good spot, but the story changed so much, I kept playing with where that spot should be. I thought I had chapters laid out–which scenes went in which chapters–and then I suddenly hit on what I think is going to be the final layout. But I realized that I needed to read it straight through and make sure it flows well.

I’m now 3/4 of the way through (plus I accidentally read at least 1 chapter out of order, so I don’t know if I’ll feel the need to re-read it when I get there). I should definitely be onto a new task by this time next week. I’ve already contacted the people that I think can give me some great early feedback, and I hope to have this draft to them soon. Though one of them still needs to read Pithea (book #1 in the series, which was released just over 2 weeks ago), because when she last read it, it was probably 7 drafts away from the completed version.

Then I’ll turn my focus to making sense of the mess I left book #3 in while I wait to hear back from those who have agreed to read “Outcast.”

Book Review: His Name Was Zach

Finished Reading: His Name Was Zach
by Peter Martuneac

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Dystopian

Zach

I’m going to preface this entire review with the explanation that zombie fiction is really not my thing. I chose to read this book to support a fellow self-published author, and I want to make sure that anyone reading this review knows up front that my thoughts on it are likely tainted by the fact that I just don’t care for zombie stories. It’s not just the zombies themselves, or the gore & violence, but the hopelessness and despair, and the fact that they’re so often the same basic story. That being said, on with the review.

Zach and Abby found each other during the worst possible circumstances–a zombie apocalypse. Zach is a former marine, and Abby is a 14-year-old whose parents are gone. They decide to stick together, forming a father-daughter relationship to rival those with blood connections. Through many different kinds of threats, from zombies to dangerous humans, imminent starvation, and even overwhelming loneliness, they take care of each other. Will they ever find the rest they’re longing for?

Zombie apocalypse or not, I didn’t hate this book. But I didn’t enjoy it very much it either, and that’s not just because of the genre. The book has two main things going for it–a lot of heart and the realism regarding the main character’s marine background, due to the author being a former marine himself. However, there were many things that detracted from the book for me; in the end, I wasn’t the best audience for this book.

The book probably could have been cut down at least 25%, if not close to half, and told the same story. There was a lot of repetition, including many flashbacks that showed something we’d already been told, with nothing new to add, not to mention the pages-long Rev War daydream. There was unnecessary recap of past events, and a lot of repetition of dialog.

Some other issues I had were pockets of narration styles that didn’t fit with the rest (like a few paragraphs from a bird’s perspective and one time when the author/narrator informally addressed the reader); two female characters whose names started with A, which caused me to be confused about who was doing what, who was in peril, etc. during fast-paced scenes; grammatical issues and typos often enough to pull me out of the story.

I’ll pause here for a quick warning for those who are like me when it comes to content that makes them uncomfortable: the book is very graphic. There is more language than any book I’ve read (if it had been a movie, I would have had to turn it off…apparently it bothers me more to hear it out loud than to read it), and there is one particularly gory scene that made me very uncomfortable. Sexual situations (both consensual and non–and let that be a trigger warning for those who need it) were handled much more tastefully by comparison.

I think, though, that what bothered me the most was how the writing has a very YA feel, which I am certain was not the intention. And even with that, Abby talks like someone way beyond her years much of the time, while other times acting like a child. (This may have been intentional, given the traumatic experiences she’d gone through and the super-smart characterization given to her, but I didn’t get that impression.) Abby was probably my least favorite non-villain character, which is sad, since the (not-yet-released) sequel is titled Her Name Was Abby. I don’t know that I’ll have an desire to read it, though I’m not committing to that yet. There are a lot of ways the sequel could improve on the original.

For someone who doesn’t take in a lot of zombie apocalypse fiction, I felt like I’d seen many of the events from this book done before. Common tropes certainly can be used and feel fresh and unique, but they didn’t in this case. Though to be fair, there were plenty of things that happened that didn’t seem so cliche too. Overall, I think what I saw in this book was a lack of experience with writing. With more revision and feedback from other experienced writers, I think it would have been a better overall read. And I know that plenty of what I mention in this review is personal preference. If it seems interesting to you, please be sure to check out others’ reviews for this book.

Find out more about His Name Was Zach

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

Create a character who is the polar opposite of yourself–strengths that are opposite of your weaknesses and vice versa, shy if you’re outgoing, etc. Put them in a situation that you’ve been in before and see how they would behave differently than you did.

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recent Book Gets

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is “Most Recent Additions to My Bookshelf.” I posted 3 weeks ago about books I’d either gotten for Christmas or acquired shortly thereafter, and normally, I wouldn’t have much to add in this short of an amount of time. However, my husband and I went back to Half-Price books just yesterday, much sooner than normal, plus I do have a few more from right before Christmas I’d love to mention. So here are 8 of my most recent book gets:

1. Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
Sadly, I had forgotten I got this until I started scanning my bookshelf for what should go on today’s list. I got it in the clearance section of HPB some time before Christmas (we go there a lot during the holidays). I “read” this in high school, but I’ll admit I didn’t read it very thoroughly. Though I did well in school, I was pretty lazy. I’d already seen the movie at the time that I read it for school, and basically read chunks of the book looking for scenes that were in the movie to write about. It’s definitely time to read it for real.

2. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
I got my sister some books for Christmas and found some great deals on what she wanted on eBay. One of the sellers had a promotion of buy 2, get 1 free, so after I looked for a 3rd book that she would want, I found this in their list of eligible books and decided I might as well get it for me. I’d been planning to read it anyway!

3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
I have read maybe 1 Sherlock Holmes story ever, that I can think of, and I couldn’t even tell you for sure what it was (Hounds of the Baskerville, I think). Like many others, though, I’ve viewed various iterations of Holmes over the years. I spotted this high on a bookshelf in our own house, but I didn’t even remember having it. Turns out someone had given it to my husband several years ago. Technically we already owned it, but it is now sitting on my shelf, and I plan to start reading it soon.

Plus, reading it will make my novel journal a lot more relevant to me:

4. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
I’ve mentioned this book multiple times recently, but that’s just because of how good it is! I try not to buy books at full price if I can help it, because how do you sustain a habit if you spend that kind of money? So I passed on getting it when it was still on the “new releases” shelf. It was only marked down a few bucks when we went back to HPB yesterday, but my husband insisted that was good enough. (Read my review of this book.)

5. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
Brant Hansen is my favorite radio personality. If you’re in the mood for a fun, clean, often random podcast that makes you think, check out the Brant & Sherri Oddcast. He also writes some books that combine faith and humor and make some interesting points. This is his first book, and I really enjoyed his second one, Blessed are the Misfits. I’ve been hoping to read this for a while, but my library doesn’t carry it. Though I’ve checked every time we’ve gone to HPB recently, imagine my surprise to see it sitting on the shelf yesterday!

6. 2 books from the Mandie series by Lois Gladys Leppard
I enjoyed this series a lot when I was younger, and when my daughter got old enough, I read the first book in the series to her. I have kept my eye out for these book over the years, even before she was old enough, and have maybe 10-12 on my shelves (there are 40!). I spotted 3 in the clearance section, but only bought 2 of them, because I was certain I had one of them already. Sadly enough, it turns out that I don’t have the one I thought I had (the cover looked so familiar!), but I do have one of the two that I bought…so I only added 1. Ah well…it’s time to keep a list on my phone of which ones I have, since I never know when I might run across more.

What books are you excited about getting recently? Link your own list in the comments so I can check yours out too!

Book Review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
The Wingfeather Saga
#1
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy

Dark Sea.png

On the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness live the Igiby family–12-year-old Janner and his younger brother Tink, little sister Leeli, and their mom and grandfather, known mostly as Podo. Their land has been conquered by Gnag the Nameless, who hails from Dang, across the sea, and who has sent his Fangs to keep the people in line. Through a series of connected events that all starts with a mischievous dog, the Igibys find themselves on the wrong side of the Fangs of Dang. When the Fangs come to realize that the Igibys have knowledge of the location to the jewels of the late King Wingfeather and the Shining Isle of Anniera, which are said to be the key to restoring Anniera and defating Gnag, the Igibys realize they will always be in danger.

This book was a lot of fun, with characters that are lively and entertaining and a lot of lore and history. The quirky nature of the narrative and even the names of various people and locations had me chuckling more than once. Though it’s children’s fiction, it doesn’t pull any punches, and reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as Roald Dahl, to a degree.

Right off the bat, the explanation for the name of the world these characters inhabit gives you a sense of the author’s style. The first person to exist woke up on the first morning, looked at a rock, and said, “Well, here we are.” Thus, the world’s name came to be known as “Aerwiar.” Though none of the other names for people or places are really explained, and I did actually struggle a little muddling through so many when they came close together, this is a good example of the tone of this book.

Even with the whimsical nature, there is still some real peril. Fortunately, possibly because it’s meant for kids, for the most part, the good guys prevail and the bad guys are defeated, at least in some way. I’m not saying there aren’t some losses, but I won’t say more because of spoilers.

One of my favorite things about the book were the hints that the author dropped throughout the book, giving little nudges about a big secret revealed near the end. Two big secrets, really but they were tied together. While I suspected pretty early on, and then decided I was definitely right still a ways from the reveal, remember that this book is meant for kids. I could imagine kids near my daughter’s age, maybe a bit older, reading this and beginning to catch on, getting excited as they realized the truth.

It was fun and full of adventure, and I cannot wait to continue the series! I recommend this book for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. Also, you might see it labeled as Christian, and there are some references to a deity that many of the people believe in, but it is not overtly Christian. It may be a bit allegorical, again similar to the Narnia books.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2008, but a new hardcover edition will be released on March 10, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

Find out more about On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Weekly Writing Update: January Week 3

After pushing myself to get back to working on “Outcast” (book #2 in my series) last week, I did not have any difficulty keeping that up throughout this last week. Most days I worked at least an hour on the revision of draft 2. I wish it could be more, but alas, I still have a day job to attend to, not to mention homeschooling to do.

I actually finished draft 2, then spent some time figuring out the order for the scenes. Now I’m going through and reading (sometimes scanning) to make sure that the order is good, transitions are there, and things generally make sense. Then I’ll cross my fingers that the small group of people who know Pithea (book #1 in the series that was released just over a week ago) well enough to help me figure out where to go next with this book have time to read it.

I’m about 1/4 of the way through this read-through, and hope to be able to finish it by Tuesday. Then I’ll turn my focus to making sense of the mess I left book #3 in while I wait to hear back from whoever is able to read it.