Book Review: Spark (DNF)

Did Not Finish: Spark
Swipe
#4
by Evan Angler

My rating: DNF, no rating
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

The decision to set aside a book that I most likely won’t finish is never easy, which is why I’ve only done it twice before. But this one was even harder, because it was book #4 in a series. Unfortunately, the series apparently doesn’t have an end at this time, and book #4 is a major departure from the 3 before it. The author always seemed a bit eccentric, but it went way too weird for me in this book.

One of the biggest issues I saw in other reviews was that the author left behind the characters that we spent so much time with in the first three books in favor of some new people. I don’t think I would have minded that so much on its own. However, the main character of this book had this strange way of referring to herself. She was “Ali Without a Name,” but there was no explanation of that (considering that she clearly did have a name, I’d have liked to know the story behind this). Then sometimes she or someone else would refer to her in other ways like “Hungry Ali” or “Naughty Ali.”

This, amongst other things, caused me to get that “just hang in there until things make sense” feeling. And then I cheated a little. My son has read all 4 of these books, though it’s been several years. But still, I asked him if any of these things that were making no sense would eventually be explained. He said pretty much no. I decided to call it then, about 1/4 of the way in.

Still, I liked the previous 3 books enough that, even though it’s been 7 years since this book was published, I hold out the tiniest bit of hope that the author will continue the series. If that were to happen, I’d come back and finish this book in preparation of the next. Unless that happens, though, I have no desire to find out what’s going on with Ali and the Tinchers.

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Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Classic sci-fi, dystopian

451

I read this book as a sophomore in high school, 22 years ago. I remember it being one of the easier-to-read classics of my 3 years of Honors English. All I really remembered about it, though, is the basic premise of book burning, the parlor screens, and a vague creepy idea of the Mechanical Hound. After reading it again now, I’m actually surprised that I remember it as a “simple” read, due to the writing style and a plethora of metaphors, but it does probably make a difference when you’re pushed to analyze it after reading each third. I didn’t dissect it for symbolism and analyze every paragraph like I did other classics, though, and I still have the short papers I wrote for assignments about it. It was fun to read those again after reading the book.

As an adult, I see the book differently than I did back then. For one thing, I have come to realize that the book is not about the censorship involved in book burning. The fire captain makes it clear that society turned from books long before it became illegal to own them. Rather, the technology that led them to that point seems to be what is being demonized. I suppose it’s a call to make sure we don’t let it take over our lives.

Though to be honest, I think there’s a mixed message here, because despite the explanation the captain gives, it’s also clear that the government doesn’t want the people thinking for themselves. Wants them distracted while they’re about to go to war–why and with whom, we never know. And due again to the writing style, I am not sure I understand what happened at the very end regarding the war.

I would say a strong theme, which is perhaps more relevant today, is the control the government is able to exert over the people. If the majority of society decides it doesn’t care about books, then those people just don’t read books. Why does that have to lead to books becoming illegal? The government decides that it needs to regulate the people’s “fun” and oppose the potential of anyone offending anyone else at all, and apparently the people let it happen. Especially considering how recently Faber was a professor at a liberal arts school, it’s amazing how quickly it must have happened.

One thing that I was absolutely correct about in remembering this book was how creepy the Mechanical Hound is. I actually had some unpleasant dreams the night in between the two days it took me to read the book this week, and the Hound was a highlight. (I don’t have specific memories of the dreams, but a general understanding that they were related to the book.) It’s seriously disturbing.

In the end, for me, at least, this book doesn’t hold up as the classic it’s hailed as. It’s not a bad story, but I don’t know that it’s worth studying or holding up as a warning. Between this and Ender’s Game, maybe I’m just not a fan of classic sci-fi.

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Book Review: Storm

Storm
Swipe
#3
by Evan Angler

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

Storm

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, Swipe and Sneak.

Unwitting leaders of a revolution for those who refused to pledge loyalty to the future global leader, Logan and the rest of the Dust are being pulled in multiple directions. While Logan, Peck, Erin, and Hailey head west to try to save Erin’s life and stop an epidemic, the rest of the Dust have a mission in the capital city of Beacon–continue to protest the leader’s minions while searching for their lost friend. Then Logan’s sister Lily brings him a new mission, as a brewing storm is about to be unleashed.

The continuing saga of Logan and the Dust ramps up in this book. The Dust continue to gain new members and allies, both Markless and Marked. The ending feels like a huge leap off the side of a cliff, but overall, the book was engaging.

In the first book, I really disliked both Tyler and Eddie. I know they’re kids, so of course their immaturity would be expected. But it’s taken to such an extreme, it just bugs me. I like both of them so much more in this book, even though they’re still goofy and immature. It’s like it has a purpose now.

There were a few oddball things that happened in the book, like horses showing up out of nowhere when two of the characters were traveling via the River, or a teenager being walked to the scene of his parents’ death, even to the point of them showing him their dead bodies. I just don’t know why the sheriff would do that.

By the end of this book, I had come to realize that Evan Angler is a pen name, considering that it turns out he’s actually a character in the book. I truly don’t understand why the author chose this plot device, though, as so far, it doesn’t add much to the book. I think that perhaps this could have been more fully utilized by having a narrator that was more connected to the reader throughout the series. I’ll be curious to see if this is expanded on in the next book though.

This story has really come into its own by this book. It’s uncommon, at least in my experience, for Christian end-times fiction to come in from this angle, as there’s very little in the way of Christianity even still now. One character did express his faith a bit more in this book and then left on some kind of pilgrimage, which I’m sure will come into play more in the next book. It did become clear in this book that the rapture had happened in the past though, which I’d been curious about. I’m not too optimistic about the next book, given reviews I’ve read, but I’m going in with an open mind, because I’ve disagreed with reviews plenty of times before. At this point, I’d still recommend this book to those who enjoy end-times fiction and YA books.

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Book Review: Landry Park

Landry Park
by Bethany Hagen

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Dystopian romance

Landry

Two hundred years in the future, various factors have left most of the United States in a dystopian state that is reminiscent of Victorian times–right down to the fancy dresses and the imperative for wealthy young women to marry eligible, and wealthy, bachelors. Madeline Landry is sole heir to the Landry estate and fortune, but unhappy with her lot in life. What starts as an attempt to have some control over her life turns into a growing desire to see the lower income classes treated better, even as her father tries to head off a rebellion by the lowest caste. Meanwhile, a new bachelor comes to town and turns every head, including Madeline’s, which distracts her from everything else…sometimes.

In a rare twist for me, I enjoyed this book more than many other reviewers. Some of what I noticed complained about most in other reviews didn’t really bother me, for which I am thankful. Though there was plenty that brought the book down for me, the main character included, I found myself caught up in the mysteries presented and really wanting to know what on earth was going on, and what would happen.

Madeline is a fairly shallow character. And I don’t mean her personality is shallow, I mean there’s not a lot of depth given to her character. It doesn’t really bother me that she seemed to want to help the Rootless, while living her opulent life and struggling to actually act on behalf of the eternally dying lowest of society. It might seem like a huge character flaw that many of us would say we’d never do, but the truth is that it’s actually very human.

I should have put more emphasis on the romance in my synopsis, because make no mistake, it was a huge part of the story. With everything going on, the fact that Madeline’s thoughts are so wrapped up in what’s going on with David Dana, who is so incredibly hot and cold, often feel like they get in the way. However, even that developing non-relationship is part of the mystery of the book. In the end, after thinking that an assault that occurred near the beginning was the driving plot, I think this very relationship felt more like the story goal by the end. Whether that was on purpose or not, I can’t say. Besides the over-prominence of the romance, though, it irked me so much for reasons I won’t get into to avoid spoilers. It worked out like I expected, but was still really unpleasant along the way.

There were a few reveals near the end that I really didn’t see coming, even though the clues were there. The book turned out to be a bit deeper than it seems upon first glance. There were also a few things left unexplained that really niggled at me. I’m not saying that’s a fault on the author’s part, because in this type of series, having a few lingering questions makes sense. I can only hope they’re revealed in the sequel.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. I picked it up without any knowledge of it whatsoever at a bargain store months ago, and almost let its low rating on Goodreads keep me from reading it. Instead of disliking it like I was worried I would, I’m looking forward to see what the sequel holds. It has a good chance of having a lot less of the things that I disliked the most about this book. I think fans of romance and dystopian worlds, especially those who also like books set in the Victorian era, or other similar-ish eras of that time.

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Book Review: Sneak

Finished Reading: Sneak
Swipe
#2
by Evan Angler

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

Sneak

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Swipe.

Sneak picks up immediately after the previous story’s end, with Logan on the run and the Dust in the wind. In the aftermath, Logan and Peck, leader of the Dust, share a common goal–find Logan’s sister Lily. Five years ago, Lily supposedly died when she went to receive her Mark, but Logan has since received information that she is actually in some sort of prison. Logan and the Dust travel along the River to Beacon, the capital city, where they will try to break Lily out. Meanwhile, Logan’s friend-turned-betrayer Erin is on her own track to Beacon, which is what she thought she wanted, but now isn’t so sure.

The story really picked up in this 2nd installment, with more action and higher stakes. We get to see even more of the community that the Markless have formed across the country. And the members of the Dust weren’t nearly as annoying as in the first book. Plus, we get some fresh blood to the cause that is very promising.

Though the Dust and most of the rest of the Markless community seems to hate Logan at first, due to the extra heat he’s brought down on them all, I like him a bit more in this book. He seems a little wiser and a little less helpless. I still don’t care for Erin’s character, though, who was the other MC in the first book. She has a smaller role in this one and is so inconsistent, I don’t know if she’s just that confused or if she isn’t written very well. The character that I said was my favorite in the first book was in this one a lot less, and frankly…I don’t remember why I liked him so much in the first one. So there’s that.

The other members of the dust are given a bit more of a background, so while they don’t really come to the forefront that much, at least there’s some depth there. There’s a pseudo-love triangle in this book that seemed pretty unnecessary to me so far. But overall, the characters were more engaging in this book.

I loved the River, which had similarities to hobo signs (which I learned about from a Nancy Drew game). It was an interesting idea to include in the story, though at least one thing happened that was pretty predictable to a point. The outcome was not so predictable to me.

As I mentioned in the first book’s review, the series is actually Christian end-times fiction, which became more clear in this book. Logan finds and begins to carry around and read a Bible, which is a banned book, considering that religions other than the One World Religion are also forbidden. It’s a subtle build-up, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book. Sadly, since reading the first one, I have become aware of the fact that this is an unfinished series, the most recent book being published in 2013. With that understanding, this might still be worth reading for those who enjoy end-times fiction.

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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.

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Book Review: Swipe

Finished Reading: Swipe
Book #1
by Evan Angler

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

Swipe (Swipe, #1)

Everyone who knows end-times Christian fiction understands the setting of this book. The world is setting up for a global government, already has a global religion, and an implanted Mark is required for buying, selling, basically for living. With this backdrop, we are introduced to Logan Langly, who has been terrified of receiving his Mark (which happens when a child turns 13) ever since his sister died when receiving hers. Around this time, a new girl, Erin, moves to town. Her father works for the government, specifically the branch that deals with trouble related to the Mark. When Erin learns that her father is basically a spy, she gets caught up in the case he came to town to work on. And that case happens to involve Logan as well.

This book was not bad, though also could have been better. From the very beginning (the prologue, even), there was a mystery set up that drove me through the story. It was a short, easy read, so that helped too.  The plots set up for both of the main characters were interesting as well, but it all kind of fell apart at the end. It took far too long to really get the answers I was looking for, and in the meantime, I was reading characters that just fell flat for me.

The two main characters are annoying and bland. There is little to no character development. My favorite was a boy who is part of a rebel group. He’s not the leader, but he’s the leader’s right-hand man. But the rest of that rebel group is so crazy that the whole rebel group aspect is just bizarre. (Two of them play a card game like War, but whoever has the highest card gets to punch the other player in the face. And it’s written like it’s completely normal. It was really weird.)

The world building is hit-or-miss. The background of how the country (and really the world) gets to where it is was well thought-out, pretty logical. The explanation of some of the current world is also interesting (though I don’t know how realistic it would be). But some of it almost comes across lazy. Many things have a prefix of “nano-“, which apparently just means it’s enhanced in some way?

It is revealed part way through the book that the rebel group has a mole at the school that the main characters go to. It comes off like it’s supposed to be a secret to the reader, but it was pretty obvious. Around the time the mole is identified, we’re also finally given some answers to why the rebel group does what it does, but the answers are unimpressive. Noble, but not nearly as interesting as I’d hoped for. And in my opinion, not presented with nearly enough evidence for at least one character to fall in line with them as easily as he does.

The ending felt a bit rushed to me, and I didn’t fully buy the way the characters acted at the end. I was also left with the question about whether or not there were meant to be romantic feelings between the main characters, and even more than that, if we were supposed to care if there were. The characters are 12 & 13, so…not really a romance I’m looking to read.

Final thoughts: the book is a set up to a 4-book series, and given the ending of this one, I’m hoping book #2 will take off quite a bit, comparatively. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the series is said to be Christian end-times fiction, but you really wouldn’t guess it to read the first book. The only thing that hints at it is the Mark, and to a lesser degree, the possible antichrist set-up, but it’s so lightly touched on, if I couldn’t see from Goodreads that it was Christian, I would never classify it as that. Again, presumably that will come into play in the rest of the series (my son says it does–we bought these for him when they were newer, and he’s read them all). For now, it’s difficult to come up with someone to recommend this book/series to.

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Book Review: Wonderblood (DNF)

Did Not Finish: Wonderblood
by Julia Whicker

My rating: DNF, no rating
Genre: Post-apocalyptic, dystopian

Wonderblood

I read 1 chapter of Wonderblood and had to put it down. In my defense, it was quite a long chapter, so I gave it a decent chance. But in the end, it proved to be too dark, gritty, and disturbing for my taste. I’m sure that’s understandable for a post-apocalyptic, dystopian setting, but I couldn’t handle it. My main issues were the over-abundance of decapitated heads, excessive blood-shedding (“Wonderblood” refers to a belief that the world will be saved when the earth has been given enough human blood) and pedophilia/incest, and this was just in the 1st chapter.  I skimmed ahead to get an idea of whether or not all of this calmed down, and it may have to a degree, but what I saw when skimming didn’t interest me.

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Book Review: Ready Player One

Finished Reading: Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Science Fiction

RP1.png

Over 100 years in the future, mankind has been largely driven inside the virtual world. They work in the OASIS, go to school, hang out with friends, rely on it for entertainment, and even treasure hunt in the OASIS. The main storyline in the book is a treasure hunt that was created by the man who created the OASIS. The person who finds the Easter egg hidden in the virtual environment, by following all of the clues, will basically be the wealthiest person alive.

Ready Player One is my husband’s favorite book. He’s tried to get me to read the book or watch the movie here and there, but I told him that I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as him, because the 80s references would largely be lost on me. I was a teenager in the 90s, and a fairly sheltered one at that. I don’t even know much about pop culture in the 90s and know way, way less about pop culture in the 80s. But now that I’ve started to get back to my bookworm roots, I knew it was time to give this book a read.

Keep in mind when reading the rest of this post that I was correct about the heavy 80s references not providing much nostalgia for me. However, I don’t think that’s the only reason that the plethora of references fell flat for me. I came to a point pretty early on when I realized how shallow most of the references were. Movies, games, books, TV shows, comics, music–all of these things were briefly named, often in lists, but that’s about it. So I guess the people who get the references get to go, “Oh! That show!” and move on. Not much substance.

On the flip side, however, the times when the 80s pop culture was part of the challenges in The Hunt, even though I didn’t get the hit of nostalgia during those sections that others would get, I really enjoyed them! So not diving into spoilers too much, the Easter egg hunt involved finding 3 keys, which each opened a gate. So the hunters had to find the keys, find the gates, and “clear” the gates, all of which involved solving some sort of challenge, even if just a riddle. Those were my favorite parts of the book. Unfortunately, in between these sections, the book mostly dragged for me, especially when the main character, Parzival, pushed his friends away and was alone for a while.

Another thing I enjoyed about the book was the way the author described things inside the Oasis. I actually thought it would seem silly or weird to read about the mechanics in this virtual world, but Cline did a good job of explaining it. I’ve played a decent amount of games that allowed me to imagine how the interface worked, so that might have helped.

As the book ramped up to the end, I kept expecting a huge twist. A certain specific trope that I won’t mention so I don’t spoil that it doesn’t happen was especially on my mind, but it doesn’t happen. Not that there wasn’t any kind of twist near the end, but not what I was expecting, and not as big as I was expecting. I weirdly found the end of the book and the challenges the characters had to go through too easy and very difficult at the same time. It’s hard to explain without giving anything away though.

My husband tells me that the movie is different from the book, but good in its own right. He also says it focuses more on The Hunt (the parts I liked the most). I’m looking forward to watching it!

Find out more about Ernest Cline and Ready Player One

Up next: The Trials of Lance Eliot by M.L. Brown and Wonderblood by Julia Whicker (spoiler: one of these I did not finish)

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