Book Review: August Review

In my second month of reading with more intention, I picked up the pace at first, and then seemed to slow back down at the end of the month. Now that school has started (I homeschool), it remains to be seen how much time I have to read, but I will definitely make as much time for it as I can.

Here are the books I read in August:
The Curious Conspiracy on Gamma Ceti by Nemo West (2.5 / 5)
Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker (1.5 / 5)
Thr3e by Ted Dekker (4.5 / 5)
Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (4 / 5)
Tilly by Frank E. Peretti (3.5 / 5)
Lock In by John Scalzi (4.5 / 5)
#NotReadyToDie by Cate Carlyle (2.5 / 5)
The Inquisition
by Taran Matharu (4 / 5)
Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card (2.5 / 5) (review pending)
Illusion by Frank E. Peretti (5 / 5) (review pending)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (review & rating pending)

This list includes 5 ARCs, my first ever, and 1 re-read. My favorite book from August was Illusion. The rest of reviews from last month will go up in the next week and a half. My ever-changing list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads, if anyone is interested in that. (Note: The list of books I have read overall is not remotely complete there. When I created my Goodreads page 4 years ago, I added some of my favorite books over the years, but to add everything I’ve ever read would be very time-consuming, not to mention impossible to remember it all.)

Despite my almost too-long list of TBRs, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: Light from Distant Stars

Light from Distant Stars
by Shawn Smucker

My rating: 1.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

ARC2

The book opens on the main character, Cohen, finding his father dead in the basement of the funeral home where Cohen works with his father. In the ensuing difficulties that come from such an event, Cohen finds himself beset with memories of his childhood and adolescent, split definitively by an event that basically destroyed his family. The story highlights multiple father-son relationships.

As you can see by my rating, I did not care for this book. For one thing, I was expecting more of an investigation into how the father died than was presented, especially considering that most  summaries I read ended with, “Did he kill his father?” As it turns out, it was more introspection and reminiscing.

Even as I started to realize that this book was more drama than mystery, it still presented me with little of interest. There are two threads followed–Cohen in present time dealing with what happened to his father (Spoiler: he wasn’t even dead at the very beginning of the book; he was near death, but was in the hospital for a week before dying, and the reason that Cohen thought his father was dead when he wasn’t is never explained, even though he questions it himself. This leads me to feel like this was just sensationalism for the blurb.) and his memories of significant events of his past. The present-time storyline is fairly uneventful, filled with light conversations with his pregnant sister, confessions to a retired priest, and then sudden action near the end of the book that I didn’t really understand the point of. The past-time storyline has a lot more going on, though it drags a bit here and there too.

There are 2 more significant events in his past, one of which led to the split that broke up his family, and the other of which comes across as a supernatural element, which is maybe a bit confusing in this book. After some time, I came to suspect what was really going on, and turned out to be correct. However, it is severely lacking in explanation–not about how this supernatural memory came to be, but about how it actually made sense even in context. The extra half a point in my rating is because this story arc was at least a little interesting to me as I went through it, even though I figured out what was going on more quickly than I think I was meant to.

Building from that, because of the supernatural element, as well as a particular scene in the present-day storyline, I had a very difficult time knowing what was real later in the book, and I am not sure that was meant to be the case. It led me to be fairly unimpressed by the sort-of twisty action scene that happened near the end. Also, there was one huge plot thread just left hanging…something that happened during Cohen’s adolescence that came to light near the end that should have had repercussions, and instead, somehow just became a catalyst for Cohen’s realization (or reminder) that his father was not quite how he’d always seen him.

I wanted to like this book (which I suppose is a silly statement, because we don’t often start reading a book that we’re not wanting to like). I read a couple of reviews by others that were glowing, and the premise sounded interesting. However, by the time I was 75% through, I felt like nothing had happened, and I just wasn’t getting the point of it. There is also quite a bit of description and figurative language, which bogged down the story for me. By the last half of the book, I had started to skim the descriptions, especially every time the narrator, whether a child, teenager, or adult, stared at the sky or the city. This happened often. It let me to wonder if there was some sort of symbolism I was simply missing.

Final thoughts: The book is labeled as Christian, though if I’d not seen that label on it, I never would have guessed it was meant to be Christian. The main character does visit a church and confess several times through the book, and there is a bit of a heart change near the end, but to me, it was fairly shallow. This book is simply not my taste, but for those who enjoy descriptive and figurative writing styles and drama and introspection, it may be a great read for you.

Thank you to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Light from Distant Stars

See what I’m reading next.

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

Book Review: The Novice

Finished Reading: The Novice
Summoner
Trilogy #1
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Fantasy

The Novice

A young blacksmith apprentice stumbles onto a magical book that he can’t resist reading from, which summons a small demon from another world. This is an ability only certain people have, which makes Fletcher special (he can also cast spells, and just to be clear, the demon is basically an otherworldly animal). Shortly thereafter, he is forced to flee his hometown and basically stumbles upon a school for summoners. There, summoners are trained to become battlemages, so they can fight in a never-ending war against orcs.

While trying to make sure I read plenty of sci-fi and fantasy books because that is the genre I write in, it’s difficult to wade through what’s out there. I’ve not read much of either genre in the past, as mystery books were my favorite genre for most of my life. I am finding that I still don’t particularly enjoy large amounts of world-building or complicated settings. I also don’t care for dark, gritty worlds, which seems to be in abundance in speculative fiction.

After setting aside a few of the books I picked out to read for various reasons, some of which is mentioned above, The Novice was a refreshing change. It is YA, which might just lend a lot to its simpler nature, but I’ll freely admit that I have always been one to enjoy things below my age level. Still, this book had clear language and a lighter world than the others I’d been presented with recently.

By halfway through the book, I described it as Harry Potter meets Pokemon, though I’ll say that the demon pet aspect didn’t end up being as pronounced as I expected it to be (I still wanted one of my own though). Throw in some elf/dwarf/orc stereotypes straight out of something like Lord of the Rings or even World of Warcraft, and you have this book. I personally enjoyed the way these elements came together.

Race and class warfare are a large part of what drives this book. This book of the trilogy focuses on the Fletcher learning about his newfound magic and training to compete in a tournament, the winner of which gains a coveted high officer spot in the nation’s military. But being part of a larger series, it’s clear that it’s being set up for bigger, more important things to come.

A few downsides I want to mention–some parts of the book are a bit predictable, but plenty of it was unexpected. The biggest issue I had was with some of the writing, especially the dialog tags. Even this is a small issue overall, but characters so often “growl” their dialog, and it started to become distracting to me. There was at least one other commonly used dialog action that was strange to me, though I don’t recall what it is now. Also, characters are often whispering into each others ears, even as they’re walking, and I’m imagining them hanging on each other while they’re talking. Again, a minor thing, but it did bring me out of the story at times.

I was very unhappy with the ending–not because it didn’t make sense or didn’t have every reason to happen. It does set up the 2nd book. But I didn’t like where it leaves the second book to start, so after enjoying the rest, I was disappointed by the ending. However, this is not a statement of bad writing or storytelling, just something I found myself disliking. I’m still looking forward to reading the next book (which I’ll come back to after reading a few other books).

What originally drew me to the book was the very first line of the jacket blurb, which said that the main character was a blacksmith apprentice. One of the main characters of my books starts out as a blacksmith apprentice, which is somewhat drawn from the fact that my own dad is a blacksmith. Though that turned out to be a small part of the book, I’m glad it got me into this trilogy.

Find out more about The Novice

Up next: Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker

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