Book Review: The Passengers

Finished Reading: The Passengers
by John Marrs

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi thriller

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

In a future where self-driving cars are becoming the norm, a mysterious Hacker takes control of 8 different vehicles, each with Passengers inside. These eight people are told that they will likely be dead in just over two hours. The Hacker than forces a jury of 5, alongside the entire world watching from their electronic devices, to decide which one of the eight should be saved.

I was really into this book for for the first 80%, which were parts 1 and 2. If I gave a rating just on that much of the book, it would be a solid 4 stars. Then part 3 came along, and everything just fell apart for me. The writing was good, for the most part, and some of the characters were interesting. Some were major stereotypes, but to be honest, with that many characters, it doesn’t surprise me. But the thriller aspect just died in the last 20%, even with a push to bring it back.

To be honest, the hacking done on the cars might have been wholly unrealistic, but I don’t really care. I’m blessed to be someone who can just enjoy it for what it is, because I don’t really know a lot about software, AI, or electronics in general. It was pretty clear that some of the Passengers were only in the book so that the Hacker could show how serious he was, as the number quickly dwindled from 8 to 5. Each of those 5 Passengers has their secrets, which are unveiled as the Hacker hurtles them to their doom.

While this is happening, the protagonist, a woman named Libby, is one of the 5 on the jury that is being forced to decide these people’s fate. While there were some things that she did that really bugged me, it was a good perspective to watch the events from. The very end of part 2 was a bit confusing to me, and unfortunately, in the mess that was parts 3 & 4, the book didn’t really give a satisfying reason for what happened.

Parts 3 & 4 are messy and mostly unnecessary. They felt like a tack-on, and frankly, soured the mysterious nature of the Hacker. I felt like there were too many attempted twists, and I quickly got to a point where I just didn’t believe anything, which makes it difficult to enjoy a book.

In the end, I am glad I read this book. Enough of it was enjoyable that I would recommend it for fans of sci-fi, especially people who enjoy books that show horror stories about the direction our technology is heading. Because of the many higher ratings this book has gotten, definitely check it out if you think you might enjoy it.

**Side note: One of the characters in this futuristic story mentioned that Facebook peaked in 2020. The idea of this was really funny to me.

Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.  

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

Book Review: The Martian

Finished Reading: The Martian
by Andy Weir

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi drama, suspense

Martian

Following a dust storm that forced an evacuation from the surface of Mars, astronaut Mark Whatney is left behind, presumed dead. But he’s very much alive, and must now figure out how to survive alone on Mars while back on Earth, they work on how to bring him home.

I watched this movie a few years ago (as research for a mini escape room I helped build), and I really liked it. The book is even better! Whatney is resourceful and determined. The repertoire between him and the rest of his team is fun and touching. The determination of those back on Earth to do whatever they can to help him survive is really interesting too.

The book has a lot of explanation about the different sides of what Whatney needs to survive. Ideas are thrown out and dismissed for better ones. It has such a real feel to it, as if it were any other modern space mission that went wrong. The genre is sci-fi, and it’s obviously a bit in the future, but the science isn’t far out there. It’s just a bit past what we have now.

The format of the book was interesting. Much of the narration comes from journal entries by Whatney, so it basically reads like 1st person. Then there is the 3rd person narration of what happens back on Earth. There are other formats, but explaining that would be a bit spoilery. I enjoyed feeling like Whatney was sharing his experience directly with us.

I watched the movie again a few days after finishing the book. I still think the movie is good, but like with many adaptations, they weren’t able to reach the depth of characterization that the book did. Plus, some harrowing moments and difficulties that Whatney faced were completely written out for the movie. Still, a good movie, and a great book!

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

October in Review

I read even less books this month than last month, but I’m not really surprised. Between homeschooling and working a part-time job with sporadic hours, plus spending a lot of my free time working on getting my own book ready for publication, I’m glad to have read what I did. Next month will probably be even lower, due to NaNoWriMo.

Here are the books I read in October:
Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock (4 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff (3 / 5)
The Battlemage by Taran Matharu (4 / 5)
The Dinner Party by R.J. Parker (2 / 5)
Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone (4.5 / 5)
The Butterfly Recluse by Therese Heckenkamp (3 / 5)

This list includes 4 ARCs and 0 re-reads. My favorite book from August was Priceless. I finished 1 series (a trilogy), continued 1 series, and started 0 series. 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. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

NaNoWriMo Eve

NaNo handouts

NaNoWriMo starts in 12 hours where I am. This month, known by many as Preptober, was much less full of prep than I planned. This was mostly due to a combination of working on final edits for my first full-novel release that is due out on January 10th and feeling like I could push off the prep work, because I’d already made an outline for my NaNoNovel a few months ago.

I did finally spend some time Monday and Tuesday this week looking over the outline, as well as the outline for the book that precedes it (it’s drafted, but had to be re-outlined due to a lot of changes needed). I re-read character interviews and wrote a new one with some brand new characters.

I am not sure I am 100% ready, and actually hope to look over the outline again at some point today, before midnight. But I do know that, if necessary, I have enough to get started. I’ll be starting right at midnight (known as the midnight sprint). I do that every year, and whether I write 500 words or 3000 words, anything I get done before going to bed is a huge mental jump start on the month!

And fair warning: I will blog every day about my experience doing NaNoWriMo. I’ve done this nearly every year since starting this blog (the only exception was the year that I had just started full-time at a very demanding job, and what I was writing for NaNo that year was a difficult, personal subject, so frankly, I was doing good to even reach 50k that year).

There may be those who are curious about how others get through the month–I know I am, and most days I also spend some time reading blog posts by others about how their writing went that day. I have also found that I really enjoy being able to look back in later years and read about my progress through the month.

I will also share each day’s NaNoToons, which incidentally will be the last year for NaNoToons. (In fact, the first one for this year just went up! I’m so excited!!) And I’ll post episodes from the NaNoMusical throughout the month, because it’s one of the best things to come out of NaNoWriMo ever, and every Wrimo needs to know about it!

I wish my fellow Wrimos well, and hope to hear from some of you during the month! Please feel free to add me as a writing buddy!

Are you ready for NaNo to begin? Do you plan to do the midnight sprint tonight?

Book Review: The Butterfly Recluse

Finished Reading: The Butterfly Recluse
by Therese Heckenkamp

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian romance (YA?)

Butterfly

Lila lives alone in a secluded location and hasn’t leave her property for pretty much anything for years. She raises butterflies and is happy to just be alone with them. Until her life is disrupted by a man who wants her to sell him some butterflies for a butterfly release at her sister’s wedding. Harvey’s presence and persistence chip away at the fortress she’s built around herself and make her question if she’s really happy with her life the way it is.

On the surface, The Butterfly Recluse is a sweet, clean romance with some simple faith thrown in. There is a twist near the end and an action-filled climax. For me, it was a middle-of-the-road read. Harvey’s persistence annoyed me, and it was difficult for me to like him for a while.

Lila’s reclusiveness was what first interested me in the book. I am an extreme everything social (shy introvert with extreme social anxieties and even anti-social at times) that could easily lead to becoming a recluse in the right circumstances. In the end, though, her reasons for becoming a recluse weren’t related to her personality so much as caused by PTSD from a traumatic event in the past. Even still, she seemed to overcome her near-agoraphobia a little too easily from my perspective. And as far as her PTSD goes, I could see where the author was bring it out, but I felt it was swept away too easily in some areas. Meanwhile, at one point, she really overreacts to what I assumed was an innocent statement (we never really know for sure) related to her past trauma, for the sake of the plot.

The romance was sweet, but also very cliche and filled with tropes. The way the two characters flirted early on, when they’d barely met, seemed like something out of a TV show for kids/teens. Of course, I didn’t realize it was a YA novel until now, because it wasn’t listed that way on site I read it through, and the main characters are adults. For that reason, the romance may be spot-on, though still not for me.

I had some inklings about the plot twist, but still didn’t actually see it coming when it happened. The climax was a little overdone for me, but I think it would still appeal to many. I would say people who enjoy clean, YA romance would very possibly enjoy this book, and for others, it’s worth checking out other reviews to decide if you want to read it or not.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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

Book Review: Priceless

Finished Reading: Priceless: She’s Worth Fighting For
by Joel & Luke Smallbone

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian fiction

Priceless.png

“…you are a pearl of great price. Do not cheapen your own treasure.”

After a terrible accident claimed his wife, and bad choices result in the loss of custody of his daughter, James is desperate to get back on his feet so he can be with his daughter again. With reservation, he takes a cash job driving a truck for a delivery, but before he reaches his destination, he discovers that the cargo is human–two young, Mexican women. He follows through on the delivery, believe he is simply transporting illegal aliens, but at the end of the trip, there is no doubt that these young women are destined for something that no woman should have to be part of. He can’t just return home and leave them to their fate.

While the beginning of the book was a little difficult to get through, and it took some time for me to warm up to James, the overall story, and the message of this book, are well worth the read. I knew the basic story here, having seen the movie when it first came out 3 years ago, but didn’t remember the details, and found myself caught up in it as the story unfolded.

The book starts with the death of James’s wife, and then with his stupid decision to traffic drugs, which promptly lands him in jail. It’s depressing and a little painful to read. I assume it was specifically that way to get James to the point where he’d do almost anything to make some money, especially with the threat of losing custody of his daughter completely, once he’s out of jail. But it still took some time and deliberate plodding through to get to the beginning of the real story–when he discovers the women in the truck. Again I say, it’s worth it.

The writing could be better, but to be honest, I didn’t care. I can live with some weak sentences and a slightly confusing line now and then for something so important. The heart of this story was to shed light on the sex trafficking that is far too prevalent in the shadows in our world. Seeing what these women go through in various stages of being forced into prostitution is heartbreaking and really makes you root for James and his new friend Dale.

Speaking of Dale–he’s my favorite character in the book, but to be honest, I don’t know if I would have loved him quite so much if I didn’t remember him from the movie, played so well by David Koechner. Still, he is a great friend and helper to James, and it is mainly Dale who infuses the spark of faith in God back into James. While the Christianity presented in the book isn’t very strong, I think it comes across clearly enough, especially near the end.

I am not the most emotional person, but during the last 2 chapters, I think I cried more than I ever have over a book before. The message of the book can be summed up with this quote: “…there’s a God who knows exactly what you’re worth…” It was basically everything I would have wanted for an ending to this story. Sadly, it doesn’t end this way for most women in similar situations to this.

I definitely recommend this book for Christians to read, but really, for anyone who has a daughter, sister, or any female friends or relatives…or is a female herself. It really carries past the sex trade and into our everyday lives, affecting how we see ourselves, and how we value ourselves and feel we should be valued.

Find out more about Priceless and Joel & Luke (for King and Country)
Listen to “Priceless,” the song (it’s a shortened version and the video is a little spoilery, but the best one I could find on YouTube)

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Title Differently

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week was “Books I’d Give Different Titles To.” For this list, I definitely had to stick with books that I had read or that were on my TBR, because otherwise, I can imagine being sucked into a black hole of book titles and blurbs. I was only able to come up with 7, with 5 that I’ve read and 2 that I plan to read someday. There was an additional suggestion to give alternative titles, but that’s one of my weakest areas in my own writing, so I am going to skip that suggestion. Without further ado:

1. Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell
I get the book’s name–the main character is invisible during half of it. But I think it’s very weak and otherwise makes little sense. The series is titled Nanostealth, and all of the books have the word “Stealth” in their titles. I don’t know about the rest of the series titles yet, but this one I think could have been better. (See my review for this book.)

2. The Inquisition by Taran Matharu
This is the middle book in the Summoner trilogy, and the other two are aptly named. This one, however, is not. The Inquisition it mentions is such a small part of the entire book, we get past it to much more exciting things early on. I would have liked to see the title reflect more of the full story. (See my review for this book.)

3. Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card
To be honest, I have a more difficult time explaining my issue with this title. I think it might be because of the way the main character’s micro power of finding things is so analyzed to death, it’s almost like they talk their way out of the title making sense. (See my review for this book.)

4. Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock
I know this title was meant to at least partially reference one of the main characters’ profession as a smoke jumper. I assume it had a double meaning, referring to the secrets and mystery there to be uncovered. However, since that mystery angle didn’t really fill as much of the book as I expected, the title falls flat for me. (See my review for this book.)

5. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
I haven’t read this yet, though it’s on my short list, so I can only go by the blurb. But no matter what the book is about, the title has a silly redundancy to it. It is a book for a younger audience, but it has enough seriousness to it that the title seems weird. I am open to the possibility that reading the book will shed light on the title though.

6. Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
I know that my reasoning for including this book is not fair to it, but the first few times I saw this book, I assumed it was related to Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not, not even remotely, and is actually about a Soviet work camp in the 1940s. As far as I can tell, this book came out a couple months before Fifty Shades, and I wonder how many other people over the years have thought it was related. I’m glad I discovered it wasn’t, and hope to have a chance to read it someday.

7. The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken
The book is part of a series called True Colors, and all of the books (written by different authors) have a color in the title. In the case of this book, though, it was a pretty good stretch to be able to get that color in the title. The book involves a band of grave robbers, and the titular lantern provides light for these nocturnal activities. However, the grave robbing was such a minor (and muddled) aspect of the book, the lantern really had a tiny role, and the title just doesn’t work for me. I actually have the ARC for another book in this series on my list to read soon (The Gray Chamber by Grace Hitchcock), and I’ll be very interested to see if the colorful title holds up for that one.  (See my review for this book.)

Have you read any of these? What would you add to the list?

Book Review: The Dinner Party

Finished Reading: The Dinner Party
by R.J. Parker

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Thriller

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

Four couples attend a dinner party as friends, but dark secrets are boiling just beneath the surface. A trust game pits husband and wife against each other, and the next day, two of the guests are dead, while the other guests are left to figure out why.

For a book that is meant to be “an addictive and twisty psychological thriller,” it didn’t provide many thrills. If the book had not started with the main character, Ted, fighting for his life, I don’t know if I would have gotten through it nearly as quickly as I did. As it was, I did want to know how it got to that point, but it was quite a chore to get there. And more than once, I got to the end of a chapter and had no real compulsion to continue immediately, like I’d expect to have in a good book, especially a good thriller.

All four of the couples came across dull and lifeless to me–not necessarily as individual people, but in their relationships. Ted and his wife probably showed the biggest spark of life, but that was likely just because he was the main character. As such, I had a difficult time connecting with anyone in the book.

After the first murder victim appeared, most of the suspense seemed to be attempted through Ted questioning things repetitively–like why the victim had died, if the person they’d suspected to be the murderer had really done it, and if “the game” was responsible.

And that brings me to one of my biggest gripes. This trust game that they played was silly at best, yet became far too pivotal in the book. Everyone but Ted basically decided that the police shouldn’t know about it, or they’d all be blamed for the death…I mean, just far too much emphasis was put on this party game. And worse yet, it turned out to be a big part of the underlying cause for everything.

In the end, the reason behind each death was weak and, frankly, boring. I had theories of twisty goodness that would be revealed at the end, but when it ended, and no exciting twists had occurred, I basically was left with my mouth hanging open, and not in a good way. No, I didn’t guess at the motive behind the killings, but that didn’t make it good. A few surprises and betrayals did come up in the second half, especially relating to Ted’s wife, but none of them delivered on the punch they set up.

For those who want to know about how clean a book is before reading–there are no sexual situations and no language whatsoever that I can recall. The violence and bloodshed does get a bit much near the end, but nothing more than I could handle (and my threshold is fairly low).

I really wanted this book to deliver on its twisty promises, but it was unimpressive. It wasn’t terrible, though, and I think there are those who will enjoy it. It just really wasn’t for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter for providing me a copy of this book to review.  

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

Book Review: The Battlemage

Finished Reading: The Battlemage
Summoner
Trilogy #3
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Fantasy

Battlemage

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the trilogy, The Novice and The Inquisition.

The Battlemage picks up immediately after the previous story’s end, with the main character, Fletcher, and what’s left of his unit jumping into the otherworldy ether to escape the enemy. They must find a way to return home, and then deal with the aftermath of their mission in the jungle, which ended in treachery and betrayal. Meanwhile, the orcs are poised to invade Fletcher’s country with an army that might be too large to overcome.

This book did a great job of wrapping up the entire trilogy, while being a fully story on its own. I was a lot more excited going into this one than into the 2nd one, based on the cliffhanger at the end of the previous books, and the ether didn’t disappoint. The book was more distinctly 3 separate acts than any book I’ve really ever read, and the second act was also a lot of fun to read. By the third act, I knew what was coming, and it did end up being my least favorite part of the book. But that is purely personal preference, as I’ll explain further below.

It was great to see back some of the characters from the first book, and a little from the second. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see much more of Arcturus, and overall, he wasn’t in the trilogy as much as I would have hoped and expected, especially considering that the prequel is about his history.

I enjoyed the middle act, where we really get to see Fletcher grow as a leader, and where the race warfare throughout the trilogy comes to a head, a lot more than I would have thought I would.  But I knew what was looming–the big war with the orcs. I don’t personally care for large-scale, devastating wars in books, so that’s why the third act my least favorite. It was made better by getting to see Fletcher’s ingenuity though, plus I like the addition of the demons during the fighting.

The ending of the book had some moments I was really happy to see, but also failed to wrap up some storylines in a way I would have preferred. However, I wasn’t left with the feeling that anything was completely neglected, so I can’t really complain. For some reason, I was just left with this feeling of it being anti-climactic, but I can’t explain why. I think it’s just because I would have liked more in the series in general. Overall, this entire trilogy was a solid 4 stars for me.

After reading the first book, I described it as a mix between Harry Potter and Pokemon, even though at the time, I hadn’t read any Harry Potter. I have read the first 2 in the series now, and I stand by my assessment, but only of the first book. The second and third books could better be compared to Warcraft, or even LoTR somewhat. In general, though, I would recommend this trilogy to anyone who enjoys magical fantasy books.

Find out more about The Battlemage

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Extraordinary Book Titles

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week was “Extraordinary Book Titles.” This topic is broad and undefined, so I went through my TBR and Read lists on Goodreads and picked 10 books with titles that stood out to me in some way. Whether they were comical, unique, or just perfect for the story, here is my list, in no particular order:

1. The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters
This title is ominous, and I have a feeling the actual book won’t quite live up to that. But it is initially what led me to check into the book request it on Netgalley. I’ll be reading it soon.

2. The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
It’s easy to explain why this title stuck out to me–I am an escape room enthusiast and worked at an escape room company for over 3 years. I know the actual escape room content in the book will be light, based on reviews, but I’ve still decided to give it a try at some point.

3. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
I love this book title, and I love the person who wrote it! The title kept her from being able to get it published traditionally, but it’s about dealing with PMS with humor, from a Christian perspective, so the title is perfect. I am looking forward to reading this when I have a chance to locate a copy.

4. How We Became Wicked by Alexander Yates
The title caught my interest quickly; otherwise, I likely wouldn’t have put much thought into this one. I am not really a zombie person in any medium, but I read the first few pages of this, and I’m planning to give it a go.

5. His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac
So again, I’m really not a fan of zombie fiction (books, movies, TV or games). So the fact that I have 3 zombie apocalypse books on my TBR, and 2 just on this list, probably makes no sense. Still, I’m going to give this one a try, hopefully by the end of the year, in support of a fellow new author. The name isn’t what initially drew me to this book, but I do think it has a nice ring to it.

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I read this for the first time in high school, and remember how interesting it was to learn that the title was a reference to the temperature at which paper burns. It’s perfect for the book, of course, and I’ve always really appreciated the title.

7. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
This is another book I read in high school. My English class had read Hamlet that year, and then later read this play. Everyone knows the sacrificial heroes are going to die, whether because they know Hamlet, or because of the title…but they do make it entertaining along the way.

8. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The title of this book is a clear indication of the mystery found within. It’s a little strange, though, that the question of whose murder the narrator is supposed to solve seems like a mystery, for at least the first quarter of the book, and then it’s a big reveal when it’s discovered…but the name is right there in the title. Other than that though, good title. (Note: the original title is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but had to be changed in the US.)

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Considering the subject matter of this book, and the extreme 80s & video game references, the title of this book is perfect. I don’t actually have more to say about this one.

10. Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
This book for those who struggle with feeling like an outcast in the American church culture is perfect for introverts and socially awkward people like myself. And the title, borrowing from a section of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is clever.

Have you read any of these? What would you add to the list?