Book Review: The Compass

The Compass
The Adventures of Niko Monroe
#2
by Tyler Scott Hess

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian fantasy/sci-fi

It’s been a year since Jack’s unexpected adventure in the mind of Niko Monroe some time in the future, with no new rumblings from the map and letters that sucked him in. When new markings appear on the papers, he’s not prepared for what happens next to Niko and his friends, for whom a year has also passed.

Though I enjoyed the book that preceded this one, I had some difficulties with both storylines of book 2. There are basically two different stories being told—that of Jack in present time, hoping to complete a group social studies project in time for Christmas Eve and that of Niko dealing with a future where a specific group of people are heavily persecuted for their beliefs. In the present time, Jack and his friends are 11 years old working on a project where they’re supposed to create a people group complete with culture, language, etc. While it makes some sense for Jack’s glimpses into Niko’s life and the future world to influence his work on this project, it doesn’t influence him in ways that make much of sense to me. In fact, the kids’ discussion of the project doesn’t always make sense to me in general, and they seem to go around in circles a lot. These kids also talk and act far older than 11, and one of them is way too quick to resort to violence in response to even mild joking. Along with some other issues I had, it all led to me feeling really disconnected from this side of the story.

Unfortunately, I also felt pretty disconnected from the other side of the story too. Niko spends all of his time either in prison (sometimes the prison is plush, but it’s still prison) or on the run. But his counterparts spend a lot of time learning, doing, and acting. Then Niko hears about it after the fact in very vague snippets, as they are always hesitant to give him any real information. So the reader doesn’t really know anything either, until things are revealed near the end, which are too little, too late. It all felt a little too contrived to provide suspense, but mostly I just felt left out. And on that note, I was really hoping that the Maiden would not turn out to be who she ended up turning out to be, because it seems too cliche and I don’t really get it.

I think what I was really missing, though, was the “why.” I mentioned in my review of the first book that the beliefs the persecuted people are following is probably meant to be Christianity, but it’s not stated all that clearly. They reference the “King” a lot, but there weren’t even any references to God in this book, while the previous book had at least a few. In fact, the one thing from the previous book that had seemed to be God intervening turns out to have been an act of man! Essentially, the people in this book are being persecuted for not falling in line with the government more than anything else. They even state themselves that what they most want is just to be left alone, to be free. It’s usually a secondary statement that they would also want to share their beliefs with others. But what beliefs? Because I really don’t know what they believe other than that “the King” will guide their paths, even though it seems more like it’s the Maiden who’s been guiding their paths.

As is the case with so many reviews I write, it’s clear that there are plenty of other people who really enjoyed this book, so please be sure to check out their reviews at the link below if the book is of interest to you.

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Book Review: Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi suspense

When Ryland Grace wakes up and finds himself on a spaceship with 2 dead roommates and no memory of who he is, why he’s there, or how he got there, he certainly never expected to find out he’s on a mission to save the earth. As his memory falteringly returns and he discovers he may not be as alone as he thought, he will tax his abilities—both physical and mental—and his ship to give humanity a fighting chance.

I haven’t been as captivated by a book as I was by this one in a long time. I read it in 2 days, which is at least half the time I’d normally read a book of this length, because I was so enthralled and just kept wanting to come back to it. The story was creative, the characters were engaging, and the math and science were…well, they were math and science. I zoned out a few times when it got a little over my head and scanned the text for the spot where the point would be made. Those moments didn’t bother me, thoughI just nodded and moved on.

The story tends to go back and forth between the present time on the ship and the recent past back on Earth. The past scenes serve to show both us and Grace why he’s way out in space. Even when the reader thinks they know everything necessary from that time (or at least thinks they can infer it), there’s a little more to know. Personally, I liked the past scenes as much as the present. It was interesting to see Weir’s take on what could happen if catastrophe were looming and humanity was forced to work together or be wiped out.

Understandably, there are not a whole lot of characters in this book, especially those that are given much “screen” time. There’s Grace, of course, who may know more than seems reasonable for his past, but I enjoyed the book enough to not be bothered by it. He’s got a cheesy sense of humor and a determination that doesn’t preclude him from having moments of doubt. Fortunately, he has a counterpart through much of the book who spurs him on when he’s ready to give up, and vice versa. Rocky, along with the friendship that develops between Rocky and Grace, is certainly a highlight of the book. There’s not a whole lot more I can say without giving at least minor spoilers (though odds are pretty good if you read other reviews you’ll be spoiled anyway, as many people don’t see the explanation of Rocky as a spoiler…and maybe it’s not, but I’d rather be cautious). There are so many times when the interactions between Grace and Rocky made me laugh out loud. It’s so great! Also, the endingnever saw it coming!

The question that seems to be on most people’s minds is whether or not this book is too similar to Weir’s first book, The Martian. There are certainly some similarities, but the plot is very different. Whatney’s main conflict is simply survival, then if possible a return to Earth. Grace’s main conflict is to do the science to figure out how to save Earth, and…well, for a while, at least, that’s pretty much it. They’re really only similar in that they’re both one man working alone in space. Some will say that Grace is a copy of Whatney. I have read The Martian once and seen the movie twice, so I don’t think I know it enough to speak to that. They approach problems and science the same way, so I guess there’s that. I also want to mention, for those who are curious, that there is way less language in this book than there was in The Martian. Grace himself only uses “fake” swear words, so the only real language comes from the past scenes, and it’s considerably light. Some might be interested to know, however, that this book takes an evolution-as-fact approach to the universe, evolution being a very heavy topic in the latter half or so of the book. It’s very common for sci-fi to be written with that worldview, but it is pushed pretty heavily. Overall, though, I highly recommend this book to anyone who even remotely enjoys sci-fi books.

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

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Book Review: Rabbits

Rabbits
by Terry Miles

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi/fantasy, suspense

There’s a game that may not really be a game. Players aren’t supposed to talk about it, at least not in specific terms. They call it Rabbits, and playing involves finding patterns in the world around you, coincidences or even discrepancies. Follow the clues and try to win, because winning means unimaginable rewards that no one knows for sure exist, just like no one knows for sure who the winners of the first 10 iterations of the game were. A man named K has been obsessed with the game for years, so when he’s approached by a man rumored to have won in the past and told that something is wrong with the game, and it’s up to K to fix it before the next iteration begins or the entire world is in danger, of course he has to try to help. But will he be too late?

The synopsis of this book (which is better written than mine above) really intrigued me. I loved the idea of a mysterious game with the entire world—universe, even—as the playing field. Unfortunately, the book was mostly just bizarre and repetitive and lacked the real punch and follow-through I was looking for. I read the book pretty quickly, not because I was excited and caught up in it, but because I was confused and a little frustrated and wanted to push to get to that place where everything is explained and suddenly makes sense. Sadly, that moment never happened.

After the possible former winner approaches K and tells him that he has to fix the game, the story mostly consists of the same format repeated over and over–K (and sometimes his friend Chloe too) researches/digs/looks for clues, hits a dead end and gives up, suddenly has a revelation that generally comes one of two ways—either someone randomly gives him a clue or he just happens to see a random item in the room he’s in that makes him think in a new way—then is off digging again before hitting that next dead end. During this repetitive meat of the book, K is remarkably knowledgeable about almost everything he needs to know to solve these things. He has to look up one or two things, but for the most part, he’s versed in movies, music, & books (foreign and domestic), art, architecture, and constellations. No real reason is given for him having all of this knowledge (he has an eidetic memory, but he’d still have to have been exposed to a lot), and to make it worse, the fellow-sort-of-player that is helping him through all of this, Chloe, never really has the surprising and sudden knowledge at just the right time.

K has a lot of strange things happen to him throughout the course of this book, and Chloe often asks him if he’s okay. Even after he’s admitted to her some of the mind-bending things that he’s seen, he still inevitably lies to her when she checks on him and tells her he’s okay. Literally every time, it’s, “I’m fine,” with almost no variation. And then there’s the heavy language throughout the book. Even when I was in high school, I knew that people who liked to drop the f-word into every other sentence didn’t have much in the way of a vocabulary. Apparently that is the case with every single character in this book, without even the allowance for the possibility that anyone they meet along the way may not talk the same way that everyone else does. I don’t read a lot of books with heavy language like this, but never before have I gotten to the point where it felt like the author was an 11-year-old who was out of hearing of his parents and cussing just because he can. That’s what this made me feel like.

(Warning, this paragraph contains some minor spoilers.) Even with everything I’ve said above, I probably would have given the book a little higher of a rating if it weren’t for the utter lack of a payoff in the end. There’s this science presented in the 2nd half of the book that was pretty baffling to me, but I was hanging in there, doing my best to understand just enough to see how the plot paid off. I’m not sure how much of what didn’t make sense to me was due to my lack of understanding of this kind of thing and how much was due to the author sort of hand-waving some of it, but I was hanging in there. Then we get to the end and…all of that, all of the science and urgency, is just…brushed off. We’re presented with 2 new theories about what’s been happening, and then the book ends with no real answers and with everything I was doing my best to understand is just thrown out the window. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a book wasted the time it took me to read it more than this one did, and the only reason it’s 2 stars is because I really do think the idea is good, the beginning was good, and I’m sure a lot of work was put into writing and editing this book.

As for whether or not you might like it…if you’re a major gamer, into fringe culture, or know anything at all about the darknet, you really might like this book. It reminded me of Ready Player One, in that there were quite a few references to movies, music, and games, a lot of it vintage. And like RPO, a lot of it was completely unnecessary. A major setting in the book is an arcade, and when a character just happens to be leaning on a game cabinet, I don’t need to know what the name of the game is unless it’s going to matter to the story. On the other hand, my husband would probably love to know because he spent a lot of time in arcades as a kid (he also liked all of the references in RPO more than I did). So definitely make the decision for yourself, if this book sounds interesting. You can also check out other reviews at the link below.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: June 8, 2021

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Book Review: The Legend of Annie Murphy

The Legend of Annie Murphy
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #7
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure, mystery (with some sci-fi)

When investigating tales of a ghost sighting, the Cooper family–dad Jacob and teens Jay and Lila–find themselves caught up in a mystery 100 years in the making. A woman who’d been accused of killing her husband out of greed 100 years in the past was killed while escaping her punishment, and now her ghost is being seen around the ruins of the long-abandoned town.

I spent the first third or so of this book completely flabbergasted. The beginning of the story was such a departure from the previous books in the series, I was certain it was going to turn out that something else was going on. But when it became clear that Jacob’s friend Mac’s theory about a gravity vortex causing time and space to go wonky was actually what was going on, I struggled to accept it and move on. Eventually, I reminded myself that it’s not necessarily against the theme of this series of books. Sometimes there’s not much suspension of disbelief to swallow, while other times, God-attributed supernatural events occur.

With that understanding in mind, I can view this book a little differently than I did while listening to a lot of it. The story, then, with the vehicle of time travel in place, becomes about solving the mystery of the legend, finding out what really happened 100 years ago. And that itself is a good story. The kids follow along as the story is told in the past, while their dad and his friend try to sort it out in the present time, and it’s interesting how it all plays out. I won’t say there isn’t some predictability to it, at least to an adult reader, but I think the age group its meant for won’t have read as many mysteries or seen as many TV shows or movies as adults have, making it more fresh for them. I again enjoyed listening to the audiobook and would say that, though it may seem outlandish at first, it’s a good story overall and worth reading if you’re interested.

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Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Book #1
by Douglas Adams
read by Stephen Fry

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Science fiction

This will probably be my shortest review ever, because I just don’t have a lot to say. I really wanted to like this book, to find it humorous and enjoyable like so many people I know. But I didn’t. I could see where the humor was supposed to be, but most of the time I didn’t find it particularly funny. Maybe a little clever, and I do remember laughing out loud once. I think part of this is that the humor was a bit too British for me, though I’ve enjoyed plenty of British comedy in the past, and part of it is because it just felt forced a lot of the time.

There was barely a plot, until maybe the last third or so, but not nearly soon enough to hook me. And from early in the book, I got the distinct impression that Douglas Adams does not hold much regard at all for humankind. It left me feeling a bit sad, really. I listened to the audiobook read by Stephen Fry and at times would just zone out when descriptions of insignificant things went on at length. As strange as it might sound after I gave it 2 stars, I might (might) read it again in the future, but this time read the actual book, and going into it knowing what kind of book it is, maybe I’ll be able to appreciate it more. But in the end, it’s probably just not the type of book for me.

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Book Birthday!

Pithea cover, Kindle

Guess what! Today is my book birthday! One year ago today, my first full-length novel, first in a series I’ve been working on for many years, was released out into the world! Eleven months later, I did it all over again with book #2, but nothing will ever be quite as exciting as the day that Pithea was released. (Go here to see what the book is about.)

I know many people were looking forward to the end of 2020 and the beginning of a new year, but let’s not be too quick to dismiss last year. I have a feeling that, despite the mess the year became, each of us could find something to celebrate from 2020. What’s yours?

Outcast Released!

My second full-length novel, book #2 in a series of futuristic speculative fiction with a Christian worldview, is now available to purchase as both an e-book and a paperback! I’m so excited to see this series continue! See synopsis below and go here to buy the book.

Outcast on Goodreads

OUTCAST

Deep in the desert of Pithea lives an order of mercenaries. Assassins, thieves—they’ll do anything for a price. They are known in whispers and rumors as the Class of Morano. To this unconventional family belongs one Natos Morano, a member since birth. When a woman he’s never met kidnaps him in order to convince him to leave the order, he will be forced to choose between the only family he’s ever known and his true family that is long gone.

Remiel Azrael thinks his choice is easy when he discovers a woman in desperate need. But sometimes the noblest intentions result in the most unfavorable repercussions. And when the woman’s situation turns out to be more dangerous than he realized, Remiel comes face to face with a demon he thought he’d buried.


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Book Review: Unclaimed Legacy

Unclaimed Legacy
History Mystery #2
by Deborah Heal

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian sci-fi

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Time and Again.

Abby’s summer tutoring job continues, but the computer program that allowed them to “time surf” the history of her pupil’s house has stopped working. When they house sit for a relative of a friend, though, the program invites them to view the history of a whole new area, this time alongside the handsome John Roberts. They get much more than they bargained for.

This second installment in the series is, to me, a step down from the first. While the story that they dig up in the lives of the past occupants of the house is more in-depth than what is shown in the first book, it’s also a lot darker. What bothers me more, though, is the story in the present time.

I’ll start with some good things before I get to what might seem like a rant. I really liked the little name game that John and Merri, Abby’s pupil, played throughout some of the story. I liked that the little boy with the deaf mother has people who care enough about him to help with his speech issues. And I did like the “Old Dears” as characters–maybe just a little over the top, but generally cute (the big secret between them notwithstanding). I also really liked Merri’s connection with the Old Dears. It was nice to see her come out of her shell more, even as her mom ignored her more than before and her dad acted like a typical fictional deadbeat dad (not quite so typical in the end, though).

However…if I wasn’t a fan of Abby (the main character, mind you) in the previous book, I just plain disliked her in this book. Her best friend, with whom she talks on the phone a few times throughout the book, refers to Merri as “chubster,” as well as several other unflattering, harsh terms, which she uses because Abby had previously used them in referring to Merri. Abby chides her friend, but only because Merri is trying to do better now, not because Abby recognizes that those were just horrible things to say about the 11-year-old girl she’s tutoring, who already has huge issues! If Merri had heard any of those terms, would she have just accepted that they were okay to use in the past, before she was “trying”? No, she’d probably be devastated.

Then there’s the developing relationship between Abby and John. The problem is that he tends to take off when things get a little intimate. This leads Merri’s mom to speculate that maybe he’s gay, because goodness knows he couldn’t possibly have any other reason to not paw a girl he likes. But thank goodness he checked out her butt so that we can lay that question to rest. Seriously? And there’s a friend of John’s who’s basically a 90s tech geek, right down to the 90s lingo. It was really strange.

This book, like the previous, has absolutely nothing in the way of mid-chapter scene transitions, which can be really jarring when you’re reading and suddenly it’s another day, location, etc. Overall, though, it’s the characters and present-day plot that make me not so sure I want to read the final book in this series. Especially since the synopsis involves Abby’s best friend who almost seemed offended when Abby told her not to call Merri a chubster, and who otherwise is a bit pushy and annoying to me. If you’re really into history, you may still find this series to your liking if the things I mentioned above don’t bother you. Definitely start with the first book, though.

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Book Review: The Death Cure

The Death Cure
The Maze Runner #3
by James Dashner

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, The Maze Runner & The Scorch Trials.

The first thought I had after I finished reading this book was, “Eh.” And in a lot of ways, that accurately sums up my thoughts on it. It was…okay. Not terrible (better than book #2), but not great either. The answers in this book only solidified my theory that Dashner did not have the trilogy planned out when he wrote the first book and didn’t really know where to go from the maze.

The reasoning behind all of the trials and “variables” was mediocre at best. Terminology was strange and didn’t always make sense (like “killzone”), and in the end, most of what was going on was not any more grand, exciting, or surprising than everything I guessed at along the way. The ending was more of what I would call a “non-ending.” Not satisfying in any way.

The characters didn’t get much better in this book. The only character I really liked throughout the series was shafted in this book. Teresa was even more pointless in this book than in the previous. And I seriously don’t get any kind of a feel for Brenda. So many people like her, but she seems fairly lifeless to me. And something she said near the beginning of this book, now that I think of it, makes no real sense and barely came into play.

So in the end, would I recommend this series? No. Not to adult readers, at least. Maybe teenagers get more out of it, I don’t know. It seems like it’s one of those that you either love or just don’t care for at all. I liked the first book, but the rest of the series didn’t deliver on that set-up. And I have no desire to read the two prequel books.

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Book Review: Redshirts

Redshirts
by Ernest Cline

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi comedy

As one of the new transfers to the Universal Union flagship Intrepid, Andy Dahl has a lot to learn. Including how to avoid being sent on an away mission at all costs, because the low-ranking members of the crew have a high mortality rate on away missions. There’s a pattern surrounding five particular high-ranking officers, though, who seem to be able to defy the laws of physics and biology. But while other crew members simply do their best to stay alive, Andy is determined to find the cause for this phenomenon and put a stop to it. And he can’t do it alone.

For a character writer/reader reading a book with not much in the way of character development, I really enjoyed this book. The humor that comes from seeing it all as characters in a scripted TV show being real people, especially for a fan of the Star Trek franchise, is what drives this ship. And it’s great! This book takes meta to a whole new level and had me laughing several times, especially during the first third.

It probably helps a lot, too, that I don’t mind the shallowness of the scenes. When I read my first Scalzi novel, Lock In, I noted that his writing style suited me–no frivolity, not much description. This is the case in this book as well, which I think turned a lot of people off. I didn’t mind.

My biggest complaint is two-fold: Too many characters had too similar of names (Dahl & Duvall, Hanson & Hester), which, combined with the lack of character development meant that I usually didn’t fully retain which character was talking at any given time. So basically, they were mostly interchangeable. Add to that terribly repetitive dialog tags, and conversations were difficult to get into.

The three codas were a little strange to me. I didn’t understand the need for the 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person–the 2nd person one especially was awkward from that POV, and would probably have been better as 3rd person. I did appreciate getting some of this information, but only the 3rd coda really meant much to me.

This book seems to be a hit-or-miss kind of thing, even for fans of sci-fi/Trek shows. For me, it was a hit. I enjoyed it for what it was meant to be, and really liked the way it all turned out. I do recommend that any fans of formulaic sci-fi in the ilk of Star Trek give this book a try.

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