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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Book Review: The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials
The Maze Runner #2
by James Dashner

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, The Maze Runner.

I liked The Maze Runner. It had its issues, sure, but I enjoyed it and was looking forward to seeing what came next. This book almost killed my interest in the series. I was happy to see more of certain characters from the previous book, but the plot was convoluted and Teresa was a bad caricature of an angsty teenager.

So much of this book seemed completely unnecessary. The things that were designed by WICKED felt like such obvious contrivances, especially by the end, that I can’t help but wonder what Dashner was doing. Did he have the entire trilogy figured out in advance? It seemed more like he wrote himself into a corner with the first book and just decided to go with it. I’m trying to have faith that it will make actual sense in the end, but I don’t see how head-eating liquid metal is something that will help anyone save the world.

And as for the relationship between Thomas and Teresa…I just couldn’t care less anymore. I was good with it in the first book, even liked the uniqueness of their bond. But now, they’re just a vehicle for angst. And a pointless love triangle. And angst. Seriously, the teen drama in this book… Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me if the plot had advanced really at all, if any real questions had been answered.

I’m invested now, though, so I’ll read the third one and soon, so I can put to rest the questions and The Question of whether or not it delivers on the interest I had after reading the first book.

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Book Review: Jubilee Manor

Jubilee Manor
Landry Park
#2
by Bethany Hagen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Dystopian romance

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book, Landry Park.

As Madeline, her family, and the estate deal with the actions at the end of Landry Park, one of Madeline’s fellow gentry heirs is murdered. Madeline suspects a particularly hateful Rootless man, which puts her at odds with her uncle and cousin, as well as with David Dana. A second murder only serves to escalate the threat of violence between the Rootless and the gentry, as Madeline feels caught in the middle, hoping to make a difference, but unsure of who will listen.

This short book series has a difficult-to-define quality to it that gives it a charm and depth that I really enjoyed. Several surprises came up in this book, and though a few threads were still left hanging, overall, it was a nice conclusion to the short series.

Most of the things that bothered me in the first book were gone in this one. The relationship between Madeline and David deepened in a way that did still cause a lot of drama for Madeline, but it was based on a real conflict, rather than the immature-feeling jealousy in the first book. They argued a lot over Madeline’s insistence that the murderer was a Rootless man, though, and there were several things about that whole situation that bothered me–probably the biggest detraction in the entire book for me.

The mystery wasn’t very deep or intriguing, but it was a good catalyst for the plot. I wouldn’t go as far as to put this book into the mystery genre, but I think fans of romance and dystopian worlds, especially those who also like books set in the Victorian or Regency eras should give this 2-book series a try.

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Book Review: Time and Again

Time and Again
History Mystery #1
by Deborah Heal

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian sci-fi

Abby takes a volunteer job as a live-in summer tutor for an eleven-year-old named Meredith and moves into their large, old house in a once-thriving railroad town. After spending some time trying to bring the unhappy, spoiled Meredith around to the idea of studying, and exploring the neighborhood a bit, Abby and Meredith discover a strange secret on the brand new computer Abby’s estranged dad bought her–they can follow their house back in time and watch the lives of people who lived there in the past.

The first thing I want to say is don’t get too hung up on the categorization of this book as “time travel.” It’s not what almost anyone would really consider time travel. Abby and Meredith can watch the past, and even in some nebulous way “hear thoughts” from at least one person they’re watching, but there is no traveling in time. They call it time surfing. And while I did have some issues with this book, by the end, I realized I had mostly enjoyed it, and plan to continue with the series.

It takes a long time for anything to really happen. We get to know Abby and Meredith as the former gets settled in and the latter balks against all forms of learning. I found Abby to be not a terribly nice person, kind of even haughty sometimes. And Meredith is just a spoiled brat, plain and simple. She acts older than her age at first too, especially when she’s acting out. I also had to wonder if college-student Abby had ever interacted with a boy before when she meets John Roberts and acts like a middle-schooler.

When the time surfing really got going, I found myself a lot more wrapped up in both of the storylines. Meredith began to be less bratty, probably as much because she’s got someone spending time with her and showing real interest (make no mistake–divorce and single parent-ship can be really hard on a child). And the story of Charlotte, the young woman who lived in the house in and around the Civil War, was interesting.

There are a few things that really took me out of the story, which are likely a result of the book being self-published. A jarring lack of scene transitions, for example. And, for a book so focused on history, I was seriously shocked to see Abby say that in pre-Civil War times, Illinois (the state they’re in) bordered the slave state of Ohio. Not only has Illinois never bordered Ohio (Indiana is in between), but Ohio was not a slave state.

The book is novella-length and not a difficult read by any means. I’m definitely curious to see where the series goes from here. I would recommend this book for readers of Christian fiction, especially those who like history.

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Book Review: Armada

Armada
by Ernest Cline

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Science fiction

When Zack Lightman sees an alien ship from his favorite video game flying around outside the window at school, he’s sure he’s going crazy. He’d just be following in the footsteps of his dad, who’d died when Zack was a baby. Zack had found notes his dad had kept about a massive conspiracy that involved just about every alien-related movie, TV show, and video game ever made being used to prepare the world for a real alien invasion. But when he finds out that it’s all real, and so is that ship he saw out the window, and that he and other gamers are going to be called upon to save the world, will he be up to the task?

As someone who isn’t a huge fan of this type of sci-fi, I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I am aware of the similarities to The Last Starfighter, but don’t really remember that movie. Still, even I felt like this whole story had been done before, and that there wasn’t enough of a new twist on it in this book to make it fresh. In the end, I was left feeling like the slow build-up didn’t have enough of a pay off.

My husband thought I’d like it more than Ready Player One, though couldn’t explain why. I think it might be due to the fact that the heavy amount of 80s references in RPO were lost on me, and perhaps he thought references in Armada to Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. might hit closer to home. Unfortunately, they didn’t. This was partly because the references to things I actually know more were lighter than those to movies and games I don’t have much, if any, knowledge of. But it’s also partly because the references saturated the story so much. Characters quoted movies or games with no context, events or situations were likened to movies, etc. that I wasn’t as versed in as they were, and thus, I couldn’t get into the story like I was probably meant to. And in the end, if you strip away all of these sci-fi pop culture references, what do you have? Just a simple invasion story that’s mostly been done before.

Yes, there was a bit of a twist at the end, but it wasn’t that shocking or interesting to me. By that point, the events and narration had led me to a point where I didn’t feel like I could trust anything that anyone said, anything that happened. The truth that was revealed was even speculated by Zack earlier in the book, which made the reveal that much less exciting.

The only time I really remember feeling all that interested in what was going on was at the very end, after the reveal. The falling action and the epilogue…that’s what I wanted to know more about. But if a sequel to this book ever came out, I don’t know if I would care enough to read it.

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Book Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner
Book #1
by James Dashner

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

I’ve not read any of the big-name YA dystopian series that have been popular over the years, so this is my first foray into those books. I liked this story–both the plot in this book, and the larger story that it sets up. While there were some things that I felt could have been done better, they were not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment.

I found the immediate world-building–the Glade and maze around it–interesting and fun to explore (if “fun” is the right word, given the situation). It felt a lot like a community a bunch of teenage boys would create. And Thomas himself I found to be an engaging main character. Others have seen him as a Gary Stu-type (too good at everything), I didn’t see it that way at all. Yes, he had his areas of innate ability, but I didn’t find it to be overly done, and there were legitimate reasons for all of it.

One thing that bugged me the most was the fake cussing. I get the reason Dashner included it (or at least, my assumption of his reason), but in the context of the story, it really didn’t make sense. The boys remembered the world overall, just had no personal memories, so why did they feel the need to make up their own swear words? And speaking of those memories, the progression of life as we know it to the dystopian world these people inhabit seems a little off in conjunction with the things they remember. Especially adding in some other factors that would be a spoiler to mention.

While there were plenty of predictable things that happened, the danger was real, and it kept me moving quickly through the entire book. My husband started listening to the audiobook at the same time, which is not something we’ve ever done before. I’m also looking forward to continuing the series, and hope we’ll do so together.

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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: Time Benders: The Machine

Time Benders: The Machine
Time Benders #1
by J.B. Yanni

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: YA science fiction, Christian

Time Benders

When the four Fitzgerald children are orphaned, their aunt sends them off to boarding school. There, the four siblings grow closer than they had ever been before, as they rely on each other in their grieving and new, sudden situation. As the kids settle into life at the school, eldest sibling Ken begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding their aunt taking custody of the kids and excluding them from the will reading. Meanwhile, his brother Joe, a math and science whiz, finds a fascinating math problem, coupled with a machine. When he discovers that the calculation might just be the secret to time travel, the kids have to decide whether or not they should go back and prevent their parents’ death, and how they would even do that.

I have to say that this book was really not for me. There were two main areas that brought the story down the most for me, and sadly one of them was the plot itself. The other area was the writing style. I’ll explain a little:

Time travel plots can be difficult to do well, and since they always require suspension of disbelief, for some people, it doesn’t pay to be too picky about what you’re expecting from one. However, the assumptions the kids make in this book about how time travel would work for them and anyone who didn’t come along one the trip make no logical sense to me. And even when they see evidence that it doesn’t work that way, I don’t see them re-thinking their ideas. Also, they decide to go back and change a major point in history (won’t say what it is due to spoilers), because they feel that it will stop the beginning of a long progression of events that led to their parents death. And yet, they say more than once that they’re sure changing this major point won’t affect their friends’ families and lives. Even after saying that this event will potentially change another event in history, which affected millions of lives. It just makes no sense to me. And it’s not because they’re kids, since they’re generally shown to be smart (the oldest, who isn’t even one of the professed brains in the family, is going to Harvard). Oh, and I almost forgot that as the kids debate whether they even should go back to stop their parents’ deaths or not, their arguments actually make it seem like they’re against doing it…even as they decide to do it.

The writing itself seemed like it needed some more work. From the very beginning the dialog just felt stilted, and I realized that the kids don’t use contractions as much as an average person in America would. A lot of the story is told in a way that feels very zoomed out, rather than up close to the action. Conversations are told to the reader, rather than shown. For example, “she told him she wanted to go to the store, and he said he thought that was a good idea,” rather than seeing the actual conversations taking place. Coupled with these zoomed-out conversations having little to no explanation of what anyone was doing while talking, they felt shallow. A lot of the time, the story felt more like an outline (though granted, a really detailed outline) than a final draft.

I found the question of whether or not there was something sinister in the way Aunt Alicia handled the estate and kids she was charged with after her sister’s death more interesting than the time travel part of the story, which is sad, because it kind of fizzled out. The rest of the plot involved everyday life for the kids–they had classes, holidays away from school, got boyfriends/girlfriends, at least one lost a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. I think far too much of that was shown, considering how little it affected the plot, but it probably wouldn’t have bothered me too much without the other issues I’ve mentioned, or if it would have at least served to show the kids’ personalities more. But there wasn’t much there.

I found this book when I saw the author was putting out the 2nd in the series, and wanted to see if it would be a good series to get into. Even though the first book ends on a huge cliffhanger, I don’t think it hooked me enough to put money into reading the next one. There may be an audience out there for this book, and it might just be the teenage audience that it’s meant for, though I personally wouldn’t recommend it to the YA group either. The book is in at least 1 Christian category on Amazon, and I could see where some of that was trying to come out. It might be brought out more in the next installment, but I can only speculate. I applaud the author for the work she’s put into this book, truly, but I think it needs quite a bit more work to be the great book it could be.

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