Friday, February 20, 2015

Review of Through the Fog, by Michael C. Grumley

Through the Fog is the story of Evan Nash, an eighteen-year-old senior in high school whose life changed after a bike accident two weeks after his eighteenth birthday. The visions rob him of sleep and keep him awake every night, but that's nothing compared to what they do to his body while he's having one of them. 

Psychiatrist Shannon Mayer lost her daughter eighteen months ago when the seven-year-old disappeared from outside of her school. Shannon's husband, Dennis, was supposed to pick the little girl up from school, but he was called away to an emergency and she waited for forty-five minutes before disappearing. It's been eighteen months Ellie still hasn't been found.

When Dr. Mayer realizes that Evan's visions aren't subliminal and that he is actually seeing things, she uses him -- at his insistence -- to help her uncover the truth about her daughter.

Ugh. What a difficult book to review! I'll begin by saying that it's worth what I paid for it; And I got this book for free. At the same time, I enjoyed this short, fast-paced little book enough to finish it in a two-hour time span without putting it down except to eat.  The real problem with this book is its Kindle list price of $3.99. I couldn't justify paying that much for 170 poorly written pages.

I'm torn on this one, because it read fast and I enjoyed the book in and of itself. The quick pacing made it easy to read, and the story interested me enough to keep me reading. On the other hand, the characters were weak, the research poor, and the writing amateur. 

I might be wrong, but I get the feeling that this author could have done a lot better than what he did with this story. Too many loose ends leave me feeling unfulfilled upon finishing the book, and it had so much potential. The author needed to choose a single main character (the title character would have been a good pick) and stuck with that, then worked at expanding on the ideas in the story and on his characters.

Because of the price of this book (which is, frankly, much too high for such a short novel), I cannot in good conscious recommend it. Therefore...

I do not recommend Through the Fog (Evan After) to my readers.

As always, I want to point out what parents might want to think about when considering giving this book to their teenage children. I think that for the most part, this book is suitable for teenagers as young as fourteen, and I have no complaints as a mother. The only things you might want to look out for is listed below.
  • It contains some minor violence. It's not a lot, but there's just enough violence in this book that it might make some parents uncomfortable. I won't spoil the story for you, but I will say that the violence involves a gun.
  • It contains mature themes. While this book isn't what I would call a "mature" book, it does contain mature themes, including kidnapping and serious illness, that may not be suitable for more sensitive readers.
I have no interest at all in buying the second book in this series.

What are your thoughts on Through the Fog? Are you planning to read the sequel when it is available? Do you recommend this book to others? 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review of Bait, by Courtney Farrell

Bait, by Courtney Farrell, is the story of sixteen-year-old Jack and her crew of boys living in an apocalyptic dystopia. A pox has spread across the United States and the world. It's taken women and girls first, then the infection spreads through animals or other humans to men as well. Jack must protect her crew from the pox and from other crews, as well as defending herself as one of the few remaining females left on earth. 

Women are a valuable commodity, and once Jack is "outed" as a female, the stakes are higher, and Jack must protect herself as well as her adopted children. The crew's ability to survive the pox rests on Jack's shoulders, but how will she keep them safe with the pox targeting her -- specifically her?

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review of the novel.

This is actually going to be a tough review to write, and I want to talk to you personally and intimately about the book instead of in my usual "stiff," way. I'd like for my readers to be able to trust my reviews, but this is tough for me, so bear with me. 

I really enjoyed Bait as a young adult dystopian novel. It is exceptionally well-edited (unusual among indy authors). In the beginning I felt that it read like a series of short stories rather than one cohesive story, but this changed as the book went on and relationships established themselves over the course of time. Jack is a strong central character, and Farrell has a clear understanding of the characters in the book.

The trouble is that there were times reading this that I wasn't sure she had a clear direction for the story. It read like a series of short stories because in the beginning, it seems as though the author wasn't sure where she was going with the book, and then once she decided, it felt a bit rushed. 

On the other hand, I loved it. It would be impossible not to like Jack and her crew, or even Dr. Stuart. Jack has a clear voice, and the concept of the pox interested me because the zombification of the infected people wasn't so overdone that this became a zombie novel instead of a dystopian novel. 

In short, it's complicated.

I do think that this book is worth reading, and I do recommend it

However, as I said in my reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and Shelfari, there's one big issue I struggled with, and this is the reason I couldn't give the book five stars. The author uses certain words ("array" and "construct" in particular) in a way that is inconsistent with their dictionary definition without giving a sufficient definition of her own. This is confusing and frustrating to me as a reader. It clearly doesn't bother other readers, and it might not bother you, either, so I do recommend you give this book a try!

As always, I want to point out what parents might want to think about when considering giving this book to their teenage children. In this case, I highly recommend a pre-read of the book before giving it to teenagers. Though the main character is sixteen and surrounded by children as young as three, this is not a book I would give to my teenage stepchildren!

  • It's sexual. There are points where the sexual situations are understated (one character touching Jack's hair or her back) and there are points where it's over-stated (and I mean that the way that it sounds!). If you don't want your child reading about teen sexuality (with teens as young as fourteen), then have them skip this one.
  • It's explicit. At least one explicit sex scene between a sixteen-year-old and a younger teenager is described in detail in the novel, and this might be something you'd prefer for your child not to read. After all, you probably don't want to encourage them to engage in this sort of behavior themselves.
  • It's scary. While this might not be a problem for older teens, it could be an issue for some younger teenagers. There are points in this novel when it could be described as a "horror" story more than a science fiction story, so keep this in mind as well with younger teens. 
  • It uses odd definitions of English words. I repeat this again because I'm still not clear on what an "array" or a "construct" is in this book, or how they are used in terms of "real" English. This could confuse young readers working on vocabulary.

I'm not sure yet whether or not I'm going to be reading the next book in this series. Finish it and you might see why.

What are your thoughts on Bait? Did you have the same trouble I did with strange word use? Was it easy for you to understand how the compound was laid out? Will you be reading the next book?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Book a Day?

cc by-sa 2.0 Enokson on Twitter

I recently stumbled across a blog that reviewed one book a day. While I'm quite sure that this blog is written by multiple people reading short books, it got me to thinking about the possibilities of reading one entire book a day.

A long book takes me a while to read. I'm a slower reader than some of my book blogging peers and I believe that it's dishonest of me to review a book that I've only skimmed over. When I read (especially to review), I always take notes about the book I'm going to be reviewing and concentrate on what I liked about the book as well as what I don't like about the book, so that I can give my readers the most fair and honest review of the books that I read. 

I've been doing my reviewing on Hubpages lately, and have just now decided to start bringing my reviews back to my (rather out-dated) blog. It makes me cringe to think about how long ago I read Divergent (and then Insurgent, and didn't quite finish Allegiant). There are three reviews on Hubpages right now, which tells me just how slow I've been at getting these turned out for anybody who's following and reading me.

Reviews on Hubpages are more detailed, less reader-friendly. They look like this review of Surviving the Stillness on Hubpages. It takes time and effort to work out these types of reviews, and I believe (based on feedback I've gotten from two of the three authors whose books I've reviewed on that site) that these detailed reviews are more helpful to the author than they are to the reader. 

I also believe that the less detailed reviews are more helpful to the reader, but that's not my point here.

What I'm trying to say is that I find it impossible to read and review a book a day if the book is longer than one hundred pages. However, I'd like to be reading and reviewing more books, so I've picked up some shorter freebies on Amazon in the hopes of getting some new reads reviewed for you guys.

While I can't do a book a day (I doubt that anyone reading anything more than 100 page-long books can read that many and pay attention), I'm hoping to get to reading more (both fiction and non-fiction) and to provide more reviews for my readers.

Right now I'm reading on my Kindle Paperwhite. If you are an author with a book that you'd like for me to review, you may e-mail me and request a review!

Review of Surviving the Stillness, by Jessica White

Surviving the Stillness, by Jessica White, is the story of two orphans in Montana struggling to make it through the winter while the elder keeps a dark secret from her new friend, the doctor's son. It's a story of love and survival and the way that trust and faith in God can heal the hearts of those who reach out to Him in their time of need.

Abigail must learn to trust before she can heal her own broken life, and Matthew (the doctor's son) must learn that God has not abandoned him and has been there all along, waiting for his perfect timing in the Masons' lives. The orphans will change the lives of Dr. Mason and his son Matthew for good, if the doctor and his son can let them.

The author of Surviving the Stillness (Jessica White) is a friend of mine, and she provided me with a free paperback copy of this book to read and review. When I received the book, it was nothing like what I had expected. Not only was it longer (over 400 pages) than what I'd been anticipating, but the beauty of the prose and the speed with which this novel sucked me in astonished me.

In so many ways, Surviving the Stillness simply blew away my expectations of the book. Without knowing what to expect, I could never have anticipated the artful way in which the author uses a series of flash backs to illustrate the main female character's history to the reader. Abigail's secrets come to light one at a time, leaving the reader wondering what she's experienced to make her so closed off to people, but to bring her so close to God.

Abigail and Matthew are both well-developed characters. The author has paid close attention to making sure that they are three-dimensional and realistic. Both characters are beautifully flawed but in possession of incredible talents, which they use to build the story and to express the ultimate point of the book: That God will help you through anything that life throws at you.

While the editing (particularly in the latter half of the book) leaves something to be desired, the author has done well to avoid many common copyediting nightmares (such as passive voice and improper use of being verbs) and apart from a few mis-placed commas, the book flows well from the style and grammar perspective. I found it easy to read without becoming distracted or bogged down by editing mistakes. 

The author has assured me she plans to hire a professional copy editor for the next book in the series. 

This book is written beautifully, but should be a relatively easy read for young adult through adult readers. If you enjoy Christian fiction, this is an easy but serious read that will keep you turning the page. I had to put it down a few times because of the heavy nature of the book, but some people may find that they can handle the more serious themes of the novel without worrying about needing to take breaks.

As always, I want to point out what parents might want to think about when considering giving this book to their teenage children.

  • It's heavy. The main themes of the books are heavy. It takes a certain type of person to be able to understand what Abigail has experienced in the time since her parents died, and this subject material may be difficult for some younger readers to understand. This is more apt to affect enjoyment of the book than it is to traumatize your children.
  • It's religious. If you have a particular religion you're raising your children with or you don't wish them raised with religion at all, you may wish to review this novel before passing it on to your children. The orphanage that is the central location in the plot is a Catholic orphanage.
I personally believe that this book is acceptable for all age groups.

This book is a good read for lovers of Christian fiction and need an inspirational pick-me-up. The novel itself is mostly non-denominational and emphasizes trust in God rather than pressing a particular denominational belief system. If you are a believer, this book should inspire you. When I read it, it was just what I needed!

Yes! I will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series!

What are your thoughts on Surviving the Stillness? How does it compare to other Christian novels? What did you enjoy about it?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Review of Divergent, by Veronica Roth

Divergent, by Veronica Roth, is the story of Beatrice, a sixteen year old girl from the faction Abnegation in dystopian Chicago. In her sixteenth year, she will take an aptitude test that will show her which faction she belongs in, and she will have to make a choice of which faction to give her life to. It seems simple, but it's not. Changing her faction means leaving her family behind, because the factions teach "Faction over Family." 

The choice that she makes now will influence the rest of her life, but with unusual aptitude test results, she has the choice between choosing safety with her family or making the choice that will make her the happiest in the long run.

I loved this book. I went into this without the highest of expectations, particularly considering that I was approaching it from the point of view of being a Hunger Games Trilogy knockoff. After all, what Dystopian Teen novel doesn't want to be THE trilogy these days? Being such a huge Hunger Games fan, I figured that there wasn't a chance that this book could even come close to touching its wonderfulness. 

But I was wrong. I was very, very wrong. 

In some ways, I think that I like Divergent even better.

Let me begin by saying that I like Tris. This is a big deal, considering that I didn't find Katniss all that likable. Tris is amazingly strong female lead, who has her own decisions to make. Each decision that she makes has the power to change her life for better or for worse and she doesn't always know what the results of her choices are going to be before she makes them. One of the things that makes her divergence so special is that it means that she has multiple strong personality traits, including courage, intelligence, and selflessness, all of which lead to her being an amazing heroine who is able to get the job done.

But Tris is far from perfect; she is violent, she is sometimes arrogant, and she is driven by the opinions of others. In short, she is very typically sixteen. Which is something else I loved about this book; the characters are believable and they are neither perfect nor perfectly imperfect. One has to love Young Adult fiction that diverges (pardon the pun!) from the stereotypical Mary Sue or Gary Stu hero(ine). 

All of these things make me favor this novel over The Hunger Games. I may one day go into a comparison of the two so that I can be as clear as possible, but that's not the purpose of this review. There are some problems with the book as well, and I wouldn't be fair to readers if I didn't tell you what problems I found.

The story is written in a very juvenile way. It reads like it could have been written for the mid-grade reading class, but it is utterly violent. Those who have discussed the violence of the aforementioned dystopian trilogy need to have a read of Divergent to see real violence. This book is violent and it's cruel, but it isn't written at the same level as other Young Adult novels. I surely wouldn't let a young child read this novel, and I'm not sure that I would let my young teenage step-children read this book either -- at least not for another year or so.

As always, I want to point out what parents might want to think about when considering giving this book to their teenage children.

  • It's violent. There is a lot of fighting in this book. While there isn't necessarily as much killing as there is in some Teen novels, there is a lot of fighting in this book and the descriptions of the aftermath and injuries is very graphic. I personally found it somewhat distasteful, even if it did illustrate the Dauntless faction relatively well.
  • It's sexy. While there are no explicit sex scenes, the book does describe a near-rape and some heavy petting. The characters are somewhat more sexual than I would anticipate for a young adult novel that I would be comfortable giving to my teenagers. I recommend that parents read this book before giving it to their children to read.
  • It's political. Most Dystopian novels are. However, some reviewers have missed the connection to the Soviet Union and the workings of the political and economic systems of the Soviet Russia and Berlin while the Wall was up. This book has serious educational potential, if you're willing to explore it with your children/students. This is something to consider if you want to read the book ahead of your children.
I personally believe that parents should read this book before they give it to their children.

As far as my recommendations, I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction, provided that he or she is able to get around the fact that the writing is somewhat juvenile. It is a fast-paced novel and there is something happening at every turn. You will be consistently entertained and I believe that most fans of dystopian fiction will tear through this book very rapidly.

Yes! I will definitely be reading Insurgent!

What are your thoughts on Divergent? Do you think it is comparable to The Hunger Games?  What did you enjoy about it?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review of Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is the story of Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes, two teenagers living in Gatlin, South Carolina. Ethan has lived in Gatlin his entire life. His father's family has always been rom Gatlin and he knows that for hi, there is no chance of escaping the Southern lifestyle in which he lives. The town is boring and Ethan can't wait until he has the chance to get out. Until Lena Duchannes enters town, that is.

Lena lives with her eccentric uncle, a member of the oldest family in Gatlin, the Ravenwoods. It becomes clear almost immediately that Gatlin hates Lena, and that Macon Ravenwood and Amma (who takes care of Ethan since his mother died and his father went crazy) don't want the two of them together. There's something different about Lena, and in spite of the fact that Ethan would rather not know what exactly that means, he soon finds out that being friends with Lena is going to involve a battle for both of them.

First of all, I need to tell you that I didn't like this book. I feel the need to be as clear about this as possible because as times goes on, I'm hoping that people will respect my views on books enough that I'm considered a reliable source for recommendations.

From the very beginning, I tried to tell myself that I was enjoying this book. I wanted so very much to like Beautiful Creatures that I lied to myself for the first two weeks that it took me to get through this. If you've been reading, you know that this has been very irritating to me. I tried hard to blame anything but the book. I've had several runs of bad luck with books that I haven't enjoyed (such as Atonement -- which I finally loved -- and Wicked -- which I never did come to love), but here lately this problem seems to be exacerbated to the extreme. I really didn't like Safe Haven, and I only gave it two stars on Amazon because I couldn't quite bring myself to rate it lower than that. I probably should have.

The truth is that I'm getting angry and frustrated with this turn in teen fiction. Why does everything have to be like Twilight and why are authors following in Suzanne Collins' footsteps just because The Hunger Games was so popular? I get that there isn't a lot of originality in the world any more. I understand that. Believe me, I get it by now. But I'd also like to see some kind of originality in fiction. Hook me, one way or another, and reel me in.

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl didn't do that. This book starts out slow. It reminds me, in fact, of my initial frustration with Safe Haven, which centered around my problems with the entire first third of the book being almost entirely devoted to nothing but character development. There was no action, no indication of anything happening at all in the story (and in Safe Haven, nothing ever really did happen). The problem with this kind of focus on character development is that most authors who do this can't pull it off, and it leaves the reader feeling frustrated and empty. In many cases, this results in the reader putting the book down and not picking it back up. And I have to ask Garcia and Stohl why they thought that this was a good idea.

In order to come to an acceptance of that, you're going to have to first understand that Ethan is not, in fact, a sixteen year old female. Or at least, that's the way that he comes across to anybody who has a basic understanding of male psychology and endocrinology (hormones). His emotional system is so basically female that it is frustrating to read him, and his feelings for Lena have nothing to do with the typical rush of teen male hormones that boys experience at that age. He doesn't interact the way that most teen males do, but he's part of the popular crowd. A boy who acts that feminine is alienated in most schools. 

Just a suggestion for these two authors: First person perspective from male point of view might not be wise when you are, yourself, female. Just saying.

It's worse that both Ethan and Lena act like people in their twenties or thirties. Their personalities are too fully developed for teenagers, their reactions to their situation too mature. Neither of them are believable teenagers. Emily and Savannah seem as though they're nothing but carbon copies of their DAR mothers, with all of the maturity that goes along with it. Albeit, we're seeing them from the external perspective rather than the insides of their minds, so we have to give them some credit.

I'm not going to touch how quickly these two fell in love. Imagining them as realistic teenagers is difficult, but five weeks isn't unusual for people their age, especially considering their emotional connection and their ability to feel one another's feelings and hear their thoughts. This isn't insta-love. But it is very like Twilight.

A few things that I think that potential readers need to be aware of, especially those screening books their teenagers may read:

  • There is some bad language in the book. It's not horrific and it's not real swearing. 
  • Casters are witches. There is some very realistic spell-casting in this book. If you don't want your child involved in ritual magic, you might want to avoid letting them read the Caster Chronicles generally. This isn't Harry Potter and the style of Craft isn't unrealistic in terms of modern Wicca. Your children, your right to decide (I personally don't have a problem with my children reading Harry Potter or similar).
  • The sexuality, once it arrives in the book, is big. While Ethan doesn't over sexualize anyone in his thoughts, there is a theme here, Ridley with her red lollypop, and the way that Ethan and Lena wind their bodies together is almost disgusting to read if you aren't looking for sexual practice and activity in the books that you read.
That's pretty much it for what I would want to know if I was reading reviews for my children. 

As for people who might like this book (and the rest of the series), I want to say fans of Twilight. The problem with that is that I am a fan o Twilight and I didn't like this book. I'm hesitant, because this book seemed to have borrowed from Stephenie Meyer and from Suzanne Collins at intervals. There are whole lines that could have been taken verbatim from Twilight (and I use the word correctly, in that there are lines that are identical to lines from Twilight).

I probably will not be reading the rest of the Caster Chronicles unless my best friend picks them up.

I'm curious to know your thoughts on this book. Did you enjoy Beautiful Creatures? Did you feel the same way about Ethan's character? Did you find this to be an easy read? Let me know what you thought!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why My Ratings Differ by Platform

It occurred to me last night, as I worked on a book review on Goodreads, that my rating system might be a bit confusing for people who don't understand the way that my mind works, or the way that I review books. My full policy isn't up yet (I'll get to it soonish), but I wanted to cover this ground with you because I think that it's important to understand and important for reviewers to understand the way that their review affects such things as the author's sales.

I generally review books on several sites, but always make sure to post a review on Hubpages, Amazon, and Goodreads. Soon I'll be adding reviews to my blog as well. This is a lot of work, but I do each of these reviews for different reasons. 

The reviews on Hubpages are written as a message to the author and to potential readers. These are very detailed reviews, the purpose of which is to analyze the novels that I read and break down what I liked, what I didn't like, and why I liked or didn't like these different things. They are usually written from the point of view of the person I'm recommending the book for, so that I can instruct other people that even though x didn't bother me, it might bother you. I review on Hubpages on a generous 1-5 star scale, meaning that if I liked a book, I generally give it five stars. It takes a lot for me to give a low review on Hubpages.

On Amazon, I review books in order to help the buyer decide whether or not the book is worth buying. I review on Amazon in order to help out the author, and I review on a 1-3 star scale (using one, three and five stars in order to make my point). If I think that a book is worth someone buying, I rate it five stars. If it's iffy, I rate it three stars. If I think that it should be avoided or is really bad, I rate it one star. (Note that this is a new policy that I am implementing for my reviews, so if you're looking at my older reviews on Amazon, you're not going to see this as a trend).

And on Goodreads? That's where I'm honest. It's on Goodreads that I really lay it all on the line, what I liked about a book, what I didn't like about a book, and whether or not I want to risk recommending it to my friends when they might not like the book that I enjoyed. I rate on a brutal 1-5 scale, where only the best books get my five star rating and only the worst get a one star. These are the books that I recommend to my friends, the people I really know and care about.

(By the way, is Goodreads down for anybody else?)

So since it's Monday, I figured that I'd do the It's Monday, What are You Reading? thing. 

It's pathetic this week. I'm still reading Beautiful Creatures. I ought to be finished with it this week though (like, tonight) so Divergent is up next on my list. If I manage to finish that, the next one up is Before I Fall. Are you noticing a book-to-movies theme here? Well there isn't one, at least not exactly. I got these books through recommendations, then found out they were being made into movies!

Image is credit to Andrew Xu on Flickr..