Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

First thingAngel Eyess first: I’m not a huge Twilight fan.  I was…before I started comparing the sparkly fairy-vampires to the vampire stories I’ve always loved: stories like Dracula and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (seriously, once you’ve seen Angel and Spike, no other vampire can be nearly as alluring, no matter how much he sparkles in the sun).  Once that started bothering me, a few other things messed up my enjoyment of that series as well, but this is not a review of Twilight, so I’m not going in to that here.  The only reason to even bring up Twilight is that the first half of Angel Eyes mirrors Twilight.  I very nearly stopped reading it after the first two chapters because of that.  So we’re replacing sparkly vampires with angels? was my opinion at that point.  You have a female teenaged MC returning to a little town off the Pacific coast after a few years living in the city.  Granted, Brielle (full name: Gabrielle.  That bothered me, too.  That’s just a little too similar to “Bella” for my taste) had a much darker reason for returning to her hometown than Bella did, but more about that in a minute.  Thankfully, Dittemore abandoned the whole love-triangle thing, but on Brielle’s first day back at school, a mysterious new kid shows up, sits next to her in Calculus, and immediately starts flirting with her.  Most of the story is told from Brielle’s POV and she even references Twilight a handful of times.  This mysterious new kid, Jake, also has a unique ability that he uses to fix a major problem for Brielle (I’m trying not to give too many spoilers; you’ll have to read the book to discover the unique ability and the problem).  Finally, he’s forced to explain his family’s secrets to Brielle, who agrees not to tell anyone.

And that’s about where the similarities end.  One of the things Angel Eyes has going for it is complex characters.  Brielle has some serious emotional problems that come from a very dark place in her recent past.  The details of what she’s dealing with are slowly revealed throughout the book, so it really wouldn’t be fair for me to describe it here, but trust me…it’s dark.  She struggles with fears and feelings of guilt.  She alternates between anger at God and doubt in His very existence.  Only with Jake’s steady presence does she begin to heal.  Jake also has a dark past.  Dittemore doesn’t throw any punches in describing his early childhood.  His guardian, Canaan, literally saved his life when he was a young boy.  Canaan is far more than he seems, but he is still very real.

This book is, obviously, about angels.  Real, sent from Heaven from God, angels.  In showing the angels, however, it also includes the fallen angels, the demons.  I’m not sure it’s completely theologically sound, but it’s a great work of imagination about what the world could look like if we could see the spiritual warfare surrounding us.  The demons are terrifying.  C. S. Lewis would be proud. 

I highly recommend this book.  It’s the first in a trilogy and I cannot wait until the second one comes out.  It really reminds us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but…against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  However: This book is not appropriate for very young teenagers!  The darkness in it is thick enough to cut with a knife and it is terrifying.  Human trafficking happens.  I’m not saying we should sugar-coat things for kids.  They’re going to learn about this eventually.  But that doesn’t mean we should push them to find out now.  My advice on this is the same as my advice to the parents who asked me if their 13-year-olds should be allowed to see The Hunger Games.  Parents: if your child is under 15, you should read this book as well.  Either read it first or read it together, but your child needs to be able to talk to you about it.

This book releases on May 29, 2012.

(By the way, yes I know I cheated on the title.  Deal with it.)

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BeckonI feel like a label needs to be attached to this book — WARNING: THIS BOOK MAY CAUSE INSOMNIA.  Seriously, I had a couple of sleepless nights whilst reading Beckon.  It didn’t help that I was sleeping in an unfamiliar bed in a cabin in the mountains of Virginia at the time.  Perhaps my reaction is atypical.  Whatever you do, don’t let my warning keep you from this book.  It’s well worth an extra cup or two of coffee in the morning.

The sleepy little town of Beckon draws people to it for many reasons.  Most are brought, one way or another, by the mysterious Thomas Vale.  Few ever leave.

What begins as a trek to validate his father’s work takes a turn for the terrifying when Jack and his companions get trapped in the fascinating, but deadly world beneath the mountains in Wyoming.  As they try to navigate the seemingly untouched ecosystem, they soon realize that becoming lost is the least of their worries.  A desperate struggle to survive shoves them into the not-so-welcoming arms of a previously-unknown people group.

Elina uses her police officer training to track a white van to Beckon.  The same van was seen the day her cousin disappeared.  Someone promised jobs to the occupants of the van, but it never made its way to Las Vegas as they said it would.  Instead, it always came to Beckon.  And the people in the van never made it home.  It doesn’t take long for Elina’s interest to catch the attention of Thomas Vale.

Miriam Wilcox is losing her mind.  Her husband, George, cannot bear to sit idly by and watch his beloved wife succumb to an incurable disease.  He jumps at the opportunity to take her to Beckon when Vale contacts him with a business proposition and a cure.

What would you be willing to do to live disease-free, forever?  Could you make a deal with the devil to save your loved ones?  After all, as Thomas Vale argues, the history of mankind is violent, filled with people killing other people in an effort to keep their families and lands safe.  But what makes one life more valuable than another?

I love GMasters of the Veiloodreads.  It is officially my favorite website.  Without the Goodreads First Reads program, I never would have been introduced to Cohen’s books.  I’m surrounded by book-lovers at both my jobs and then listen to podcasts and read blogs about the latest sci-fi/fantasy books, so I always have plenty of trusted recommendations for what to read next.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t pick up a book without having heard something very positive from someone I trust.  The exception to that is books that I get for free (ARCs or other giveaways).  Now I can’t wait for the next book in this exceptional series!  (Really?  2013?  I have to wait? Darn.)

When I received my copy of Masters of the Veil, I figured it would be similar to most other YA Fantasy.  I expected a fast-read with cardboard characters, a hot romance, and a clichéd magic system.  What I got instead was a quick-paced read (not quite the same as fast-read; this is better) with very three-dimensional characters, the beginning of a potential romance (did I mention that I can’t wait for book 2?), and a fabulously unique magic system.  The details of the settings, especially of Atlas Crown, are well-thought out and descriptive.  Cohen shows people exactly what the city looks like without inundating the reader with pages upon pages of description.

The story begins with a high-school football star, Sam Lock, in what is supposed to be his defining moment in the field.  When everyone around him suddenly freezes, he finds him world quickly turning upside down.  Soon he discovers that, not only is he capable of using the Veil (Cohen’s source of magic), there are two groups of sorcerers that each want him on their side.  Sam meets a group of people in Atlas Crown that, for the most part, is eager to include him in their lives, whether he wants to join them or not.  Most of them try to help him understand his new-found powers, always pushing him to learn about and explore and, most of all, control his connection to the Veil.  Another group, one that is no longer welcome in Atlas Crown, also wants Sam on their side.  They will stop at nothing to take control of the Veil for their own purposes and believe that Sam is the key to achieving their dark ends.

The Masters of the Veil is published by Spencer Hill Press.  Spencer Hill started in January of 2010.  As of now, they are still a relatively small publishing group.  They specialize in “sci-fi, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance for young adult readers.”  They make the claim that their books all have an “’I couldn’t put it down!’ quality.”  From what I’ve seen of this book, I’m inclined to believe them.  I generally get a little frightened when I start books from small or independent presses.  There are too many out there who care more about quantity and speed then quality.  If I feel as though I need an editor’s red pen to read a book, it’s not worth it.  This company doesn’t seem like that.  I’ll have to read more of their books to have a more total opinion, but I like what I’ve seen so far.  I don’t recall any glaring typos in this entire book.

I adored this book.  If you like any magic-based fantasy, you’ll love it, too.  Go pick it up.  Support the smaller publishers.  Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

Before I get to the review, I want to quick go over what I hope to be my blog posting schedule.  The plan is to post something every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday/Sunday.  Monday will be short story day, usually based off a prompt from Chuck Wendig.  Thursday will be a book review and the weekend will be either a book review or something else related to books or the English language in general.  And now to the review:

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When I cheHow We Did Itcked my email one morning and saw that I won this book from the Goodreads First Reads program, I immediately got excited.  As the days went on before I received the book, that excitement turned to dread.  Another diet book, I thought.  Yippee.  I figured I would read it anyway.  After all, I got it for free; I might as well put in a bit of effort and go through the whole thing.  As usual, I scanned the back cover and chapter titles as soon as I pulled it out of the packaging.  A realization jumped at me:

This is not a diet book.

That’s right.  This is not one of those books.  You know the ones – they tell you to eat and do things that sound crazy.  They want you to do something like “Eat only cauliflower and plain chicken for a month and watch the pounds melt away,” or other things that seem impossible for normal people.  I know those kinds of crazy diets work for some people.  I always assume those people have 9-5 jobs and don’t have to cook for other people ever.  Also that they have no taste buds or joy in life.  (Those assumptions are probably blatantly not true, but it’s what I generally think).  Working retail doesn’t always offer regular hours that stay the same week to week, which makes it difficult to stick to one of the schedules usually mandated by the stricter diets.  However, this is not one of those books anyway, so that doesn’t matter right now.

This book is full of weight-loss success stories from normal peopleHow We Did It shows over two dozen changed lives and almost as many programs and diets.  Each person tells his or her stories through interviews with the author.  After the success story, each person gets the opportunity to thank those who helped them reach their goals, followed by their own little tips for the reader.  Kennedy then offers a quote from a book or other media related to the program under discussion and a brief analysis.  One of my favorite parts is the checklist at the end of each story: “This plan might work for me because…” with a short list of things the reader is looking for or thinks he can handle that would work well with the program.

The first featured story talks about SparkPeople.  I never heard of this website before reading this book.  I signed up two days ago.  It’s not a specific program; rather, it provides lots of tools and support.  I haven’t explored it very much yet, but it certainly has me intrigued.  It’s a free website (which is one reason I chose to look into it).  I also plan to purchase the book Thin Within based on the description in chapter 6.  It’s a Christian approach to weight loss that looks at weight in light of a relationship with God.

How We Did It features specific diets (Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Nutrisystem, and Jenny Craig), do-it-yourself tools (SparkPeople, calorie-counting, personal trainers), support groups (Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous, Recovery from Food Addiction,  and the Duke Diet &Fitness Center), surgeries, and other programs (the Pritikin Program, First Place 4 Health, 3D, Body-for-Life, Curves, and the Ornish Program).

I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone curious about different weight-loss (and weight-loss-maintenance) methods.  Kennedy does a great job presenting each of the featured options in an equal light, allowing the reader to decide what works best in his individual situation.

AlienationAllow me to begin by pointing out that I have yet to read Invasion, the first book in the CHAOS series.  I’m going to assume that, once I read that, this book will make more sense.  That said, I love the fact that the book doesn’t begin with a chapter or two of backstory.  There’s action and character development before Lewis gives even a full paragraph to the events of the previous book.  Memories come up naturally in the main character’s train of thought and observations, not in an awkward info-dump that would bore people familiar with the first book.  I appreciate that Lewis realizes that some readers may be diving into the middle of the story and takes the time to help us get acquainted with his character and unique world without alienating his loyal readers.  (I’m very sorry about that horrible pun there.  Sometimes I just can’t help myself.)

Speaking of Lewis’ unique world – this part confused me.  Unless I’m missing something (which I probably am, since I won’t have a chance to get the first book until Friday), jet packs are a thing in this book’s universe.  They’ve been a thing since World War II.  When I first started reading and realized that it wasn’t supposed to take place in some future world, I did a bit of a double take.  Once I got over my initial surprise, accepting the jet packs, hoverboards, and robots was easy.  It fascinated me.  Sci-fi tech just lights something in my mind.  If hoverboards are, indeed, a possibility, what else could people create?  Could that lead to landspeeders like the ones in Star Wars?  As long as Gungans never make an entrance, that would be awesome!  But I digress.  The advanced technology also explained how anyone in this ‘verse would think that Earth could stand a chance against technologically advanced super-monster aliens.

That’s right – aliens.  Of course there are aliens; it’s right there in the title.  The title has two purposes, the second of which I’ll get to in a moment.  The first, most obvious reason is the aliens.  Apparently, in the first book, aliens invaded.  The Earth suddenly met some of the other inhabitants of the galaxy.  Some are friendly; some are evil.  The evil ones, the Thule, are shape-shifters bent on destroying humanity to make Earth their new home world.  Several other kinds of alien life forms are visiting Earth, as well, but most of the others are actually helping humans.  The science of whether or not aliens would survive on Earth is barely mentioned.  Aliens simply exist in this universe.  Thankfully, Lewis avoids the pitfall that has ruined many good books – too much information.

Here’s what I loved about this book: No info-dumps.  There were no major ones for backstory and none for boring data.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Lewis had everything figured out about the boring bits.  Maybe he even has it written down somewhere in a manuscript.  Or maybe he saw a future of aliens trying to exterminate us and he’s trying to warn us without sounding like a crazy person.  (Oddly enough, I tend to assume that about pretty much every well-written sci-fi/fantasy book I read.  What if…?)

Okay, for the second reason for the title.  Lewis’ main character, Colt McAlister, loses most of the people he loves in the first book (it’s not a spoiler if it’s on the back cover blurb).  By the time Alienation really gets going, he’s built himself a small network of friends and family.  Within a few days, he discovers reasons to distrust most of them and gets in situations that push the rest of them away from him.  He truly is alienated.  He needs to learn who he can trust.  If he chooses the wrong person, he dies.

The stakes are high and the action is fast-paced.  One of the supporting characters is a “real-life” comic book hero.  The world is infused with aliens and futuristic technology.  This is the perfect story for teenagers, especially boys.  I give it 3.5 stars.  I have a feeling that, once I read Invasion, that rating will change to 4.5 stars.  Enjoy.

“Love your eThe Next Targetnemies.”  We hear this phrase all the time.  Many of us even claim to follow the instruction.  It’s easy to use this Bible verse when we’re telling a kid how to deal with the annoying people in their neighborhoods or when giving advice to someone dealing with aggravating co-workers.  Is that all it means, though?  Nikki Arana, in her upcoming novel, illustrates that it is a far bigger and grander love than what we are used to offering.

Austia Donatelli lost the love of her life to the Muslims with whom he was sharing the love of God.  Despite the counsel of many people, she continued his outreach after his tragic death.  She spreads God’s love by simply loving the Muslims in her town of Agua Viva, California.  She even opens a Career Center to help immigrants find jobs and teaches an ESL class for women.  Through the ESL class, she is given an opportunity to share her faith with a young woman.  The young woman’s conversion to Christianity unleashes a series of events that culminates in both a spiritual and physical confrontation that threatens to destroy all those dear to Austia.

The characters in this book are incredible.  While Austia is the main character, there are several other viewpoint characters, each with his or her own story arc.  No character comes to the end of this book unchanged.  Twists and turns abound in this fast-paced suspense story that keeps the reader quickly flipping pages to watch the race between Austia, the FBI, and a terrorist cell intent on unleashing a devastating attack on America.

While the action never stops and we desperately want to know if Austia will make it through the physical confrontation, The Next Target’s true conflict is spiritual.  It is a battle between love and hate, between God and Satan.  The love and respect Austia gives her Muslim neighbors should challenge us all.  Can love survive such attacks?  Can hatred turn to love?  As a Christian, Austia believes the answer to both questions is a resounding “Yes!” We say “Love your enemies,” but when those enemies are different than us, when they are distrusted because of their heritage, how we will respond?  Can we change the way we feel?  Can we, especially Christians, show love and respect to everyone?

This book releases in June.  I encourage you to pick it up as soon as you can.  The message is so pertinent to our world today.  The challenge is clear: Will you put it all on the line to share Christ’s love?

Forbush’s firsHeil Americat novel takes the reader to the not-so-distant future, beginning in 2013.  She uses the framework of a fictional story to show where past and current political and economic trends could easily take this country.  Her main character, Becca, is a blogger who has managed to anger some very powerful people.  Within the first couple of pages, a mysterious message forces her to flee for her life.  She winds up hiding in the basement of some other members of the Underground.  Eventually, a family with a house in the country gives her a safe place with a little freedom.  Becca’s research, writing, and conversations with the family show the reader some of the problems that, even now, plague this country and that are only getting worse.

I have always had severe misgivings about big government and large corporations, but this book really woke me up to the schemes of some of these people.  I am in the process of Googling some of the information she includes in the book, just so I can see for myself what is happening.

Heil America Incorporated” is Forbush’s first published novel.  The plot and characters are quite interesting, and, of course, the information provided within these pages is very eye opening.  Unfortunately, grammar and punctuation typos distracted me a bit, making me take much more time reading it than I otherwise would have.  The dialogue also tends to be a bit wordy, but that just may be the character’s personalities.

Overall, I would recommend this book.  Just remember when you pick it up to ignore the problems I just mentioned.  Do not let them keep you from diving in to this book.

I received this book by participating in Goodread’s First-Reads program.  Check it out, and while you’re there, feel free to friend or follow me.