Category Archives: ARC

Review: Together We Will Go by J. Michael Straczynski

Together We Will Go

Over my course of following the creative output of J. Michael Straczynski, one of his strengths has been the creation of diverse characters who form a connection with his audience. So, the highest compliment I can pay his latest offering Together We Will Go is that it continues that trend in the best possible way.

After suffering the latest in a long string of rejections, writer Mark has landed on his next project — an epistolary tale of a dozen strangers who have decided for one reason or another to end their lives. Renting a bus, Mark places an online ad to find people to join him on his final journey across the United States, planning to culminate the trip by everyone driving off a cliff near San Francisco. Riders earn their spot by agreeing to upload journal entries to a central server and occasionally having the audio transcript of dramatic moments archived and uploaded.

What Mark doesn’t count on is the diverse group of people who will join his cross-country trek and the ways various personalities connect and clash. He also didn’t count on the authorities in some of the states he’s crossing having an issue with a group of people on their way to commit suicide. Continue reading

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Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary

Andy Weir has been hailed as a new shining star in the science-fiction universe.

The Martian was a character-driven, page-turner that burned quickly by and left you wanting more. Artemis was largely forgettable (so much so that I struggled to recall if I’d read it only a year or so after it was published).

Now, Weir is back with Project Hail Mary — and the result is somewhere in between. While not quite as compellingly page-turning as The Martian, Project Hail Mary has at least lingered with me after the final pages were turned, unlike a certain sophomore novel by Weir.

Ryland Grace is a middle-school science teacher, who wakes up in a stark white room with no memory of how he got there. Grace’s memory slowly starts to return (in convenient chunks at just the right time for the story’s dramatic purposes) and he recalls that Earth is facing an extinction-level event and that he was one of the three people chosen to be sent into deep space to save himself and our planet. Grace’s two colleagues have perished, leaving him to piece together not only where he’s been, how he got there, but also what he needs to do so hopefully save the planet. And he’s also got to make the first contact with a new alien race.

Grace may not seem like the most likely or likable choice to go on a mission to save humanity. And Weir does his best to make Grace a character we can sympathize with and root for. The problem is that I never quite developed the same investment in Grace that I did in Mark in The Martian. Mark was gifted in certain areas, but never came off as smarmy or overly smug, Grace does. I kept wanting to like Grace but I never found myself rooting for him in the same way as Mark.

Which is all well and good. I don’t expect an author to write the same book over and over again. But what I do hope is the author will find a way to engage me across each of his or her novels. Weir did that with The Martian but failed to do so in his last two books. The dilemma that Grace faces is intriguing enough. It’s just there are long stretches of the book when I feel like Weir is trying too hard to prove the science behind his science-fiction and not necessarily engaging the reader.

Project Hail Mary isn’t quite the triumphant return I’d hoped Weir would have. It’s good, it’s (for the most part) readable. But it never quite got its hooks into me in the way I’d hope it would. This one may drop Weir from my list of automatic reads.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

The Wife UpstairsI’ve never read Jane Eyre, so I can’t speak to how faithful to the original Rachel Hawkin’s updated retelling, The Wife Upstairs is or isn’t. What I can speak to is that sense that this novel never quite connected with me.

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is on the run from her past. Working as a dog-walker for the city’s elite, Jane meets Eddie Rochester. Eddie’s wife disappeared (along with her best friend) under mysterious circumstances and is presumed dead.

So, of course, these two begin dating and their relationship moves rather quickly from dating to living together to engaged. Jane doesn’t want a big wedding for fear of publicity bringing unwanted questions from her past life, but her old roommate is more than willing to blackmail her to keep those pursuing her at bay. Jane works to keep one step ahead of her past, teasing readers with what it may or may not be for far longer than I had much patience for.

That really sums up my disappointment with The Wife Upstairs. It teases us for far too long (though we know a bit about what Eddie is up to early on) without giving sufficient answers to the questions raised until I’d long since lost most of my interest in Jane. I suppose if I’d cracked open a copy of Jane Eyre at some point in my life, I’d already know a lot of what is revealed in the final third of the book. But that might have ruined some of the “thrill” of discovering all this for myself.

Another issue with The Wife Upstairs is that it attempts to be a domestic suspense thriller without offering much in the way of thrills or suspense. I found myself more relieved to finally be done with the novel than satisfied with the overall reading experience once I turned the final page.

Overall, a disappointment.

I received a digital ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker

Sarah Beth Durst’s latest stand-alone fantasy novel offers a unique magic system, some quirky characters, and a fantasy-take on the “getting the band back together” story.

Years ago, five heroes defeated the evil Elkor and went their separate ways, becoming the stuff of legend. Twenty-five years later, Kreya’s legend has become a bit darker — she lives alone in a tower, keeping alive her husband (who died in the battle) through the use of dark and illegal magics. Increasingly desperate to find a source of human bones to cast the spells and give her just a few more hours with the love of her life, Kreya hatches on a plot that will eventually involve her old crew getting back together.

Of course, there’s a reason some bands break up. And as the band gets back together in The Bone Maker, Kreya come to realize that maybe they didn’t defeat Elkor as utterly as the legends say.

There aren’t many times when it comes to fantasy novels that I wish the author had extended a series. That isn’t necessarily the case with The Bone Maker. While Kreya gets solid character work, the rest of the crew doesn’t feel as deep or as well realized. I kept wondering if Durst might have been better served by making this a duology, allowing us to have a bit more of an investment in the characters.

It would also give us a chance to enjoy her well-realized magical system. I enjoy fantasy where there are limits or consequences to using the magical system and that’s the case with what Durst has realized here.

The Bone Maker offers an intriguing magical system, some dark character takes and is a stand-alone fantasy that left me wanting just a bit more. An overall success and one that has me intrigued to give some of Durst’s other fantastic worlds a try.

I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Trial and Error by Robert Whitlow

Trial and Error

When I first read Robert Whitlow, I was impressed by the authenticity of his novels — not just the legal thriller aspect, but also the journeys and arcs he put his characters through. Over the last two decades, I’ve read just about everything Whitlow has written. While I’ve enjoyed watching him stretch himself as a writer, there’s still something comforting about him returning to his roots with his latest novel. Trial and Error.

Seventeen years ago, Buddy Smith became a father. He got to spend a few days with his daughter before she and her mother vanished. Buddy’s spent the last seventeen years trying to find his daughter, all while building a legal career in his home of Milton County. Buddy’s passion is renewed when he finds evidence his father was supporting the mother of his child financially for years but kept it a secret from Buddy and his mother.

Clerk of the court and local softball team coach, Gracie Blaylock is on her own journey. She’s been Buddy’s friend since high school and she’s been praying for Buddy and his family for years. With the introduction of a new sheriff’s deputy who specializes in missing persons, could Gracie’s prayers be finally answered in ways she does and doesn’t expect?

Whitlow’s early legal thrillers centered on good people who have to make difficult choices. The one thing that always stood out about Whitlow’s novels was the authentic journey his flawed characters go on during the course of the novel. Whitlow does feature the story of a person’s conversion, but it’s not presented as a moment in which all of that person’s problems are swept away. There may be a peace that comes over that person and a new perspective, but it’s not like waving a magic wand to make all the issues and problems go away. (I’m looking at you LeftBehind novels).

Of course, part of the secret is that Whitlow gets you to invest in his characters so when the pivotal moment comes, you feel it along with the character. Whitlow also doesn’t have everyone magically gets saved on the same timeline. There’s a character of a visiting judge who is challenged by Gracie and begins to examine his life, but we don’t see a conversion from him. (It may happen off-screen, but Whitlow doesn’t tell us one way or the other)

Whitlow’s characters shine through as do his legal storylines. There are multiple stories going on and Whitlow expertly weaves them together. I found myself turning the last page of this one feeling fully satisfied with Trial and Error as a stand-alone story but that I wouldn’t mind going back to the world of Buddy and Gracie again, should Whitlow be so inclined.

This is one of the best novels Whitlow has written in a long time. Highly recommended.

I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

This Will Be Funny SomedayOne of my great literary pleasures of 2020 was discovering Katie Henry’s works. Henry’s young adult novels feature quirky teenage protagonists facing issues and dilemmas that most of us would struggle with as adults. The characters are all frustratingly relatable because, as readers, we can see how they could and should change themselves to make interacting with the world a bit smoother and easier. But, like all of us, they can’t or aren’t ready to make that change just yet.

Henry’s third novel This Will Be Funny Someday may be her best offering so far, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed her first two novels.

Sixteen-year-old Izzy has always felt a bit out of place. In her family, she sees herself as the odd person out when it comes to the matched pairs — her parents and her older twin siblings. At school, Izzy is protected by her relationship with her boyfriend, though even that has come at the cost of alienating her best friend. Izzy has deep-rooted issues when it come to assigning herself value — whether it’s the (misconception) that she ruined her mother’s career when her mom discovered she was pregnant with Izzy or the emotionally abusive nature of her relationship with her boyfriend. Continue reading

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Review: Escape Pod: The Science-Fiction Anthology edited by Murr Laffety and S.B. Divya

Escape Pod: The Science Fiction AnthologyCelebrating fifteen years of original podcast science-fiction, Escape Pod offers up an anthology of fifteen stories from some of the most prominent names in the genre.

I’ve always found short story collections a nice way to sample an author’s work and decide if I might want to wade deeper into their works. This collection contains several authors I’ve read a great deal of what they’ve written (John Scalzi), some I’ve wanted to read for a while but haven’t quite taken the plunge yet (N.K. Jemison) and some that I’m aware of but haven’t picked up something from yet. Overall, it’s a pretty good collection with some interesting introductions by editors S.B. Divya and Murr Lafferty.

Being a Scalzi fan, his story stood out, though I think I’ve read it before. I will admit that Lafferty’s entry felt a bit abrupt, almost as if the author had a word or page count and just stopped writing when it was achieved. The other complaint with that story is that it’s set within the universe of her Hugo-award nominated novel and I felt like I was missing some of the contexts of the story having not read the novel first. It did make me want to seek out the book and finally get it off the to-be-read pile, so I suppose that’s something.

I’m a big fan of podcast fiction and have enjoyed the podcast this collection celebrates. I’ve read these stories were originally presented as episodes of the podcast and halfway through, I couldn’t help but wonder what they might be liked experienced as audio stories. I may have to look around a bit and give that avenue a try.

I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Audiobook Review: Don’t Move by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

Don't Move

Don’t Move starts off with a gruesome, chilling first chapter and never lets go.

Enjoying a summer evening at the local traveling carnival, Megan Forrester’s life shatters before her eyes when a horrific accident claims the lives of her husband and son. Months later, Megan is trying to get her life back together and overcome the near-paralyzing guilt she feels. A church camping trip seems like the perfect way to ease herself back into the world a bit and start claiming her life.

Little does she or any of the other members of her party realize that what started out as an innocent weekend excursion will soon become a terrifying, deadly fight for survival in an isolated part of the Monongahela National Forest. Continue reading

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Review: The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

The Night SwimAfter two successful seasons of a true-crime podcast, Rachel Krall has found the third season for her show – the small-town trail of a young man accused of rape and its impact on him, the alleged victim, and their community.

Reading Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim, I couldn’t help but wish I’d decided to listen to the audio version of this story. Well, at least that was the case in the chapters when Megan is narrating her podcast. I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something by not listening to Rachel narrate the story as it unfolds.

Rachel’s investigation into the current rape charge brings up some old undercurrents and possibly cover-ups in the small town. The Night Swim doesn’t pull any punches or shy away from examining the implications of the rape on all those associated with it. It’s a hard, eye-opening look and yet, somehow, the novel walks a fine line. The mystery of what happened the nights in question drives the narrative and while I wouldn’t call this a suspense thriller, I will say that I was curious to see where the actual truth would lie in the final pages.

As with many great crime novelists working today, Goldin’s interest isn’t just in solving the central mystery but looking at the impact that mystery has on its characters and society as a whole. Coming away fromThe Night Swim, I found myself thinking about it and pondering those implications long after the final page was turned.

I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue bu V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueNearing her 23rd birthday in a small village, the Addie LaRue of 1714 wants nothing to do with her family’s plans to marry her to a widowed man nearly twice her age. Desperate to escape, Addie calls upon the gods, making a Faustian deal with a devil named Luc.

Addie won’t age. But she also won’t make an impact on the world nor will anyone she interacts with remember who she is. The deal runs out when grows weary and willingly surrenders her soul to Luc. But Addie didn’t count on the immediate heartbreak of her family instantly forgetting her, leaving her without a home and forced to find loopholes to make minor impressions upon the world for the next three hundred years.

Until one day, she wanders into a bookstore and meets Henry. And while stealing a book (Addie gets by stealing a lot of what she needs since people don’t recall her once she’s out of sight), Henry follows her and confronts her, saying the three words she’s been dying to hear for so long — “I remember you.” Continue reading

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