Crook Q by Rachel Newhouse // Review

Crook Q by Rachel Newhouse // Review

I don’t want to kill anyone.

Believing the chaos of her adventure on Mars is behind her, 17-year-old Philadelphia faces a restricted but uneventful future as an unskilled drone in the United’s workforce. But before she can receive her assignment, government officials show up in the dead of night and violently whisk her and Cea away to solitary confinement. The girls soon realize they’re being held hostage to bribe Dr. Nic, Cea’s wickedly genius brother, into resuming work on the infamous superweapon “Red Rain.” Their only option is to escape.

Thrust into the streets with a gun she’s afraid to shoot, Philadelphia realizes her battle with Red Rain is not over—and this time, turning it over to the authorities is not an option.

Crook Q is the second novella in the Red Rain saga, a fast-paced Christian sci-fi series for teens and adults. (from Goodreads)

My Review ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Red Rain was a staple of my teenage hood and the catalyst for my love of indie novels, so I was over the moon when the author relaunched the series and announced numerous sequels. It’s been a long minute since the first book released, so I wasn’t expecting the *exact* same tone, but this did take a little while to adjust to.

Philadelphia is still such an interesting main character to follow, and in this installment, it was evident she’s still coming of age and torn between her dad’s principles and her brother’s ideals. The little bit of added backstory gave me so much sympathy for Dr. Smyrna and understanding of his passivity. I also loved how even though she isn’t super skilled at anything yet, it’s really her heart and courage that matter. I look forward to seeing her grow.

Some of the back-and-forth action and her more fragile emotional state (#trauma) did wear on me to begin with, but in retrospect, it fit the story and the last third or so picked up and made up for it. 😉

Ephesus and Cea were boss as usual, and I’m becoming more intrigued by Dr. Nic. It was also amazing to see a few side characters reappear and how they worked into the story. And can I just say that Philli’s relation to her Bible in this is such a cool contrast to the first book? I may be reading too much into it, but that felt like an amazing demonstration of faith. There’s much less faith content in this book than the first one which was thick with references to Revelation, but it was still present.

CW: strong negative emotions, kidnapping, danger, death off-page, injuries described but not graphic, description of cleaning up blood. A man beats up a teenage girl.

Altogether, I’m very happy to have read this, and I’m excited to continue the series.

Guest Post // To Boldly Go by J. Grace Pennington

Guest Post // To Boldly Go by J. Grace Pennington

(This post literally gave me chills as I read it. 😭💙 I hope it’s an encouragement to your heart.)

I didn’t always love science-fiction. Despite the fact that it’s one of my dad’s favorite things in the entire world, I wasn’t even really aware of what it was until I saw Star Wars in my teens. As an obsessive person, it was very easy from there for me to become, well, obsessed. I had lightsaber fights with my brother in the backyard. I daydreamed about trips on the Millennium Falcon. I debated the legitimacy of JarJar Binks as a character with my friends (those who weren’t scared off by my incessant need to discuss these things, that is).

A few years later, my dad introduced us to Star Trek, and from there – I was hooked. As far as I was concerned, science-fiction was the greatest type of storytelling out there, and I began work on my own series, Firmament, shortly afterward.

It wasn’t the first story (or the first series, for that matter) that I had written. I had been putting stories to paper and/or word processor since I was five years old. Throughout my childhood, I consumed stories the way most kids consume candy – gobbling them every possible chance and then begging for more. The hearing and telling of tales has long been part and parcel of my life. Narration, poetry, and prose are threads without which I don’t know what the fabric of existence would even look like.

Did I mention I’m an obsessive person? I mean that with a capital O. As in OCD. As in severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, which was and still is linked with other mental and emotional struggles. I don’t recall a time that I didn’t experience dark depression, persistent intrusive thoughts, and often crippling anxiety.

Does that seem like a non-sequitur? We were just talking about stories, particularly of the scientifically speculative type. One minute it’s starships, and the next we’re off on mental health. Confusing, right?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

I don’t think I realized until I was much older the connection story can often have with depression and my other assorted issues of the mind and heart. Escapism is part of it, sure – when the world seems hopeless, taking off to a galaxy far, far away can seem tempting indeed. But there’s something deeper to it than the simple hiding of self from problem.

It’s very hard to see in the dark. And sometimes when we’re very close to a situation or to a person or a circumstance, we can get too turned around to find where exactly the light lies. That’s when it can be beneficial to step away for just a little while – to move over the threshold from our own place on our own Earth to another frontier – to a story wherein things are so wildly different that it gives us a whole new perspective, but where the people and problems and darkness are not so very different from our own.

That, as it turns out, is specifically what I love most about science fiction. It’s not the cool technology, the weirdness, the thrilling heroics, though those can all be fun. It’s the way that in its pages or on its screens we can see our own lives reflected but inverted. We see our struggles, our problems, our messes magnified and twisted into something we barely recognize – but still, we see them. We see them just clearly enough to take courage and hope back into life when we finish the story. We see ourselves, the same, but different, like an old friend with a new haircut and a new sense of style. We see something so familiar, and yet maybe something that we’ve never seen before.

In short, in these stories wherein the improbable is made possible, we see a glimpse of truth. And ultimately, when truth shines through in a story, it illuminates some part of our lives, of our minds, of our hearts in a way that is specific to our own journeys. Through the veneer of the speculation and the fiction, we can catch a lightened glimpse of a more real reality. A reality that, despite the darkness that may come, is always there.

A reality of hope. A reality that helps my often tangled and struggling mind to boldly go where it needs to go to find the truth behind the stories, the fact behind the fiction, and the knowledge that there is something more we cannot always see.


J. Grace Pennington has been telling stories since she could talk and writing them down since age five. Now she lives in the great state of Texas, where she writes as much as adult life permits. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading good books, having adventures with her husband and daughters, and looking up at the stars.

(Giveaway ends midnight PST! Enter now!)

The Firmament Series by J. Grace Pennington // Mini Reviews

The Firmament Series by J. Grace Pennington // Mini Reviews

I absolutely adore sci-fi, and the more character-centric and deep themey it is… SIGN ME UP.

The Firmament series by J. Grace Pennington was one of my first (and few) experiences of indie Christian sci-fi, and I grow more and more in love with it with each new book. 😉

(FYI, books one and two are currently free on Amazon so run and get your copies. 😍)

Please enjoy the gorgeous covers and here are my mini reviews…

1.

This story jumps right into the action while setting up the main cast of characters who are going to become very beloved. 😍

2.

My favorite, or one of my favorites, or the first time in this series I had a favorite… Anyway, it’s basically the book that made me a fan. 😉 I really enjoyed this take on aliens, and the mystery was quite satisfying.

3.

Absolutely incredible villain and soooo twisty. Like *mind blown*

4.

Oh look, another favorite! Absolutely brilliant twist on such well-established characters. 👏👏 It made me want to know them even more.

5.

Earth is technically part of space, right? 😜 Really cool character development and sibling team-up. ❤

6.

EDGE OF MY SEAT book. Everyone just gets more and more depth and the stories are tying together so well. 😍 Another favorite, oops.

7.

I have yet to read this one (I just checked it out on Kindle Vella) but the synopsis has a callback to book 2???! So yes, I have my homework. 😉


Go enter the giveaway!!

A Conversation with J. Grace Pennington

A Conversation with J. Grace Pennington

(sorry I’m late–I broke down on the way here 😉)

Today I’d like to welcome author J. Grace Pennington! Grace, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello! Thank you so much for having me on the blog. I’m a self-published Christian author who writes while my three baby girls are napping, which means I have to try to use small amounts of time effectively! I’ve been writing my whole life and publishing for the past decade – a little bit of everything, but primarily young adult science-fiction novels. I also love reading (of course), playing with my girls, crocheting, and coloring (ideally all while listening to a good audiobook).

Congrats on your latest release, Eleftheria! You’ve decided to release it in a serial format on Kindle Vella. Can you tell us more about that and how we can read it?

Thank you! I’m new to Kindle Vella, but I’m finding it a very exciting way to publish – it’s a bit reminiscent of the olden days when novels such as Charles Dickens’ were published serially in the papers! Eleftheria is releasing three chapters a week, and will wrap up early in September.

Readers can purchase tokens with which to buy episodes (though the first three episodes of all Vella stories are free) and read them on their Kindles, phones, computers, or however one reads ebooks. So it’s a bit like getting multiple episodes a week of your favorite show! I also include a poll at the end of each chapter where readers can share their opinions or give their guesses as to what happens next.

What are your long-term plans for the Firmament series?

I’m currently working on book eight, Humanoid, and am nearly finished with the first draft. I’d love to be more consistent in getting the books out (it’s taken me ten years just to release these first seven!) so building a system of writing and publishing into my days is important to me. I have plans for eighteen books total, all of which have been planned since before the first book was written, so the big-picture events of the series are pretty much set in stone, but there’s so much room for experimentation and exploration within that framework. And I honestly just enjoy spending time with my characters and experiencing their world as I write!

What other projects, writing or otherwise, can you share about right now?

I wrote a novel called “Shows” last year that I am starting to get beta feedback on before I edit and possibly try to get a publishing agent for it – it’s very different from my series. It’s a general Christian fiction book about a young girl who moves to the big city and finds herself participating in a church’s twelve-step program as she searches for answers to life, faith, and dealing with mental illness.

There’s also a book I’m starting to think about outlining for this year’s National Novel Writing Month in November, a cyberpunk adventure called “Chroma” that deals with virtual reality, consequences, and the tension and loyalty between a father and son.

Otherwise, I have a weekly podcast entitled Improbable Things where I share six reading and writing related thoughts before my kids wake up in the morning. It’s a great way to give updates about my projects, share tidbits about my kids and their love of reading, discuss my current reads, and go on rants and rambles regarding my observations on storytelling. The podcast can be found on Anchor, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

How long have you been an author? What advice would you give to newer/breakout authors?

The first time I remember writing anything was a very short book when I was five years old, and I’ve never stopped since then! But despite starting several dozen stories, I never actually finished one until I was almost twenty. (And that book was absolutely terrible, of course, but at least it showed me I could finish something!) The second book I completed was Firmament: Radialloy, the first book in my series, and I published it shortly afterwards.

The number one piece of advice I always give writers is to push through writers block. You can always get words out on the page, even if they are terrible, but if you don’t push through the hard places then you’ll never finish your story and have the chance to fix and polish it. For your first draft, just get the words out. Editing comes later. The first important thing is to finish your story.

For your first draft, just get the words out. Editing comes later. The first important thing is to finish your story.

What is your favorite way you’ve seen God make your ordinary life beautiful?

At the current stage of my life (stay-at-home motherhood with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-year-old) the most beautiful thing I experience is getting to see my daughters discover the world. To witness their delight at the ordinary – the exuberance over a weird bug, shock at their first ever rainstorm, or breathlessness when my rhinestone sandals catch the light and throw sparkles all over the room – brings a freshness and glory to all those mundane parts of life I take for granted. It shows me a perspective on old concepts and ideas turned new through their beautiful eyes and constantly-inquiring minds. There’s nothing like it in all the world.

Thank you so much for coming!

Thank you for having me! It’s been great chatting with you!

Follow Grace everywhere, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway!

Introducing My Favorite Podcast (+Giveaway)

Introducing My Favorite Podcast (+Giveaway)

I’m not a podcast gal. I prefer reading to listening, and if I listen to something it should probably be instrumental music so I can actually focus on whatever I should be doing…

The only time I really listen to podcasts is with my husband, and even then I have a hard time focusing on what’s being said. *hides*

I love to keep up with my favorite authors through their blogs and social media (and the odd newsletter here and there), but this is the first time I’ve fallen in love with the podcast format. 

J. Grace Pennington’s podcast Improbable Things converted me. 

I’ve been a fan of her and her work for a few years now, but I found out she had a podcast for regular updates and thought I’d pop in just to see when the next book was coming out. 

I found instead a well-rounded, deeply interesting look into her life as an author, fan of books and movies, mental health warrior, and bookish mother. She shares six literary thoughts from her week, and it’s both interesting and encouraging to see how these areas of life intersect.

And she does, of course, share a lot about her current projects, just like I was hoping. 😉

I enjoy the conversational yet structured format, and as someone with auditory sensitivity, her quiet, “audiobook narrator” voice is a nice retreat.

Tomorrow you’ll get to meet J. Grace and her work, but for now, definitely go try her podcast. You won’t regret it. 😉

In celebration of her newest book Eleftheria, J. Grace Pennington is giving away the first two books of her Firmament series!

Enter Here

Elite by Kristen Young // Review

Elite by Kristen Young // Review

Where do you find safety when your world is falling apart?
 
Apprentice Flick thought the Elite Academy was the answer to all her problems. But the revelation of her past turned everything upside down. Now, she is caught between two worlds set on a collision course.

 
Will she embrace the chaotic memories that flood her every waking moment? Or will she run to the security of her Elite training?
 
Discovering her parents’ identities takes her to a secret underground bunker where she finds new friends, opportunities, and maybe even love. But Flick must decide where her allegiances lie soon, or the Triumph of Love festival might bring about her demise. (from Goodreads)

My Review ⭐⭐⭐⭐

After holding out for an admirably long time (more than two weeks 😱), I caved and bought the second book.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t this. 🤯🤯 I really loved the unexpected plot direction that strengthened the themes even more.

I knew I was right to choose Hodge as a favorite character, and it was fun seeing some side characters take a turn in center stage. Flick continued to be very interesting, and I loved seeing her process each new obstacle and revelation.

Again, the tech was really fascinating and immersive. 👏👏 I especially enjoyed the Watcher scenes, though the gravity wasn’t lost.

The new elements in this book were fabulous. I enjoyed the gorgeous yet relevant portrayal of Christianity. I also deeply appreciated the theme of non-violence.

My criticisms of the first book were unfortunately even more present in this one. There was a whole new set of side characters (to the author’s credit I could *eventually* keep them straight) plus code names for some I already knew and a complicated, sometimes clumsy new set of terms.

CW: Flashbacks to implied execution, kidnapping, fear. Mentions of observing stabbing, murder, domestic violence, and planned domestic terrorism through surveillance work. Lying/manipulation. Intrusive thoughts of guilt. Allusion to an official being a p*do. Slight implication of rock music being evil.

Best quote: Just because you don’t hear a voice, doesn’t mean he’s not there. He’s with you. That’s what he wanted me to tell you.

Altogether, I’m very much intrigued by where this series is going and have high hopes it nails the ending. ❤️

Apprentice by Kristen Young // Review

Apprentice by Kristen Young // Review

The Love Collective is everywhere. It sees everything. Be not afraid.

Apprentice Flick remembers everything, except the first five years of her life. And for as long as she can remember, Flick has wanted to enter the Elite Academy – home to the best, brightest, and most loyal members of the Love Collective government.

Flick’s uncanny memory might get her there, too … even if it is the very thing that marks her as a freak. But frightening hallucinations start intruding into her days and threaten to bring down all she has worked so hard to accomplish. Why is she being hijacked by a stranger’s nightmare over and over again?

Moving to the Elite Academy could give Flick the future she’s always wanted. But her search for truth may lead to a danger she cannot escape. (from Goodreads)

My Review ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’m still a little bit in shock that I finished this book. For a couple days afterward, it lived so rent free in my mind, that I kept wanting to continue reading and being disappointed all over again that it was over. 😅 Fortunately it is a series, so next time I feel like I can swing that much for an ebook, I am absolutely diving back in. 😎

This book drew me in immediately (from the Amazon sample because #cautious), and kept me all the way through. I was really fascinated with Flick’s memory and how it affected her life for good and bad. I can relate to that just a little bit, and it was really interesting to see her backstory slowly revealed, both in memories she’d filed away perfectly and ones she didn’t recognize. I especially found her emotional responses extremely accurate and compelling.

Side characters were one of the biggest pros and cons for me about this book. On the one hand, there were so many names that were so similar, I had trouble keeping them straight until I mentally pared them down to who was most important. Hodge, Chu, and Cam are my favorites, and I’m very invested in Sif’s storyline. (I refuse to believe it’s over.) Dorm Leader Akela is goals.

The tech just absolutely blew my mind. I know it wasn’t anything exceedingly original, but it was so seamless, fascinating, and easy to immerse myself in. My favorite scene was when they were running the Engine Room. 🤩

The unique terminology was a little much at first, but I got used to everything except “Haterman”. That just seemed to pull me out of the story whenever it was used. 🥲 A very small complaint though in an otherwise highly enjoyable story.

CW: Descriptions of child abuse, medical procedures, and violent gladiatorial games. Implied off-screen executions. Claustrophobia. Themes of medical kidnapping and education as indoctrination.

Best quote: “Why are you doing this?” I say to my body. “Why can’t you just behave like a normal person?”

Altogether, I highly enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading the rest of the series. 👏👏

Perfect for fans of Anomaly by Krista McGee.

Ignite by Jenna Terese // A Review

Ignite by Jenna Terese // A Review

What if superhumans weren’t considered heroes?

When Scarlett Marley is attacked by an illegal super with fire powers, she doesn’t get burned, but now she has a fire-like glow flickering in her eyes.

With superpowers criminalized, she has no choice but to turn herself over to the Superhuman Containment Facility, or risk hurting everyone she loves.

Her normal life seems lost forever, until she is selected to be one of the first to receive the experimental cure to destroy her powers. In exchange, she must first complete one mission:
Infiltrate and capture one of the largest gangs of supers in the remains of once-great Rapid City.

With the cure and all her future at stake, Scarlett is prepared to do whatever it takes to bring these criminals to justice so she can return to her family. But this gang and their leader, Rez, aren’t what everyone says, and Scarlett begins to question everything she was ever told about the SCF and the fire flowing in her veins.

The cure is her only hope for returning her life to what it was before, but is that life worth returning to after all? (from Goodreads)

My Review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I love superhero stories, and I’ve been craving another original, creative take on the genre. So when I blipped back into the indie bookish world, I was delighted to see this debut and immediately snapped it up.

Life happened and I didn’t get to read it for a while, but early this year, Mikayla and I decided to make it a buddy read. ❤️

From the very first, very real scene I was drawn into this world. The political climate, Scarlett’s own misgivings, and the general atmosphere made so much sense and made me ponder the real world issues they mirrored. And wow, the description (and onset!) of powers was done so well.

The core four have such rich backstories and motivations, it was really a delight to soak it in. Whoever you are, you will find someone to relate to in this book. Fears, goals, it’s all there. 👏👏

I adored the Rapid City scenes, especially anything involving the little kids. This book did a great job keeping the humanity superhero stories can often miss, and the themes shine through some beautiful, beautiful scenes.

Nadia is my favorite character, and I’m invested in Scarlett’s continuing arc. (Sequel, when??)

I did find some development of side characters weak or generic, and Seth (my child) fell slightly into that trap in the last few chapters. I found some technical scenes at the SCF confusing, but I currently struggle with concentration issues, so don’t take my word for it. 😉

Favorite quotes: “Yeah, I’m okay.” He shrugs. “Always.” He forces his signature grin, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

But anything I say could reveal my true feelings. My true feelings? No, my mixed feelings. My doubts. Whatever they are, he can’t know those.

CW: prejudice and fear against a group of people, death (onscreen and off), illness, injections. One character is trapped in a fire and the scene could be potentially triggering to some readers.

One last comment–I am so glad I splurged and bought a paperback. The cover looks so good in real life, and it’s one of the highest quality indie paperbacks I’ve owned. 🤩

Definitely a great read, and I’m looking forward to what this author does next!

Book Review: I Am a Dalek

Book Review: I Am a Dalek

“Equipped with space suits, golf clubs and a flag, the Doctor and Rose are planning to live it up, Apollo mission-style, on the Moon. But the TARDIS has other plans, landing them instead in a village on the south coast of England; a picture-postcard sort of place where nothing much happens. Until now…

An archaeological dig has turned up a Roman mosaic, circa AD 70, depicting mythical scenes, grapes and a Dalek. A few days later a young woman, rushing for work, is knocked over and killed by a bus, then comes back to life.

It’s not long before all hell breaks loose, and the Doctor and Rose must use all their courage and cunning against an alien enemy and a not-quite-alien accomplice who are intent on destroying humanity.” (from Goodreads)

Hello. I am a nerd.

I splurged and bought ebooks during quarantine (due to library lockdown) and this was one of the lucky winners.

It was so, so good.

From the moment the Doctor and Rose jumped out of the TARDIS, they were fully in character, utterly in love (even if they don’t know it), completely hilarious, and out to save the world. This book had just the feeling of one of my favorite episodes and was written so well that I could read lines in the characters’ voices. The author did an amazing job weaving strands of story together, and I gawked a few times at particularly beautiful phrases. 😉 (The milk bottle. Seriously, the MILK BOTTLE.)

I mentioned in my “pre-review” that I bawled like a baby, and I’m not exaggerating. XD I actually had a bit of a headache afterward, but I also didn’t mind. Some of my favorite episodes (and apparently books) of this show are the ones that remind me that humanity is beautiful, completely unique, and full of potential. And that little epilogue was pretty sweet, and so like the Doctor. 😉

Just a note, there was some various language through including a blasphemy, usage of b***hy, h***, and smarta**e. There were also a couple mentions of a well-endowed side character and an off-color phone conversation in the back of a scene. Since the story centers around a Dalek, there are some descriptions of violence, but the main one that could be disturbing was a car accident.

Best quotes: The Doctor turned to face her. His features were alive with wonder and excitement. Not for the first time, Rose felt it was as if he was seeing through her eyes, and she wondered if that was one of the reasons he needed somebody to travel with.

‘Yeah, it’s all the TARDIS’s fault. It’s got all these emergency systems. I turned them all off years ago. They kept going off and I couldn’t hear myself think. Must have come back on.

Altogether, this was a ton of fun. I just might have to try more by this author. 😉

Book Review: No Man

Book Review: No Man

“She doesn’t have much longer to live.

Losing the last of the radialloy puts Andi’s life in immediate danger and sends her, August, and the Doctor rushing towards the demolished Qandon system in search of more. Their speeder is crippled, a powerful man is desperate to stop them—and they are running out of time.

Meanwhile, Crash has escaped from prison and is hiding somewhere in Hungary, hunted by assassins who have instructions to kill him if Andi and the others don’t return to Earth in one week. The only person on Earth who can help him is Guilders, who very nearly despises him.

Is there more radialloy out there? Can Crash and Guilders make it to safety? And will Andi ever be able to return to the way of life that she loves so much?” (from Goodreads)

I shouldn’t have inhaled this book (it’s the latest one available currently), but I honestly think I couldn’t have stopped if I’d tried. 😉 I even stayed up a bit late I was on such pins and needles. 😉

This one had quite a different setting from the others, and it was fun getting to see more space and different types of ships. 😉 I’m definitely with Andi on the claustrophobic nature of the speeder. XD She wasn’t the most likeable in this one sometimes, but I loved seeing how her experiences were affecting her. Illness, worry, being betrayed so many times and put on her guard, and even the effects of the reversal zone weighed on her. I honestly related a lot, and I love this complexity to her character.

The Doctor and August were quite wonderful as usual, and Guilders absolutely shone in this one. Having multiple POVs was weird for me at first, then I loved getting a glimpse inside his head. He and Crash are so opposite and yet I think their journeys are a little more similar than they realize in some ways. Those campfire talks/silences were great, and after learning more about Crash, I hope more for him. I appreciate how slowly the author is taking his storyline, and I know she will handle it with care. 😉

Book Talbot was a fascinating new character. I liked his inventor brain (this book had GADGETS) and his respectful attitude toward Andi and commitment to his work were admirable. I’m adding him to the list of characters I hope to see again.

Just a note, because the stakes were higher in this one, there are some wounds and injuries (including blood) and some traumatic hospital scenes. *cries*

Best quotes: “Because I’m not real. You know that.” His turn to sigh. She was right. He did. “I would if I could, though,” she comforted.

I felt his Adam’s apple move as he swallowed, unable to finish his sentence, and I clung to him as, for the first time in my life, we cried together.

Altogether, to say I didn’t cry would be lying. 😉 This book was a beautiful mixture of hopeful and heartbreaking.