Posts by Erik McManus | Breakeven Books

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Book Review: The Aletheian Journeys: The Arrow Bringer by Lisa Mayer

A new reviewer has joined the team! Welcome, Sara to the Breakeven Books team. You can find Sara on her Instagram at saramact! She has reviewed The Aletheian Journeys: The Arrow Bringer by Lisa Mayer.

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This novel is a C.S. Lewis inspired Christian fantasy. Taking place in the land of Aletheian, which is in another world, the two main characters fight against the evil ruler, Kotu, to bring peace back to the land through inspiring the love for an omnipotent and near-forgotten caretaker, the Arrow Bringer.

The plot is long and flows from one conflict to the next, never sticking to a traditional storyline, so you don’t know what’s coming next. The author focuses a lot of the book on the inner turmoil of the main character and narrator, Evangeline, as she works through her issues with her initial turning away from the Arrow Bringer and her responsibilities to the people of Aletheia. The secondary character, Shawn, is also struggling with his own faith, though he is much more confident in his role. Through preparing for an epic battle with Kotu and his followers, the Aletheians must go on a journey assigned to them by the Arrow Bringer to prove their love and faith.
Though I enjoyed the fantasy world Mayer had created, the model has some definite flaws. There are several parts where the story is lacking a certain “flow”, and so occasionally reads a bit rough. For example, she introduced a few characters as if we should already know who they were, or mentioned personal relationships between characters that were not exposed at all before that, and so came across as forced.

Unfortunately, the Christian allegory and allusions are about as subtle as a brick. There is no mistaking this for anything other than a Christian story, and in many parts makes such obvious references and defers from the plot so much that it is very distracting from the story. Eventually, the Arrow Bringer character even takes human form, is renamed Justus, and sacrifices himself for his followers. Though I enjoy a good Christian story, this novel is so blunt about it that I found it very distracting from the fantasy elements of the story, and found it hard to enjoy because of this.

Overall, this book has a good premise, as the idea behind the fantasy elements of the story is entertaining and intriguing. The author fleshes out the characters she chooses to very well, and makes them relatable. I enjoyed reading through Evangeline’s personal journey as she progressed through the story. Unfortunately, the bluntness of the Christian elements detract from the overall story and make it hard to read without feeling like you’re reading the New Testament.

Book Rating: 3/5.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to us by the author for an honest review. We have not been compensated in any way.

Find the book on Amazon! Or check out the author’s website. You can also find Lisa Mayer on Twitter.

Talk to you soon bookworms!

Book Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Another book review, this time of Release by Patrick Ness. I read this one really fast so that tells you that it was damn good.

I would start with the fact that I love this book cover. It’s beautiful. Also kind of confused me because I would pick up the book to read if I put it down and it would be upside down because I kept expecting the cover to be right side up 😛

Synopsis: Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life.

Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart.  At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela.

But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.

So I loved Adam’s character. He was just so real. And his best friend Angela was the best. If she was my friend, I would feel so blessed because she cares for Adam so much and would do anything for him. The fact that they became such good friends because they bonded over being in a car accident together as children was really cool. Just hanging upside down and reaching over and holding each other’s hands while being stuck in the car.

The entire book spans just over one day and a lot happens in this one day. Adam hears some big news from his brother, is given an ultimatum by his boss to either keep his job or get fired, and attends a party for some people close to him that are moving away. But there is another side story happening at the same time as Adam’s unravels.

A young woman named Katherine was killed just days before and her spirit has come out of the lake and is searching for some resolution to why she died. The story keeps switching back and forth between the two characters which makes for a very interesting storyline but none the less magnificent.

Adam’s struggle with his home life is kind of brutal too. He likes the same sex and this is not a thing you do if you are religious. At one point his father even tells him that he has to “work” to love Adam and that would be so hard to hear especially from the person you look up to and learn from your entire life. But he is true to who he is and fights for what he wants which I admire about him.

There was a quote that stood out in the book. It came from Angela’s mom but I thought it was too awesome not to share.

Never pass up the chance to be kissing someone. Its the worst kind of regret.

All in all, I loved this book and would strongly recommend it. It’s a very easy read and will leave you feeling happy. I honestly can’t find anything negative to say about it. This is the first book I have read by Patrick Ness and I really look forward to reading more of his work.

Book Rating: 5/5

Disclaimer: I bought this book with my own money and decided to write a review on it. I have been compensated in no way and did this because I wanted to.

Book Review: Star City by Edwin Peng

Another book  has been read and reviewed! This one is called Star City by Edwin Peng.

This book was pretty good. The main characters were Emma (the youthful student ambassador) and Sepporinen (the chosen Alien delegate). They work together to cure diseases with the use of the alien technology. But a lot of the world doesn’t agree with working with aliens and choose to start anti-Bar’en groups (Bar’en is the alien race that Sepporinen is a part of).

There was some teen love but I found that most of it wasn’t exactly believable. It just seemed like a very elementary school kind of relationship.

Most of the events that happened in the book were pretty predictable. I kept waiting for that moment when you think you know whats going to happen and there is a twist that just makes for a great ending but it never came.

There was a lot of progress towards accepting different cultures. This I did like about the book because it promoted accepting everyone and taking away the fuel of hatred towards others based on skin color or religion.

It was interesting enough to keep me going and I liked the book cover too. I think the sequels will be promising and I hope for some more adventure with the main characters.

Book Rating: 3.5/5

Oh and finally I will reveal the Giveaway Winner!!! And the winner is…….drumroll please……….KYLEE BAKOWSKI! I will get in touch and get the book to you. Thank you to everyone who liked and shared the post and participated in the contest.

Disclaimer: I was sent this book by the author and publishers to read and give my honest review. I also did a book highlight and giveaway for this book.

Book Review: Writer, Seeker, Killer by Ryan Starbloak

Another review for you guys by our one and only Chris Connors of the BreakEven Books team! He took on Writer, Seeker, Killer by Ryan Starbloak this time.

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In the 1970s there was a fad among writers to have their book end with a most unexpected ending. Sometimes the ending was ambiguous—no doubt that makes for good classroom discussions on what really happened—and sometimes the ending was “everyone dies”, or at least the raison d’etre of the main character dies; and other times someone dies but it is ambiguous.

This is a book that harkens back to some of that 70s writing. Despite my dislike for that type of book, this is a good book; in fact, it is probably a really good book.

I jumped into this book without reading anything about the book so I enjoyed the adventure as it went along. The author doesn’t lay everything out and doesn’t explain many things, but instead drops hints so that you gradually put together pieces of the puzzle to figure out where things are going. Just the reading itself was like slowly unwrapping a multi-layered gift with each new wrapping revealing something new, but still not fully exposing what is at the heart of the gift.

And, what is quite refreshing is that just as you think you know where this is going the author drops another throw-away line that makes you say, “Wait?! What?”, and you have to go back and reread the preceding paragraph to make sure you’ve read it right.

This book, set in New Orleans, takes you on a journey through some of the seedier aspects of the human condition, the drug wars, gang life, poverty, racial violence while also discussing beginner philosophical and religious tenets, family, and life in general. This journey itself was artfully done. I imagine an English literature teacher in high school would get a few weeks of discussion material (the writing stylings actually reminded me a bit of Timothy Findlay’s The War, that English lit book that was all the rage for so long).

Then just when you think you know where this book is going there’s another big twist that transforms the book completely, and suddenly the whole thing turns almost surreal. It is like reading what you think is a romance novel only to suddenly have a Jason Bourne-like character show up for a big reveal (not that this book is a romance book or has any Jason Bourne character, but the switch is just as big and interesting).

There are a few misused words (“granite” for “granted” e.g., “Taking her family and existence for granite then clinging to both when they were proven as counterfeit”). It would also be easy to criticize the book for the “bad” guys rather convoluted Rube Goldberg way of going about their plans. There were so many different, quicker, cheaper ways of getting to where they wanted. As well, there are many unanswered questions, but the writing skill displayed makes you overlook these things; or at least overlook till the wee hours of the morning when your brain says, “Psst, wake up. Let’s talk about the
novel”.

It seems the book isn’t so much about the storyline, but more about the human condition; the plot itself is of lesser importance than the exploration of the inner workings of people—at least that is my sense after my brain woke me up at 2:40 a.m. and made me type this out.The fact that this book did that indicates just how well-written, and even powerful, it is. A five-star book that will stay with me for quite a while.

Book Rating: 5/5

Disclaimer: This book was provided to us by the author in exchange for an honest review.

And if you wish to connect with the author, check out his Tumblr page!

Book Review – Peanut Butter and Jelly by Ben Clanton

I recently read Peanut Butter and Jelly (A Narwhal and Jelly Book #3) by Ben Clanton. It was a short graphic novel about the friendship of a narwhal and a jellyfish. This was an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) and it will be published March 27th, 2018.

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Synopsis: Narwhal and Jelly are back and Narwhal has a new obsession . . . peanut butter! He’s so obsessed he even wants to change his name to . . . that’s right . . . Peanut Butter! Ever-sensible Jelly isn’t so sure that’s the best idea but is all for Narwhal trying new things (instead of just eating waffles all the time, no matter how delicious waffles are).

In this third book, Narwhal and Jelly star in three new stories about trying new things, favorite foods and accepting who we are. Always funny and never didactic, this underwater duo charms again through their powerful combination of positive thinking, imagination, and joyfulness.

This graphic novel was really fun! It is very simple so great for young readers and it had a lot of wit to it. There were some puns which made me laugh and the narwhal’s element of just pure innocence puts a smile on your face. And you can’t go wrong with waffles and peanut butter, these are just two amazing food options.

The characters reminded me of some classic duos where there is a funny and serious portrayal. The one creature is the serious and methodical one (Jellyfish) and the other creature was humorous and spontaneous (Narwhal).

Overall, it was a fast-read with fun characters and a simple storyline that would be great for a younger audience.

Book Rating: 4/5

Disclaimer: I received this ARC through NetGalley for an honest review.

Book Review: Booth by Jason Pellegrini

We have a very in-depth review for you guys from an addition to the BreakevenBooks team. Our new reviewer Chris Connors decided to take on Booth by Jason Pellegrini.

Synopsis: At dawn, on the day of his execution, Joseph Bateman finds himself reflecting on his life, one filled with poor decisions and evil people. Even his lifelong best friend played a pivotal role in earning Joseph his seat on death row. A phenomenon occurs as the electricity meant to kill Joseph is sent through him, and his essence is ripped from the body he has known his entire life and thrown into a new one. Only the body he now inhabits isn’t new at all; it is the body of a person who lived over a hundred years before Joseph’s birth. Now living in an unfamiliar era of history and trapped inside a foreign body, Joseph learns he has been sent back for a reason: to earn redemption for his damned soul and to find a sense of peace he has never known. All he needs to do to get there is to prevent one of history’s most infamous murders.

The book blurb captured my imagination right away. Obviously, Joseph William Bateman’s redemption is hinged on stopping John Wilkes Booth—note the initials of both names– from killing Abraham Lincoln, but since Booth did kill Lincoln does this mean Joseph didn’t get redemption? Is there an alternate timeline involved? Was redemption in an unexpected form, maybe a surprise twist? I looked forward to seeing how Pellegrini dealt with this.

The first half of the book starts out with Joseph on death row contemplating how he got there, and the writing in the first few chapters pulls you right into the story.

Murdering one man did not get him to where he was in life (although he’d soon learn he was actually very wrong about that). A long series of unfortunate events had landed him on Death Row. So Joseph Bateman, in the closing hour of his life, chose to reflect.

The small details about his early love for jelly beans (his mother called him Joey Beans), the description of their taste and what jelly beans meant to Joseph are well-crafted, putting you in touch with the child whose imagination helped him escape a bad parental situation by turning the Moon into a giant sweet sugary jellybean that was slowly eaten away only to return anew. Through these chapters, we see how childhood and young adulthood events shaped Joseph’s life and led him to the electric chair.

As Joseph grows older we see him fighting to be nothing like his abusive father, fighting to get away and become his own man, to live happily ever after with his early childhood best friend and later his lover. You feel for Joseph knowing, like Romeo and Juliet, that his dreams will not come true and he is his father’s son, but you still root for him hoping it’ll somehow work out despite him being a few hours from his execution.

It is a great start and whatever Pellegrini did for these first few chapters needs to be applied to the other chapters because the rest of the book seems clunky by comparison. His use of long and short sentences that pull the reader into the story, in the beginning, fades away as the chapters continue; much of the sentence structure is the same type with little variation, and the compelling rhythm is lost.

Subtlety is not put to good use in this book. We’re whacked over the head with the obvious on numerous occasions. Considering Joseph is on death row at the start of the book then foreshadowing his fate with statements like “…just one more step on the path that would lead Joseph to death row” over and over seems a bit of overkill (so to speak).

The descriptions of the abuse his father metes out on his mother are cartoonishly over-the-top. He doesn’t just rape, kick and beat her, but also brings home his gambling buddies to rape her. I worked as a Direct Care Worker for 8 years with youth in the justice system and on the streets and I know these things happen. What makes the book scenario so unbelievable is that 1) the father doesn’t abuse the kids (an abusive man doesn’t make that distinction), and 2) the mother stays with him despite all this.
There are women who will stay with abusive men till she’s killed. However, Joseph’s mom, Emily Bateman, is portrayed as a saint, a good woman, a great mother. You don’t have those qualities and still, put up with such violence and torture for many years. The women who do stay around to be tortured are often so damaged they’re not capable of being good and kind on a long-term or even regular basis.

In this case, I think Pellegrini could have written less while implying more horror without bludgeoning the reader with the abuse. The father could have been given more of a dimensional character to help us see why Emily didn’t leave him. That being said there are still well-written gems popping out in these sections like how Joseph runs out into the yard to find his sister during a particularly horrible beating of their mother; they end up cuddled together in the trunk of an old car comforting one another. Quite
touching, well done.

So Joseph’s reflections– not reminiscences, he tells us (another nice bit of writing detail that makes Joseph a real flesh-and-blood character)—proceed in a chronological order till his execution. The second half of the book deals with Joseph’s death and the transferal of his soul into the late 1800s where he is expected to stop an assassination. I was looking forward to this half of the book.

We meet up with a mysterious figure (the man with eyes) who Joseph has unknowingly met a few times before. This is his guide, called J, a 2,000-year-old soul who betrayed a friend, whose own path to redemption comes from helping others find their redemption (J’s actual name isn’t given, but it’s obvious). Given J’s behavior though I suspect he won’t be finding his own redemption anytime soon. He tells Joseph a few times to watch out for Booth, that Booth will do anything to stop him. However, none of that is true (no spoilers so I can’t elaborate). His early cryptic statements aren’t helpful. He tells Joseph the walls will fall and Joseph will see (I was hoping J would say, “Shaka, when the walls fell; Sokath, his eyes open”, but I guess 2,000-year-old souls don’t keep up with pop culture references).

There’s also a scene where J kills someone by twisting a knife into their stomach and letting them bleed out so the soul can be set free to embark upon a task. Yes, it was necessary, but what happened to a warm bath, a nice bottle of wine, and slitting your wrists? Or a bullet? J will never get redemption if he keeps this up.

This second half of the book is the weakest section. We’re told many times (again) that Joseph is an expert on Booth so knows all of Booth’s movements before and after the assassination. The whole section reads like it was taken from a history book without any fleshing out of characters: he went there, then he saw this, then he did that, next he rode here, he met a doctor, he left a doctor. Bizarrely Joseph re-enacts all of Booth’s movements for the silliest of reasons. If you’re going to change history why not do everything different?

Perhaps a way to improve both sections is to alternate the chapters. Instead of a long chronological recounting of Joseph’s childhood followed by a chronological accounting of his actions in the 1800s, it could be possible to jump back and forth. You end one chapter of Joseph’s childhood wanting to know what happened next, but first you have to read a chapter of him in the past (which when it ends you want to know what happens next, but your next chapter is back to the childhood). It would build and maintain suspense, keep the reader turning pages, make thematic connections between the past and present, and slowly let the story unravel rather than laying everything down in plain sight. It would make us feel we’re traveling between times as the author could add flesh and detail to both worlds.

Fortunately, Pellegrini pulls it back together for the final act. I don’t want to give spoilers, but he delivers an ending and an epilogue worthy of the hopes I had for the book when I first read the blurb. I thought I knew where he was going, and I was partly right, but he still surprised me.

Overall, I liked the concept. It is fairly original. There is some good writing in the book, and an editor would help the author bring that quality writing to the sections that were lacking. I suspect Jason Pellegrini is still on the steep learning curve of writing and will improve immensely with practice. He’s shown he can write well. Now he just needs to do it consistently. I look forward to reading his future books.

Book Rating: 3.75/5

And that is our wonderful review by Chris Connors!

Disclaimer: This book was sent to Breakeven Books by the author Jason Pellegrini for an honest review.

 

 

New Giveaway Alert!!

I have been talking with many authors and receiving so many requests to review books lately and it has been a blast. There will be a lot of interesting reviews coming down the line! But for now, I am hosting a giveaway. You may have remembered me doing a book highlight for Star City by Edwin Peng. Well, they sent me an extra copy of the book to host a giveaway 🙂

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All you have to do is like this post and share it on social media! Don’t forget to tag @BreakevenBooks in your post so I know that it was posted and to add your entry into the draw.

I also linked up with thisiswriting.com to promote some books. They have The Ultimate List of Fiction Books You Should Read At Least Once in Your Life and it has some good ones on it. Make sure to check them out if you get a chance!

Also excited to share some reviews from others that are helping me out with the blog. I will be posting their reviews once they are done the books I assigned to them.

Alright well, make sure to enter the giveaway and good luck bookworms!