Behind Picketwire by M. Day Hampton

Not your usual love story

This book is going to be complicated to review, for the simple fact that it is too easy to give away spoilers. Indeed, especially towards the end, even the tiniest detail is a spoiler!

But I will start with this – as soon as Red had his fall, this was one of the few times that I wanted to skip to the end, to see what happened to him. I resisted the urge and in many ways I’m glad I did, as the ending is too strong and would have spoilt the rest. Instead, I stuck with it, with Red and the dog(s) (minor spoiler), on their journey through the wilderness.

In some ways, this could be classified as Dystopian – a world where people, law, order, the modern world, has all disappeared. It’s like a One Man and His Dog version of The Land Before Time. There’s just the wilderness, with all of nature as it once was and could be again.

So, considering it all, even before starting, we know that Red has to be in some dream-like state. Is it a coma? Is he already dead? Will he wake up? All those questions are hard to tell, as the book trundles slowly on. And yes, I did find it a slow read. I think probably because for the first part of the book, it did move slowly. It makes it hard in that the only dialogue is between Red and his dog, or random into the wilderness, or memories. Yes, there are many flashbacks, that help us understand Red better as he starts to understand himself better, too, from his childhood to more recent memories. He sees his triumphs, but he also sees his faults, and wonders why he couldn’t have been a better person at the moments when it mattered. He knows that he cared in those moments, yet was unable to show it better. Regrets, yet rediscovering the love that he moves forward to refind.

Not everything goes to plan in the wilderness. When he does finally set off, with such certainty of where he has to go, where he will find his wife again, between disasters and durability, he somehow finds his way forward.

Once you get into the final thirty percent of the book, the ending can be seen coming. Yet, somehow, you still hope for more.

So, we know what happens to Red, right at the end, yet what about Jake? And who was his coyote companion, he named Lady?

Another note is that there are Christian elements throughout, but in such a casual way as to not be overbearing. I appreciate a book that can give insights into someone’s religious, or semi-religious life, without trying to preach to you or force it down your throat (unfortunately I’ve had a few of the bad kind of late). This is pretty safe for anyone, no matter their spiritual- or non-beliefs.

On the whole, this is a book that deserves forbearance. When the emotional moments come, they are overpowering. In between is a journey that is far more than it first seems.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Midnight Surrender by Nikki Landis

Really hard hitting

This is now book two in the “Freedom Fighters” series and is just as dark, just as filled with graphic violence.

One thing I can’t deny is that it is a page turner. I just ended up flipping through pages, even when it became uncomfortable. Having read the first book, I had a better idea of what to expect, yet some scenes were still shocking and brutal, especially as most consider this a “romance”.

I also questioned the reactions of some of the characters at every turn. Alex was never truly honest with Lizzie, which led her to doubt him greatly. Lizzie makes many questionable decisions, partly because of this, partly because of her weakness of character in general.

Despite all this, mind, the majority of readers seemed to enjoy this. I can’t deny being pulled along as the story progressed, and annoyingly it means that I’m invested enough in the story arc that I want to read the next, the third book. Yet I still wish that all of these books came with the necessary warnings.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Refugee Road by Nikki Landis

Too much violence

This book needs to come with warnings. There are really a few things that grate on me here, the first being the amount of domestic violence, which we have absolutely no warning about in the blurb. We are told that Darren is dangerous, but not how dangerous and violent he is. He also isn’t the only one, with another character injuring Lizzie for the fun of it as well. If you have any issues with any of this, best to walk away and stay away.

The next is that, after three years, two people suddenly seem to decide that they’re in love with Lizzie, and want to make their intentions known, just at the point she rediscovers the one she lost, who she fell in love with at 15. It’s damned confusing! Lizzie obviously chooses Alec, as the blurb indicates, but Darren appears to use his sudden increased interest as an excuse to dominate her, and physically punishes her, despite his declared feelings, for insubordination.

Then there’s the timeline. I misread it at first. I assumed that it was all supposed to be taking place around 1945-6, but then Lizzie’s home on the Militia base doesn’t add up to that – domestic appliances that wouldn’t have been available then. So I went back and reread the description: “It was nineteen forty-five, or similar enough.” The Militia movement has been going on since then, when Hitler apparently surrendered and WWIII started. So this war has been fighting for all those decades up until the modern era. The USA is in ruins, with the President firmly in charge of the Militia, who control everything. Except the Refugees. But they try. But this is the thing that gets me most: if they’re stuck in this time warp, how on Earth do they have mobile phones, modern appliances, etc.? They have antibiotics, modern medicines, sonograph. It’s extremely confusing. Yet they still apparently dress like it’s 1945, too.

The romance itself was great, but would have been so much better if it wasn’t for the distractions mentioned above. I was actually shocked by the domestic violence. Now I can cope with it if prewarned, but I don’t expect to be thrown into someone being abused. As I mentioned above, for those triggered by these sorts of scenes, there really needs to be some warnings.

Lizzie settles into domestic life quite easily, despite the fact that she used to train daily, keeping fit to a high level. But, of course, everything is far too easy…

Really, this needed a far more concrete background. All the scenes were descriptive, but those little niggles kept me from enjoying the story completely.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

The Time of Jacob’s Trouble by Donna VanLiere

Not what I was expecting

I would absolutely love to say that I wasn’t the intended audience for this book, but unfortunately I would be wrong. The author’s intent is that everyone reads it, no matter their background, to better understand Revelations and the end of times, and by so doing come to Christ…

As soon as I opened the first pages of the book, and saw which Bible each character was reading, I should have walked away right then. Seriously, being a non-Christian, I couldn’t care less! So it soon became obvious that it wasn’t what I hoped for – a literary exploration of some Biblical ideas. Why can’t someone write something like that without being religiously involved?!

I really tried to see the story amongst the pages, to appreciate the limited amount of actual storyline, trying to ignore the postscript telling you nearly every page to refer to the Biblical explanation of the events that were happening. Some of it did actually have me hooked, but some of the rest was droning, repetitive, and just uninteresting. For the rest, the truth is the overly pushy nature of all the Christian stuff just got to me.

Put it this way, the book actually ends at page 185/63%. The other 37% is entirely dedicated to explaining the Bible (and why am I nice enough to capitalise that word?!) and, oh, that’s where it’s revealed what the author’s true intentions were with this story. After the first couple of pages of the last part, I just skipped the rest. The story was done, there was a cliffhanger waiting for the next, and the rest was just uninteresting babble.

So, as I said, this book was entirely not for me. I’m not a Christian, I don’t want to be preached at. And for that reason, despite what could be good about this author’s works, their purely Evangelistic aim of this book has put me off reading anything else of theirs. Despite all that, well, I didn’t dislike it completely, which surprises me no end. Yet that is still not enough to encourage me to read the sequels. It would need to be far sturdier, and lose all the Biblical and preachy stuff, for me to even consider it.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Wide Asleep by Arizona Tape

Great idea, needs a little work

So here we are, primarily focused on Yen (11 out of 16 chapters), and the two side characters she bumps into, Rover (3/16) and Dahlia (2/16), plus a strange side plot that doesn’t quite make much sense – we get brief snippets about a plot against the government at the very beginning and the end, with a tiny detail connecting into it, but without more details throughout, it feels a bit out of place.

The fact that it is supposed to be dancing around the three characters made me feel somewhat disappointed. And, considering there is supposed to be some sort of slow-burn romance starting up, apart from the brief flutter in the very brief encounter, there’s nothing really to say anything is going to happen.

The impression I got was that we were supposed to hear much more from the two side MCs. Maybe it might have been better if their stories were split out across the three books? I’m not sure, but I did miss really getting to know them, as Yen’s story dominated so much.

Anyway, the story is about sleep deprivation, sleep being the currency used in this world. You can only get tokens to sleep if you work, and how many tokens you get for each of sleep, food, and other stuff, depends on your level in society, with “A” being the highest and “C” being the lowest. Considering it all, “C” citizens, with their low morals in order to survive, probably have it the easiest. Although we don’t come across any “A” class citizens to compare with.

So, the idea is good. And you are only allowed to attend the Academy if you do well on your sleep tests – those who can cope with a level of sleep deprivation are allowed to have more. Quite twisted, in a way, with most citizens walking around in a permanent level of sleep deprivation.

This needs, obviously, some work to become a finished story. As I said, I’d like to hear more from the other two MCs, plus there’s some work needed to tidy everything up. But I do think that, once the work is done, that there is a really great story to be had here. And romance in a dystopian world is a wonderful thing, so please give it!

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital Beta copy via the author in exchange for an honest review*

Avoiding the Abyss by A.C. Ward

Too much abuse

This book starts straight off the bat with Aubrey getting a beating by her mother. It is given under the guise of “training”, because Aubrey is a bad fighter, but it is very clear that her mother detests her. Yet, Aubrey remains throughout her staunch defender.

Others amongst the rebels pity her, but do very little to defend her, because her mother is the “hero”, the one who rules the rebels and is renowned as the best fighter.

Everything is turned on its head when she is captured by government, yet not at all in the ways that she expects. She keeps on supporting her mother, even secretly, right up to the last. Even when she does find out the truth, can she keep supporting someone who her entire life has seen her as useless until it’s discovered she has powers?

The ending, or perhaps more late middle to end, were the only redeeming parts of this book. The way the abuse is treated just appalled me that I nearly stopped reading after the opening scene. The latter parts made the universe interesting, enough that I want to continue the series, but I can’t ignore that beginning.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK.

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*