Free Fiction Friday #76

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Free Fiction Friday #76! For those of you who are new to this blog, or may have missed out on the previous Free Fiction Fridays, every Friday I post an article containing 10 fiction e-books that are 100% FREE on Amazon at the time of posting, and an additional 5 that are roughly of the same genre and on sale for less than $5. I try my best to make sure they are all 4+ stars, have over 40+ reviews, and are 100 pages minimum-so that you can have a hand-picked list of the best-of-the-best to choose from and enjoy over the long weekend (while I do more important things, like laundry). I try to switch up the genres every week, and this week our them is: Science Fiction!

THE FREE

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THE BARGAINS

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Book Review: The Journal of Curious Letters

review-cover-the journal of curious lettersTitle: The Journal of Curious Letters [The 13th Reality 1]

Author: James Dashner

Genre: Juvenile Fiction, Action & Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

What if every choice you made created an alternate reality? InThe Journal of Curious Letters, Atticus Higginbottom, a.k.a. Tick, is an average thirteen-year-old boy until the day he receives a strange letter informing him that dangerous— perhaps even deadly—events have been set in motion that could result in the destruction of reality itself. Tick will be sent twelve riddles that, when solved, will reveal the time and place of an extraordinary happening. Will Tick have the courage to follow the twelve clues and discover the life he was meant to live? Tick’s journey continues in The Hunt for Dark Infinity! Mistress Jane and the Chi’karda are back. Tick and Mistress Jane race to find the deadly Dark Infinity weapon. But who will destroy it—and who will become its master?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

What a gem! I picked up this book for my 12-year-old daughter and we ended up reading it together. I’m glad to say that I honestly found this to be a joy to read.

The book was exceptionally well written and full of colorful characters. There were funny, heartwarming, action-filled, and even creepy moments throughout the book as Tick worked to solve the mystery of the 13 clues he received from one very odd Master George and his companions, Rutger and Mothball (who was definitely one of our favorite characters).

One of my favorite aspects of the book as a parent, though, was the relationship Tick had with his father. Where most children’s books seem to either omit the parents, or fall into the trope of having the parents not believe their children, James Dashner crafted The Journal of Curious Letters in such a way that not only did Tick turn to his father with his worries, but Tick’s father believed his son—and helped him! It was a great moment to witness in a children’s book, and I and my daughter had a great talk about how important it was for kids to talk to their parents about their worries, and for parents to listen to them and take them seriously.

Overall, we found loved the book. It was exciting, funny, and full of interesting characters. It’s a bit of a long book, but I’m not complaining—we never wanted to put it down, and often read 5-10  chapters together a night until it was finished.

Book Review: Immurement

review-cover-immurementTitle: Immurement [The Undergrounders 1]

Author: Norma Hinkens

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Dystopian

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description / Synopsis:

The earth’s core overheats. The sovereign leader vanishes. A young girl is the survivors’ only hope …
What little land is habitable is patrolled by cutthroat gangs of escaped subversives, but that’s not the greatest threat facing sixteen-year-old Derry Connelly, her brother Owen, and a ragged band of Preppers holed up in a bunker in the Sawtooth Mountains. Mysterious hoverships operated by clones are targeting adolescents for extraction.

Owen, is one of the first to disappear. To save him, Derry must strike a deal with the murderous subversives, and risk a daring raid to infiltrate the heart of the extraction operation.

But will the rookie leader falter when forced to choose between her brother and a clone who ignites something inside her she didn’t know was possible?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

There’s so much that I want to say about Immurement by Norma Hinkens that it’s been hard for me to take it all and bundle it up into an organized review. On one hand, the book had a lot of problems—some of them big problems—but on the other hand, it was a very solid read, and depending on how much certain aspects of the plot bother you, this may be a fantastic read, or a very “meh” one for you.

Technically speaking, the book was well written. There were maybe two typos in the whole book (missing words in sentences mostly), but nothing so big as to make me pause for more than a second. It was still easy to understand the narrative and what was happening, even with the errors. The narrative itself was well paced, the sentences flowing easily, and I liked the main character. She was interesting and placed in a very stressful situation that had me wanting to read more to find out how she was going to handle everything the author threw at her. The book was action-packed and kept me reading straight through in just a handful of hours.

But there were some pretty serious problems with the book as well. This was by no means a new plot. I saw bits and pieces of plot ideas thrown in from an array of dystopians I’ve read before—and I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad. I love dystopians, and there are very few original ideas out there anymore…but by the same token, I wish there had been more to this particular book that had made it stand out as something new to the genre. I won’t point out other series or authors, but I can say that the plot of this book was extremely similar to another dystopian series I’ve read, just minus a space-related central theme. The familiarity made me sit back and go “oh. okay.” rather than “wow! what’s going to happen next?”

One minor problem for me was the lukewarm romance sub-plot between Sven, Jakob, and Derry. There was no sexual or romantic tension in this love triangle, and although the author kept reassuring the reader that Derry had feelings and chemistry with Sven and Jakob… I wasn’t feeling it. It just didn’t seem genuine.

Another minor problem was the obvious casting of the dog, Tucker, as a plot device. I know, I know. It’s a dog! So cute! But it seemed like he knew an extraordinarily absurd amount of commands and hand signals for a dog that belonged to a pair of teenage suburbanites. When Derry got lost, the dog jumped in and showed her the way. When Derry couldn’t decide if someone was good or bad, the dog would give his opinion. Other than chime in to keep the plot moving by solving complications for Derry, the dog didn’t seem to exist for any other reason.

To be honest, some parts of the book left me with a rather “meh” feeling, but when it came down to it, I still liked it. Maybe it wasn’t as exciting or innovative as I’d hoped, but it was interesting, at parts, engaging, and I’m glad I read it. I’m interested in continuing with the series and seeing how the second book unfolds. Right now I can’t imagine this dragging on for a third book, but maybe the author will surprise me. If you’re looking for a decent dystopian read to while away an afternoon, I recommend you give this a try.

Book Review: Spark

review-cover-sparkTitle: Spark

Author: Atthys J. Gage

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Rating: 4 (4.5) Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

People are dying downtown, their bodies shriveled away to almost nothing. The police are mystified, and outrageous rumors are flying: flesh-eating bacteria? an experimental bio-weapon? mutant mosquitos? Fifteen year-old Francy Macmillan listens, but says nothing. It isn’t a comfort knowing that no matter how far-fetched the theories, the truth is even stranger.

For Francy, that truth wasn’t very hard to find. It followed her home from basketball practice one night, a floating bauble of light that speaks inside her mind and shares her thoughts and her feelings. Is it an alien wanderer fallen from some distant star? Or a shard of some divine entity? Whatever it is, it seems to like her. She calls him Spark.

But as their friendship grows, a disturbing fact emerges: Spark knows who is responsible for those deaths. With Spark’s help, it is up to Francy to stop them. Spark leads Francy into a strange alternate reality, along with her friends: beautiful Echo with the dragon tattoo; moody Brooke with the wicked jaw; and Owen Owens, the boy with the fascinating eyes who may just get around to kissing her one of these days—assuming the world doesn’t end first.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I have the oddest feeling walking away from this book that I’m not sure I can even begin to describe. Spark by Atthys J. Gage was not what I was expecting, and yet it hit the bullet points of everything it promised.  Even now, half an hour after finishing the book, I sit here and marvel at what I just read in a strange state of confusion.

Technically speaking, the book was very well written. I ran across two typos in the entirety of the book, but the narrative was otherwise clean, easy to follow, and lacked grammatical mistakes. The dialogue felt natural, and the characters felt real. I liked them. All of them—even the mean-spirited sarcastic best friend. I was pulled into the story from the get-go, and never felt the need to skim, put the book down, or re-read. Francy, strange name aside, was a compelling and likeable character, and Spark, her light-ball sidekick was a curious—dare I say, “interesting”—little creature that kept me hooked until the very last page. (See what I did there, fellow readers?)

The plot itself… well, that’s where some of my confusion comes in. Don’t get me wrong, I –loved- this book. I really enjoyed it and was thoroughly entertained… but there were parts that were hard to follow. The pocket universe was, well, weird to say the least. Even having finished the book I’m not sure I understand what all was happening throughout those sequences even when I understood the concept of entropy. Frankly, my dissatisfaction (and why this didn’t get a full five stars) came down to the ending. The book felt unfinished. There was this sense of increasing tension throughout the book with the murders, the appearance of spark, and the pocket dimension that begged for a huge mind-blowing reveal and ultimate battle to save Francy’s world… and I felt the ending fell short of that. I won’t get into too much detail because SPOILERS—but it fell a bit flat for me. I was expecting more…. and then the end o the book came and went, and I sat back and went “Oh. That’s it?”

Does that change how much I liked the book? No. I enjoyed it, and I want to read more from this author… but on the same token, I’m seriously hoping for a sequel to help explain and further iron out what happened in Spark. It doesn’t feel done to me. Overall, I loved the book. It was both better, and odder than I expected, and I was entertained. Spark is perfect for young teens on up, and I’d have no problem handing it over to my twelve-year-old to read. If you like YA fantasy or science fiction with a little bit of romance and a whole lot of strange, I’d definitely suggest checking this out.

Book Review: Before The Dawn

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00037]Title: Before The Dawn [The Ending 4]

Author: Lindsey Fairleigh & Lindsey Pogue

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, New Adult, Science Fiction, Romance, Dystopian

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

A year ago, the Virus killed off most people in the world.

A year ago, strange things started happening to those who survived. Some of them transformed into something dark and sinister, while others evolved, becoming something more, something beyond human.

A year ago, Dani and Zoe were lost. They traversed the country to find one another, losing some of the people dearest to them along the way. They fought for their right to simply live, uncovered long-buried secrets, and discovered irreversible truths. And after everything Dani and Zoe have been through—even with the battle wounds that they bear—they’re still not safe.

It’s time for the struggling to end, for survivors to take back their lives, their families, their safety. It’s time to really begin to live, and to do that, they must wait for the first rays of dawn.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I can honestly say that I was somewhat surprised by this book. I’ll admit, the third book in the series was probably my least favorite, and reading the third and fourth book in the span of just a few days had me a little burned out. I went into the fourth book full of trepidation that it was going to be yet another long drag through a narrative where very little happened. Luckily, that wasn’t so.

Let me first say that the writing in Before The Dawn was pretty damn flawless. I didn’t notice any obvious typos, awkward sentences, or grammatical errors. Not a single one—which is pretty amazing. The narrative flowed smoothly at a nice pace throughout, and other than a few short moments at the beginning of the book (Anna’s sections of the book weren’t my favorite), I didn’t feel the need to skim.

The characters were unique and complex, and though I sometimes had difficulty throughout the series telling Dani/Zoe and their respective J-named boyfriends apart by tone, I enjoyed their company. Their world was rich, fraught with danger and uncertainty, and unlike the previous book, had some pretty great action oriented moments. This was probably one of my favorite books in the series thus far—it may even be my favorite. The story felt wrapped up by the end, and though it had it’s stab at an HEA ending, it wasn’t perfect—which kept it from falling into the familiar romance genre trope that often ends with everyone pregnant, married, and all the bad guys defeated. Okay, so maybe there’s a smidgen of trope involved, but it was pulled off really well.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and I think it was a fantastic ending to the series. I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s been following the series thus far—including those who, like me, may not have enjoyed the third book quite as much.

Book Review: Out of the Ashes

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00037]Title: Out of the Ashes [The Ending 3]

Author: Lindsey Fairleigh, Lindsey Pogue

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance, Adventure

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Hope brought them together, but it’s now fear that drives them…and threatens to tear them apart.
Zoe and her companions succeeded in rescuing Dani from the Colony. But not without sacrifice. Beaten and broken, they head west, determined to leave behind the torment and horrors they experienced in Colorado.

As Dani and Zoe make the perilous trek home to Bodega Bay, they learn that danger can take many forms–other survivors, their friends, even themselves–and that things are rarely what they seem. Zoe is desperate to become the woman she sees in others’ memories, while Dani struggles to conceal damaging secrets, risking losing herself–her humanity–completely. Together, they must rediscover the true meaning of friendship, love, and trust, and learn just how hard they’re willing to fight for what remains of their shattered world.

As relationships are put to the test, second chances are given, and new life emerges, death lurks in the most unlikely of places. To survive, Dani and Zoe must accept that sometimes hope alone isn’t enough.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Let me preface this review by saying that I adore this series as a whole–I’ve been following it from the moment I was sent the ARC of the first book–but this installment to the series wasn’t my favorite. It’s been more than a year since I read the second book in The Ending series, so going into Out of the Ashes by Lindsey Fairleigh and Lindsey Pogue, I had a bit of a hard time sinking in. Like Zoe, one of the main characters of the series, I felt like I had a form of amnesia. I couldn’t remember what had happened previously in the series, particularly near the ending of the second book, and so being dropped into the fast-paced and somewhat alarming beginning of the third book, I was rightfully confused. It took me a while to sort out what was happening and to remind myself of previous plot points… and in that way, I felt very close to Zoe in her struggle with trying to remember her past. It was an unexpected and strange sisterhood between us throughout the book.

Technically speaking, the book was exceedingly well written. I didn’t run into any grammatical errors, typos, or punctuation problems. The characters were all distinct, easy to love or hate respectively, and the story moved along at a steady pace. The setting was rich with detail but not so much as to bog down the narrative, and overall, I enjoyed the book as a whole.

There was only one problem.

I slogged through the book. It was odd how slowly I moved through the story–and it took me till nearly the end of the book to figure out why. There were no big battles or dramatic plot points. The majority of the book was spent delving into the character’s emotional states and the relationships between the members of their group… but very little was spent in any sort of action scene or on any sort of big battle with a nemesis. It was all very interesting–don’t get me wrong.. but by the end of the book, I was left feeling that nothing had happened. As much as I enjoyed spending time with the characters, by the end I was glad to finally be done and to set the book aside and move on. I’m even a little hesitant now to pick up the fourth book, though I will be doing so shortly… this installment just wasn’t as tension filled as I’d come to expect–although, thank goodness, there was a lot more of the romance present that had been missing from the second book in the series.

If you like post-apocalyptic stories filled with special abilities and great characters, I highly recommend this series, even if this wasn’t my favorite out of the bunch.

Book Review: Jubilee Year

review-cover-jubilee yearTitle: Jubilee Year [Erelong 1]

Author: Gerard O’Neill

Genre: Science Fiction, Apocalyptic

Rating: 1 Star

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Description/Synopsis:

Eighteen-year-old Storm lives in a small New South Wales country town beside one of the most famous telescopes in the world. When he falls for Penny, the daughter of the chief scientist and director on Mount Woorat, he is sucked into the center of a global conspiracy.

He must keep himself and those around him alive using his wits, tenacity, and a special ability he tries to hide. He cannot do it alone, and yet others are not always who they seem. Of even more consequence, neither is the reality of a world he once thought he knew.

Set in Australia, Jubilee Year is Book One of the Erelong Trilogy, a dystopian science fiction thriller series. Book Two will be released early in 2016.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I had such a hard time qualifying this book when it was time to sit down and give it a review. I guess I should start off by saying that I didn’t finish the book. Going in, the premise sounded interesting and right up my alley as far as genres go. I was excited to delve into it—but at the same time, my end of the TBR list has been looming and with only half of December left to finish a 10-book list, I was looking forward to reading through this book quickly and getting it out of my way along with a handful of others.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.

Technically speaking, the book was fairly well written. There were only a few typos that I ran across—and I was reading a copy that hadn’t yet been fully edited—so that was understandable. The errors weren’t distracting, and overall, it felt like the narrative was well put together. The characters and the settings were interesting, and I had no trouble following the story… but by the time I hit the 5th chapter, I was ready to set the book aside.

The pacing was slow in the first five chapters, and scenes that felt as if they should have been engaging and filled with active tension didn’t quite hit the mark. Characters described items and actions that weren’t important in the current moment and drama, and by the time each scene had played out, I found myself skimming. Honestly, I was bored. It wasn’t any one thing that I can point out and say “this is bad” because the narrative was well written… it just didn’t capture my interest as quickly as I wanted it to.

If I didn’t have a book deadline looming, I’d probably have set this aside, given it a week or two to rest, and then picked it back up to try again… but at the same time, I have a belief that books should capture your interest from the first page and not let up until the end.. and however well written this book was, it just didn’t do that for me. Overall, Jubilee Year just wasn’t my cup of tea—but if you’re a sci-fi apocalyptic story fan, I’d recommend that you pick this up and give it a try. I have no doubt that there are going to be a lot of people out there that enjoy the book much more than I.. I just don’t have the time to dally with it right now if it isn’t going to hold my interest, and it didn’t.