Monday, April 30, 2012

Illusion Giveaway Winner!

*Rings Bell* And we have a winner!

Arielle Bacon (your name is delicious) should receive an email soon about winning her free ARC copy of Frank Peretti's latest novel, Illusion. Congratulations! I'm sorry to those who didn't win, as I know some of you really wanted it. Fear not, though, because there will be more giveaways in the future!

Friday, April 27, 2012


Pushmo is a highly-acclaimed puzzle platformer game for the Nintendo 3DS, featuring 198 unique puzzles and a level editor that allows for virtually endless possibilities. With five difficulty levels, both novice players and masters can enjoy the game. Pushmo is fun and colorful, and it really offers you a good time. It costs $6.99 on the Nintendo eShop, and it's worth every cent of it.

Here are the QR codes for two of my custom levels, for those who already own the game:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Crater by Homer Hickam

A mining colony on the moon, a teen sent on a deadly mission, and a secret bigger than two worlds. It’s the 22nd Century. A tough, pioneering people mine the moon for Helium-3 to produce energy for a desperate, war-torn Earth. 
Sixteen-year-old Crater Trueblood loves his job as a Helium-3 miner. But when he saves a fellow miner, his life changes forever. Impressed by his heroism, the owner of the mine orders Crater to undertake a dangerous mission. Crater doubts himself, but has no choice. He must go. 
With the help of Maria, the mine owner’s frustrating but gorgeous granddaughter, and his gillie—a sentient and sometimes insubordinate clump of slime mold cells—Crater must fight both human and subhuman enemies. He’ll battle his way across a thousand miles of deadly lunar terrain and face genetically altered super warriors in his quest to recover an astonishing object that will alter the lives of everyone on the moon.
Crater was written by Homer Hickam, the author of the autobiography Rocket Boys that was adapted in 1999 as the film October Sky. I saw the film years ago and loved it, and that's how I instantly became interested in this novel when I heard that Homer wrote it. The story of October Sky was about Homer's life as a young man: his father was a coal miner and wanted him to become one as well, but Homer saw his future along a different path, and eventually became a NASA engineer. Many years later, after the events of his autobiography, Homer retired and became a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. Though at this current time I've only read this one that he's penned, the book descriptions of many of his books imply that he uses much of his knowledge from both his life as a coal miner's son and his life as a NASA engineer when writing his stories. This is definitely one such story.

Crater is of a lower reading level than I have read in a while—young adult, for sure—and sometimes it just seemed childish or cheesy. The narration would often mention some key piece of technology but would fail to even hint at what it actually looked like or how it worked. Sometimes it would fail to mention what certain things even did. A lot of the main character's mission that was assigned near the very beginning of the book doesn't make complete sense until you know what exactly a cycler is and how a works—and that's something you don't find out until you have about fifty pages left in the entire book. These aren't details that would be considered plot spoilers; these are details that the narration seems to think readers should already know from the beginning but can't, because it's usually referring to technology that the author himself created.

In addition, several parts of the story were cliché. Early in the book the protagonist, Crater Trueblood, enters a sort of futuristic race, and his main opponent is one that everyone knows will win. The opponent is the type that uses as many forms of "foul play" as they can while making sure not to officially break any rules. With the help of his gillie and some ridiculous luck, Crater barely crosses the finish before his opponent. By that time they'd been the only two competitors still in the race. Does that sound familiar? Also, the main character is just a teenager, but he's extremely smart and can think of (and design) improvements for almost everything man-made he comes across. I suppose in the next book it will be revealed that General Caesar Augustus Nero—a character who, as you can obviously tell from his name, will turn out to be evil—is actually his father, long thought dead. (Yes, that is sarcasm.)

Crater is full of inconsistencies, clichés, and sometimes just ridiculousness, but in all honesty, it was the first book I've read in a long time that I've actually enjoyed reading. I read a lot of books recently that I loved, but it was the story or characters or ideas or setting or author's writing ability that I loved, not the actual reading part. For nearly a year and a half now reading has been a chore for me. I've grown to hate it, but I press on anyway to enjoy the wonderful worlds and tales that I fall in love with. My ability to read left entirely with my ability to focus, so even reading a little bit takes an excruciating amount of effort and time. Crater, though at times it was difficult to get through, (to an average person it could be probably read easily in a weekend) is a super easy read. I enjoyed reading it like I haven't for any other book I've read in a very long time.

The book had its faults, but enjoying the reading part of it really helped me to enjoy the rest, and the faults weren't nearly bad enough to ruin the book. The story and setting, when you look past the thin outer skin, is actually incredibly cool. Sometimes the book seemed a little bit like an Isaac Asimov novel, though of course on a far less mature level. The main character, Crater Trueblood, changed a lot throughout the story. He sometimes really surprises the reader, either with his level of immaturity or his level of maturity.

The author, Homer Hickam, harnessed loads of his scientific knowledge into the novel. Putting a bunch of techno-babble into a book geared toward the reading level of Crater is absolutely ridiculous, but for those of us who enjoy reading books at this level and also know a decent bit about science (so we can barely grasp what some of the techno-babble is about), this book a very enjoyable experience. Homer is a wise man, and I often felt myself wanting to save entire paragraphs or conversations as quotes, rather than just a character's line or two, as is traditional for quotes.

In the end, through its faults that I have probably made sound far worse than they actually are, Crater was a fun novel with a great story, cast and setting. If you enjoy young adult fiction and science fiction, check it out. I was expecting a lot from the author, so for a while into the reading I can't deny that I was disappointed. By the end, however, I was wondering when Hollywood will get enough sense to make this into a movie. I definitely can't now deny the awesomeness of the story and setting. Homer Hickam might not be an expert at converting his knowledge into all the correct words for a novel everyone will love, but his knowledge of space and the moon makes the technology he created seem all the more believable. I look forward very much to the next novel in the Helium-3 saga.

Crater: A Helium-3 Novel was published on April 10, 2012.
This book was sent to me for free from Thomas Nelson Publishing.

If you read this review within the first couple days of its posting, you can follow this link for a chance to win Crater on Free Book Friday. The link also includes an interview with the author. Enter soon, though, because the giveaway ends on April 20.

Update 7/4/13: I gave this book a second review. You can read it here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

I was assigned to read The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare in literature class. I wasn't thrilled to read anything with a book cover such as the one above, but I endured it. We read a parallel text edition, meaning the original Old English text was on the left side of each double-page and the modern translated version was on the right. We were assigned to read the translated version, then listen to the same chapters in Old English via an audio version while we read along in our books. A short while after finishing The Taming of the Shrew, we went on a field trip to Navy Pier in Chicago, and by extension the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, to see it performed professionally.

This play is about a man named Lucentio who travels to the city of Padua to undergo various courses for his education. Once he arrives, he falls in love, from a distance, with a lovely girl named Bianca. But unfortunately for Lucentio and the girl's suitors, Hortensio and Gremio, Bianca's father Baptista will not offer her hand in marriage until his older daughter Katherine, a hot-tempered shrew, is found a husband. Lucentio then comes up with a brilliant plan: his faithful servant Tranio will pretend that he is Lucentio, and Lucentio will disguise himself as a tutor and try to court Bianca in secret. What ensues is possibly one of the poorest plays in human history... that is, unless performed by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

The plot of The Taming of the Shrew is cliché and downright poor. Any humor that would have been included in the play was dried out by the fact that it's just a script, not a performance. I came away from reading the play knowing that I will never recommend it for anyone. The BBC audio edition added color to a black and white movie—the characters had real personalities—and occasional music or other background noise made for a lot better storytelling than just an unimaginatively blank book. Hearing a whole cast of voice actors and actresses is a lot better than hearing various voices in your head playing the parts or listening to somebody else try to play every part while reading it to you.

My experience with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, however, was completely different. For that, perhaps you should just read my school report, excluding the introductory paragraph that could have been much better.
One of the characters who stood out most in the play was Petruchio, who had taken upon himself the task of courting and wooing the not-so-lovely Katherina to be his wife. Matt Mueller played Petruchio’s part to perfection, but although Ericka Ratcliff did her part very well, the director's portrayal of Katherina could have been improved. Other characters that had notable parts were quite different from their stereotypical personalities, while still staying true to the original script. Hortensio (portrayed by Matthew Sherbach) and Gremio (portrayed by Mick Weber), the only two men openly courting the lovely Bianca (portrayed by Tiffany Yvonne Cox) at the story's beginning, were extreme contrasts in physical form—one older and huge, the other younger and tiny—but very similar in personality. This was one of many ways that the director added to the play's humor through the cast.
Overall, the two-hour trip to Chicago as a school field trip was worth it. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater's version of The Taming of the Shrew was amazing. Although the original script and language were used, it was packed with modern inside jokes from the director and cast, and that added much hilarity to the experience. Surprisingly, the modern rock music that played during various parts and scene changes was fitting. The theater could seat around five hundred people, and due to the amazing architecture and acoustics, the actors could be easily heard by the entire audience without using microphones if they properly projected their voices. A lot of the play’s humor would warrant a PG-13 rating, so it is definitely not a family-friendly play, but it can truly change one’s perspective of The Taming of the Shrew. It was unbelievably well done and, overall, a spectacular experience. This performance surpassed many expectations.
I loved the theater's version of the play, but I don't regret reading the script beforehand. Knowing the story and characters greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the experience. This adaptation felt like a wonderful dessert after an very unappealing dinner. The director took a unique perspective on almost every aspect of the play and, thank goodness, tuned the sexism down several necessary degrees. I would very strongly recommend you check out the play, but the final showing was on April 7, so it's a little too late to attend.

Petruchio may have tamed a shrew, but the Chicago Shakespeare Theater turned a lousy farce into a brilliant comedy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New Release: The 13th Tribe by Robert Liparulo

The 13th Tribe, Immortal Files Series #1

The 13th Tribe was actually released during the month of March, but today, April 3, 2012, is the official publication date. You can read my review of the novel here. "For sure, it was one of the best novels I have read this entire year."


Immortal vigilantes from the time of Moses have planned the unthinkable. But how can you stop what you can't see?

The battle didn't start this year . . . or even this millennium.

It began when Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Tired of waiting on the One True God, the twelve tribes of Israel began worshipping a golden calf through pagan revelry. Many received immediate death for their idolatry, but 40 were handed a far worse punishment-endless life on earth with no chance to see the face of God.

This group of immortals became the 13th Tribe, and they've been trying to earn their way into heaven ever since-by killing sinners. Though their logic is twisted, their brilliance is undeniable. Their wrath is unstoppable. And the technology they possess is beyond anything mere humans could imagine.

Jagger Baird knows nothing about the Tribe when he's hired as head of security for an archaeological dig on Mt. Sinai. The former army ranger is still reeling from an accident that claimed the life of his best friend, his arm, and his faith in God.

The Tribe is poised to execute their most ambitious attack ever and the lives of millions hang in the balance. When Jagger's wife and son are caught in the crossfire, he'll stop at nothing to save them.

But how can one man stand against an entire tribe of immortals?


The 13th Tribe is a work of sweeping imagination and high octane action that grabbed me, intrigued me, and wouldn’t let me go. The best Liparulo novel I’ve read yet.”
—Steven James, best-selling author of The Queen

“We authors are always looking for the next Great Idea for a story, and I think Robert Liparulo has found it in this Bible-derived “What If?” He has created environments with an eye for detail and whatever is fascinating, peopled them with characters who are walking mysteries, then drawn from scripture and history to weave situations in which trouble just has to happen. Result: a great read!”
—Frank Peretti, best-selling author of This Present Darkness

“In The 13th Tribe, Robert Liparulo plunges deep into the pages of scripture to find intriguing what-if’s and stunning revelations—all woven into a tale that is both supernatural and skin-tinglingly real. And with all the high-tech, action and heart that has always made his books a blast to read. Robert Liparulo is a phenomenal storyteller, and The 13th Tribe is a phenomenal story! Read this novel! Seriously!”
—Ted Dekker, best-selling author of Forbidden and the Circle series

Check out more reviews here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Giveaway: Illusion by Frank Peretti

Important: This giveaway is now closed.

When I was sent a review copy of Frank Peretti's latest novel, I actually received two copies. I was told that this was so that I could give one away on my blog. I could be selfish and keep both for myself, but that's pointless and not nearly as much fun. Now, do you want to win a copy of Illusion? Of course you do! Who doesn't like free stuff?

This is the Advance Reader's Edition, which basically means that the editing is not quite completed, though it's very close, and that it has a different cover image (as seen in the photo). It is paperback with 497 pages.

How to enter (+1 entry for each item on the list):
-Follow my blog with your Blogger* account
-Share this giveaway on Facebook
-Share this giveaway on Twitter
(Use the tag #rjhblog.)

For these entries to count, you can either send an email to with "Illusion Giveaway" as the subject header, or leave a comment on this blog with your name and email.

The email or comment will need to include which items on the list you have fulfilled, and I promise that I will not send you spam or anything like that. The giveaway will end on April 22, 2012, and around that time a winner will be selected at random to receive a copy of Illusion. Update: The email or comment counts as an entry as well. The items on the list are for additional entries to improve your chances of winning. If you leave a comment and send an email, it will only count as one entry.

*You don't need a Blogger account to follow this blog. You can use Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and maybe others as well. If you don't have a Blogger account, click "Join this site" on the sidebar (under "Followers") to view your options.

This giveaway is only open in the USA. I know there are people in other countries who would very much like to get their hands on the book, but my current income does not allow for shipping prices unless they're decently low. I apologize, and I hope this will be something we can get around sometime in the future.

Now, who's ready to win a book?

Frank Peretti's website
Reuben Horst's review of Illusion