Book Review: Stealthy Steps

Finished Reading: Stealthy Steps
Nanostealth #1
by Vikki Kestell

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian sci-fi thriller

Stealthy Steps (Nanostealth #1)

I didn’t fully understand the premise of this book going into it, because the synopsis is more like a boiled-down excerpt from part of the book, with a little extra character introduction. Most of the information is there, but it’s cryptic. Here’s my synopsis though: Gemma Keyes is a young woman fresh out of college, and takes a job as a project manager at a top secret lab. She mostly organizes things and takes meeting notes, but this makes her privy to some classified information. When she hears the wrong information (not her fault), she is fired. Months later, after an accident in the same lab claimed the lives of the 2 top scientists she was working for, she’s contacted covertly by one of those scientists, Dr. Bickel (obviously not dead). She ends up being asked to help him continue his work, which he’s keeping secret from everyone at this point. This work is in nanotechnology. When the government, and in particular, a nasty military general who has no scruples about how she gets information & technology for her military, closes in on Gemma and the man she’s helping, an unexpected incident leaves her invisible. Literally. (Some people see the invisibility aspect as a spoiler, but it’s how the prologue ends, so I see it as part of the set up.)

So…now Gemma has to figure out how to live life completely invisible, which presents all sorts of problems, especially since she practically lives in a fish bowl. Half of the book is about this, as well as her concern about being discovered by the general who went after Dr. Bickel. This half of the book is entertaining and interesting. I liked the relationships Gemma developed both before and after her invisibility. My favorite thing was the ways she tried to communicate with the nanotechnology that is responsible for her uncontrollable invisibility.

The first half of the book had some interesting parts as well–especially the relationship that began and/or developed between Gemma and Dr. Bickel, Gemma and the associate pastor of her old church (more on that below), and an established relationship between Gemma and an older neighbor. However, the first half of the book was bogged down heavily by a lot of exposition and repetition.

First, there is a long and tedious description of how Gemma first got into the secret, abandoned military based where Dr. Bickel directed her to meet him. It might not have been so bad, had we not already given given those steps (most of them), but backward. Then there are the 37-8 pages of Dr. Bickel talking and explaining. Explaining how he avoided dying in the lab explosion, explaining how he got himself set up in this mountain base, and longest of all, explaining how the nanotechnology works. In detail. That most of us reading aren’t going to really follow. Some of it did prove to be important to the rest of the story, but honestly, much of it wasn’t. (At one point, after about 33 pages of explanation,  Bickel says, “‘Would you like to hear more about the nanomites before you go, Gemma?'” And I literally thought, “I wish could say no.”) Since the book is told in 1st person, and Gemma didn’t understand a lot of what he said, I have a very difficult time believing that when she wrote this account some weeks or months later, she could remember all of the science that he spouted. It could have definitely been boiled down for us, and even more so, would have then fit in with the style of narration that the rest of the book has.

Much of the information in the first half of the book would have been okay on its own, but since it was all told together in the first half, it made it difficult to keep reading. I totally understand why the prologue is a long description of the point when Dr. Bickel is discovered in his secret lab by the general, ending with Gemma finding herself invisible. It needed that action and intrigue to get people hooked. Still, if I hadn’t been recommended this book series by my mom who has recently been very anxious for me to read it so she could hear what I thought, I might have at least set it down and come back to it later. As such, once you’re past that half of the book, it does get more interesting. It’s the first book in a short series, so some of the expositiony first part can be explained as set-up to an entire series, and it does have an ending that left me wanting to know more. Still, I think setting up an entire series isn’t an excuse for so much info-dump all at once.

The associate pastor I mentioned above, named Zander, is where the Christian aspect of the book comes in, for the most part. He’s invited to visit Gemma by her older neighbor, and he is a good example of a Christian in fiction. He is generous, compassionate, flawed, and complicated. Gemma sees a lot of sides of him, some of which draw her to him, but others of which push her away. His very Christianity is the biggest obstacle to their developing relationship, though, because Gemma is quite against Christianity. He speaks the truth in love, and shows Christ’s love through his action, while still being a believable human being. I look forward to seeing how this develops in the rest of the series.

I was particularly bothered by some of Gemma’s actions in this book, and the way she excused them, but I think that was intentional. She also got angry, or at least upset, at weird things, which made her seem like sort of a petulant child to me sometimes. I don’t know if that part of her personality was intentional or not. There were a few inconsistencies that stuck out to me (like why Dr. Bickel let Gemma take pictures in his secret lab, after the intense precautions he’d asked her to take in getting there, and in their communications). Also, I feel the need to give some trigger warnings: domestic abuse, child neglect and endangerment, descriptions of or allusions to gang violence.

So to sum up, yes, the first half of the book was slow, but the rest was good enough, and I have faith that the following books will pick up the pace, that I felt the book was worthy of 4 stars. I would recommend the book to fans of Christian mysteries & thrillers and lovers of this type of sci-fi.

Find out more about Stealthy Steps

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

NaNoWriMo Rebels

NaNo handouts

Many people who are new to the world of NaNoWriMo only know it as National Novel Writing Month. And of course, at its heart, that’s what it is. But let me tell you about the wonderful world of NaNo Rebels.

When I first did NaNoWriMo in 2007, the rules were more strict. You write a new piece of lengthy fiction, and if you reach 50,000 words, you win. Though rebelling did happen, I don’t think it was as prevalent or as acknowledged as it is now. In the time since then, the people who run the event have opened their arms to those who want to join in the fun, but don’t necessarily want to (or somehow aren’t able to) write a new, lengthy work of fiction. (And actually, they’ve even changed the standard “rules” to say that continuing a previous story is no longer rebelling, but only new words added in November count.)

So, what can you do as a NaNo Rebel? Almost anything you want to. For example:

  • Write non-fiction
  • Write short stories (though if the stories are related to each other, it’s not rebelling)
  • Write a script or screenplay
  • Revise a previous work

All of these things and more are acceptable for NaNoWriMo. Some of them may require a different way of tracking your work done (for example, for revision, you may track time instead, and equate an hour to 1000 words). If you’re curious about what is or isn’t considered rebelling, you can find more information here.

And if the month of November just really doesn’t work for you, consider participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, which takes place during April and July.

**Note: The website & forums have very recently relaunched with a lot of changes, so some things aren’t working quite correctly. I understand kinks are still being worked out, but be aware that what you see now may not entirely be accurate or permanent.

Are you participating in NaNo this year? Will you rebel or stick with the normal format?

For anyone out there who is participating, feel free to check out my series of tips and tricks for the month, and also to add me as a writing buddy! (Let me know you came from here, and I’ll add you back!)

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

Combine the following 3 elements into a scene, short story, story synopsis, etc:
safety deposit
hospital room
dog catcher

(These elements were 3 randomly drawn cards from my Storymatic deck.)

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**

Book Review: Fatal Strike

Finished Reading: Fatal Strike
by DiAnn Mills

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

Fatal StrikeA pair of FBI agents partner up to investigate a string of murders involving law enforcement officials. They have never worked together before, and but fall into a professional rhythm to work the case. What ensues is a police-procedural-type story involving a gang that kills with rattlesnake venom, a mother desperately trying to protect her son, missing persons, faith, trust, and a few interesting turns thrown in.

I read this book in 2 days, and really enjoyed it. The main characters, Leah & Jon, were smart, compassionate, and professional. They both had back stories that provided depth without being overly emo and cliched. And both had phobias that they were determined to overcome, and that they had the chance to face in the book.

I liked the way the case unfolded, with some developments that kept me guessing. I did figure out who the kingpin was, but wasn’t bothered by figuring it out in advance. In fact, I remember thinking that if didn’t go that way, I was going to question some of the author’s choices. There were a couple of smaller elements that were presented that seemed to be left hanging, but they didn’t bother me too much. I also had a very difficult time following the action in the climax, and didn’t understand why some of the things happened.

Some of the dialog seemed kind of stilted, especially between the main characters. Most of the time I couldn’t really tell who was talking, because they were so similar to each other. I’m not sure that’s a fault in the characterization, because it was clear from the beginning that they WERE similar, so maybe it was an issue with dialog tags and narration as much as anything. I also did not care for the kingpin’s dialog near the end of the book. It made him seem a lot less intelligent and dastardly than I think he was supposed to be.

The romance is a slow-burn, which is my favorite type. The characters are completely respectful of each other and of their situation (partners working a case), and the romance that develops between them is understated, almost to a point of coming from out of left field, but I prefer a little bit of a leap to the in-your-face type of romances.

And finally, the Christian aspect is well-presented. Most of the faith that is presented in the book comes from a priest who is involved in the investigation. He is wise and insightful, and even clearly shown to be a human with some flaws, but kind and devoted. Through this influence, as well as some others, both of the main characters individually begin to examine their belief in God and what it might mean for them. I even appreciated the way that the too-familiar question of why a loving God would allow bad things to happen to good people is addressed.

Overall, I enjoyed this fast-paced read and would recommend it to all fans of suspense or crime dramas, with a little faith thrown in.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Fatal Strike

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Swipe

Finished Reading: Swipe
Book #1
by Evan Angler

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

Swipe (Swipe, #1)

Everyone who knows end-times Christian fiction understands the setting of this book. The world is setting up for a global government, already has a global religion, and an implanted Mark is required for buying, selling, basically for living. With this backdrop, we are introduced to Logan Langly, who has been terrified of receiving his Mark (which happens when a child turns 13) ever since his sister died when receiving hers. Around this time, a new girl, Erin, moves to town. Her father works for the government, specifically the branch that deals with trouble related to the Mark. When Erin learns that her father is basically a spy, she gets caught up in the case he came to town to work on. And that case happens to involve Logan as well.

This book was not bad, though also could have been better. From the very beginning (the prologue, even), there was a mystery set up that drove me through the story. It was a short, easy read, so that helped too.  The plots set up for both of the main characters were interesting as well, but it all kind of fell apart at the end. It took far too long to really get the answers I was looking for, and in the meantime, I was reading characters that just fell flat for me.

The two main characters are annoying and bland. There is little to no character development. My favorite was a boy who is part of a rebel group. He’s not the leader, but he’s the leader’s right-hand man. But the rest of that rebel group is so crazy that the whole rebel group aspect is just bizarre. (Two of them play a card game like War, but whoever has the highest card gets to punch the other player in the face. And it’s written like it’s completely normal. It was really weird.)

The world building is hit-or-miss. The background of how the country (and really the world) gets to where it is was well thought-out, pretty logical. The explanation of some of the current world is also interesting (though I don’t know how realistic it would be). But some of it almost comes across lazy. Many things have a prefix of “nano-“, which apparently just means it’s enhanced in some way?

It is revealed part way through the book that the rebel group has a mole at the school that the main characters go to. It comes off like it’s supposed to be a secret to the reader, but it was pretty obvious. Around the time the mole is identified, we’re also finally given some answers to why the rebel group does what it does, but the answers are unimpressive. Noble, but not nearly as interesting as I’d hoped for. And in my opinion, not presented with nearly enough evidence for at least one character to fall in line with them as easily as he does.

The ending felt a bit rushed to me, and I didn’t fully buy the way the characters acted at the end. I was also left with the question about whether or not there were meant to be romantic feelings between the main characters, and even more than that, if we were supposed to care if there were. The characters are 12 & 13, so…not really a romance I’m looking to read.

Final thoughts: the book is a set up to a 4-book series, and given the ending of this one, I’m hoping book #2 will take off quite a bit, comparatively. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the series is said to be Christian end-times fiction, but you really wouldn’t guess it to read the first book. The only thing that hints at it is the Mark, and to a lesser degree, the possible antichrist set-up, but it’s so lightly touched on, if I couldn’t see from Goodreads that it was Christian, I would never classify it as that. Again, presumably that will come into play in the rest of the series (my son says it does–we bought these for him when they were newer, and he’s read them all). For now, it’s difficult to come up with someone to recommend this book/series to.

Find out more about Swipe

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Weekly Writing Update: September pt. 3

For 5 1/2 years, I have tracked my writing work by time or by words, and reported it on this blog. I started this blog as a way to motivate myself to working on my writing regularly, and it worked most of the time. There were some small breaks here and there–weeks or even months long. And there was the 2 1/2 years where I did no type of writing outside of November (NaNoWriMo kept me coming back for at least that month), due to a difficult and time-consuming job.

A couple of months ago, I realized that I didn’t want my blog to focus so much on this anymore. I had started to post other things–writing advice, snippets of my own writing, and was planning to start posting book reviews. A daily update of what writing work I’d done just didn’t fit very well anymore. So since the beginning of July, I’d done a weekly update instead. And in the last week, I realized even further that I didn’t think quantifying how much work I’d done made much sense anymore either. I am at a point where I’m seriously working publication for my first novel and pretty deep in revision for the second. As such, I don’t really need the self-motivation of posting such specific amounts of work done.

I will continue posting an update weekly, but it will be an overview of what I accomplished on my books or other writing in the last week, without the specific time worked. This is a huge milestone for me, since, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I’ve recorded the time I spend working on my writing for a long time now. So anyway, without any more exposition, here’s my update for this past week:

I’m continuing to work with an advance reader to tighten the plot and world-building details of “Pithea.” I am really happy to know that, at least according to this reader, I can focus on details, because much of the book is otherwise sound. I have 2 other advance readers who are still reading, so I’m anxious to hear what they say as well.

I am very strongly hoping to have an idea of a release date by the end of this month, so that I have that information to share when I am at the local festival I am attending as one of several local authors. But at this point, I am mostly waiting (which is so difficult!).

I also spent some time this week working on “Outcast”. I did not go back to the draft I was revising, opting instead to use a couple of cards from my Writer Emergency Pack to try to brainstorm some more content for the book, since I now know for sure it will be too short. I’m not worried about making it as long as “Pithea” (a little over 100k words), but more than its current length of ~50k would make a lot more sense.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Finished Reading: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Book #1
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

I have never read any Harry Potter books, nor have I watched any of the movies. The only thing I know about Harry Potter is what I’ve picked up over the years from references, movie clips, overheard discussions, etc. I am planning to go through the entire book series, and I have just finished the first one. My reviews will likely contain spoilers, as I’m not too worried about avoiding that, with as long as these have been out, and as well known as they are, but I’ll still post a warning with each review, just in case.

I also plan to watch the movies, even though I was recently told that the movies were garbage. The same person also told me that I “just have to get through the first couple of books,” because after that, they get better (for clarification, he might come across kind of mean based on what I’m saying, but he was recommending the books, because he really likes them; he just had some caveats). However, I think he and I have a different taste in books, at least to a degree, because his brief reasoning for the later ones being better was because the first few were written for a younger audience. He said that as the characters aged, the writing was written for an older audience as well. I have always enjoyed things that are meant for teens or young adults though, even as I’ve gotten older.

With that in mind, I can honestly say that, though I saw what he was insinuating, about the book being for a young audience, it didn’t bother me much. I was a bit put off by the early chapters about Harry’s family, not just because of how terrible they were (which was obviously on purpose), but because of the way in which they were described. Definitely very silly and over-the-top. And some of that carried on throughout the book. However, I enjoyed the way the story unfolded all the same.

I appreciated the fact that, even though Harry was the main character and was obviously special in some way, he still had major limitations, which kept him from being too perfect to be real. He excelled in one main area, and I was rooting for him to do well as soon as he found that talent.

One of the things that bothered me the most was that the story seemed to just amble most of the way through the book. The main story goal was brought up now and then, but didn’t seem to take much precedence. Even when the characters spoke about it as if it were important, it didn’t feel all that important most of the time. I think that is mostly because much of this book was world-building. I have done 0 research about how this series got started, but it certainly reads as if Rowling knew it was going to be the first book in a longer series, and kept the story goal simple, so she could focus on setting up Hogwarts and the wizard world.

My other biggest issue is in the actual writing. I’m sure this is just the grammarist in me, and most people wouldn’t even notice, but the amount of commas where there should have been periods, or at least semi-colons, was really noticeable to me. I’d rather not notice those things, but I do…so it tends to take me out of the story.

There were a couple of things that weren’t resolved or explained (or just not explained well) in the book, so I will hope that at least some of these things are fleshed out in future books.

One thing I’ll be interested to see as I go through these books is the way my perception of what might happen could be affected by the knowledge of the storylines that are floating around out there. People don’t worry nearly as much about avoiding spoiling something this old, and I don’t blame them. But because of clips or gifs I’ve seen from the movies, and things I’ve heard about the books, I didn’t really question the story I was being fed while reading. I have no real way of knowing if I would have had my own theories or suspicions as Harry and friends blamed Snape the entire book, but I definitely believed that he was the bad guy the entire time. Thus, I was shocked when it turned out he wasn’t.

One more thing here for the first review of this series–though I’ve not seen the movies, I’ve seen enough to be able to picture most of the bigger characters as their movie versions. As I’ve never been great at drawing my own version of book characters in my heads, I think it will make the books come to life better in my head, so hopefully it will enhance the reading (though again, I have no way of knowing how it would have been without this).

Find out more about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

NaNoWriMo Community

NaNo handouts

I remember the first time I met someone who already knew about NaNoWriMo. It was in May of 2013, and she recognized the shirt I was wearing as a NaNo shirt. I get a shirt every year that I participate, and wear them a lot, especially in September through December, so they tend to start conversations when people ask me about it, and also identify people who know what it is. It was years before I met more people who already knew about NaNoWriMo, and in more recent years, I’ve met several (even my doctor had heard of it).

I am happy that NaNoWriMo is becoming more well-known and more wide-spread. It wouldn’t be what it is without the amazing community that comes together every November. And this is coming from someone who is very introverted and socially awkward. I won’t pretend that I participate in the NaNo community nearly as much as I could, but it’s there and it’s inviting.

Socially awkward or not, NaNoWriMo is one thing I can talk about with relative ease. I am very passionate about it. I like to tell people what it is, how awesome it is, and if they show an interest, why they should give it a try. So when the opportunity came up for me to sit at a local authors’ table during a festival in my hometown, it didn’t take long to think past the book-related things I should bring and realize that this is the perfect opportunity to spread the news about NaNoWriMo to people in my community. We have write-ins at the library in my town during November, so maybe I can drum up some more participants!

I have some stickers and buttons (shown above), and I will hand them out to anyone who might be interested. I’m almost as excited about talking to people about NaNo as I am about selling my book or talking about my soon-to-be-releasing book. And really, talking about NaNo will be easier than trying to promote myself.

If you’re considering participating in NaNoWriMo, and you’re curious about what kind of local community might be near you, check it out for yourself! You’ll have to make an account, but it’s free, and no one will force you to participate once you’ve signed up. Maybe you’ll find just what you need to decide to give it a try!

For anyone out there who is participating in NaNoWriMo, feel free to check out my series of tips and tricks for the month, and also to add me as a writing buddy! (Let me know you came from here, and I’ll add you back!)

Book Review: The Yellow Lantern

Finished Reading: The Yellow Lantern
by Angie Dicken

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

The Yellow Lantern: True Colors: Historical Stories of American CrimeIn this book of historical fiction, set in New England just before the beginning of the Victorian Era, a young woman named Josephine Clayton works for a doctor to pay her father’s way out of debtor’s prison. But when Josephine becomes sick and is presumed dead, her buried body is stolen by a man working for the same doctor. The story starts with her waking up, about to be dissected, and when the doctor sees she’s still alive, he plans to dissect her anyway. To save her own life, and to keep her father out of trouble, Josephine ends up embroiled in the doctor’s schemes of body-snatching. She is planted at a cotton mill in the next town over, to spy for the body snatchers and help with the actual snatching. But when the next victim is a loved one of the cotton mill’s manager (named Braham Taylor), a man to whom Josephine has become close, the gruesome business becomes a nightmare.

This book was a decent read overall. The setting was interesting. The bigger side characters had personality. I liked the back-and-forth POV between Josephine (or as we know her through most of the book, Josie) and Braham.

I was usually really happy when it switched back to Braham for a while, which tells me I connected with his character more than with Josie. I think that’s because his troubles seemed a lot more real and understandable to me. But it’s not that Josie doesn’t have serious issues. I just think her storyline was convoluted enough that I was only vaguely aware of the danger or of her reasons for going along with the body snatching plot. Her father was in trouble with…the doctor and some creditors, but I don’t know who they were, or if I’m even right about that. Alvin (Josie’s “handler”) was bad but sort of good (which isn’t bad in itself), but was owed money, yet still chose to hold back the first body he snatched in the story? It wasn’t until near the end that enough of this network of body snatchers was sorted out enough that I was at least able to appreciate the conclusion. This was probably my biggest problem throughout the book.

For the first quarter of the book, at least, I was reminded strongly of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s set in a cotton mill, the male lead runs the cotton mill, and the female lead is not terribly happy about coming to the town. It’s also set in a similar time period. I love North and South, so that may have helped draw me into the book at first, but it did veer off to become a vastly different story, and a good one in its own right.

The other big downside, in my opinion, is that the body snatching was really not as big a part of the plot as it seemed like it should be. I mean, it haunted Josie throughout the book, and at the end, we can see an inter-connectedness that we didn’t necessarily know was there sooner, but it was supposed to be a twist, I think, that these things were connected. So they didn’t seem to play into the body snatching plot, except that it was predictable enough that I didn’t really see much shock factor in the reveal. Or maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a surprise, and in that case, it was just kind of bland.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. The book is listed as Christian, and it holds up well in that department. The romance was sweet and clean (just how I like it), and I would recommend this book for fans of Christian romance, though probably not for fans of crime novels.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about The Yellow Lantern

Up next: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

Include all of the following words in a scene:

bonus: spiky

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**