Book Review: Holes

Finished Reading: Holes
by Louis Sachar

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Middle grade fiction

Holes

This is the story about 2 curses that come together in a place called Camp Green Lake, where there is no lake. Teenage boys are sent there for rehabilitation in the form of digging a hole the depth and width of their shovel every day. The camp’s newest inmate, Stanley Yelnats, quickly realizes there’s more to the hole-digging than character-building, but can he dig up the truth?

I like this book so much. I remember watching this movie about a year after it first came out, going into it without any clue what it was about. I was an adult, so not exactly the age group that the book was intended for, but I’ve never had a problem watching or reading things for a younger audience. I enjoyed the movie, and still do to this day. A few years after watching the movie, I found the book at a garage sale or thrift store or something like that, and picked it up. I’ve read it a few times, so this was a re-read, at least 10 years since the previous times I read it.

The way the author brought basically three different stories together, and in a really interesting and even believable way is so fun to follow along with. This book takes the idea of coincidence in storytelling (which is normally better to avoid) and embraces it to the point of being so well connected, you’re excited to see how the coincidences come together.

The kids are just trying to get by in conditions that definitely make it clear that the justice system has failed them, but they still have heart. The adults at the camp are apparently all terrible people, right down to the counselors who aren’t in the story much, which I think is a little unrealistic.

Since I saw the movie before reading the book, and have watched the movie several times now, of course I pictured the characters as they were portrayed in the movie, but I like the casting, so this isn’t a problem for me. There are some differences in the movie, a few things added to the movie, and of course some extra details removed, but overall, it is incredibly similar. My biggest issue with the book is that it is wrapped up awkwardly. There’s not a lot of closure. The movie did this better (even if a slight bit less realistically).

Overall, Holes is a fun, edgy book for kids approximately 8-12 years of age, but really can be appreciated by older people as well. The culmination of the different storylines in the latter half of the book is a lot of fun to discover, and I recommend it for all.

Find out more about Holes

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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. 5

I had another somewhat unproductive week, though I did work on “Outcast” a little. I also spent some time getting ready for the local author booth at a local festival. That was today. It was terrifying at first, and I kicked myself for not saying the right thing after several interactions, but I did generate some interest in my future release, get some hits on possible future author appearances, and tell one teenager about NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program.

Tomorrow, I will start working on making a few changes to “Pithea” that I already know need done, then format it for the print version, and get a proof copy, which I will use to do a final revision, to be ready to publish soon. I will also start making sure I’m ready for NaNoWriMo this coming week, as Preptober starts on Tuesday!

Cover Reveal: Pithea

Pithea cover, Kindle.png

This will be the cover for my first full-length novel, which is set to release on January 10, 2020. It will be available for pre-order in December, and I’ll post about that when it gets closer.  Below is the synopsis for the book:

In the near future, a devastating global war has led to a worldwide ban on the use of all technology. A few hundred years after the catastrophic war, a sort of magic—called “the Power”—manifested in every living person. Thousands of years later, the world has settled into a lifestyle that is part pioneer times, part medieval times, but with a more modern mindset. The Power has become a part of everyday life in the country of Pithea.

Missy Seeger is struggling to find her place in the world. She reluctantly decides to follow in the footsteps of her well-known and well-respected father. As other options begin to call out to her, she can’t let go of the need to please her father.

Naolin Dark is a solitary young man who knows exactly what he wants to do with his life. He finds the adventure and excitement of life in his local militia, with a sword strapped to his side, to be the only worthy path. The primary goal of Pithean militias is to protect the country’s citizens from animals afflicted by the Madness, and Naolin is eager for his chance to prove himself.

Missy’s and Naolin’s abilities, ideals, and even bodies are put to the test in many ways as they are forced to deal with villains and monsters that are made possible—and all the more dangerous—by the Power and the Madness.

Book Review: Cilka’s Journey

Finished Reading: Cilka’s Journey
by Heather Morris

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

From a Nazi death camp to a Siberian gulag, we follow Cilka Klein, who was charged with spying for the enemy and conspiring, due to her role of senior officers’ mistress and death block leader in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. In the Russian prison camp, she faces 15 years of conditions not much better than they were in Auschwitz, plus the addition of frigid weather nearly year-round. She manages to stand apart yet again, but this time mostly because she shows herself to be a quick learned, which makes her valuable at the prison hospital.

This book is a sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, but only in that Cilka is introduced in that first book, and some of the characters from the first book are brought up again in this one. I do recommend reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz first, for a more full experience, but you wouldn’t lose a lot if you didn’t. Click here to see my review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

I liked Cilka’s Journey a bit more than its predecessor, and I think that is because of the writing. I didn’t find it quite as stilted in the first book. The subject matter is nearly as dark, especially since there are flashbacks to Cilka’s time at Birkenau, but we also get to see glimpses of her life before she went to the camp as well.

Cilka was very compassionate, even to her own detriment many times. I appreciated the way that her heart ached when a friend was hurt (physically or otherwise), or when a rift came between her and someone she cared about. She even managed to find a way to understand and forgive those who persecuted her, by acknowledging that they were simply trying to survive this place like she was. She may have been a bit on the Mary Sue side, somehow being the best at everything she did, but it wasn’t glaring.

There were a few events and situations that seemed unnecessary, or that were maybe only there to show again how wonderful Cilka was. I know that this book was even more fictionalized than The Tattooist of Auschwitz, with no single first-hand account to draw from, so I did at times wonder how realistic certain things were.

In the end, it was a good read, and I would definitely recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially of the WWII era.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find something much lighter to read, especially since the book I had originally planned to read next (Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone) also involves sexual abuse, and between these 2 books, I’ve had enough of that for a while.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review. 

Find out more about Cilka’s Journey
Publication date: October 1, 2019

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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:

I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a trick.

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**

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Fall 2019 TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. This one was easy for me because I had the next 9 books I’m going to read planned, and was easily able to add a 10th. I recently went a little crazy requesting ARCs from Netgalley, so I’m trying to get caught up (I don’t know how others do it without letting the pile of ARCs awaiting reviews drive them mad). But I wanted to space out the ARCs with other books from my TBR, so in the below list, every other book is an ARC. This list should take me through most of the fall (I’ll probably slow down in November because of NaNoWriMo), and I suppose they’re not necessarily fall-oriented…I don’t usually think in those terms when it comes to reading (except I probably will at Christmas time).

So without further ado…the ones near the end of the list may change as I get closer to them, but I think the order will be mostly this:

1. Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone
2. Smoke Screen by Terry Blackstock
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
4. The Passengers by John Marrs
5. The Battlemage by Taran Matharu
6. Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff
7. The Martian by Andy Weir
8. Claiming T-Mo by Eugen Bacon
(Not technically an ARC, I won it in a Goodreads giveaway, and have gotten a couple of emails requesting that I review it soon.)
9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
10. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
(This book was released in 208, but was re-released in hardcover with new illustrations, so is still an ARC.)

Have you read any of these? What do you plan to read over the next few months?

Book Review: Synapse

Finished Reading: Synapse
by Steven James

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian sci-fi

SynapseSet at a time in the future when robots (or Artificials) have been taught to not only think for themselves, but to have emotions, and even the option of pain, there is still a lot that is unknown about how similar robots are to humans. Do they have souls? Can they believe in and worship God? Kestrel Hathaway doesn’t know, and neither does her Artificial, Jordan. Amidst their discussions of these concepts, Kestrel is pulled into a plot to put an end to the advances in AI by people known as Purists. Working with federal agent Nick Vernon, Kestrel and Jordan do their part to help prevent a deadly attack.

This book was an interesting mash-up of theology exploration and sci-fi elements. For much of the book, Kestrel is simply trying to cope with a fresh tragedy, while being slowly dragged into a deadly cat-and-mouse game between federal agents and terrorists. Jordan was probably my favorite character, as he tried to figure out what hope there was for him, especially in eternity. And there were some twists near the end that I enjoyed. But overall, the book was mostly just okay.

The very beginning of the book shows Kestrel delivering a stillborn baby (that she didn’t know was stillborn). It’s told in 2nd-person perspective, so it’s describing the events as if they happened to you. I think this is important to know for those who have gone through this or something similar. She is a pastor, and spends most of the rest of the book idly questioning her faith in God. I say idly, because it’s as if she’d forget her questions now and then, and have to remind herself she was still uncertain about if God existed, or he was actually all-powerful, or if he cared about her. She also carries some PTSD from a tragedy 9 years old, and I was surprised by the way some of that played out as well. But I suppose PTSD is not a consistent syndrome (meaning it’s not the same from person to person, and probably difficult to pin down and define). I would say that maybe the way she does respond shows her strength, but I didn’t really get that characteristic from her otherwise.

I believe Jordan’s role in the book was to parallel humanity’s question of an afterlife. How can we ever know for sure if Heaven exists, if no one who has been there can return to tell us about it? Artificials are told that there is a manufactured afterlife where their consciousnesses will go when they “die.” Jordan’s mother “died,” and he is desperate to know if she’s in the afterlife. Where this parallel falls apart, though, is that Artificials are guaranteed this afterlife by a fallible man, while humans who follow Christ are guaranteed their afterlife by an infallible God. Some of the discussions that arise between Jordan and Kestrel about afterlife and the ability to believe in and worship God are interesting though. Except for the times that Kestrel is just mean to Jordan about his inhumanness.

As for the twists near the end, they did mostly catch me off guard. But there was a weird thing that happened that got my heart pumping about a possible twist coming, but instead, it turned out not to be true. It was a huge letdown, and I can think of a few ways that some dialog could have been written to avoid this letdown. I had some questions that were left unanswered–about Jordan’s mom, about some of the Purists’ involvements and questionable actions, and some other things that came out during the climax, but are never given any kind of explanation.

I think the sci-fi plot were simply a vehicle for the theology discussed in the book, which is why the plot was fairly weak. And for me, at least, some of the theology was weak too. Kestrel’s brother, an atheist, asks her some very good questions about God, and her replies are the type I often see from the token “religious character” in TV or movies. She does go deeper than the stereotype sometimes, but I still found myself wishing for more. And very likely, this can all be chalked up to the author and me having different views on some theological aspects, which will certainly happen. I just found myself very sad about Kestrel’s brother’s view of God, and wished her responses had been more fulfilling.

One more thing that adds to my lower rating, which I almost forgot, was the way the story was told. As I mentioned above, it starts out in 2nd person (“you”), then switches to 1st person out of the blue (“I”), but is only 1st person when the perspective is on Kestrel. When it’s on a plethora of other characters, it’s 3rd person. And to make it even more confusing, when the perspective is on Jordan, it’s 3rd person and present tense, when it’s past tense the rest of the time. There’s a reason jumping POVs, tenses, and even character perspectives is meant to be kept simple, and while it’s not completely impossible to try something different…it was just confusing in this case, and made the reading disjointed.

In the end, I would recommend this book for those who are interested in the exploration of how humans approach God and the afterlife, and what it means to have a “soul,” and understand that there is some sci-fi around that. I don’t think I’d recommend this for readers of sci-fi, unless they are willing to wade through the theology.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Find out more about Synapse
Publication date: October 8, 2019

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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. 4

I didn’t get much done in the way of actual revising of either “Pithea.” or “Outcast” this week. I started to work on “Outcast,” but didn’t get far, due to some new things going on in my family this week, and trying to settle into a new schedule. I did make some decisions about the imminent release of “Pithea,” though, and hope to be able to make an official announcement next weekend! Stay tuned!

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Finished Reading: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
by Heather Morris

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction

Tattooist

Set mostly in the concentration camp of Birkenau, Lale Eisenberg (later Lale Sokolov) tattoos numbers onto incoming prisoners for his captors. While tattooing a young woman, he finds himself captivated by her. He uses his position of tattooist, which is part of the political department in the camp, as well as some other savvy enterprises, to get extra food to help keep his fellow prisoners, including Gita, the woman who has stolen his heart. This book is based on a true story.

First, let me make sure to stress that the book may be inspired by a true story, but it is not at all meant to be an accurate depiction of life in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Various statements surrounding the book may make it seem like it is (including several pages of notes at the back of the book), but after being decried as very historically inaccurate, Morris stated that it’s “not meant to be an exhaustive history but rather the recollections of one man who survived the camp.” After doing some research, I could plainly see some of the inaccuracies, especially since I read a good amount of Holocaust literature in my high school days, while others were specific enough I wouldn’t have guessed at them. However, while reading the book, I didn’t notice, and even after researching, it doesn’t sour the book for me (much). If you choose to read it though, do so with this understanding.

For whatever reason, I have long been fascinated by stories of the Holocaust. I think that is the main reason that I did appreciate this book for what it was. Lale often tells others to keep their heads down and do as their told, and they might live another day, especially when first entering the camp. The longer he’s there, the more willing he is to bend some rules and basically game the system, to the benefit of himself and several other prisoners. The friendship between Gita and her friends is heartwarming, as they do everything they can to help each other in times of need, both physically and emotionally. The way these characters attempt to keep their humanity during such inhuman conditions is what this book is all about.

The issue with this book, besides that mentioned above, mostly revolves around the writing. It was originally written as a screenplay, then adapted to be a novel. They are very different types of writing, and it looks like Morris had little to no experience as a prose-writer before adapting her screenplay. The writing is stilted and shallow, and while it made for a fast read (especially for such a short book), there wasn’t nearly the depth of emotion one would expect in a book of this subject matter. There is a sequel, Cilka’s Journey, of which I have an ARC. I wanted to read this first, because I read that Cilka is introduced in this book (though I’m guessing the sequel will mostly include events that happened after Cilka left Birkenau). I assume that it was written directly as a novel, and I’m hoping it will be a better read.

The book isn’t bad, by any means, so as long as you go into it with the understanding that this is very much a fictionalized view of the most famous and deadly concentration camps in the Holocaust, I would recommend this book to those who read historical fiction, especially of this nature.

Find out more about The Tattooist of Auschwitz

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

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 relationships 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!