May in Review

I read 9 books last month, which is pretty good considering that I all but stopped reading right about the middle of the month. For Mother’s Day and my birthday, as a joint gift, since my birthday is always near Mother’s Day, my son bought me the latest expansion and a month of game time for a particular online game that used to eat WAY too much of my time…and clearly that has not changed. I’ve managed to just stay away from it for quite a while, but had recently been a bit jealously watching my son and husband play together. Not a bad move on my son’s part, but I clearly need to learn to find a balance with my free time.

Here are the books I read in May:

4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace by Johann Twiss (4.5 / 5)
Deep State Stealth by Vikki Kestell (3 / 5)
Time Benders: The Machine by J.B. Yanni (2 / 5)
Healing Her Heart by Laura Scott (3.5 / 5)
Unoffendable by Brant Hansen (5 / 5)
North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
A Lady of Esteem by Kristi Ann Hunter (review pending) (4 / 5)
Daughter of Cana by Angela Hunt (4 / 5)
The Green Dress by Liz Tolsma (4 / 5)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-reads*. My favorite book from May was 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace. I finished 1 series, continued 0 series, and started 2 series…sort of. One is a series of novellas/novelettes that I’m not sure I’ll continue. The other was a short story that precedes a series of novels, but I’m not diving into the rest of the series yet. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

*One of the re-reads involved listening to the author read a few chapters of his book every night live on Facebook/YouTube to beat the quarantine blues. I count it the same as listening to an audio book.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: The Green Dress

Finished Reading: The Green Dress
by Liz Tolsma

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Green

Boston, 1886–members of the Robinson family keep falling ill and dying in the same way, with no known cure. When Harriet Peters, who is a close friend of Lizzie Robinson, watches her best friend die, she moves in with the family to care for the youngest members. As the illness claims another life, Harriet enlists the help of a new doctor in town, and he begins to suspect foul play. But how many more have to die before a possible murderer can be caught?

This is my favorite book so far in the True Colors series. It was well-written, the characters were real (and a little scary), and the crime was more interesting and woven into the story better than some of the others in the series (which are stand-alones written by mostly different authors), while also being less gruesome than that of one of the others. I was also a lot more engaged by the romance than I was with most of the others.

From almost the very beginning of the story, I suspected who the mastermind was and turned out to be correct. In fact, it took me a while into the story before I realized the author was attempting to throw us off the trail, make us suspect others. At least, I think that’s what she was trying to do. However, because the book is based on a real story, I think it might have been a bit better to make the criminal plain, at least a little, and add some excitement there. Though this being a Christian story, that might have made it too dark.

My biggest gripe isn’t even all that big. The title of the book was a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. I think the green dress should have been involved a little more for it to make the title seem less like it was forced, just so this book could be in the series. I did like the payoff (and suspected that to be the case as well), but still think it could have been more woven into the story.

The book is not terribly pushy in the Christianity department. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, there is discussion about death and what is really required of us humans to be able to go to Heaven. There is also a theme in the later parts of the book regarding God’s will, and how we can pray for healing, but sometimes God’s will is for someone not to be healed in this life. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I would recommend this book for fans of Christian romance, especially the historical variety.

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

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Book Review: Healing Her Heart

Healing Her Heart
Crystal Lake #1
by Laura Scott

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

Healing

ER nurse Larissa and a doctor she works with, Gabe, unite in their concern for a woman who Larissa suspects is being abused by her husband. They also bond over their shared running hobby and a minor calamity that befalls Larissa. Though Gabe is determined to never date a colleague, will Larissa change his mind?

This novelette is a quick, sweet romance. There wasn’t a lot of depth, but that’s expected in a story this short. Even still, both characters had a backstory that came into play in the story in some way. There were a few things that were a little odd due to the shallowness, like a character in Larissa’s past that was apparently important enough to mention, but not to explain. And an action scene that was a little confusing, possibly because the author was trying to keep it short.

The Christianity in the story revolves around the theme of forgiveness, which leads to an apparent assertion that the reason to forgive those who have wronged you is because you have God’s love and they don’t. For one thing, to assume that anyone who you might be in a position to offer forgiveness to isn’t a Christian is bad logic. Then there’s the theological question about whether God loves those who have not turned to him for salvation, which I won’t debate right now, but I’ll just say the statement was odd.

This is the first in a series of novellas (from what I can see, the rest of the books are generally at least twice the length of this one). It’s currently free on Amazon, as is the 2nd book. There’s not truly a lot of substance here, but if you’re looking for a quick, clean romance, I would recommend this.

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Book Review: Daughter of Cana

Daughter of Cana
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Daughter

At a wedding in Cana, Tasmin oversees the week-long feast, with the help of her twin brother Thomas. But Thomas becomes more interested in what a guest from Nazareth has to say than helping his sister. Then that guest appears to turn water into wine, though Tasmin isn’t convinced. And neither is the guest’s brother Jude. After the wedding, Thomas goes with the Nazarene to Capernaum, and both Tasmin and Jude follow, each determined to retrieve their wayward brothers. But it turns out the task is not so easy, and Tasmin’s and Jude’s lives are upset as they try to balance their own lives with still making their brothers see sense–and hope to prove that the Nazarene is not who he claims to be.

This was an interesting take on the ministry of Jesus (referred to by his Hebrew name, Yeshua, in this book) from the perspective of one of his half-brothers, who did not believe he was the Christ during his ministry on earth, and the perspective of a sister to one of the apostles. As Jesus himself put it, no man is a prophet in his own hometown, and that principle applies in some way to both of the main characters (in their view of Yeshua). Most of Jesus’s works are seen from a distance, and I expected that to become tedious, but I appreciated the way the miracles were told by those benefited by the miracles or even bystanders.

I was a little concerned early on, as it seemed Yeshua was being portrayed as lazy and even slightly belligerent to his parents, slacking off while his brothers did all the work, even before his ministry started. I came to see that as the perspective of a frustrated, even jealous, brother, though. There was also one point where Jude talked to his brother in private, and I mentally winced in anticipation of the words the author might choose to put in Jesus’s mouth. Fiction or not, that strikes me as an unwise thing to do. However, his dialog was still right out of scripture. Granted, he obviously said those things to a larger crowd in the Bible, but there is evidence Jesus repeated some parts of his sermons anyway. It was a good decision on the author’s part, I feel.

While Tasmin and Jude spent most of the book with little in the way of their own story, and even of their own personalities, they grew enough later in the book that I still felt some connection to them. The best thing about the book, for me, was that it gave me the ability to feel like I was there, back in Jesus’s day, hearing him speak, seeing him myself, even if from a distance much of the time. There were Hebrew words and phrases sprinkled here and there, and the meaning wasn’t always clear to me. I didn’t quite see the reason for most of that, but that’s a small down-side to an otherwise lovely book. I would recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction.

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

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Book Review: Unoffendable

Unoffendable
by Brant Hansen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Unoffendable

Radio show host Brant Hansen counters the common opinion that Christians are entitled to “righteous anger,” while also making a case about how learning to let go of our “right” to be offended can change our lives. He uses scripture as well as examples from both Christian and secular writers and thinkers to back up his claims.

This is the kind of book that you can get a lot out of, or you can dismiss as not for you, or even dismiss as flat-out wrong. One of the biggest arguments people seem to have for anger being all right (even a good thing) is that Jesus himself got angry. But I think one of the most important things to remember is that Jesus is God. He was perfect and sinless when he threw out the money changers. We need to remember that when we get angry about the sin of others…we’re just as bad, even when we find a way to feel like we aren’t.

It’s also important to note that Brant is not necessarily claiming that we should be able to find it easy to never get angry. We’re human; we get angry. The issue is feeling justified in holding onto that anger. In letting it drive us, and especially, in letting it drive us to sin.

More than just anger, Brant also addresses self-righteousness and hypocrisy. I think some of these areas convicted me more than the issue about anger. Not that I don’t get angry, but I definitely am guilty of letting myself believe I’m “not as bad as that other person.” I’m not going to pretend I’m all better now, but I’m noticing these things more in myself and I think that’s the first step to letting God get rid of them in me.

When I first started reading this, I really wondered how Brant could write an entire book about anger. But there were a lot more facets to it than I realized. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and I can see from my personal life that there is a lot of truth in the claim that learning to be unoffendable can make your life better. I recommend this book for all Christians; even if you don’t feel like you need it, I’ll bet you can find some understanding here. I also believe, and see from reviews of others, that non-Christians can find some truth in this book as well. And no matter who you are, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

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Book Review: Time Benders: The Machine

Time Benders: The Machine
Time Benders #1
by J.B. Yanni

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: YA science fiction, Christian

Time Benders

When the four Fitzgerald children are orphaned, their aunt sends them off to boarding school. There, the four siblings grow closer than they had ever been before, as they rely on each other in their grieving and new, sudden situation. As the kids settle into life at the school, eldest sibling Ken begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding their aunt taking custody of the kids and excluding them from the will reading. Meanwhile, his brother Joe, a math and science whiz, finds a fascinating math problem, coupled with a machine. When he discovers that the calculation might just be the secret to time travel, the kids have to decide whether or not they should go back and prevent their parents’ death, and how they would even do that.

I have to say that this book was really not for me. There were two main areas that brought the story down the most for me, and sadly one of them was the plot itself. The other area was the writing style. I’ll explain a little:

Time travel plots can be difficult to do well, and since they always require suspension of disbelief, for some people, it doesn’t pay to be too picky about what you’re expecting from one. However, the assumptions the kids make in this book about how time travel would work for them and anyone who didn’t come along one the trip make no logical sense to me. And even when they see evidence that it doesn’t work that way, I don’t see them re-thinking their ideas. Also, they decide to go back and change a major point in history (won’t say what it is due to spoilers), because they feel that it will stop the beginning of a long progression of events that led to their parents death. And yet, they say more than once that they’re sure changing this major point won’t affect their friends’ families and lives. Even after saying that this event will potentially change another event in history, which affected millions of lives. It just makes no sense to me. And it’s not because they’re kids, since they’re generally shown to be smart (the oldest, who isn’t even one of the professed brains in the family, is going to Harvard). Oh, and I almost forgot that as the kids debate whether they even should go back to stop their parents’ deaths or not, their arguments actually make it seem like they’re against doing it…even as they decide to do it.

The writing itself seemed like it needed some more work. From the very beginning the dialog just felt stilted, and I realized that the kids don’t use contractions as much as an average person in America would. A lot of the story is told in a way that feels very zoomed out, rather than up close to the action. Conversations are told to the reader, rather than shown. For example, “she told him she wanted to go to the store, and he said he thought that was a good idea,” rather than seeing the actual conversations taking place. Coupled with these zoomed-out conversations having little to no explanation of what anyone was doing while talking, they felt shallow. A lot of the time, the story felt more like an outline (though granted, a really detailed outline) than a final draft.

I found the question of whether or not there was something sinister in the way Aunt Alicia handled the estate and kids she was charged with after her sister’s death more interesting than the time travel part of the story, which is sad, because it kind of fizzled out. The rest of the plot involved everyday life for the kids–they had classes, holidays away from school, got boyfriends/girlfriends, at least one lost a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. I think far too much of that was shown, considering how little it affected the plot, but it probably wouldn’t have bothered me too much without the other issues I’ve mentioned, or if it would have at least served to show the kids’ personalities more. But there wasn’t much there.

I found this book when I saw the author was putting out the 2nd in the series, and wanted to see if it would be a good series to get into. Even though the first book ends on a huge cliffhanger, I don’t think it hooked me enough to put money into reading the next one. There may be an audience out there for this book, and it might just be the teenage audience that it’s meant for, though I personally wouldn’t recommend it to the YA group either. The book is in at least 1 Christian category on Amazon, and I could see where some of that was trying to come out. It might be brought out more in the next installment, but I can only speculate. I applaud the author for the work she’s put into this book, truly, but I think it needs quite a bit more work to be the great book it could be.

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Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

Include all of the following words in a scene:
consequent
afflict
self-consciously
indulgence
sadistically

bonus: capitulation

If you write something from this prompt, 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**

Weekly Writing Update: 5/10

Last week, I finished reading “Outcast” aloud to myself and started transferring the notes from the proof copy to the computer. I was trying to decide if I want to do line edits with the proof copy, which means working around the marks I made, or if I should use the updated computer file. I’d rather use the proof copy, because I’ve discovered that when I read my writing in actual book format, I notice things I otherwise wouldn’t. However, I decided that to be safest, I need to use the updated file, because otherwise, I could miss a typo or mistake in the corrected sections of the file. So that is my next step.

I have plenty of time, because I checked in with my two advance readers, and they’re both still a ways from being done. I still have two months until my hopeful publish date, though, so I’ll do what I can, and then most likely dive into revision of book #3 in the meantime.

While I work on continuing the series, if you’re interested in reading where it all starts, Pithea is available on Amazon as both an e-book and paperback (it’s also on Kindle Unlimited).

Book Review: Deep State Stealth

Deep State Stealth
Nanostealth
#4
by Vikki Kestell

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian sci-fi thriller

Nano 4

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series–Stealthy Steps, Stealth Power, and Stealth Retribution.

Now that Gemma (make that Jayda) and Zander are both super-powered and married, they’re all set to save the president’s life (again). Tasked with rooting out the conspiracy that did not end with the death of the vice president, Jayda will go undercover in the NSA. Will she and Zander be able to root out the corruption and get out of the espionage business?

I struggled with this book quite a bit early on. I almost gave up on it after the first few chapters. But I stuck with it, and when the storyline about the conspiracy involving the president got going, the story picked up. In the end, though, this was the weakest book in the series, in my opinion.

This book has the odd distinction of being a bit too religious for me, and yet having some things that made me uncomfortable, especially in a Christian book. I’m not against Christianity in a book by any means. But in a book of this type, it’s much better off being spread out, rather than shoved at the reader all at once, which is how the beginning of the book felt. But even while that was happening, there were discussions of and references to the newlyweds’ “nap times” that were just too much for me–both near the beginning, and later in the book too (nothing graphic, but uncomfortable). And throughout the book, there was a lot of “bleeped” cussing. I know that Christian authors have to decide how to handle real-world language in their books, and Kestell’s approach isn’t a bad one, but there was a lot of it. And my mind does fill in the missing words, so I got a point where I was irritated by the amount of cuss words the book was putting into my head.

I don’t mean to imply that the book was bad, though. It provided more resolution to the rest of the series than I expected. There was a reveal later in the book that I thought was going to turn out to be anti-climactic, but was pretty interesting. And going into this book, I was really worried about the way the 2 clouds of nanomites behaved at the end of the previous book–almost like a form of sibling rivalry, and I was happy to see that that was largely downplayed in this book. Like with the previous book, the main plot was engaging, and I really liked the way Jayda and Zander utilized the nanomites.

One more thing–like with the previous book, this one is written in mixed perspectives. Most of it is 1st-person from Jayda’s point of view, with some 3rd-person if the author wanted to show things happening with other characters. For as strange as it was in the previous book, it was even more strange in this one, as more than once, Jayda herself was referenced in one of the 3rd-person sections, and it took me out of the story, since she’s the character whose eyes we view most of the story through. The writing style in general really isn’t for me.

Looking back at the series as a whole, it has its pros and cons. The story itself was good–I really liked the premise, especially the initial accidental invisibility, and Gemma learning to work with the mites. The author’s style and insertion of religion detracted from the series overall, but I think many other Christians wouldn’t be so bothered by the things that bothered me. Be sure to check out other reviews if you’re interested, as there are many positive ones for this series.

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Book Review: 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace

4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace
by Johann Twiss

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction, fantasy

4 Years

Fourteen-year-old Aaron spends two years paralyzed, but still aware of his surroundings. He’s believed to be brain dead, though, and left to his own thoughts during that time. After two years with only his imagination to sustain him, inside of which he created a world he calls his Mind Palace, he gets a new roommate–Solomon, a dementia patient with a colorful history. The next few years are the best of Aaron’s life, so far. An unlikely friendship is forged, and neither Aaron nor Solomon will ever be the same.

This is a book that I worry I’m going to have a difficult time reviewing. I really liked it, but it’s hard to explain why without giving anything away. There were moments that made me laugh, moments that made me cheer, and even moments that made me tear up. It was an interesting conglomeration of historical fiction and fantasy, and I really liked the characters.

Before Solomon moved in, Aaron had to find ways to cope, and he became a bit snarky and sarcastic (in his mind). This led to some humorous observations. And his paralysis led to a similar situation to someone who’s lost a sense, and the way their other senses compensate for that loss. As such, each other character that ever entered Aaron’s room was associated with a specific scent, which carried on throughout the book. I really appreciated this small touch.

The book takes place in the late 80s, and we get to experience some specific points in history, thanks to Solomon. 1920s NYC, the Chicago jazz scene of the 40s, and a night during WWII, amongst other things. Not to mention the first-hand experience of the 1989 earthquake in California.

Considering the name of the book, I thought the Mind Palace was fairly under-represented. In the end, I think it could have been written out of the book and it wouldn’t have made much difference. Partly because of this, and partly because of some comments made in the second half of the book, I expected a vastly different ending. I did like the ending, but was waiting for something more that never happened. That is my only real negative comment.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this book, and would highly recommend it for everyone who enjoys historical fiction, as the fantasy aspect is not a detraction whatsoever, and for readers of all ages.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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