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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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: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Classic sci-fi, dystopian

451

I read this book as a sophomore in high school, 22 years ago. I remember it being one of the easier-to-read classics of my 3 years of Honors English. All I really remembered about it, though, is the basic premise of book burning, the parlor screens, and a vague creepy idea of the Mechanical Hound. After reading it again now, I’m actually surprised that I remember it as a “simple” read, due to the writing style and a plethora of metaphors, but it does probably make a difference when you’re pushed to analyze it after reading each third. I didn’t dissect it for symbolism and analyze every paragraph like I did other classics, though, and I still have the short papers I wrote for assignments about it. It was fun to read those again after reading the book.

As an adult, I see the book differently than I did back then. For one thing, I have come to realize that the book is not about the censorship involved in book burning. The fire captain makes it clear that society turned from books long before it became illegal to own them. Rather, the technology that led them to that point seems to be what is being demonized. I suppose it’s a call to make sure we don’t let it take over our lives.

Though to be honest, I think there’s a mixed message here, because despite the explanation the captain gives, it’s also clear that the government doesn’t want the people thinking for themselves. Wants them distracted while they’re about to go to war–why and with whom, we never know. And due again to the writing style, I am not sure I understand what happened at the very end regarding the war.

I would say a strong theme, which is perhaps more relevant today, is the control the government is able to exert over the people. If the majority of society decides it doesn’t care about books, then those people just don’t read books. Why does that have to lead to books becoming illegal? The government decides that it needs to regulate the people’s “fun” and oppose the potential of anyone offending anyone else at all, and apparently the people let it happen. Especially considering how recently Faber was a professor at a liberal arts school, it’s amazing how quickly it must have happened.

One thing that I was absolutely correct about in remembering this book was how creepy the Mechanical Hound is. I actually had some unpleasant dreams the night in between the two days it took me to read the book this week, and the Hound was a highlight. (I don’t have specific memories of the dreams, but a general understanding that they were related to the book.) It’s seriously disturbing.

In the end, for me, at least, this book doesn’t hold up as the classic it’s hailed as. It’s not a bad story, but I don’t know that it’s worth studying or holding up as a warning. Between this and Ender’s Game, maybe I’m just not a fan of classic sci-fi.

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Book Review: When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Middle grade mystery, sci-fi

When You Reach Me

When she got the first note, Miranda was able to convince herself it was just trash–it wasn’t necessarily meant for her and didn’t mean anything. The second one couldn’t so easily be dismissed. Then she begins to unravel a mystery that involves her once-best friend, the crazy man on the corner, and a break-in where nothing was stolen. Can Miranda put the pieces together in time to prevent a death?

I am so glad I decided to see what this book is all about. Though it’s for a younger audience, it intrigued me when I saw it on a fellow blogger’s Top Ten Tuesday list a few weeks back. It was such a great read! I liked the book’s feel of living in a big city in the 70s, which was based on the author’s own childhood. The mystery was seriously engaging, and even the chapter titles were wonderfully themed!

The chapters are mostly short, some as short as 2 pages (on my Kindle, so probably less in a book format), which kept the story moving, even when a lot of the eralier chapters covered backstory that brought the reader up to date on the “present time.” Also, the main character’s mom is practicing to be on the game show The $10,000 Pyramid, and most of the chapter titles are themed around that (ex. “Things That Burn”), which is also explained well enough in the story that younger readers, who wouldn’t know the show at all, will understand it too.

I had my theories about who wrote the notes, going back and forth between 2 people before deciding on one. When the big reveal happened, though I suspected most of what was revealed, it still left my breathless for a moment. It was so well done!

I will say that I think Sal was maybe a bit more mature in his thoughts and decisions about friendship that makes much sense for a boy his age, but other than that, I loved everything about this book. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good mystery, with some time travel thrown in. It is middle grade fiction, but I don’t think it the younger audience makes the story any less readable for adults.

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Book Review: Storm

Storm
Swipe
#3
by Evan Angler

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

Storm

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, Swipe and Sneak.

Unwitting leaders of a revolution for those who refused to pledge loyalty to the future global leader, Logan and the rest of the Dust are being pulled in multiple directions. While Logan, Peck, Erin, and Hailey head west to try to save Erin’s life and stop an epidemic, the rest of the Dust have a mission in the capital city of Beacon–continue to protest the leader’s minions while searching for their lost friend. Then Logan’s sister Lily brings him a new mission, as a brewing storm is about to be unleashed.

The continuing saga of Logan and the Dust ramps up in this book. The Dust continue to gain new members and allies, both Markless and Marked. The ending feels like a huge leap off the side of a cliff, but overall, the book was engaging.

In the first book, I really disliked both Tyler and Eddie. I know they’re kids, so of course their immaturity would be expected. But it’s taken to such an extreme, it just bugs me. I like both of them so much more in this book, even though they’re still goofy and immature. It’s like it has a purpose now.

There were a few oddball things that happened in the book, like horses showing up out of nowhere when two of the characters were traveling via the River, or a teenager being walked to the scene of his parents’ death, even to the point of them showing him their dead bodies. I just don’t know why the sheriff would do that.

By the end of this book, I had come to realize that Evan Angler is a pen name, considering that it turns out he’s actually a character in the book. I truly don’t understand why the author chose this plot device, though, as so far, it doesn’t add much to the book. I think that perhaps this could have been more fully utilized by having a narrator that was more connected to the reader throughout the series. I’ll be curious to see if this is expanded on in the next book though.

This story has really come into its own by this book. It’s uncommon, at least in my experience, for Christian end-times fiction to come in from this angle, as there’s very little in the way of Christianity even still now. One character did express his faith a bit more in this book and then left on some kind of pilgrimage, which I’m sure will come into play more in the next book. It did become clear in this book that the rapture had happened in the past though, which I’d been curious about. I’m not too optimistic about the next book, given reviews I’ve read, but I’m going in with an open mind, because I’ve disagreed with reviews plenty of times before. At this point, I’d still recommend this book to those who enjoy end-times fiction and YA books.

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Reminder: Book Sale!

Don’t forget, Pithea on Kindle is currently discounted to $2.99, more than half off its normal price of $7.49. This price will be good through this weekend, so get your discounted copy while you can! And along with that, my novelette The Triangle is free today and tomorrow! See below for links and a little more information.

Hopefully these books can provide a little distraction from your isolation.

Pithea cover, Kindle

Pithea is the first book in a series of speculative, futuristic fiction. Check it out on Goodreads and Amazon.

1
The Triangle is a stand-alone novelette of Christian fiction. Check it out on Goodreads, and go here to get your free copy!

As many who will read this already know, authors, especially self-published or indie authors, need reviews to allow more readers to find their books. If you take advantage of either, or both, of the deals on my books, please make sure to leave me a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or preferably, both!
*Both of these books are also available through Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: Landry Park

Landry Park
by Bethany Hagen

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Dystopian romance

Landry

Two hundred years in the future, various factors have left most of the United States in a dystopian state that is reminiscent of Victorian times–right down to the fancy dresses and the imperative for wealthy young women to marry eligible, and wealthy, bachelors. Madeline Landry is sole heir to the Landry estate and fortune, but unhappy with her lot in life. What starts as an attempt to have some control over her life turns into a growing desire to see the lower income classes treated better, even as her father tries to head off a rebellion by the lowest caste. Meanwhile, a new bachelor comes to town and turns every head, including Madeline’s, which distracts her from everything else…sometimes.

In a rare twist for me, I enjoyed this book more than many other reviewers. Some of what I noticed complained about most in other reviews didn’t really bother me, for which I am thankful. Though there was plenty that brought the book down for me, the main character included, I found myself caught up in the mysteries presented and really wanting to know what on earth was going on, and what would happen.

Madeline is a fairly shallow character. And I don’t mean her personality is shallow, I mean there’s not a lot of depth given to her character. It doesn’t really bother me that she seemed to want to help the Rootless, while living her opulent life and struggling to actually act on behalf of the eternally dying lowest of society. It might seem like a huge character flaw that many of us would say we’d never do, but the truth is that it’s actually very human.

I should have put more emphasis on the romance in my synopsis, because make no mistake, it was a huge part of the story. With everything going on, the fact that Madeline’s thoughts are so wrapped up in what’s going on with David Dana, who is so incredibly hot and cold, often feel like they get in the way. However, even that developing non-relationship is part of the mystery of the book. In the end, after thinking that an assault that occurred near the beginning was the driving plot, I think this very relationship felt more like the story goal by the end. Whether that was on purpose or not, I can’t say. Besides the over-prominence of the romance, though, it irked me so much for reasons I won’t get into to avoid spoilers. It worked out like I expected, but was still really unpleasant along the way.

There were a few reveals near the end that I really didn’t see coming, even though the clues were there. The book turned out to be a bit deeper than it seems upon first glance. There were also a few things left unexplained that really niggled at me. I’m not saying that’s a fault on the author’s part, because in this type of series, having a few lingering questions makes sense. I can only hope they’re revealed in the sequel.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. I picked it up without any knowledge of it whatsoever at a bargain store months ago, and almost let its low rating on Goodreads keep me from reading it. Instead of disliking it like I was worried I would, I’m looking forward to see what the sequel holds. It has a good chance of having a lot less of the things that I disliked the most about this book. I think fans of romance and dystopian worlds, especially those who also like books set in the Victorian era, or other similar-ish eras of that time.

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Book Sale!

Social distancing, businesses closing down, etc., isn’t affecting me as much as it is others. I already work from home, homeschool, and am an introvert. Though I will admit that being told I can’t go out and do things makes me want to all the more. But still not much. But for those who are already going stir-crazy, or just for those who happily find themselves with more time to read than normal, I’m offering discounts on digital versions of both of my published books. My full-length novel Pithea will be more than half off for the next 2 weeks, and my novelette The Triangle is free now through Monday! See below for links and a little more information.

Pithea cover, Kindle

Pithea is the first book in a series of speculative, futuristic fiction. Check it out on Goodreads and Amazon.

1
The Triangle is a stand-alone novelette of Christian fiction. Check it out on Goodreads, and go here to get your free copy!

As many who will read this already know, authors, especially self-published or indie authors, need reviews to allow more readers to find their books. If you take advantage of either, or both, of the deals on my books, please make sure to leave me a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or preferably, both!
*Both of these books are also available through Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: Ender’s Game

Finished Reading: Ender’s Game
by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi

Ender's

This book was a rough ride for me, and I’m not sure I can write an adequate review. It has long been a book my husband has really liked, but I’d never read it and not had much desire to read it. And for the first few chapters, I did not care for it at all. As my husband promised, it did pick up after that, though I still struggled with a lot of the content. I did somewhat anticipate the “big reveal,” though to be honest, I thought there’d be another twist coming after that. 

I had a really hard time following and caring about all of the politics, both on earth and at Battle School. The chapter and later sections about Peter & Valentine frankly went over my head and bored me, and I didn’t understand the point of them. I know that some of this is delved into a lot more in other books, but it’s really not something that interests me, so it detracted from the book for me. And while the end was mostly good, the last chapter felt like a tack-on, and I could have done without it.

What really turned me off in the beginning, while I was waiting for things to really get going, was Card’s writing style. I do not care for it. It bugged me so much that the narrative and characters would reference things off-hand as if they’d already been explained to us and then expand on those thoughts, and I was left mentally sputtering as I tried to keep up. I think that, in the end, this kind of writing just does not mesh with my way of thinking, my personality, my preference in reading…whatever the case may be, it frustrated me, where most seem to be fine with it.

I’m surprised to say that I was not actually put off by Ender’s tendency to be the best at everything. I mean, that was kind of the point. He was genetically bred to be that way (though to be honest, I barely picked that up from the book itself, but the synopsis does state that). I couldn’t imagine him as a 6-year-old, though, and had to just think pre-teen from the start. My daughter is 9, so I couldn’t get past how ridiculously unrealistic it was, but I’m not saying it didn’t make sense for the story…it just didn’t make sense in my head.

Overall, I don’t fully get why it’s such a classic. I get why people like it, but do not understand the fanatical draw. This was my second Orson Scott Card book (the first being Lost and Found). I didn’t particularly care for the other, either, and it’s interesting to note that they were published decades apart. I kinda think that maybe Card’s writing just isn’t for me.

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Book Review: Stealth Retribution

Finished Reading: Stealth Retribution
Nanostealth
#3
by Vikki Kestell

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

Stealth Ret

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first 2 books in the series, Stealthy Steps and Stealth Power.

Again picking up where the previous book left off, right there in the cave where the nanomites and Gemma became Super-Gemma, she and her friends hatch a plan to start thwarting the evil military general who has been after the nanomites’ creator and, due to the mites infesting Gemma, after her too. Gemma is about to have more on her hands than escaping General Cushing, though, as a young friend of hers is in danger, and her own twin sister is in town to muck things up as well.

I enjoyed this book through most of it. I really liked the way the storyline with Cushing played out, taking Super-Gemma from Albuquerque to the White House and back. By the end of this book, I could easily compare it to a comic book super hero origin story. If my review and rating were based just on the resolution regarding Dr. Bickel and Cushing, I would have given it 4 stars, maybe more. However, things got really weird on the theology side of the story, and I felt very strange about the whole thing by the end.

I thought it a little odd at the end of Stealth Power, when Gemma became a Christian, and then the nanomites felt the presence of Jesus inside her. But I let it go, accepted it as the fiction that it is, and moved on. But by the 2nd half or so of this book, the nanomites are receiving instructions from Jesus. Surrendering their will to Jesus. And…being forgiven by Jesus? It took a lot more suspension of disbelief than I prefer to swallow all of that. Add to that the fact that the associate pastor who was once my favorite character had become simply a vehicle for faith-professing in the book, and even as a Christian, I felt very Bible-thumped (I don’t know if that works in this context, but I’m sure it’s clear what I mean). And in the end, I have no idea what the real purpose of Gemma’s twin, Genie, was in this book, other than to be another convert for Zander’s cause.

The first book was mostly in 1st-person from Gemma’s point of view, with a little 3rd-person if the author wanted to show things happening with other characters. This was explained in the fact that Gemma was keeping a journal of everything happened after she became invisible. However, the journal aspect was sort of abandoned in book 2, and by this point, it’s more like half-1st person, half-3rd person. Which is strange and confusing. The writing style as a whole still put me off a bit, especially in the 1st-person parts. It’s incredibly casual and conversational. In the end, I think the author’s style isn’t really for me, but the story about the nanomites, the invisibility, and Gemma escaping the bad guy is unique and interesting! I only wish there hadn’t been so much else to bog it down.

The series continues on for one more book (at this time), which from the synopsis is clear is a divergent from the main story arc in the first three. I plan to read it soon, because I did come this far. At this point, I would still recommend the series to fans of Christian mysteries & thrillers and lovers of this type of sci-fi, especially since I think many others wouldn’t be so bothered by the things that bothered me. Some other reviews do mention being put off by the nanomites’ seeming religious experience, but also express that the story outside of that is good.

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