Book Review: Time and Again

Time and Again
History Mystery #1
by Deborah Heal

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

Abby takes a volunteer job as a live-in summer tutor for an eleven-year-old named Meredith and moves into their large, old house in a once-thriving railroad town. After spending some time trying to bring the unhappy, spoiled Meredith around to the idea of studying, and exploring the neighborhood a bit, Abby and Meredith discover a strange secret on the brand new computer Abby’s estranged dad bought her–they can follow their house back in time and watch the lives of people who lived there in the past.

The first thing I want to say is don’t get too hung up on the categorization of this book as “time travel.” It’s not what almost anyone would really consider time travel. Abby and Meredith can watch the past, and even in some nebulous way “hear thoughts” from at least one person they’re watching, but there is no traveling in time. They call it time surfing. And while I did have some issues with this book, by the end, I realized I had mostly enjoyed it, and plan to continue with the series.

It takes a long time for anything to really happen. We get to know Abby and Meredith as the former gets settled in and the latter balks against all forms of learning. I found Abby to be not a terribly nice person, kind of even haughty sometimes. And Meredith is just a spoiled brat, plain and simple. She acts older than her age at first too, especially when she’s acting out. I also had to wonder if college-student Abby had ever interacted with a boy before when she meets John Roberts and acts like a middle-schooler.

When the time surfing really got going, I found myself a lot more wrapped up in both of the storylines. Meredith began to be less bratty, probably as much because she’s got someone spending time with her and showing real interest (make no mistake–divorce and single parent-ship can be really hard on a child). And the story of Charlotte, the young woman who lived in the house in and around the Civil War, was interesting.

There are a few things that really took me out of the story, which are likely a result of the book being self-published. A jarring lack of scene transitions, for example. And, for a book so focused on history, I was seriously shocked to see Abby say that in pre-Civil War times, Illinois (the state they’re in) bordered the slave state of Ohio. Not only has Illinois never bordered Ohio (Indiana is in between), but Ohio was not a slave state.

The book is novella-length and not a difficult read by any means. I’m definitely curious to see where the series goes from here. I would recommend this book for readers of Christian fiction, especially those who like history.

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Book Review: Final Chance

Finished Reading: Final Chance
by E.B. Roshan

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Suspense, drama

Final

Preen has just fully accepted that her husband, Rama, died at the hands of a rival militia, in the tumultuous city of Dor. But a late-night phone call with her husband’s voice on the other end prompts her to travel to the war-torn city, where she used to live with her husband and daughter. What follows is a dangerous journey that will force Preen to relive unpleasant memories and test old loyalties.

This is a difficult book to rate, and a difficult review to write. I didn’t really know what I thought of it as I was reading it, and I’m not sure how I feel about it now, over a week after finishing it. This is not to say that the story is bad, nor the writing. More that I didn’t feel much draw to the characters and had no real understanding of the theme or purpose of the story.

The biggest thing that I took away from it was a sadness for the Tur people who were being evacuated from Dor and forced to live in a refugee camp. The fact that they didn’t even seem to have a complaint about their living conditions seems to say that either they have already been living in terrible conditions so long that they’re used to it, or that their lives in Dor was so terrible that the camp was an upgrade. I’m not entirely sure which, but it still made me sad, considering that, though the setting was fictional, the situation is entirely too real.

The book is novella-length, so there is not a lot of depth in the world-building or characterization. On the former point, I wasn’t bothered at all. Once I got used to the melding of modern and primitive, I appreciated the way the author used it in the story. There were some allusions to culture and customs that made the setting feel real. For various reasons, I imagined the story to be taking place somewhere around the Middle East, but again, that is not specified. Regarding the characters, the history between Preen and Rama is basically empty. If I was meant to feel much at all about their relationship and whether or not Rama is alive, it’s very difficult when I know almost nothing about them.

I think the story is worthy of a good rating, but in the end, I think I am not quite the right audience for it. I’m not sorry I read it, however, and because my review may not be entirely helpful, I definitely suggest checking out what others have to say.

I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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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: A Soldier’s Promise

A Soldier’s Promise
Crystal Lake #2
by Laura Scott

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

Soldier

Derek wants nothing more than to be a father to his recently motherless daughter Lexi, but there are some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to that dream. As he tries to outrun some of those obstacles, he’s in a car accident that forces him to stop his flight in Crystal Lake. There, he and his daughter are helped by ER nurse Julie, who has her own burdens to shake off. Will these three find what they’re looking for in each other?

This story is about a novella-length, about twice the length of the previous one. And it did have more substance than the previous book, even allowing for a fairly serious storyline to be tied up. Unfortunately, even with the shorter format, there’s a good deal of repetitiveness in the narration, especially involving the main characters’ inner turmoil about their individual situations (as well as their joint situation). I appreciated Derek’s characterization, but felt Julie left a lot to be desired in, regarding having much of a personality.

Most likely because the story is so short, it has the unfortunate common situation where two characters who have only just met develop feelings for each other very quickly. This particular relationship moved to kissing more quickly than I prefer, especially for a Christian read. And so much of the romance we see them develop revolves around them admiring each others’ looks.

I appreciated that Julie wanted to share her faith with Derek, and by extension, with Lexi. I don’t recall it being wrapped up in the story, but it certainly wouldn’t have to be, realistically speaking. I think there was a good foundation there for the future, though (their fictitious future that won’t likely be in any future books, of course). There was one theology point I didn’t agree with, but I won’t mention it here.

As the second book in a series of similar stories, and both being decent, but not stand-out reads, I don’t plan to move on in this series. However, if you are interested in a short, sweet, clean romance, this book can easily be read as a standalone in the series. I thought we might get a bit more of a glimpse of the characters (as a pair) from the first book than we did, since they all work in the same hospital. Please be sure to check out other reviews, as there are plenty who liked it more than I did.

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Weekly Writing Update: 6/14

It has been a little over a month since I wrote one of these updates, and that is due to the sucking void of an online game I fell back into last month. However, I have recently realized that part of the reason I let myself ignore my writing for so long is because I was waiting for feedback from a couple of beta readers for “Outcast,” and without that, I was unable to do much more. I had figured I’d just keep working on the story myself, but the truth is, there wasn’t much more I could do without their feedback.

One is now done, and I just need to get her notes from her. What she’s told me so far is that she really liked it, more than Pithea, and that a few underdeveloped areas stuck out to her, because of how good the rest of it was. I’m happy with that, considering that as soon as I thought much about one of those areas, I could see exactly what she meant. I’ve already started thinking of ways to make it stronger, and will begin working on that this week.

Because the date I had planned to publish “Outcast” was pretty arbitrary, and because I can see now that it needs more work than I’d hoped, I am not pushing for the publish date I’d originally hoped for. But I should still be able to have it out by fall.

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

 

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

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).

Weekly Writing Update: 5/3

Camp NaNoWriMo ended on Thursday, and I finished strong, averaging just over an hour of work done per day (my goal was 1 hour). I’ve been working my way through my proof copy of “Outcast,” currently about 63% done with this revision. I am reading the story out loud to find awkward wording and, in theory, proofreading issues. But I’ve realized as I go that I’ve been focusing less on those tiny details like commas, missing words (I’ve twice now discovered a missing “to” or “a”, things like that) than I meant to, as I’m apparently paying more attention to the wording. So I’ll likely still have to do a line edit after this, but it’s okay, because I’m waiting on some advance readers to finish with the book anyway.

I took a couple of days off after Camp ended, but plan to start back in tonight. I’m going to use the NaNoWriMo site to track my current goal of 45 minutes worked per day, because I know that watching a graph that shows if I’m under or over my goal has always been an important motivator to me, as I work on an arbitrary goal.

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).

Weekly Writing Update: 4/26

We’ve just ended another week of Camp NaNoWriMo. It was a little lighter for me, as I only averaged just over a half hour of work done per day (my goal was 1 hour per day). What I really did was small amounts of either busy work or work on book #3 without diving too deeply, because I was just killing time, so to speak, until my first proof copy of “Outcast,” arrived. It finally came on Thursday, so I’ve now had 3 days of reading through it and marking some changes for the next draft, which may not be the last one, but should be the next to last, at least.

The great news is that, unlike when I got my first proof copy of Pithea (book #1), the cover on this one looked great already! I keep looking at it and thinking surely I’ll need to make some tweaks, but other than needing to finalize the synopsis and author bio on the back (the bio was copied & pasted from Pithea, so still says it’s my first novel), I think the rest will end up left alone.

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).

Weekly Writing Update: 4/19

We’ve just ended another week of Camp NaNoWriMo, and I am again very pleased with my progress. I kept with my goal of 1 hour work per day, minimum, working a bit more than that on average. I spent the first couple of days working toward being able to order a proof copy of “Outcast,” both to see how the cover looks printed and to use for the next draft. I don’t know how long it will take to get the proof, though, or if it will be on extended hold until the COVID-19 situation is further along (up until today, the site maintained that it would be arriving today, even though I could clearly see it hadn’t been shipped yet, and I’m not even sure it’s been printed yet). I’m aware this one thing may delay my preferred release date by quite a while, and if that happens, then it happens.

While I wait for the proof copy, I am doing light work on book #3. I don’t want to get too heavily into the revision for that book, so that I don’t have a difficult time switching gears back to “Outcast” when the proof copy comes. However, if I finish the preliminary work I’m doing and still don’t have the proof copy, I’ll dive into a new draft. Gotta be doing something!

Below is the cover for “Outcast,” which I revealed yesterday!

Outcast cover, Kindle

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).