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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Book Review: Spark (DNF)

Did Not Finish: Spark
Swipe
#4
by Evan Angler

My rating: DNF, no rating
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

The decision to set aside a book that I most likely won’t finish is never easy, which is why I’ve only done it twice before. But this one was even harder, because it was book #4 in a series. Unfortunately, the series apparently doesn’t have an end at this time, and book #4 is a major departure from the 3 before it. The author always seemed a bit eccentric, but it went way too weird for me in this book.

One of the biggest issues I saw in other reviews was that the author left behind the characters that we spent so much time with in the first three books in favor of some new people. I don’t think I would have minded that so much on its own. However, the main character of this book had this strange way of referring to herself. She was “Ali Without a Name,” but there was no explanation of that (considering that she clearly did have a name, I’d have liked to know the story behind this). Then sometimes she or someone else would refer to her in other ways like “Hungry Ali” or “Naughty Ali.”

This, amongst other things, caused me to get that “just hang in there until things make sense” feeling. And then I cheated a little. My son has read all 4 of these books, though it’s been several years. But still, I asked him if any of these things that were making no sense would eventually be explained. He said pretty much no. I decided to call it then, about 1/4 of the way in.

Still, I liked the previous 3 books enough that, even though it’s been 7 years since this book was published, I hold out the tiniest bit of hope that the author will continue the series. If that were to happen, I’d come back and finish this book in preparation of the next. Unless that happens, though, I have no desire to find out what’s going on with Ali and the Tinchers.

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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: 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: A Lady of Esteem

A Lady of Esteem
Hawthorne House #0.5
by Kristi Ann Hunter

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Lady of Esteem

Though the ward of a man of wealth, Amelia grows up mostly alone. She feels more at home amongst servants, and not just those of her own household, than the aristocracy. This provides for some awkward moments when she catches the eye of a marquis with a bad reputation. As Amelia heads toward the age where she will no longer be anyone’s ward, her circumstances change in a way that leaves her with no idea where her future will take her, or if she’ll be able to see any of her friends anymore.

I got this book for free on Amazon, and at this point, I’m really glad the book and its following series were put on my radar. This book itself is a short read, but gave me a good feel for this writer, who was new to me. I liked the characters and enjoyed the short, sweet story of Amelia finding a home.

Amelia herself is a good example of a Christian woman, keeping to her morals and being a good example for others. The marquis, Anthony, is a recent convert, and while he struggles with knowing that his old reputation will follow him no matter how he acts now, he also has moments of contemplating going back to his old ways. These two complement each other very well.

There was one glaring coincidence that brought the story down for me a little, and a few points where I was just confused about what was going on in the moment. And I have no idea in the end if Amelia turned 21 during the story or not. It was approaching and was something she was really concerned about, and then…nothing really happened involving that.

Overall, I enjoyed this short read set in the Regency period. If you think you might be interested, it’s still free on Amazon as of the time of me writing this review. It also includes the first chapter or so of the first full novel in the series that follows. I have to admit, I got completely hooked with just what I read there. I’m really looking forward to reading the book that follows this one!

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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: 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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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: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Book #7
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP 7

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve just finished the final book. As a reminder, my reviews will likely contain spoilers, as I’m not too worried about avoiding that, with as long as these have been out, and as well known as they are.

This is the hardest review yet, for me. I was so caught up in the book by the last half that I was excited to give it 5 stars. But then I thought back over the entire thing, and looked at the notes I’d written earlier on, and realized that there were some disappointing things that really were worth an entire star detraction. Rather than try to organize my thoughts in a way that flows well, I’m going to do bullet points for this review.

What I liked/loved

  • Dudley’s appreciation of Harry, which is touching, yet not overdone or out of character for him
  • 7 Harrys
  • Luna in general, but esp that she could see through Harry’s disguise at the wedding
  • Godric Hollow’s wizards’ monument to the Potters and the graffiti on the sign
  • Ron’s chance to save the day
  • The fruition of the DA was better than I could have hoped for
  • Harry getting to see his parents again, and 3 out of 4 of the Marauders (Sirius was one of my favorites before he died, after all)
  • Neville’s triumph
  • The final defeat of Voldemort, of course, and the knowledge that these people are finally free from his destruction
  • I felt the epilogue was pointless at first, but after a few days to let it rest, I appreciate being able to see how the characters moved on, that Hogwarts was restored, and that Neville was a teacher there

What I disliked

  • The middle really dragged with all of the moving around to camp, and a few little things happened that really didn’t advance the plot much, if at all
  • The Deathly Hallows seemed so out of place, like a tack-on to another otherwise solid-feeling plot, and ended up barely having any point (despite me liking Harry’s use of the stone, as I mentioned above)
    • It’s really hard for me to buy that the invisibility cloak is infallible…except where it needed to not be for the plots of past books (especially since, from my recollections, none of the times I can think of that someone did, or seemed to, see through it were necessary to the plot)
  • Lupin’s and Tonks’s deaths should really have been “on-screen.” I know everyone loves Dobby, but I think they were at least as important to the series and should have been given a bigger send-off.
  • The Battle of Hogwarts and most of the climaxes and falling action that occurred between them were exciting, except for one thing–there was just so much talking during all of it! After the battle we get pages of exposition about Snape, then an entire chapter of Dumbledore explaining things to Harry (some of which we already know or could easily have deduced from previous information). Then there’s rising action to the final stand-off with Voldemort…during which they talk…a lot. I wish Rowling had figured out a way to include more of this much sooner than during/between the epic battle and final stand-off.

Overall, I did like the book a LOT more than I didn’t, and probably a lot more than it looks like here. But it generally takes more words to explain a problem I had than to share the things I liked. I do think the book was longer than it needed to be, and wonder if that was on purpose–the previous books had gotten so long, Rowling and/or the publishers felt she couldn’t go back at this point. I don’t know. But as this is the final book in the series, I can say now that I do understand why it is so loved. I am already looking forward to starting back at the first book some day and reading through the series again with an understanding of how things play out, to find those things that I missed the first time around.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Book #6
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP 6

 

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve just finished #6. As a reminder, my reviews will likely contain spoilers, as I’m not too worried about avoiding that, with as long as these have been out, and as well known as they are.

Well…I don’t even know where to start with my review of this book. Normally, I take a few notes while reading–just things I want to make sure I remember when I’m writing the review–things I really liked or things I didn’t like. I didn’t write any notes for half of this book, because I was just so caught up in the ride. So suffice it to say: I liked it.

I enjoyed seeing Harry as team captain, really liked the luck potion fake-out, and even liked that the Gryffindor team was able to win without Harry (because of the common Harry-is-best-at-everything complaint some people have with this series). The romance with Ginny was expected, but I think that’s only because of spoilers I’ve seen over the last few years. Harry suddenly being jealous of her relationship with Dean and daydreaming about her being with him, with no indication that he liked her that way before, was actually pretty abrupt. I’m curious, though I’ll never know, about how I would have felt if I hadn’t been anticipating it, because it came out of left field in this book.

The formula throughout this series of Harry suspecting something and not being able to get anyone (except maybe his friends, but not even them this time) to believe him is getting a little tiring. It’s even worse if he turns out to have been correct about everything, so it leaves little mystery for us.

The ending was a bit unpleasant, not just because of the obvious, but because of the realization of how very different the next book is going to be. After 6 books that covered a year of school (with more and more shown of the summer each year), knowing we won’t be going back to Hogwarts was as sad for me as it was for the characters. I also felt really let-down by the explanation of the Half-Blood Prince, which was fairly anticlimactic.

The one biggest issue I had was not a fault of the book’s. Back when this book first came out, my husband showed me the video of some guy driving by a bookstore yelling, “Snape kills Dumbledore!” at a crowd of people waiting in line to buy the new book, or walking way after buying it. Even though my memory isn’t what it used to be, this has stayed in my mind for 14 years, even when I never had any plans to read the book. So it’s also tainted my thoughts, expectations, and theories as I’ve read the entire series. Because of that, and who Snape has been shown to be up until and through this book, I did truly expect there to be more to it than there was when it actually happened. But there wasn’t.

In my reading and book blogging over the last 10 months, I am making sure to continue with series at a decent pace, but have never read 2 books from one series back-to-back. However, when I finished this book, I just knew I had to keep going. So I’ve already started on book #7. That’s probably as much of a testament to how much this series has sucked me in as anything. In a similar fashion to how a lot of questions and mysteries are tied up at the end of each HP book, I’m expecting a lot of tying-up of things left a mystery (or misunderstood, etc.) throughout the rest of the series, at the end of Deathly Hallows.

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