Top Ten Tuesday: Top Reads from 2019

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is a look back at our favorite books from the past year. First, a quick explanation about my reader-self. I used to read like crazy as a kid, teenager, and maybe the first few years out of high school. I don’t really know when it dropped off, but for most of my adult life, I’ve finished maybe 15 books total.

In the summer this year, I decided that I wanted, and in many ways needed to get back into reading. So I dove in, started building a TBR list that grew scarily fast, started posting reviews on my blog, and haven’t regretted it for one second. I re-discovered my love for reading almost immediately, and enjoy keeping track of what I’ve read, how I felt about it, and what I plan to read.

The following list starts with my favorite 4-star reads from this year, then some 4.5-stars, and finally the only books I gave 5 stars to this year. I’m not including re-reads and am lumping series into 1 entry (even if I haven’t finished the series yet).

10. The Summoner Trilogy by Taran Matharu
I enjoyed this trilogy pretty early on. The Harry Potter meets Pokemon vibe was just too fun. Even with the heavy race and class politics and the inescapable brutal war that was looming, I enjoyed all 3 books in this trilogy. There’s a prequel that is billed as book #4, and I have plans to read it some time in the first half of 2020. (See my full review for the first book in the trilogy here.)

9. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I’m currently almost halfway through my first reading of this series (finished with #3). Though I can tell I don’t love it as much as the majority of the rest of the world, I have been enjoying it for the most part. It’s possible that what makes it even more fun, though, is following each book with my first viewing of the movie, alongside my husband. It’s interesting to me that only 1 of the 3 I’ve read so far got 4 stars from me–the others were 3.5. And yet, when considering books to add to this list, I did decide that Harry Potter as a whole (so far) was worth putting on the list. (See full reviews for the books I’ve read so far here: book #1, book #2, book #3)

8. Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills
This is the first of 2 ARCs on this list. This book was exactly what I wanted it to be, and considering that it seems like a majority of the ARCs I read this year were busts, I was happy to be able to give this suspenseful romance a higher rating. (See my full review here.)

7. The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr
This was another ARC and really surprised me. I loved the idea of reading a book about the advent of Christ from the perspective of the magi that visited Him not long after his birth. This is one that really stuck with me for a while after I read it (probably partly because it was the Christmas season and I saw & heard related things everywhere). (See my full review here.)

6. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
I keep recommending this book to people. It was fun and engaging, and I know I will re-read it plenty of times in the future. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think is important to understand, in order to enjoy the book. Also, it’s billed as horror, but it’s not really scary, which doesn’t bother me personally, but may others. (See my full review here.)

5. The Martian by Andy Weir
I’d seen the movie years ago, and more recently a friend strongly suggested that I read the book too. I was so glad that I did, because for as good as the movie was, the book allowed me to feel even more connected to Whatney. Like my friend, I would really suggest that those who’ve seen the movie read the book too. (See my full review here.)

4. Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone
Another one where I’ve seen the movie, and didn’t even know it was a book until I happened to see it at a bargain store this summer. With some all-too-real situations and flawed characters, this book is brimming with emotion and depth. I’ll admit that the ending was maybe a bit too easy for the real world, but that’s what fiction is for. (See my full review here.)

3. Lock In by John Scalzi
This was probably my biggest surprise of the year. I remember seeing this book sitting around years ago when my husband was reading it. I thought at the time that I should probably read it, because it was in the same genre as my writing, and even had parallels to my world-building. But being sci-fi, I kinda thought it would be dry and technical (yes, I judged it with a very limited understanding of the literary sci-fi genre). When I finally did read it, I loved it! (See my full review here.)

2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
I actually knew nothing about this book or series before reading it. I’ve heard about it practically all my life, but mostly just in name, not with any kind of understanding of what it’s about. I fell in love pretty early in the book though, and by the end, I knew I had to read as much of this series as I could get my hands on, which I’ll be continuing with soon. (See my full review here.)

1. Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
I’ve had a lot to say about this book and author recently and don’t want to start repeating myself. This was definitely my favorite book from this year. It was really nice to get a fresh reminder of why Frank Peretti is my all-time favorite author. I’m already looking forward to the next time I read this book. (See my full review here.)

Have you read any of these? What were some of your favorite reads this year?

Christmas Book Haul

Because of the holidays, my reading has slowed way down this week. Normally I post a book review every Friday (and sometimes in between if I read more than 1 book in a week), but I don’t have any new reviews to post today. So instead, I thought I’d do a sort of follow-up post to Tuesday’s post of books that I hoped to receive for Christmas. I actually didn’t directly receive anything specifically listed there, but did get a couple of books, and thanks to cash-type gifts, I bought some more myself yesterday.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

My sister strongly recommended this series to me (amongst several other books/series), and I mentioned it to my daughter, who bought a paperback copy for my stocking.
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
Though I normally wait to make sure I like the first book in a series before I buy any others in the series, I found a copy of book #2 at Half Price Books for $3, and my sister continued to extol the series (she was at the store too), so I went ahead and got the second one.

Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope
This was a gift from my husband. Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite shows, and I’ve seen the whole series many times. I’ve already thumbed through the book a little and can tell it’s going to be amazing.

The Martian by Andy Weir
Of the books I read this year, this was one of my favorites. I like owning copies of my favorites, so I was happy to find a paperback copy at Half Price Books for cheap. (See my review here.)

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
I was pretty excited when I spotted a copy of this on the clearance shelf at HPB for a couple bucks. It was written by the founder of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve heard a lot about it from people who use it for NaNoPrep. I’ve done NaNo for 10 years, and I think the book is meant more to help first-timers, or at least early-timers. I’m still glad to have it.

I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
We got an email with a $10 Kindle book credit from Amazon about 2 weeks ago. My husband insisted I wait to use it until after Christmas, and then I could buy something on my wish list that I didn’t get. This book was at the top of that list, and I can’t wait to start reading it!

Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
This was probably my favorite of the books I read this year. My husband and I have all but 2 of Peretti’s adult fiction books, and with this one, we’ll have all but 1. I’ve got a used hardcover copy of this coming from eBay for only a few dollars.  (See my review here.)

Have you read any of these? What books are you excited about recently acquiring?

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

I hope that everyone who sees this is having a great Christmas! In honor of the holiday, here is today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

20191225_112208

What are the animals doing?
Who is hiding here, and what are they running away from?
What happens to the toys on Christmas Day?

(Picture & questions from Story World: Christmas Tales)

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hope to Find Under My Tree

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is quite fitting with tomorrow being Christmas (I’ll bet that was on purpose!), and I do have a list of books that I’ve been careful to tell my husband I’d like to own, in case he or any others in my family needed ideas for me. I only told him 5 though (technically I only told him 4, but I added one I’d like to own to at least bring the list up to 5).

1. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
The hilarious producer of my favorite podcast wrote a book about handling PMS as a Christian, and unfortunately, my library doesn’t carry it. So my only hope is to get my own copy soon!

2. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
Related to the previous book, this one is not at my local library either. Of course, his second book is at the library, but that one I already own…and he’s coming out with a 3rd book soon, so I want to get caught up!

3. Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
I own most of Peretti’s books, including one I haven’t actually read yet. I didn’t even know about this one until earlier this year, so I definitely need to get my own copy to add to my collection! (See my review here.)

4. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
My family doesn’t have much room for books, not to mention not having a lot of money, so I generally only buy books at used or discount stores. Only when I really, really enjoy a book I got from the library do I consider buying it new, even if I can’t get it at a discount. This is one such book. (See my review here.)

5. Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills
This is the one book I didn’t specifically mention to my husband, but I would be happy to own it. Since I discovered ARCs this year, this is my favorite of all those I’ve read so far. (See my review here.)

6 – ? Amost anything
I’ll be pretty happy to get just about any books, because I’ve been so heavily into reading lately. If I mentioned a book in passing, or someone found a deal or gives me a book that they want to recommend to me, I’ll be thrilled!

Have you read any of these? What books would you most like to get for Christmas?

Book Review: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor

Finished Reading: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor
Once Upon a Dickens Christmas #1
by Michelle Griep

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery, romance, Christmas fiction

12 Days.png

With Christmas 2 days away, this will be my last Christmas review for the year! So sad, and yet, I had so much fun focusing on holiday-related fiction and will definitely do it again next year! Now, onto the review!

When seven people are invited to spent the 12 days of Christmas at Bleakly Manor and offered some sort of reward for staying the entire time, the clash of personalities, not to mention the lack of food and heat, provide the backdrop for the re-igniting of a relationship. Clara Chapman is offered enough money to save her from the poor house. Her ex-fiance Ben Lane is offered his freedom from a prison sentence that he doesn’t deserve. They’ll have the chance to discover the truth behind what broke them up, but only if they can survive the other guests–especially after the revelation that only one of the guests can get the prize.

This is a nice Christmas-adjacent mystery with some romance, set in 1850. I enjoyed the way the guests interacted, for the most part, and while the mystery elements were fairly predictable, I still liked the way it all came together at the end. I liked the atmosphere that was built both with the descriptions and in the writing itself.

One of my biggest disappointments with this book was the way both Ben & Clara were so quick to assume the worst of each other. Even when they began to understand their misconceptions, they still took longer to let go of them than I thought they should. I know that 9 months of believing the worst of someone else can sour the mind, but…in the end, 9 months isn’t really all that long. And even later, without spoiling anything, both of them had opportunity to trust in the other after they have had a chance to get past their issues, and both failed, at least to some degree. It’s not the most solid basis for a relationship.

There was one particular guest that I really didn’t like–both his personality and how he acted, but also how he was described and portrayed in the text. And in the end, he was barely involved in much and left without making much of an impact. There were a few other things here or there that never ended up making much sense for the story, but they were mostly minor things.

Overall, it was a fun read, short and sweet. I liked the old-fashioned traditions involving Christmas that were shown, and there was one particular thing that was revealed at the end that I felt like I should have guessed, and think many would, but I didn’t, which made it better for me. It definitely has some Christian elements scattered throughout, and the romance is clean (there are some physical desires brought up, but not acted upon). I recommend this book for anyone looking for a quick Christmas read, for a historical book with mystery elements, or for a Christian romance.

Find out more about 12 Days at Bleakly Manor

See what’s coming up.

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

 

Pre-Order Pithea Today!

Pithea cover, Kindle

My first full-length novel, book 1 in a series of futuristic speculative fiction with a Christian worldview, is now available to pre-order as a Kindle e-book! Both the e-book and the paperback will be released on January 10th, but if you want to get ahead of the game, you can pre-order the e-book here.

PITHEA

In the near future, a devastating global war leads to a worldwide ban on the use of all technology. A few hundred years after the war, a sort of magic—called the Power—manifests in every living person. Thousands of years later, the Power has become a part of everyday life in the country of Pithea.

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

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

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

Book Review: A Plain and Simple Christmas

Finished Reading: A Plain and Simple Christmas
by Amy Clipston

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christmas drama

Amish Christmas Collection

Anna Mae has been out of the Amish community for 3 years, shunned by her family for marrying an “Englisher” (non-Amish). Expecting her first child at Christmas time, she reaches out to her sister-in-law Kathryn in the hopes that she might be able to return home for Christmas. Though it won’t be easy, Anna Mae and Kathryn hatch a plot that ends in a way neither of them expected.

A quick read, this novella left me with a lot of problems. I didn’t care for most of the characters, felt that very little happened overall, and found the plot to be all too predictable.

I’ll start with that last one first, because the synopsis for this book literally says that this story is “an inspiring page-turner that will keep you guessing what happens next…right to the very last page.” That is a tall order for any story, be it book, movie, or television show. Christmas stories especially tend to be a bit more predictable, generally speaking, because we expect them to end on a good note. And this book in particular…well, I can’t really think of anything that happened that I couldn’t predict. Maybe one thing:

Though Anna Mae is the one wishing for a family Christmas, I’d say Kathryn really becomes the main character, as she was Anna Mae’s contact in the Amish community, and her partner-in-crime, so to speak. Not that there was anything criminal about it. And in fact, I have to go on a tangent here and explain that I know little to nothing about Amish ways, but this book eventually explained that those who are shunned were, indeed, allowed to visit, but simply had to stay apart from the others during meals and church services. Yet Anna Mae’s dad, bishop of the community, treated her as if shunning meant she didn’t exist at all. It was harsh and yet explained and dissolved all too easily.

Now back to Kathryn…she grated on my nerves. For one thing, the narration tells us that she’s not a proud person, but we sure do see a lot of her thinking how Anna Mae’s family will have her to thank for their reunion. Plus, her husband–Anna Mae’s brother–insists that she not bring Anna Mae there for Christmas for various legitimate reasons, but she does it anyway, betraying his trust and involving other family members, including her own daughter. For a Christian family, and moreso, one where it’s clear the man is usually the head of the household, it really bugged me that in the end, she was seen to be right, and there were no real consequences to their relationship. I also disliked Anna Mae’s father and strongly disagreed with some of his beliefs and traditions.

And finally, what made this short novel really drag on for me was that everything that happened in the book was basically repeated. By this I mean that we’d see something happen, and then the next scene would be a character recounting what had just happened for another character. But where most of us would condense that with a line like, “She explained the events to her mother,” we see the entire conversation rehashing the event we’d just seen happen. This happened multiple times, which led me to start scanning to get through it more quickly.

I know that Amish fiction is an entire sub-genre within the genre of Christian fiction, and I’ve wondered what the appeal is for a long time. I realize that this might not have been the example to base my opinion on, but there were some things that came up that weren’t part of what I didn’t like about this particular book that lead me to think it won’t be my cup of tea as a whole. I don’t really think I could recommend this book to readers of Amish fiction either though. It just didn’t have much substance.

Find out more about A Plain and Simple Christmas

See what’s coming up.

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

 

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Finished Reading: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Book #3
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP3

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve now read #3. 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.

It actually took me some time after finishing this book to decide how I felt about it. I realized that this was because it was not terribly exciting or cohesive throughout. I did find myself wanting to push to finish it, but that was as much because I wanted to find out if some of my theories were correct or not. Certain things that were going on seemed really obvious to me, and I wanted to know how they panned out.

I was not surprised to find out that Sirius Black was not evil like he was made out to be. I was, however, both surprised and disappointed to find out that Sirius Black, Harry’s dad, and a couple of other guys were the Fred & George Weasley of their time. I had not pictured Harry’s dad that way, and while I’m sure it’s not uncommon for “hooligans” to grow up and be respectable adults, it was strange to think of Harry’s dad as a bully, and to think of Snape as a victim.

Hermione’s arc was disappointing, as she was barely in this book except to anger Ron and then disappear for a while. And the reveal at the end about how she was going to so many classes at the same time was a bit unrealistic. Not because it’s time travel, but because I have a difficult time believing they’d let her time travel for school. And then later, there are some inconsistencies with the time travel that bugged me.

Harry himself was hit-or-miss for me. I know he’d done some things in the previous books that he wasn’t supposed to be doing, but when he snuck out to go to Hogsmeade in this book, it felt more outright defiant to me. I did enjoy the Quidditch scenes though, and laughed out loud at McGonagall’s reactions in the final match.

By some point in the 2nd half of the book, I realized how irritated all of the dashes in the book were making me, and to a lesser degree, ellipses. They were just so peppered throughout, for interrupted speech, faltering speech, and just…well, anything they’re normally used for. I use both of these punctuation types myself, and normally, it’s pretty innocuous. So for me to have noticed it so much, there must have been quite a lot of it.

Overall, I didn’t dislike the book, but didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the previous one. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here.

Find out more about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

See what’s coming up.

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

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

Combine the following 3 elements into a scene, short story, story synopsis, etc:
hugger
owner of a hot-air balloon
supermarket after hours

(These elements were 3 randomly drawn cards from my Storymatic deck.)

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**

Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. This list should take me through more (or all) of the winter. They’re not winter-oriented at all, because I don’t usually think in those terms when it comes to reading (except for the 2.5 Christmas-related books I still want to read over the next week).  The actual order in which I read these will probably change as I go (plus more will probably be added in amongst some of these):

1. The Gray Chamber by Grace Hitchcock
This is one of the few remaining Netgalley ARCs I have right now, and even though it’s been on my list for 2 months and I’ve been looking forward to it, I will be pushing it to read it before it releases on Jan 1.

2. Stealth Power by Vikki Kestell
Book #2 in a 4-part series, the first of which was a 4-star read for me. It’s really about time I got on with the series.

3. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
This was on my fall TBR TTT post too, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s an ARC (a re-release due out in March) fantasy kids book that begins a series.

4. His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac
I’m not a fan of the zombie genre as a whole, but I’ve been stretching myself a little in some of my book choices recently, and this is another example of that. The sequel to this book is looming, so I really want to read the first one soon.

5. This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II by Andrew Fukuda
The premise of this book about young pen pals on opposite sides of WWII is really intriguing to me. It’s my last current ARC, and I’ve vowed to finish all 3 of these before I request more, because of how stressful it felt to get so backed up on them.

6. Head On by John Scalzi
The sequel to Lock In, which I really enjoyed, is one I’m highly anticipating digging into very soon.

7. Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
I read this book over the course of almost a year after I got it for Christmas 2 years ago. I want to read it in a shorter time period so I can give it a proper review.

8. Sneak by Evan Angler
This is also book #2 in a 4-part series (which, from what I can tell, isn’t necessarily a finished series). Unlike #2 on this list above, though, I gave the first book in this series 3-stars. I’m holding out some hope that the series will pick up.

9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My husband is antsy for me to get through these books faster, because he likes watching the movies with me. Since I’ve never read this series before, I insist on waiting until after each book to watch its respective movie. I’m trying to pick up the pace from here on.

10. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
Apparently I’m going to have something of a theme going here, reading book #2 in series of varying lengths. I loved Anne of Green Gables so much that I didn’t want to put off reading the next book like I’ve (unintentionally) done with continuing other series I’ve started this year.

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