Book Review: The Blue Cloak

Finished Reading: The Blue Cloak
by Shannon McNear

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Blue Cloak

In the wilds of Tennessee and Kentucky in the late 1700s, Rachel’s newly married close friend gets caught up in a nightmare. Sally’s groom and his cousin, Big and Little Harpe, become outlaws and leave a trail of destruction, dragging their family along with them. Rachel is worried for her friend, as well as for her new acquaintance Ben Langford. Ben came to the frontier to keep his cousin out of danger, but sadly discovered that Thomas was one of the Harpes’ first known victims. Now he only wants justice for his cousin, and Rachel wants to see her friend freed from her murderous husband’s grasp.

This is the third book in the True Colors series that I have read. For the first half of this book, I felt that it was a bit better than the other two (The Yellow Lantern & The Gray Chamber). The main characters were relatable, my heart broke along with Sally’s as things went from bad to worse, and the romance was sweet, if not a little weird given the backdrop.

The book was well-researched. An author’s note at the beginning even made it clear that McNear knew this was a difficult subject, and there is a real question of “how dark is too dark for Christian fiction?” I think the answer is…this. This story of the Harpes and what they did to potentially 50 men, women, and children in their time might just have proven too dark to use as a setting for a Christian romance. I’m not one who was all that put off by what was in the book, though a bit of it was definitely more disturbing than the rest, however, because the author understandably couldn’t go too in-depth in these matters, the story just came off very shallow. I think that is an indication that this bit of history just should have been passed on for this series.

However, I was planning to give this book 4 stars until just after the halfway point, when a really confusing scene happened that made me feel like an entire other scene had been deleted from the book, and the author forgot to re-write a callback to it. And then, by the end of the book, I became weary by the repetitiveness of the characters’ thoughts and prayers (that feels so bad to say, but honestly, at times it just felt like it was copied & pasted from earlier). Overall, though, the book was well-written, with just a few gripes.

So this is the part where I normally sum up my thoughts and then make recommendations for who should read the book. As I said above, the book has some more graphic spots, but overall tends to gloss over the details of the crime and depravity of the Harpes. Still, it’s not for the faint of heart, and many Christians would likewise find it too much. But if it sounds like something you’re interested in, especially if you’re a fan of Christian romance, I’d definitely say give it a try.

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

Find out more about The Blue Cloak

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: Sneak

Finished Reading: Sneak
Swipe
#2
by Evan Angler

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

Sneak

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Swipe.

Sneak picks up immediately after the previous story’s end, with Logan on the run and the Dust in the wind. In the aftermath, Logan and Peck, leader of the Dust, share a common goal–find Logan’s sister Lily. Five years ago, Lily supposedly died when she went to receive her Mark, but Logan has since received information that she is actually in some sort of prison. Logan and the Dust travel along the River to Beacon, the capital city, where they will try to break Lily out. Meanwhile, Logan’s friend-turned-betrayer Erin is on her own track to Beacon, which is what she thought she wanted, but now isn’t so sure.

The story really picked up in this 2nd installment, with more action and higher stakes. We get to see even more of the community that the Markless have formed across the country. And the members of the Dust weren’t nearly as annoying as in the first book. Plus, we get some fresh blood to the cause that is very promising.

Though the Dust and most of the rest of the Markless community seems to hate Logan at first, due to the extra heat he’s brought down on them all, I like him a bit more in this book. He seems a little wiser and a little less helpless. I still don’t care for Erin’s character, though, who was the other MC in the first book. She has a smaller role in this one and is so inconsistent, I don’t know if she’s just that confused or if she isn’t written very well. The character that I said was my favorite in the first book was in this one a lot less, and frankly…I don’t remember why I liked him so much in the first one. So there’s that.

The other members of the dust are given a bit more of a background, so while they don’t really come to the forefront that much, at least there’s some depth there. There’s a pseudo-love triangle in this book that seemed pretty unnecessary to me so far. But overall, the characters were more engaging in this book.

I loved the River, which had similarities to hobo signs (which I learned about from a Nancy Drew game). It was an interesting idea to include in the story, though at least one thing happened that was pretty predictable to a point. The outcome was not so predictable to me.

As I mentioned in the first book’s review, the series is actually Christian end-times fiction, which became more clear in this book. Logan finds and begins to carry around and read a Bible, which is a banned book, considering that religions other than the One World Religion are also forbidden. It’s a subtle build-up, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book. Sadly, since reading the first one, I have become aware of the fact that this is an unfinished series, the most recent book being published in 2013. With that understanding, this might still be worth reading for those who enjoy end-times fiction.

Find out more about Sneak

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!

TBR Book Tag

I saw this tag over on A Rambling Reviewer and quickly decided I wanted to play along. Since starting to post reviews on my blog back in July and soon after starting to build an official TBR list, I actually take a lot of joy in organizing it. So answering questions about it and the books on it, was right up my alley. Diving right in:

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
For starters, I keep a list on Goodreads. I feel a little weird sharing this, but I actually go a step further and have a spreadsheet with my TBR as well. This is so that I can manipulate it a lot more than I can on Goodreads–make notes about how I can get ahold of the book (library, borrow from someone, I own it, etc.), who recommended the book to me, keep track of series I’m in the middle of, things like that.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-books?
I generally read print books when I can, and the majority of the books on my TBR will be borrowed from the library as print books.

A book that’s been on your TBR list the longest?
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – I put this on 4 years ago when I first joined Goodreads, but back then, I wasn’t reading regularly. My husband has been recommending it for a long time, and I’m finally planning to read it within the next month.

A book you recently added to your TBR?
What You Wish For by Katherine Center – Releasing in July, I was recently invited to read the ARC for this book because I had read and enjoyed her previous book, Things You Save in a Fire.

A book in your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The synopsis is interesting enough, but it was an impulse-add because of the cover.

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
There are no books on my TBR that I don’t plan to ever read. Some I know will be there a while, but to avoid anxiety over feeling like I’ll never read all the books I want to, I don’t add a book if I’m not sure, at least at the time, that I want to read it. If I realize later that I don’t really care about it anymore, I’ll remove it.

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?
Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman – This book releases in June, and I’m part of the blog tour for it at that time. It’ll be the first time I’ve done something like that, which is fun!

A book on your TBR that basically everyone’s read but you?
Harry Potter books – I’ve actually finished the first 4 books now, so I have 3 more to go now. Before last July, I hadn’t read or watched any Harry Potter, even though it’s…everywhere even now. (And by the way, now that I have some context, it is impossible to avoid spoilers. They’re everywhere!)

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?
I don’t get a lot of direct recommendations, though my mom and sister have been very excited about some they’ve recommended. However, I think one that fits this bill better would be The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. After I put it on my TBR, it won the Goodreads Choice Award in the mystery & thriller category, which presumably means that a lot of readers recommend it.

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?
It’s strange to look for a book for this question in my TBR, because logically I think that if I was dying to read it, I’ve already have read it. But realistically, I have all sorts of reasons to hold off on even books I’m really excited about. So I’ll go with North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I’ve seen the mini-series several times and love it, so I have a feeling I will get swept up in the book.

How many books are on your Goodreads shelf?
It depends on which one you mean, so I’ll just say I have 66 books on my TBR, with 22 in my “maybe add later” list on my spreadsheet, which includes books that my library doesn’t have and I’m not ready to buy, or just books that I’m not 100% sold on (so I guess I sort of have books I don’t intend to read, but not on the official TBR, and I’m not certain I won’t read them).

How does your TBR look? Answer these questions on your own blog and feel free to link your post in the comments!

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

It was a poetical retribution for the crime.

(Today’s prompt is a paraphrase of a line from the book Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.)

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**

Book Review: Heaven’s Open Book

Finished Reading: Heaven’s Open Book
by Sheldon Peart

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian fiction, theology

HOB

This short book is split into 2 parts. Part 1 contains 5 vignettes of life, focusing on 5 different pairs of people. In each pair, at least 1 is living some sort of Christian life. In the second half of the book, one of these characters has a vision of Heaven, where saints are able to look up their loved ones in Heaven’s Open Book, and if they did not make it to Heaven, find out what sins kept them out.

The difficulty in reviewing a book like this is that it’s difficult to sort out the different aspects and give it an honest rating that isn’t colored by anything besides the reading. As such, I have broken my thoughts about it down into 3 parts: the story itself, the theology presented within, and the writing style and editing.

Story – I get what the author is trying to do here. From the very beginning, we see a married couple where the husband is not a Christian and the wife is. But it’s clear that she is not the ideal example of a loving Christian by the way she treats her husband. As the book continues to unfold, each vignette gets longer and longer. Knowing what the second half of the book was going to be about, I made guesses as I went about who would be in Heaven and who wouldn’t. For the most part, I was right.

There were a few things that happened in the book that I thought were a little odd, but overall, the story was decently presented. I’m not going to go back and look, but my recollection is that pretty much everyone in church leadership was an adulterer, so that was a bit strange.

My biggest problem with the story came in the 2nd half. As those who made it to Heaven looked up their loved ones, they were given the options of watching videos of the actual sins that they were condemned for occurring, or in some cases, reading text about those sins. Many videos were watched of husband or wives who committed adultery. It was, frankly, uncomfortable. We’re not talking explicit scenes here, but the amount of leering and physical groping that is described is beyond unnecessary. My rating for this book is mostly based on the “Story” section of this review, and this is a huge reason for my rating.

Theology – In the first half, as I was guessing who was going to be in Heaven and who was not, characters were presented that, in real life, are the type to appear as good Christians to the casual observer, but were just going through the motions. One was even a famous, charismatic traveling speaker who drew huge crowds. It is a sad truth that many people who pass themselves off as Christians are not actually saved.

Another difficult thing in reviewing a book like this is that it could easily force me to set up my beliefs as correct over the author’s. That is not my intention here, but it’s impossible to not allow a difference of beliefs to color my thinking in some way. In the second half of the book, I disagreed with a lot of the theology presented. I’m not going to list it all, because also I don’t want it to appear that I rated the book lower due to not having the same views of God and the Bible. I will at least say, though, because it’s already mentioned above, that I really hope people in Heaven aren’t going to be watching videos of their loved ones sinning, especially not the types of videos I described above.

Writing Style & Editing – When I read a self-published book like this one, it is my intention not to let things that a professional editor would help with affect my view too much. I’m not saying that there is no burden of responsibility here, but it’s harder for self-published authors. However, I’m going to skip mentioning any proofreading or line-editing issues here and focus on one area that made the book harder to read for me: the style.

I came to realize some time during the 2nd vignette that the book was set in Jamaica. Maybe I should have assumed that already, based on the fact that the author lives in Jamaica. However, at first, I simply thought there were a lot of grammar issues in the dialog. Even after I understood the setting, it was difficult for me to read, as a lot of the dialog is what I can only assume is specific to the way people in Jamaica talk. I’m not trying to say that everything has to be written for Americans, but as an American audience, it was difficult to read. And I’m not sure if the fact that almost everyone used “Bro” or “Sis” as a title for almost everyone else is a Jamaican thing or just a church culture thing that the author is used to, but it was also very distracting for me.

In the end, I can tell I was not the correct audience for this book. The author seems to have found the right audience, as the reviews on the common places I check (Goodreads & Amazon) are all favorable. But for me, there are definitely some cultural and theological differences that made this a difficult book for me to read and enjoy.

Find out more about Heaven’s Open Book

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!

 

Weekly Writing Update: February Week 4

This week I got to do some writing for “Outcast,” (book #2), rather than revising, which is always more fun for me. I didn’t have as many nights to work on it as I’d like, which I’m really hoping will be better this week, but it was still nice to do some actual writing. So far, I’ve only written 2 scenes, and didn’t even finish either of them. In total, I wrote about 1500 words last week. Not exactly NaNoWriMo pace. I need apply the methods of NaNoWriMo and write in concentrated sprints, I think. I’ll try that this week.

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).

Self-Publishing Spotlight: His Name Was Zach

Do you like…

  • …unconventional family relationships?
  • …stories that are driven by the characters and relationships?
  • …post-apocalyptic stories?
  • …ex-military main characters?
  • …witty teenage characters?
  • …zombies?

If you answered yes to 1 or more of these questions, consider checking out His Name Was Zach.

Synopsis from Goodreads:
One day at a time, that is how Zach lives. It has been two years since The Crisis, the day when people contracted a mysterious disease that renders the host a flesh-eating feral. Both Zach and his daughter Abby are doing all they can to survive in this world where most creatures, living or undead, want to kill them. Moving from one oasis of solace to another, they journey in search of a true home. A place where they can finally live together in peace. But out in the Wild, friends are few, psychotic enemies abound, and Zach and Abby will be forced to confront demons from their pasts. Will their familial bond hold long enough to reach safety? Or will they lose themselves to the surrounding madness?

About Peter Martuneac: Husband, father of two, Boilermaker alum, and former United States Marine. Ever since reading The Lord of the Rings at a young age, Peter has wanted to be a writer. His Name Was Zach is his debut novel, followed by the short story prequel “Abby: Alone”. A second novel is in the works, entitled Her Name Was Abby.

Peter’s writings tend to share a theme that focuses on PTSD and the different ways people cope with trauma, some healthy and others not. He also writes about redemption, and not being chained to your former self.

His Name Was Zach was self-published by Peter Martuneac in April of 2019. It’s available on Kindle (and is currently on Kindle Unlimited) and as a paperback. You can read reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, as well as on the author’s blog. Or see my review here.

Book Review: Blessed Are the Misfits

Finished Reading: Blessed Are the Misfits
by Brant Hansen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Blessed

Maybe you’re an extrovert. Maybe you go to church and totally fit in, never wonder if you don’t belong, never feel like others must be closer to God than you are. Radio show host Brant Hansen wrote this book for the rest of us. If you don’t understand modern church culture, feel like you must be missing something because you don’t feel the emotions others feel, maybe you’re not a good enough Christian, this book might just help. For the introverts, the outcasts, the spiritually numb, the misfits–this book might just change your life.

I knew from Brant’s radio show & podcast that he knows exactly what its like to feel out of touch with Christian church culture. In the book, he shows even more that he has every reason to feel disenfranchised and skeptical about even the existence of God. And yet, that is exactly what has led him to believe and trust in God. He shares some stories from his life, some of which had me laughing so much! (Seriously, the flute & folding chair incident never gets old, even though I’m sure it must have been terrible for him in the moment.)

One of my favorite things that he talks about in the book is the concept of “together, yet apart” in regards to our relationship with God. There’s so much about the Bible that we don’t really get because we don’t understand the culture back then, the people it was initially addressed to, or even the geography. Brant explains the betrothal period for Jewish couples, and equates that to us and God, and it can put your entire life into a whole new perspective!

More than just making me feel better knowing that I’m not alone in feeling like a misfit in church culture (and even in non-church culture), some of what Brant has to say really opened my eyes to my responsibility. For example, as an Aspie (someone who has Asperger’s syndrome), Brant has much more cause to stay away from people than I do–more reason to not fit in, not understand. And yet, he explains how he has to make a conscious effort to interact. To love people. I’ve never really bothered to do that. There’s also a whole section about bumping up against someone and seeing what kind of “fruit” falls off them, which can show you who they really are, not who they claim to be. I know that the responses I produce in moments like that are not always positive. I want my fruit to be loving, generous, and kind.

There’s so much more than I can go into in my review, but trust me, if any of this makes any kind of sense to you, make sure you read this book. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and uses the Bible to back it all up. I recommend this book for all Christians, because even if you don’t feel like a misfit, it might help you to understand those around you who do. And even if you’re not a Christian or just don’t think the book will be for you, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

Side note: My paperback is actually signed by Brant. My family went to a book event with both him and Producer Sherri. I asked him to sign as Tostare (Latin for toast).

Find out more about Blessed Are the Misfits

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:

Include all of the following words in a scene:
silence
stop
argument
antidote
watch

bonus: pineapple

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

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Difficult Reviews to Write

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is “The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover.” I kinda get what that means, but it doesn’t really happen to me much. The most I could really say that about are books that ended up being my favorites, and listing the last 10 of those would be rehashing other posts I’ve made in the last few months. So I twisted the topic a bit. Sometimes the books that I love the most give me a hangover in the sense that I put off writing the review, because I don’t know how to put into words what I want to say. But there are other reasons that writing a review seems like a far more daunting task than normal. So my topic today is reviews (of those I’ve posted on this blog, the book review part of which only goes back to last July) that were the hardest for me to write, for various reasons. Here is my list in chronological order, starting with my very first book review on this blog:

1. Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren
Just by virtue of being the first book review I’ve written since school days, this was a difficult one to write. It was also written by a friend, so I wanted to make sure to be honest and kind. I wish I’d liked it more, but I’ve always had a different taste in literature than her, which I think influenced my view of the story. I’ve written a couple reviews since then that I knew the author was going to read, and am about to write another. It hasn’t gotten easier so far. (See my review for this book here.)

2. The Oath by Frank E. Peretti
This has been my favorite book for probably 15-20 years. I’ve read it many times. After reading it again for the first time in at least 10 years, I had a very difficult time putting what I liked about it into words. I don’t know if that’s because it was all too familiar, or if everything I liked had melded together over the years, or what. It turned out to be a fairly short review (compared to most of my others).  (See my review for this book here.)

3. Tilly by Frank E. Peretti
Same author, very different problem. I read this book for the first time last year, and it is incredibly short. It’s really hard to say much in a review without giving away what I thought was meant to be a mystery in the book (though it’s flat-out stated in the synopsis on Goodreads…I honestly don’t get it). But just in case, I skirted around it, and there just wasn’t much else to say. (See my review for this book here.)

4. Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble
As it turns out, I’m a pretty picky reader. If a book has 95% 4 and 5 stars on a review platform, I will usually be one of the 2 stars. I don’t really know why…maybe it’s that I have a harder time getting past things that others can ignore to see the positives. Maybe writing has ruined me for reading. Maybe I just have all the wrong personal preferences for books these days. Whatever it is, this is one example of a book that many others lauded, but I had a lot of problems with. I remember starting to write this review and having so much I wanted to say, I didn’t know how to organize it to even start, or how to make sure the review didn’t turn into a rant. (See my review for this book here.)

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
When I read this last year, for the first time ever, and without having seen the movies either, I considered not even writing a review. Everyone has already read it, right? They already know way more about it than I do. What am I going to say that thousands of others haven’t? I did write it, but it took some time. (See my review of this book here.)

6. Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell
The main reason this review was difficult to write is that my mom had strongly recommended it to me and was really anxious to see what I thought about it. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t like it a ton either. I wanted to be careful not to write the review in any way that would make it seem like I was speaking negatively of her opinion or taste. (See my review of this book here.)

7. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
I don’t think it’s at all uncommon to have a difficult time reviewing a book that is about such a dark subject. If you say you liked it, it might seem like you’re being flippant about the subject. If you say you didn’t, it might seem like you’re heartless. I’ve written a few reviews with the same trouble, so hopefully I’m getting some practice at getting it right.  (See my review of this book here.)

8. Holes by Louis Sachar
The biggest issue with this one is that I saw the movie before I read the book, and I loved the movie. It can be difficult to separate them in my mind when writing a review. Even though the movie was very close to the book, there are some differences, and the book had a bit more depth to it. But in the end, I had to be willing to allow some comparison in my review. (See my review of this book here.)

9. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
Have you ever recommended a book (or substitute “movie or TV show” here) to someone and just wanted to be able to say, “Just read it! I promise it’s good!” without having to give reasons. This is that book for me. It was hilarious, relatable, and made me hate Patty Michelle Sinclair just a tiny bit less (well, maybe not).  (See my review of this book here.)

Pithea cover, Kindle

10. Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
I finished this book 5 days ago, and I haven’t even started on the review. I never wait that long. I think part of it was because I knew I had plenty of time before it would be posted, but I’m also having a difficult time putting what I thought about it into words. I can say what I learned most from it, but that seems like a bit more soul-baring than I’m comfortable with. I can give some examples of Brant’s incredible humor, but I can’t tell his stories like he can. Hopefully by Friday, when this review will go up, I’ll have figured out something to say.

What books have you struggled to write a review for? Do you have a list of book hangovers to share? Link your TTT so I can check it out!