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 will 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An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?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 I can’t find anywhere and am 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 Toastare

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!

Weekly Writing Update: February Week 3

My primary goal this week was to brainstorm new scenes to add to “Outcast,” book #2 in my series, based on early feedback. There are 2 main areas of the story that I’m going to add more to in some way, and one of those areas is one I’ve focused on in freewriting a lot over the last few years. So I have several scenes in mind that would work well in this story, with some revision.

While searching for some of these scenes, past-me reached out and slapped present-me in the face. I do my best to keep my writing practice all in one place. I may write it in various different notebooks at first, but I try to make sure I type everything into the computer and keep it all in sub-folders of one main folder. But apparently I still fail at this sometimes. So I went looking through some of my notebooks for one scene I remembered writing (it wasn’t easy, because I have so many currently active ones, any one of which I may decide at the time is the best place for writing practice). When I found it, I also found something else…something revolutionary.

Apparently back in September, during the early part of the current draft of “Outcast,” knowing that I needed more words, I used my Writer Emergency Pack to try to generate some new ideas. I wrote ideas using two different cards, but had forgotten all about them. When I recently found what I’d written 5 months ago, I got really excited. The truth is, most of what I wrote wouldn’t generate a lot more words, but I already have enough new scenes in mind for that. I think. But these were some ideas that would strengthen certain parts of the story, and the series as a whole!

So with some new ideas, I knew that what was coming next was not going to be easy. I had to figure out how to fit all this new stuff in to an existing draft.  I had a really rough time wrapping my brain around how best to do that, and kept getting to my evening writing time late. So I put it off. I did very little for my writing for most of the week. Not nothing, just very little, and not what needed to be done.

So today, when some plans fell through, I found myself with a few hours of free time this afternoon/evening. And I decided that the best way to proceed was to break the story down to its basic parts (scenes) and just dig into it. And though normally I am able to do something like that on Scrivener, it just didn’t seem helpful today. So I made a spreadsheet with scene headers and printed them out, cut them apart, color-coded them based on the story arc they were for, and wrote out new ideas on other pieces of paper. And I spread them out over the table and moved them around until they made some sense.

scene break-down

I also remembered how much easier it can be to sort out the scenes in this story when I group them more by story arc, so that’s how I did it. I can’t really decide on the new order of scenes until the new scenes are written anyway, so this is good for now. I now have a new outline. After updating my Scrivener file for this story to reflect what I did with the papers, it’s going to be time to start writing new scenes (yay!!).

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: This Light Between Us

Finished Reading: This Light Between Us
by Andrew Fukuda

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

This Light

As a Japanese American during WWII, teenage Alex Maki’s life begins to deteriorate until his family is sent to a detainment camp. Up to and during this time, he is pen pals with a Jewish girl in France, who is seeing the growing persecution of Jews around her. This friendship is his one bright spot in an otherwise scary, unpleasant time. They share their hopes, dreams, fears, and ideas about acceptance vs. revolt through their many letters back and forth. As the war rages on, both of their lives change in ways they can’t imagine, and their strong friendship might not be enough to keep hope alive.

This book was incredible in some ways, and problematic in others. I really liked the history that was presented in this book, as well as the relationships. However, I had a difficult time with the style of writing and with the pacing.

I’ll start with what I liked, which is plenty. I loved the juxtaposition of the two teenage pen pals, who most readers will understand going in are being set up for intensely difficult times ahead. While I have seen and read many books about the Jewish side of this, the Japanese American side was a fresh topic for me. It’s easy to see the Nazis as evil because of what they did, but it’s also easy to forget that America put their own citizens into camps (though not heinous as the Nazi camps, as is clearly recognized in this book.

There was a pivotal scene not far from the end that I was curious enough about to look up and found that it was historically accurate, which was really neat to me. And the author’s notes at the end said it was one of 2 sources of inspiration for this book! Overall, I appreciated the history in this book.

I think my favorite parts of the book were the letters between Alex and his pen pal Charley. I would have been okay if more of the story had been told through those letters. I also liked the way a few other relationships developed throughout the story, particularly those between Alex and his brother Frank, and Alex and Mutt. Thinking of these, though, make me realize how light the book is on deep characters. Overall, those 4 are the only characters with any real depth, and none of them are particularly deep, besides maybe Alex and his brother.

This might be largely related to one of my biggest dislikes with the book. The story, which is presented as a personal narrative, has some strange inconsistencies in writing style. It fluctuates often between 3rd person limited and 3rd person omniscient (especially in the last third), which can at times make me feel like I have mental whiplash. Some of these sections easily could have been shown from the limited POV of Alex, rather than the broad POV of everyone involved. The story is also written in present tense, which, to me, is a strange choice for the omniscient POV. This caused the book to not flow as well as it could have.

Similarly, during the omniscient sections, there’s a lot of telling, instead of showing. I’m really not a big stickler for the “show, don’t tell” adage, but even I have my limits. I also would have preferred some translation for the French in some parts. This is a small gripe, because it didn’t come up often, and most of the time I could guess what was being said from context. But during a pivotal scene near the end, I had to use Google to translate some phrases to make sure I knew what was being said, and I’d rather not have to leave the book in a moment like that. (There was also something said in German that the reader is led to believe was some kind of German curse, and it’s not translated or even hinted at otherwise. I know enough German to know it was not a German curse, and was really quite emotional.)

So, overall, I did enjoy the book. It wasn’t a favorite, but I also think that most of what bothered me was more personal preference than normal. I think most people will not be bothered by the writing style, especially. It is listed as YA, but I’m not sure how much it works for that crowd. Though I will say that the dialog at times is pretty immature, so that might work out well (it’s also a little too modern, in my opinion, but I’m not expert). If you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially related to WWII, you will probably like it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Teen for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about This Light Between Us

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!