Book Review: The Gray Chamber

Finished Reading: The Gray Chamber
by Grace Hitchcock

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

In a time period where women are expected to marry well in order to secure their future, Edyth Foster is fortunate enough to be self-sufficient, due to an inheritance that her late parents left her. Unfortunately, it is left in her uncle’s care until she turns 25. Not long before that happens, he realizes that he can steal her money if he gets her declared insane and sends her off to a lunatic asylum–which is just what he does. Edyth must figure out a way to escape or prove her sanity before the asylum takes her mind for real.

I enjoyed this book for the most part. The characters were mostly interesting, though this is the type of situation where I liked some of the side characters more than the main characters. The way the plot unfolded was fairly predictable, but there were enough surprises to keep it interesting.

This is the second book I have read in the True Colors series, and like the other one, despite being written by a different author, this one was far more focused on the romance than on the true crime plot line. Edyth’s plight to escape the asylum and her uncle’s grasp wasn’t just a vehicle for the romance, fortunately, but I still felt that the crime part of this book could have been stronger. I think this is further reflected in the fact that Edyth was not at the asylum long enough for her to be quite how she was later in the book (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers). This particular issue really may have just been my own opinion, and I am not saying that what she did suffer in the asylum would have been easy to handle. It just didn’t seem to be as severe as it was portrayed later.

I enjoy a good romance, especially if it’s clean and sweet. I prefer subtle, but with a romance-genre book, I rarely get that. This, however, is barely billed as a romance, yet was so far the opposite of a subtle romance plot, I got to a point where I didn’t care that much about the relationship between Edyth and Bane. It was so over-the-top sappy sweet, and just about all either of them seemed to ever think about was each other…it was just too much for me.

The official synopsis mentions a woman that Edyth meets in the asylum and her true identity, which frankly, I think was a mistake to explain in the synopsis. Her true identity is revealed so late in the story that it made little sense to me that I knew it the entire time, simply because of the synopsis. I realized by the end that she was based on a real person who reported on the state of this asylum, but I’m sure I won’t be the only person who has never heard of her, and thus it seems like a bad addition to the synopsis.

As I said at the beginning of the review, the book wasn’t bad. I ended up scanning through some of the repetitive declarations of feelings between the to lead characters and didn’t feel like I missed much. The ending did drag on a bit, but I enjoyed it enough to say that I can recommend it for fans of Christian romance (heavy on the romance), but I wouldn’t recommend it too strongly for fans of crime novels.

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

Find out more about The Gray Chamber

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: I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus

Finished Reading: I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus
by Sherri Lynn

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Humor, Christian

I want to punch you.png

Radio show producer Sherri Lynn breaks the cultural taboo to not only discuss PMS, but to help women understand that they are not alone. Rather than pretend it doesn’t happen, or act like it’s not that big of a deal, or even accept that we women just need to handle it on our own, Sherri assures us that what is happening is real, it is a physical strain on our bodies, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

I have been looking forward to reading this ever since I first heard about it, and it did not disappoint. Sherri Lynn is so funny even when she’s not talking about something that I relate so well to. The book is also filled with plenty of interesting insight as Sherri covers the basic topics associated with PMS like anger, tears, and cravings.

She speculates about PMS-influenced actions in the Bible, which I would love to know the truth about some day, because she makes some very good point. And there’s even a chapter about the men in our lives and how they don’t get it (but it’s not their fault) and often just want to help.

I really loved this book and while I didn’t relate to everything (I don’t lose control quite as badly as she does, for example), it was still on point. I have a feeling I will re-read it many times, and I will definitely pass it on to my female family members and friends. I recommend this to every woman, and honestly would suggest is be read by any man who wishes he could understand just a bit more and wants to know how he can help the woman in his life.

Find out more about I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus

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!

 

Pithea Released!

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 purchase as both an e-book and a paperback! What a momentous occasion for me, which I’ve been building toward for 10 years! See synopsis below and go here to buy the book.

Pithea on Goodreads

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.

Writing Wednesday: IWSG Jan 2020

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I’ll be honest–I love talking about my writing history. So today’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group question just begs to be answered. Here is the question posed for today’s IWSG post:
What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just “know” suddenly you wanted to write?

The journey I took to get to this point amuses me greatly when I look back at it. The furthest back I can remember (on this topic) is when I was about 10 years old. I wrote a story about a couple that adopted two girls. When I think back to this story, I remember it as much longer and grander than what it actually was. I typed the story on my parents’ Tandy 1000, and even wrote a sequel. A few years ago, we fired up that old computer and I happened to find the story:

The Nickersons

Apparently I didn’t like the space bar…

I actually remember how that story was supposed to end, but there wasn’t going to be much more to it.

I also remember being sent to an enrichment class in school, though I don’t remember how old I was at this point (late elementary school, I think), due to my penchant for making up stories. They wanted to encourage my creativity, and I was taken out of normal class time for it. There were two other kids in the class–one was was an amazing artist, and I don’t recall the other one’s talent.

Around the age of 14, I got even more ambitious and started to write a story that I anticipated being a full-length novel (full-length for middle grade fiction, at least), and the beginning of a series. The main characters were a set of twins (girl & boy), and I based a lot of the other characters on a lot of people I knew at that time. I never finished the first story, but I still have what I did write, in the below notebooks.

1

Overall, I think both of these dreams were inspired by series like The Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, Addie McCormick, and Mandie books, as well as many other series and stand-alones I read back then.

Fast forward to high school, and my fiction writing dropped away. I wrote some poetry in high school, a few notable pieces, but nothing spectacular. I took a creative writing class in my junior year, I think it was. A few years ago, I dug up a reflection paper that I wrote at the end of that class where I stated that though I’d enjoyed writing the short story required for the class, I didn’t think I’d have a reason to write fiction again in the future. And I didn’t until I was inspired by a computer game.

Pithea cover, KindleMy first full-length novel, Pithea (which releases this Friday!!!), had its foundation as fanfiction for the game Ragnaok Online. This started about 15 years ago, and about 7 years ago I began the journey to use the characters and some of the basic plot lines and create my own world. Now, with book #1 about to come out and at least 7 more planned, I really can’t imagine not being a writer.

Wherever this book and series takes me, however big or small they turn out to be, I know I will always be a writer at heart, and really, I always have been.

For my fellow writers, what does your writing history look like?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Anticipated Releases

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is “Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020.” As I’ve just gotten back into reading very heavily and am just getting used to keeping a TBR and learning what modern authors are even out there, not to mention whose writing I enjoy, I’m not really tuned into what is coming out soon. But that doesn’t mean I’m not anticipating reading some new releases, mostly as ARCs. So this list (of 7, not 10) will include mostly ARCs that I’ve been approved for, or some that I have recently requested and am still waiting on approval for, that come out within the next few months. It will also include 1 book that I’m just looking forward to releasing, and 1 special entry at the bottom that comes out this week.

1. The Gray Chamber by Grace Hitchcock
This actually came out on January 1, but that’s still the first half of 2020. I’m about 25% into this and enjoying it so far.

2. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
I’m not very proud to admit that this has been on my TBR since fall, and I keep putting it near the top of the list, then pushing it back for others. It releases (technically re-releases) on March 10, so I guess it never felt that urgent before. I really need to get to it, especially since book #2 in the series is going to be re-released soon as well.

3. This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II by Andrew Fukuda
This is my third “old” ARC, having been on my list since mid-October. It releases today! I haven’t started it yet, but based on the synopsis and reviews, I’m looking forward to it.

4. The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear
This is the first book on the list that I have requested as an ARC recently, but haven’t been approved yet. If I am, it will be the 3rd book in this series I’ll have read (all by different authors). It’s been an interesting series, and I will probably be going back to some of the earlier books at some point in the future (they’re all stand-alones). It releases on March 1.

5. The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin
I just requested this ARC yesterday. I will absolutely read it one way or the other, as it sounds right up my alley in so many way! It releases on February 4.

6. The Truth about Us by Brant Hansen
Brant Hansen is my favorite radio personality. If you’re in the mood for a fun, clean, often random podcast that makes you think, check out the Brant & Sherri Oddcast. He also writes some books that combine faith and humor and make some interesting points. This book isn’t on Netgalley, though his two previous ones were, so I’ll keep checking; I’ll read it either way though. It releases on April 21.

7. Pithea by Kristi Drillien
In case it wasn’t clear from the top and side bar of my blog page, this is my book! It releases this coming Friday, and you’d better believe I’m excited about it! The Kindle version can be pre-ordered here, and on January 10th, a paperback version will also be available.

What new releases are you looking forward to in the next few months? Link your own list in the comments so I can check yours out too!

Notebook Collection, part 4

This will be my 4th post about my notebook collection. I planned to put this out several weeks ago, but the holidays got in the way. Of course, I’ve added even more since I realized I had enough to post about. I’m splitting them into 2 posts, but I’ll have to post the 2nd one soon, or I’ll have even more to add to it.

Truthfully, I am trying very hard to cut down on how many I get. The shelf where I keep them is full now, and I’m not exactly using them up quickly. It’s just so difficult when there are so many amazing notebooks out there! It really is an obsession…

Speaking of which, follow these links to see the first, second, and third posts about my collection. And now here are the next 5 additions:

1

I’ve actually had this notebook for years and recently found it on a different shelf. My mother-in-law gave it to me when I was first starting to collect notebooks (before I thought of it as a collection). It’s a cute little journal with a window in the front, inside which are actual dried flowers (well, they might be fake…I haven’t exactly opened it, but the point is that it’s not a 2-dimensional representation, but actual flowers inside).


2

This mini notebook with accompanying pen was a gift from my local library, when I took part in a display at a festival in our town. They had a couple of tables set up for local authors to sell books, promote themselves, and talk to the public about writing or publishing. It was the first time I’d ever done something like this, and paved the way for a slightly larger event at the library in the next city over.


3

My husband got this at a thrift store a month or so before Christmas, and I love the ugly Christmas sweater look. I’m also always happy to add to my collection at a bargain price. It’s a half-sized notebook that is thicker than most of my notebooks of the same size.

 


4a

4bWe have a plethora of places to get cheaply priced notebooks in my area, which I’m afraid is really a problem for me. During the Christmas shopping season, we went to a store that’s only open during that time and sells goods for really cheap. They had several notebooks that caught my eye. I decided to stick to only buying 2 (even though they were super cheap). I chose this one because of the gold fringe and sparkly page edges.


5The is the other notebook I got at the store mentioned above. It’s closer to a normal notebook size and spiral-bound, which will make it easier to write in. I’ve also noticed that I really like notebooks with maps on them, and I do live in Indiana, so it was easy to decide on.

 

 

I’ll have another post next week, and hopefully it will only include 5 notebooks. If there are more than 5, you’ll know how weak I really am…

2019 in Books

To make a long story short, in July of 2019, I made a commitment to read more. And by more, I mean at all. I posted more in depth about this at the time, and won’t re-hash it here, but looking back at what I read in 2019 really means the 2nd half of 2019, since the beginning of July is really when all of this started.

From my Goodreads 2019 in bookspage:

2019 year in books

My total is more accurately 47 books for the year, because one of them is my own soon-to-be-published book, and the other is this super short thing that I read in two minutes.

Below are the books I read in 2019, starting with July. The link is to my review for that book, and a link to the book on Goodreads is at the bottom of each review.

July


Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren (3.5 / 5)
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (3.5 / 5)
The Oath** by Frank Peretti (5 / 5)
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (3.5 / 5)
The Novice by Taran Matharu (4 / 5)
The Trials of Lance Eliot by M.L. Brown, a.k.a. Adam Stück (no rating given)

August


The Curious Conspiracy on Gamma Ceti* by Nemo West (2.5 / 5)
Light from Distant Stars* by Shawn Smucker (1.5 / 5)
Thr3e** by Ted Dekker (4.5 / 5)
Things You Save in a Fire* by Katherine Center (4 / 5)
Tilly by Frank E. Peretti (3.5 / 5)
Lock In by John Scalzi (4.5 / 5)
#NotReadyToDie* by Cate Carlyle (2.5 / 5)
The Inquisition
by Taran Matharu (4 / 5)
Lost and Found* by Orson Scott Card (2.5 / 5)
Illusion by Frank E. Peretti (5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (3.5 / 5)

September


Strands of Truth* by Colleen Coble (2 / 5)
The Yellow Lantern* by Angie Dicken (3.5 / 5)
Swipe by Evan Angler (3 / 5)
Fatal Strike* by DiAnn Mills (4 / 5)
Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell (3.5 / 5)
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (3.5 / 5)
Synapse* by Steven James (3.5 / 5)
Cilka’s Journey* by Heather Morris (4 / 5)
Holes** by Louis Sachar (4.5 / 5)

October

Smoke Screen* by Terri Blackstock (4 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
Mother Knows Best* by Kira Peikoff (3 / 5)
The Battlemage by Taran Matharu (4 / 5)
The Dinner Party* by R.J. Parker (2 / 5)
Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone (4.5 / 5)
The Butterfly Recluse* by Therese Heckenkamp (3 / 5)

November

The Martian by Andy Weir (4.5 / 5)
The Passengers* by John Marrs (3 / 5)
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (5 / 5)
The Dead Girls Club* by Damien Angelica Walters (2 / 5)
The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal (4.5 / 5)

December

The End of the Magi* by Patrick W. Carr (4 / 5)
Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock (2 / 5)
Skipping Christmas by John Grishom (3.5 / 5)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Lucia Monfried (4.5 / 5)
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans (3.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (3.5 / 5)
A Plain and Simple Christmas by Amy Clipston (2 / 5)
12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep (4 / 5)
Cape Light by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (3 / 5)

This list includes 16 ARCs (marked with a *) and 3 re-reads (marked with a **). My favorite book from 2019 was Illusion by Frank Peretti. I started 10 series and finished 1 of those within the year. I also DNF’d 2 books (not listed anywhere in this post).

I’ve noticed that I seem to give out a lower ratio of 5-stars compared to other book reviewers. I don’t know if I’m too critical, too picky, or what. I do suspect, though, that being a writer has seriously hampered my ability to just enjoy a book and not dwell on plot holes, characterization issues, bad dialog, or even bad grammar, more than others might do.

Here is a break-down of the ratings I gave
1.5 stars: 1
2 stars: 5
2.5 stars: 3
3 stars: 5
3.5 stars: 12
4 stars: 10
4.5 stars: 7
5 stars: 3
Average rating: 3.5

Looking ahead, I’m excited to start a full year of reading. I’ve set my goal for the year on Goodreads at a lofty 100 books. Just based on how last year went, I’ll probably have to push for extra in the summer to make up for the rest of the year, but I’ll give it a try. I also plan to seriously cut down on the amount of ARCs I request, because it got to be really stressful, and I felt like I could never read anything else. I’m looking forward to the ones I have left on my shelf though.

My format for reviewing changed a bit throughout last year, and going forward, I’m going to try to simplify my reviews a bit. I spent way too much time on some of them, and the more I disliked a book, the longer the review tended to be. There’s just no reason to spend so much time detailing every fault I found, so I want to learn to summarize more.

My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here. I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads, if anyone is interested in that.

What did you read last year? Let me know in the comments, and even feel free to link to your own summary post!

Book Review: Cape Light

Finished Reading: Cape Light
Book #1
by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian romance, drama

Cape Light

Cape Light is a small, very connected, and generally religious New England village. In this first book of 20 (so far), we are introduced to some of the inhabitants of the village–the mayor and her family, who are still somewhat reeling from a scandal in the past; the local diner owner who is very set in his ways and has designs on unseating the mayor in the next election; the reverend and his wife, whose joyful news is overshadowed by a wayward family member. Characters are established and at least one romance blooms, in this book that covers a summer in Cape Light.

Though there are a lot of characters to keep straight, I found that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I had a few moments that needed clarity, but I followed it well enough. And for the first half of the book, I was interested in the lives and backstories of these people. In fact, I never stopped being interested in that. But what seriously detracted from it was the plight of the main character and her romantic entanglement.

Jessica Warwick, the mayor’s sister, has recently moved back from not-too-far-away Boston, and she intends to return as soon as she can. She’s only in town to help her ailing mother, who is starting to recover well. She has a life back in Boston, and a sort-of boyfriend. Enter Sam Morgan, whom she is immediately taken by, though she refuses to acknowledge it for a long time. But when her boyfriend conveniently gets really busy, she starts dating Sam, even while making it clear that she’s moving back to Boston at the end of the summer. What follows is a ridiculously drama-filled mess that could have easily been solved in multiple ways. I don’t know which of these two irritated me more–the woman who dated a guy in town while knowing that she wasn’t done with the previous boyfriend yet and continued a relationship with a man who was clearly falling hard for her, despite her warning about there being no future, or the man who ignored her warning about there being no future because he held out hope that he could change her mind. Actually, I can safely say it was Jessica who irritated me more, because she was a pretty terrible person in general, and it was clear that her attraction to Sam was mostly physical for a while.

While romance novels are always pretty obvious, in that the two leads are going to end up together, I prefer those that are more in the backdrop to an interesting plot. There was little in the way of plot involving Jessica and Sam that wasn’t directly related to their relationship. The situations that occurred just to make them fall in love and/or add drama to their relationship were so much more obviously contrived than I prefer. By the end, I just wanted the book to be done already, which makes me sad, because I did enjoy unraveling the lives of the others in town.

The Christianity in the book was weirdly both shallow and heavily permeating. Apparently a large amount of the village’s inhabitants go to the same church, and many of them have a strong faith. Several others are seeking, and a lot of the same advice is given by different people. The series starts with 4 not-specifically-holiday books, but apparently by book 5, it continued as a Christmas series, which is what brought it to my attention at this time of year in the first place.

The writing was a bit pedestrian, but it only bothered me at times. I am going to give the series another chance, because just about every plot arc that was started in this book was left hanging, and I really do want to see what happens. Since the main thing that bothered me about this book should take a back seat in the future, I am hopeful about continuing. With proper planning, I can be ready for the first of the Christmas books by November or December.

Find out more about Cape Light

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!

 

December in Review

I read 9 books last month (10 if you count the super, super short one). To be fair, several of them were pretty short books; apparently it’s a bit of a trend amongst Christmas books. Still, I’m happy to have picked up the pace since such a slow November (thanks mostly to NaNoWriMo), even with the holidays eating up my reading time.

I’m also going to do a look back at the past year of reading, which is more like the past 6 months, since I started reading and writing reviews in July.

Here are the books I read in December:
The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr (4 / 5)
Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock (2 / 5)
Skipping Christmas by John Grishom (3.5 / 5)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Lucia Monfried (4.5 / 5)
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans (3.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (3.5 / 5)
A Plain and Simple Christmas by Amy Clipston (2 / 5)
12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep (4 / 5)
Cape Light by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (review pending) (3 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC and 0 re-reads. My favorite book from December was The End of the Magi (not counting Little Women, which I read with my daughter, so the rating was partially influenced by her). I finished 0 series, continued 1 series, and started 3 series. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads, if anyone is interested in that. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

In what way are you/your character selfish?

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**