Book Review: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards

Finished Reading: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

TCW 1-3

Jim Qwilleran is working his way back into the newspaper world after some personal struggles led to a dark time for him. He’s given the art beat, which has him completely out of his element, but at least it’s work. After meeting various members of the local art community, the death of one of those people has Qwilleran’s large mustache quivering. Accompanied by his landlord’s highly intelligent and quirky Siamese cat, Qwill does a little investigating while still reporting the news.

This first book in a 29-book-long series takes a while to really get started. Qwill is new in the area and has a lot of people to meet, and so do we. The murder comes quite a ways into the book, but it’s not the everything before that is pointless and boring. It’s a little slower than I might have liked, yes, but since I know this is going to be a murder-mystery, I’m guessing who the victim will be up until the point that someone dies (I was wrong, by the way…and then I was right). There were some downsides, especially near the end, but overall, I enjoyed the book.

I loved the way Qwill and Koko (the cat) began their relationship, how Koko was introduced by his owner, and Koko’s little visits to Qwill. Having read some of this series years ago, I knew that in every book, Koko has a new quirk, usually related to the title, that is somehow involved in the solving of the murder. This one was no different, though I felt it wasn’t as involved as I remember. Maybe that’s also due to it being the first book in the series, or maybe I’m over-selling it in my remembrance. Either way, it was still fun.

One downside is that one of the common elements of cozy mysteries, the way clues to the mystery are usually sprinkled into the story enough that the discerning reader could solve it before the detective, was not there in this book. I don’t think there was any real way to figure out who did it before it was suddenly revealed at the end. Though this book was published in 1966, and I doubt “cozy mysteries” were really a thing…Braun probably didn’t know was supposed to follow a formula. It doesn’t bother me personally anyway, as I’ve never been all that great at solving mysteries before being given the answer anyway.

Also being written in the 60s, there’s a definite vein of male chauvinism throughout the book. At first I thought it was strange, considering the female author, but the truth is, this is probably exactly what she was seeing back then.

As a stand-alone mystery, this book is lacking a bit. As the beginning to a series, it shows a lot of promise. I personally can’t wait to see what Koko (soon to be joined by another Siamese, but I can’t remember which book) gets up to in the future. At this time, I would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

Find out more about The Cat Who Could Read Backwards

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: #StayHomeWriMo

WW Prompt

This is kind of a different spin on my normal Writing Wednesday Prompt. Rather than find or create my own prompt, I’m going to share what NaNoWriMo is doing through the end of March.

Each (week)day, they are putting up a checklist to spark creativity and even address other areas of our lives that might need some attention. Here is day 1 from Monday, which includes a writing prompt:

StayHomeWriMo-checklist-Day1-1

For more, follow this link. Be sure to check back there tomorrow and Friday, and then Monday and Tuesday of next week, for more!

How are you staying sane and healthy during this time? Is your creativity suffering or thriving (or staying the same)?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to Escape Into

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is listed as “Genre Freebie,” which means we give our own spin to the list, with the broad theme of “genre.” I haven’t been reading seriously for long enough to be able to make 1 entire list with only 1 genre present, so I decided to let the current state of affairs inspire my list.

With dominoes continuing to fall as schools, businesses, and entire states close down in the US, it seems like a great time to escape into books. So my list today contains my recommendations for the best books (or series) to escape into. Simply put, I chose my single-favorite book from 10 different genres, so maybe there will be something for everyone, except for those who don’t read any of these 10 genres.

Some of these books can fit into more than 1 genre, of course, so I’ll mention that as well. I’m not going to say much about each book, though, because just the fact that they’re on this list says that I loved (or at least really liked) them, and I don’t want to go on at length today.

Sci-fi: Lock In by John Scalzi
Also a mystery, kind of a police-procedural. There is also a sequel, Head On, which I still liked, but not quite as much. See my review for the first book here.

wingfeather

Fantasy: The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
I have only read the first 2 of this 4-book series so far, but I highly recommend it.
See my review for book #1 here and my review for book #2 here.
The author, Andrew Peterson, has been reading the series on Facebook Live for the last 4 nights, and will continue to do so, I’m guessing at least through the first book, as a way to help people combat listlessness and to raise spirits during all of this virus business. He does voices and laughs at his own funny parts. It’s so much fun to listen to! If you want to check it out, the first day’s reading is still on his site, but due to licensing reasons, he said he can’t keep it up much longer.

Romance: The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin
Also historical fiction (WWII time period) & Christian fiction. It’s the third in a series, but they’re disconnected enough that you don’t have to have read the first 2 before you read this one. Though if you’re in the position to binge read, you might as well read them all in order. See my review here.

Historical: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
WWII time period, a stand-alone story. It’s been made into a Netflix movie, though I’m afraid to watch it. See my review here.

Mystery: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Also could be classified as a thriller, and has a touch of fantasy. See my review for this book here.

Classic: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
It may be written for kids, but adults will love it too. This is a series of 9 books. See my review for this book here.

Non-fiction: Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
I couldn’t decide between this and I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn. Both are funny and insightful. I only chose the one I did because, even though I firmly believe men should read Sherri Lynn’s book too, Brant’s book is a little less exclusive. See my review for this book here.

Thriller: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
Also could fit the mystery genre and is labeled as horror, though I didn’t find it all that frightening. See my review for this book here.

Christian: Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
Could also be classified as a mystery or thriller with a touch of fantasy/sci-fi. See my review for this book here.

Comic: West of Bathurst and It Never Rains by Kari Maaren
This one will take a bit more of an explanation. West of Bathurst is a book only in the technical sense. It’s actually a webcomic, and when the 7-year-long storyline and comic came to an end, Kari compiled it into a book. A big, heavy book. I do own this book, but I’m sure she does not have any more to sell (it was crowdsourced and not an easy endeavor for her). But the comic in its entirety can be read online, and it’s good for many hours of binge-reading. Though it’s a web comic, and some of what happens in it is specific to the setting (a residence hall at University of Toronto), even someone like me who is completely lost in that setting can get caught up in the story and find the jokes along the way funny.

It Never Rains is Kari’s currently on-going comic, with 6 years of story. This one has more of an actual story feel, and it’s really gotten good recently.

The links in the bold above for both of these lead to the first comic in each series.

What are your favorite books to escape into? Link your TTT post so I can see what you did with today’s freebie!

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Finished Reading: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Book #5
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP5

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve just finished #5. 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.

There was so much to love about this book, and yet, a few things that really detracted for me. I’ll start with what I liked.

First of all, George and Fred are my heroes! Their roles in the story has grown throughout the books, starting out as just some background troublemakers. But in this book, their mischief found a target, and it was brilliant. After so long of Umbridge being one of the most despised characters I’ve ever read/seen, the culmination of George and Fred sticking it to her was almost worth it (but not really). Not to mention Peeves taking up the call.

I liked seeing Lupin again and loved seeing so much of Sirius. In my review of the previous book, I mentioned how much I liked him being around so much in that one, and his role was even bigger in this one. He’s become my favorite character, which I think may be as much because of what he’s able to be to Harry as anything. Of course, that just made it all the worse at the end. I am frustrated about the fact that Hermione actually did question if it could be a trap, only for them to take the word of the house elf and walk into the trap anyway. But I’m not sure if my frustration about his death is just because I liked him or if I’m legitimately bugged by what seems like a spot of weak plotting/characterization.

I also really liked the progression of the D.A. and Harry trying to explain that a lot of what he’d done in the past was luck. Yet they were aware that, luck or not, he still had more practice with these spells than anyone else. I was glad to see Neville have some good moments in this book, while still having plenty of struggles, poor kid.

There were some other smaller things that happened that I found particularly interesting, like Ron being made prefect and the reminder that Petunia would have at least a little knowledge of magic. Hermione’s drive for house elf freedom can die any time, in my opinion. But who knows, maybe it’ll have a purpose at some point in the last couple of books.

The biggest downside to this book is Umbridge herself, and how much power she was given by the end of the book, only to not really have a great resolution to it. And really, it’s not Umbridge, at least not solely, but the Ministry, and how much power they were able to wield with apparently no one to keep them in check. Because of how long the book was, this whole thing just seemed to drag on and on.

As for the book length…I have never been one for long books. Never read anything longer than 550 pages, and that length is not common for me. But of course, I didn’t come this far to not finish the series. After reading it, though, I can see a few side plots that could have been cut out. Of course, I don’t know that these side plots won’t be more important in the later books, so maybe I’m wrong.

Things are getting real now, and there are only 2 books left. I’m so nervous about what other bad things will happen as this series finishes up (not to mention about spoilers I’ve heard out of context).

Find out more about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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: March 4

If last week was a slump, this week was downright dreary. It’s not that I’ve been in the wrong frame of mind to work on writing (well, there has been some of that, but not entirely), but there is just so much distraction. I have done some further work on “Outcast” (book #2) though. I’ve only added about 1500 words to the draft, but as I mentioned last week, most of what I have left is revision, rather than addition, anyway. I’ve made it through most of the rest of the scenes that need fixed up, with only 4 more scenes to work on for this draft. I certainly hope to get them done this week, but with the state of things right now, won’t be too surprised if I don’t.

While I work on continuing the series, if you’re interested in reading where it all starts, Pithea is currently discounted on Amazon.

Book Sale!

Social distancing, businesses closing down, etc., isn’t affecting me as much as it is others. I already work from home, homeschool, and am an introvert. Though I will admit that being told I can’t go out and do things makes me want to all the more. But still not much. But for those who are already going stir-crazy, or just for those who happily find themselves with more time to read than normal, I’m offering discounts on digital versions of both of my published books. My full-length novel Pithea will be more than half off for the next 2 weeks, and my novelette The Triangle is free now through Monday! See below for links and a little more information.

Pithea cover, Kindle

Pithea is the first book in a series of speculative, futuristic fiction. Check it out on Goodreads and Amazon.

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The Triangle is a stand-alone novelette of Christian fiction. Check it out on Goodreads, and go here to get your free copy!

As many who will read this already know, authors, especially self-published or indie authors, need reviews to allow more readers to find their books. If you take advantage of either, or both, of the deals on my books, please make sure to leave me a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or preferably, both!
*Both of these books are also available through Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: Ender’s Game

Finished Reading: Ender’s Game
by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi

Ender's

This book was a rough ride for me, and I’m not sure I can write an adequate review. It has long been a book my husband has really liked, but I’d never read it and not had much desire to read it. And for the first few chapters, I did not care for it at all. As my husband promised, it did pick up after that, though I still struggled with a lot of the content. I did somewhat anticipate the “big reveal,” though to be honest, I thought there’d be another twist coming after that. 

I had a really hard time following and caring about all of the politics, both on earth and at Battle School. The chapter and later sections about Peter & Valentine frankly went over my head and bored me, and I didn’t understand the point of them. I know that some of this is delved into a lot more in other books, but it’s really not something that interests me, so it detracted from the book for me. And while the end was mostly good, the last chapter felt like a tack-on, and I could have done without it.

What really turned me off in the beginning, while I was waiting for things to really get going, was Card’s writing style. I do not care for it. It bugged me so much that the narrative and characters would reference things off-hand as if they’d already been explained to us and then expand on those thoughts, and I was left mentally sputtering as I tried to keep up. I think that, in the end, this kind of writing just does not mesh with my way of thinking, my personality, my preference in reading…whatever the case may be, it frustrated me, where most seem to be fine with it.

I’m surprised to say that I was not actually put off by Ender’s tendency to be the best at everything. I mean, that was kind of the point. He was genetically bred to be that way (though to be honest, I barely picked that up from the book itself, but the synopsis does state that). I couldn’t imagine him as a 6-year-old, though, and had to just think pre-teen from the start. My daughter is 9, so I couldn’t get past how ridiculously unrealistic it was, but I’m not saying it didn’t make sense for the story…it just didn’t make sense in my head.

Overall, I don’t fully get why it’s such a classic. I get why people like it, but do not understand the fanatical draw. This was my second Orson Scott Card book (the first being Lost and Found). I didn’t particularly care for the other, either, and it’s interesting to note that they were published decades apart. I kinda think that maybe Card’s writing just isn’t for me.

Find out more about Ender’s Game

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!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: My Spring TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is my spring TBR. I don’t choose books based on the season (except at Christmas time), but I do keep a short list of the next 5-10 books I want to read out of the longer TBR. In the 3 months since posting my winter TBR, the way that I choose my next few books has become more structured. I didn’t want to leave any books on the list too long, or leave a series sitting too long before going on to the next book. And I’m not a mood reader. So I decided that whenever my short list gets down to 5 books, I’d add 5 more to it based on specific criteria. Each addition of 5 will include:

1 book recommended to me by family/close friends OR a book that was self-published
1 book I own
1 book to continue a series
1 book that’s oldest on my full TBR list
1 book that’s an ARC, if needed (and it always is)

Based on past experience, the below list of my next 10 planned books should be approximately half of what I read during spring. (I don’t think the social distancing will affect how much I read by a lot, since I tend to stay home a lot anyway, and I already work from home, so don’t see a lot of extra time to read in my future. Note: I’m not complaining.) 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 Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
I read a bit of the Cat Who… series when I was a teenager and really liked them. Straight mystery was my favorite genre back then, but I’ve barely read any since coming back to reading. I’ve picked up 1/3 of the 29 books in the series over the years, from garage sales and bargain bins. It’s finally time to get back to my mystery roots, start at #1 (which I own), and go through the whole series.

2. The House at the End of the Moor by Michelle Griep
This is a Netgalley ARC. I read my first Michelle Griep book back at Christmas time and really liked it, so I’m looking forward to reading a non-holiday book of hers.

3. Landry Park by Bethany Hagen
When I first started to get back into reading seriously, before I built my TBR list up to even what it is now, I found this book at Half Price Books and decided to buy it, with no knowledge of it whatsoever. So this book is currently the oldest one on my TBR list.

4. The Outcast by Taran Matharu
This book qualifies as one that continues a series. It’s technically a prequel to a trilogy, but I’ve read the trilogy and don’t feel like it’s complete until I read this. So not only will this book continue a series, it will actually end a series for me, and let’s be honest–how often do we actually finish series we start?

5. The Treasure Map by Tyler Scott Hess
This self-published novelette is apparently a Christmas book, but I probably won’t have Kindle Unlimited for much longer, so I want to read it while I can do so with that service.

6. The Dandelion Killer by Wanda Luttrell
I’ve had this book since probably not long after it came out (2003) and read it a couple of times back then. Along with the criteria mentioned above, I also want to re-read at least 1 book a month, because I do have a lot of books I haven’t read in years that I want to read again and write reviews for and will ignore them if I’m not intentional about it.

7. Star of Persia by Jill Eileen Smith
This is also a Netgalley ARC, the story of Esther, who saved her people from extermination in Persia in around 486 BC. I’m pretty excited to read it.

8. Storm by Evan Angler
This is book #3 in the Swipe series. I wasn’t terribly excited with the series at first, but it really picked up with book #2, so I’m anxious to see what happens next.

9. The Wounded Spirit by Frank E. Peretti
I’ve had this book for a long time, but haven’t read it yet, even though it’s written by my favorite author. That’s probably just because it’s non-fiction, which I’m not usually very interested in. But I do plan to read it soon, checking off another book that’s been on my TBR for a while.

10. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
I’ve enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series so far, and I’m looking forward to continuing with book #3.

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

Weekly Writing Update: March 3

I went through a bit of a slump this week while working on “Outcast,” (book #2). At first it was simply due to an early morning because of work, but then everything start hitting the fan at once over the last few days because of COVID-19, so it’s been difficult to focus.

I made up for the rest of the week with a lot of progress today. The word count is now up to 70k, which is awesome! It also means I only added 2500 words this last week…oh well. I did some revision in there too. I have 3 more scenes to fix up and 1 new one to write, so I won’t be adding much more at this point. But I wonder if my main beta reader right now will say there’s a lot more she’d like to see. Problem with that would be that I don’t think there’s anywhere to put more of the story arc I’ve been adding without taking away from the main arc. But I’ll worry about that if it happens.

I’m anxious to get through this stage of the revision, so I can look at all of these new scenes at a glance, amongst the existing scenes, and figure out how on earth to order them. Then the real revision can begin, and I’m really hoping it won’t be a long, exhausting process like it was with book #1 (Pithea).

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: Stealth Retribution

Finished Reading: Stealth Retribution
Nanostealth
#3
by Vikki Kestell

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian sci-fi thriller

Stealth Ret

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first 2 books in the series, Stealthy Steps and Stealth Power.

Again picking up where the previous book left off, right there in the cave where the nanomites and Gemma became Super-Gemma, she and her friends hatch a plan to start thwarting the evil military general who has been after the nanomites’ creator and, due to the mites infesting Gemma, after her too. Gemma is about to have more on her hands than escaping General Cushing, though, as a young friend of hers is in danger, and her own twin sister is in town to muck things up as well.

I enjoyed this book through most of it. I really liked the way the storyline with Cushing played out, taking Super-Gemma from Albuquerque to the White House and back. By the end of this book, I could easily compare it to a comic book super hero origin story. If my review and rating were based just on the resolution regarding Dr. Bickel and Cushing, I would have given it 4 stars, maybe more. However, things got really weird on the theology side of the story, and I felt very strange about the whole thing by the end.

I thought it a little odd at the end of Stealth Power, when Gemma became a Christian, and then the nanomites felt the presence of Jesus inside her. But I let it go, accepted it as the fiction that it is, and moved on. But by the 2nd half or so of this book, the nanomites are receiving instructions from Jesus. Surrendering their will to Jesus. And…being forgiven by Jesus? It took a lot more suspension of disbelief than I prefer to swallow all of that. Add to that the fact that the associate pastor who was once my favorite character had become simply a vehicle for faith-professing in the book, and even as a Christian, I felt very Bible-thumped (I don’t know if that works in this context, but I’m sure it’s clear what I mean). And in the end, I have no idea what the real purpose of Gemma’s twin, Genie, was in this book, other than to be another convert for Zander’s cause.

The first book was mostly in 1st-person from Gemma’s point of view, with a little 3rd-person if the author wanted to show things happening with other characters. This was explained in the fact that Gemma was keeping a journal of everything happened after she became invisible. However, the journal aspect was sort of abandoned in book 2, and by this point, it’s more like half-1st person, half-3rd person. Which is strange and confusing. The writing style as a whole still put me off a bit, especially in the 1st-person parts. It’s incredibly casual and conversational. In the end, I think the author’s style isn’t really for me, but the story about the nanomites, the invisibility, and Gemma escaping the bad guy is unique and interesting! I only wish there hadn’t been so much else to bog it down.

The series continues on for one more book (at this time), which from the synopsis is clear is a divergent from the main story arc in the first three. I plan to read it soon, because I did come this far. At this point, I would still recommend the series to fans of Christian mysteries & thrillers and lovers of this type of sci-fi, especially since I think many others wouldn’t be so bothered by the things that bothered me. Some other reviews do mention being put off by the nanomites’ seeming religious experience, but also express that the story outside of that is good.

Find out more about Stealth Retribution

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!