Book Review: The Battlemage

Finished Reading: The Battlemage
Summoner
Trilogy #3
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Fantasy

Battlemage

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the trilogy, The Novice and The Inquisition.

The Battlemage picks up immediately after the previous story’s end, with the main character, Fletcher, and what’s left of his unit jumping into the otherworldy ether to escape the enemy. They must find a way to return home, and then deal with the aftermath of their mission in the jungle, which ended in treachery and betrayal. Meanwhile, the orcs are poised to invade Fletcher’s country with an army that might be too large to overcome.

This book did a great job of wrapping up the entire trilogy, while being a fully story on its own. I was a lot more excited going into this one than into the 2nd one, based on the cliffhanger at the end of the previous books, and the ether didn’t disappoint. The book was more distinctly 3 separate acts than any book I’ve really ever read, and the second act was also a lot of fun to read. By the third act, I knew what was coming, and it did end up being my least favorite part of the book. But that is purely personal preference, as I’ll explain further below.

It was great to see back some of the characters from the first book, and a little from the second. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see much more of Arcturus, and overall, he wasn’t in the trilogy as much as I would have hoped and expected, especially considering that the prequel is about his history.

I enjoyed the middle act, where we really get to see Fletcher grow as a leader, and where the race warfare throughout the trilogy comes to a head, a lot more than I would have thought I would.  But I knew what was looming–the big war with the orcs. I don’t personally care for large-scale, devastating wars in books, so that’s why the third act my least favorite. It was made better by getting to see Fletcher’s ingenuity though, plus I like the addition of the demons during the fighting.

The ending of the book had some moments I was really happy to see, but also failed to wrap up some storylines in a way I would have preferred. However, I wasn’t left with the feeling that anything was completely neglected, so I can’t really complain. For some reason, I was just left with this feeling of it being anti-climactic, but I can’t explain why. I think it’s just because I would have liked more in the series in general. Overall, this entire trilogy was a solid 4 stars for me.

After reading the first book, I described it as a mix between Harry Potter and Pokemon, even though at the time, I hadn’t read any Harry Potter. I have read the first 2 in the series now, and I stand by my assessment, but only of the first book. The second and third books could better be compared to Warcraft, or even LoTR somewhat. In general, though, I would recommend this trilogy to anyone who enjoys magical fantasy books.

Find out more about The Battlemage

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Extraordinary Book Titles

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week was “Extraordinary Book Titles.” This topic is broad and undefined, so I went through my TBR and Read lists on Goodreads and picked 10 books with titles that stood out to me in some way. Whether they were comical, unique, or just perfect for the story, here is my list, in no particular order:

1. The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters
This title is ominous, and I have a feeling the actual book won’t quite live up to that. But it is initially what led me to check into the book request it on Netgalley. I’ll be reading it soon.

2. The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
It’s easy to explain why this title stuck out to me–I am an escape room enthusiast and worked at an escape room company for over 3 years. I know the actual escape room content in the book will be light, based on reviews, but I’ve still decided to give it a try at some point.

3. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
I love this book title, and I love the person who wrote it! The title kept her from being able to get it published traditionally, but it’s about dealing with PMS with humor, from a Christian perspective, so the title is perfect. I am looking forward to reading this when I have a chance to locate a copy.

4. How We Became Wicked by Alexander Yates
The title caught my interest quickly; otherwise, I likely wouldn’t have put much thought into this one. I am not really a zombie person in any medium, but I read the first few pages of this, and I’m planning to give it a go.

5. His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac
So again, I’m really not a fan of zombie fiction (books, movies, TV or games). So the fact that I have 3 zombie apocalypse books on my TBR, and 2 just on this list, probably makes no sense. Still, I’m going to give this one a try, hopefully by the end of the year, in support of a fellow new author. The name isn’t what initially drew me to this book, but I do think it has a nice ring to it.

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I read this for the first time in high school, and remember how interesting it was to learn that the title was a reference to the temperature at which paper burns. It’s perfect for the book, of course, and I’ve always really appreciated the title.

7. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
This is another book I read in high school. My English class had read Hamlet that year, and then later read this play. Everyone knows the sacrificial heroes are going to die, whether because they know Hamlet, or because of the title…but they do make it entertaining along the way.

8. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The title of this book is a clear indication of the mystery found within. It’s a little strange, though, that the question of whose murder the narrator is supposed to solve seems like a mystery, for at least the first quarter of the book, and then it’s a big reveal when it’s discovered…but the name is right there in the title. Other than that though, good title. (Note: the original title is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but had to be changed in the US.)

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Considering the subject matter of this book, and the extreme 80s & video game references, the title of this book is perfect. I don’t actually have more to say about this one.

10. Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
This book for those who struggle with feeling like an outcast in the American church culture is perfect for introverts and socially awkward people like myself. And the title, borrowing from a section of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is clever.

Have you read any of these? What would you add to the list?

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Finished Reading: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Book #2
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP2

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve now read #2. 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.

After the first book that set up the fantasy world and introduced us to Hogwarts, Harry’s 2nd year at the school was more comfortable and a smoother read. The plot was clearer and the danger more real. I also didn’t notice the grammar issues like I did in the first book, so either there were less of them, or I was engrossed enough not to notice (either way is a good thing).

There was a lack of characters that were established in the first book, though, which was a little disappointing. And some of the new characters were mostly just annoying. Colin was apparently just there to point suspicion at Harry. Lockhart was annoying, but at least there was a decent payoff. When he lost his memory, he became quite amusing to me. I was a little confused by Dobby. I guess he really did do everything he did of his own accord (rather than at the behest of his master, like they originally suspected), but his reasoning for it was weak.

My husband had warned me that there would be a possible spider-related issue for me in one of the books, but he couldn’t remember which one. I have fairly severe arachnophobia, so I’m going to have to be careful when watching the movie. At least I’ll know when to look away.

I’ve noticed that I seem to be in the minority of liking this book more than the first, but what can I say? It went in almost the opposite direction of my biggest gripes of the first one. And I liked the idea behind the antagonist being a memory, and even moreso, a memory of the big villain of the books. All in all, it was a fun read, and I’m looking forward to the next.

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

Book Review: Mother Knows Best

Finished Reading: Mother Knows Best
by Kira Peikoff

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Drama, suspense

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

Eleven-year-old Abigail has a semi-normal life, except that her parents (especially her mom) are reclusive, she has absolutely no extended family, and she’s not allowed to have a smartphone or social media like her friends. She discovers through a DNA mapping site that she actually has a lot of distant relatives and even tries connecting with one, which she thinks will make her parents happy. It has the opposite effect. This sends her mom into an emotional tailspin, and before long, her life begins to unravel. Then she finds out that her parents are not who they claim to be, everything they’ve been hiding from is revealed, and it turns out that the danger is very real.

I had my ups and downs with this book, and wasn’t sure what to rate it, even while writing this review. The writing was clear and concise, and even the science presented in the book wasn’t difficult to follow. There were some specific moments in the last third of the book that I anticipated and enjoyed when they came to fruition. And there were a few small twists that I wasn’t fully expecting. Outside of that, though, the book was a bit of a miss for me.

I think a lot of what didn’t work for me about this book was personal preference, so keep that in mind as I continue. For starters, the book is told in 1st person, present-tense, which I thought was a strange choice, considering the POV changes, and that during the first half of the book, more than half of the story was showing what led up to the present time where the books starts. We see the story from 3 perspectives: Abigail, her mom Claire, and the antagonist Jillian, the threat from the past. The two time periods shown in the book are “present” time–Abigail is 11 and living with her mom and dad– and the past–the year or so before Abigail was born, right up until the point that she was born. It would have made a lot more sense to me if the book was at least past-tense during the past parts. And I don’t understand the reasoning behind 1st person if you want to head-hop as much as this book does. The only good thing I can say about it is that at least each time the perspective changes, it’s clearly labeled. But there were still times that, even with this, I would forget who the current “I” was and get confused.

My biggest disappointment was that I was unable to connect with any of the characters. I’m definitely a character reader and writer. An interesting, well-executed plot is important, but I am character-driven. I think the main character was meant to be Claire, but the story was told from Abigail’s perspective about as often, and I just couldn’t get into the right frame of mind to see things even a little bit from Claire’s perspective. Her single biggest driving point is the loss of her first son, due to a terrible genetic disorder, and her strong desire to have another child that is healthy, but her inability to do so, because of her genes. I have never experienced loss to this degree, and I’m not a terribly sentimental person, so I don’t think I would react remotely the same way as her if I did. Don’t get me wrong–I have 2 kids and I love them and would be devastated if either of them died! And perhaps I’d then discover that I would be the same as her. But in my current life, it’s difficult for me to connect with her reaction to her loss, and the fact that it drives literally everything she does. Also, she’s pretty terrible to her husband (Ethan), even calling him corrupt because of his ethical ideas about the genetic manipulation discussed in the story.

Abigail’s parts were generally my least favorite. For one thing, she didn’t come across as 11, but closer to 13 or more. Especially for someone who has been as sheltered as she has, she seems to understand and question a lot more than I’d expect. I get why she was written to be as curious and deceptive as she was, and without it, there would basically be no story, but again, my personal preference here, I didn’t like how she acted.

The antagonist is basically a big loon. I mean, Claire has some mental issues, but hers are understandable and addressed. Jillian is just delusional and psychotic, and I don’t know if that was on purpose, or if that was just how she had to come across in order to give the story suspense. Whichever the case, by the end, I just rolled my eyes at how stupid she had been.

For those who want to know about how clean a book is before reading–there are some sexual situations that are more detailed than I prefer, and a bit heavy on the language side (the f-word is used more than anything else, I’m pretty sure).

I don’t regret having read this book. It wasn’t terrible, it just didn’t hook me. Also, it is meant to be suspenseful, but I think that element is terribly done. The synopsis on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. gives away too much and I think the plot should have been structured differently to create more suspense. Too much of the backstory is told too soon, and the entire thing is just too predictable. I would recommend this book for those who enjoy drama and obsessive characters, but not for lovers of suspense novels.

Extra notes: If you prefer to read the book with a little more mystery going in, I suggest not looking for more information on this book before reading it. It really might have changed my opinion. Also, I thought this book was a bit sci-fi at first, then I did a little research. I found it interesting that the topic of this book has really happened, or at least is being seriously experimented with.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. 

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

Book Review: Smoke Screen

Finished Reading: Smoke Screen
by Terri Blackstock

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

Brenna and Nate were high school sweethearts, a relationship that ended in heartache when Nate’s father was convicted of killing Brenna’s father. Soon after, Nate left town amid accusations that he’d burned down the local church. Fast forward almost 15 years, and Nate returns to town an injured hero, and Brenna is fighting a bitter custody battle for her two children. Nate’s father has been released from prison, but most people still believe he is guilty, including Nate. While Nate tries to reconnect with his father and Brenna tries to fight her own demons while also fighting her ex-husband, Nate and Brenna realize that their flame is still burning.

This book gave me all the feels…I got angry, I smiled, and I shed some tears. Nate was incredible, Brenna was all too real, and their relationships with God were presented in a very real, positive way. I am very glad that I read this book.

The book is listed on Netgalley as a mystery/thriller, but it really isn’t either of those. It’s more drama & suspense, with a heavy romance. Yes, the mystery of who killed Brenna’s father, as well as who burned down the local church, are addressed in the book, but they are some of the smallest plot threads, at least until near the end. One of the biggest arcs is Brenna’s battle with her horrid ex-husband. That was the part that had me angry. I won’t pretend that things like this can’t happen in real life, but the way it all went down was just…so aggravating. And because of this situation, Brenna was struggling with alcoholism, which was a heavy element in the book as well. But it was difficult to blame her, considering how she was being steamrolled into not being able to take care of her children properly.

The relationship between Nate and Brenna was one of the sweetest romances I’ve read in a long time. It was not about the physical, but purely about the emotional & historical connection between them. That Nate was able to look past the effects of her currently terrible circumstances to see the real woman, and gave her a lifeline when she needed one the most, while allowing her to build her own strength, rather than relying purely on him, all makes him one of my favorite male romantic protagonists ever.

The book was told in first-person perspective, but switched back and forth between Nate’s and Brenna’s points of view, which I found a little disorienting. Each time we switch, or even just when there’s a new chapter, we are clearly told who’s perspective we’re in, but I still had a difficult time with it. And I’m not sure there was really a good enough reason to do it this way.

I think that one of my biggest issues was with the predictability and contrivances that I noticed. One of the things that happened near the end I basically assumed had to happen, though weirdly, even when it did happen, it turned out to not be for the reason I thought it was necessary. And a few events were a little too coincidental, happening purely to make sure the plot went where it was supposed to.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I was surprised by how quick and easy of a read it was, and would recommend it to all fans of Christian drama, suspense, and romance.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. 

Find out more about Smoke Screen
Publication date: November 5, 2019

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

September in Review

I read a few less books this month than last month, but still not bad. A combination of homeschooling and starting a new part-time job are probably to blame, but I’m still happy with the amount I read. More importantly, all of the books I finished in September have already been reviewed, so that’s something!

Here are the books I read in 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 (4 / 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)

This list includes 5 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from August was Holes (the re-read). My favorite previously unread book was Fatal Strike. My ever-changing 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. (Note: The list of books I have read overall is not remotely complete there. When I created my Goodreads page 4 years ago, I added some of my favorite books over the years, but to add everything I’ve ever read would be very time-consuming, not to mention impossible to remember it all.)

Despite my almost too-long list of TBRs, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Top Ten Tuesday: Titles with Numbers

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week was “Book Titles with Numbers in Them.” While of course, it would be easy to just randomly find 10 books with numbers, it makes more sense to me to choose books I’ve read or that I’m planning to read. And for a little added challenge, I tried to find titles with the numbers 1-10.

So without further ado:

1. One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

I have not read this YA thriller that has been on my TBR list for about a month and a half, but I’m looking forward to it.

 

 

2. Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi Oh

This sci-fi book is also on my TBR list, and is one of the first I added based on the recommendation of another book blogger.

 

 

3. Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

I first read this book in high school, for my English class. It was on a list of books that were deemed “new classics,” and could be read in place of an older classic. I was especially fascinated by the Holocaust in high school, and hadn’t cared for most of the classics I’d read so far, so I jumped on it. Later, I read the first book as well. They contain not only a true account of the author’s father surviving Hitler’s Europe, but also show how he and his family cope in the aftermath, years later. It is depressing, but also enlightening and encouraging.

4. Thr3e by Ted Dekker

This Christian thriller has long been one of my favorite books, even after a recent re-read. Click here to see my review.

 

 

 

5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


This is one classic I read in high school that I did enjoy. I plan to read it again someday. (This book has both a 4 and a 5 in it, which is why I put 2 books related to the number 2 on the list.)

 


6. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I don’t actually have this book on my TBR list, but it’s on a back-up list of books I want to revisit in the future. I’m not quite sold enough to start this fantasy series soon, but may choose to add it to my list in the future.

 

 

7. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

This was the second book I read when I started making reading a regular hobby again back in July. I enjoyed it, and recommend it to fans of mystery and thriller books. Click here to see my review.

 

 

8. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

I have Little Women on my TBR list, and if I enjoy that (which I suspect I will), I will likely end up adding this to read as well.

 

 


9. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

This fantasy novel first came onto my radar last Tuesday, when it was on the Top Ten Tuesday list of many people. I eventually decided to check it out, and then added it to my TBR list.

 

 

10. Ten by Gretchen McNeil

This YA mystery is on my TBR list only because of this week’s TTT. In figuring out what books I wanted to use, I searched for books with the word “ten” in the title, and found this one. Though some of the negative reviews give me pause, but I’m going to give it a try anyway.

 

Have you read any of these? What would you add to the list?

Book Review: Holes

Finished Reading: Holes
by Louis Sachar

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Middle grade fiction

Holes

This is the story about 2 curses that come together in a place called Camp Green Lake, where there is no lake. Teenage boys are sent there for rehabilitation in the form of digging a hole the depth and width of their shovel every day. The camp’s newest inmate, Stanley Yelnats, quickly realizes there’s more to the hole-digging than character-building, but can he dig up the truth?

I like this book so much. I remember watching this movie about a year after it first came out, going into it without any clue what it was about. I was an adult, so not exactly the age group that the book was intended for, but I’ve never had a problem watching or reading things for a younger audience. I enjoyed the movie, and still do to this day. A few years after watching the movie, I found the book at a garage sale or thrift store or something like that, and picked it up. I’ve read it a few times, so this was a re-read, at least 10 years since the previous times I read it.

The way the author brought basically three different stories together, and in a really interesting and even believable way is so fun to follow along with. This book takes the idea of coincidence in storytelling (which is normally better to avoid) and embraces it to the point of being so well connected, you’re excited to see how the coincidences come together.

The kids are just trying to get by in conditions that definitely make it clear that the justice system has failed them, but they still have heart. The adults at the camp are apparently all terrible people, right down to the counselors who aren’t in the story much, which I think is a little unrealistic.

Since I saw the movie before reading the book, and have watched the movie several times now, of course I pictured the characters as they were portrayed in the movie, but I like the casting, so this isn’t a problem for me. There are some differences in the movie, a few things added to the movie, and of course some extra details removed, but overall, it is incredibly similar. My biggest issue with the book is that it is wrapped up awkwardly. There’s not a lot of closure. The movie did this better (even if a slight bit less realistically).

Overall, Holes is a fun, edgy book for kids approximately 8-12 years of age, but really can be appreciated by older people as well. The culmination of the different storylines in the latter half of the book is a lot of fun to discover, and I recommend it for all.

Find out more about Holes

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

Book Review: Cilka’s Journey

Finished Reading: Cilka’s Journey
by Heather Morris

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

From a Nazi death camp to a Siberian gulag, we follow Cilka Klein, who was charged with spying for the enemy and conspiring, due to her role of senior officers’ mistress and death block leader in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. In the Russian prison camp, she faces 15 years of conditions not much better than they were in Auschwitz, plus the addition of frigid weather nearly year-round. She manages to stand apart yet again, but this time mostly because she shows herself to be a quick learned, which makes her valuable at the prison hospital.

This book is a sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, but only in that Cilka is introduced in that first book, and some of the characters from the first book are brought up again in this one. I do recommend reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz first, for a more full experience, but you wouldn’t lose a lot if you didn’t. Click here to see my review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

I liked Cilka’s Journey a bit more than its predecessor, and I think that is because of the writing. I didn’t find it quite as stilted in the first book. The subject matter is nearly as dark, especially since there are flashbacks to Cilka’s time at Birkenau, but we also get to see glimpses of her life before she went to the camp as well.

Cilka was very compassionate, even to her own detriment many times. I appreciated the way that her heart ached when a friend was hurt (physically or otherwise), or when a rift came between her and someone she cared about. She even managed to find a way to understand and forgive those who persecuted her, by acknowledging that they were simply trying to survive this place like she was. She may have been a bit on the Mary Sue side, somehow being the best at everything she did, but it wasn’t glaring.

There were a few events and situations that seemed unnecessary, or that were maybe only there to show again how wonderful Cilka was. I know that this book was even more fictionalized than The Tattooist of Auschwitz, with no single first-hand account to draw from, so I did at times wonder how realistic certain things were.

In the end, it was a good read, and I would definitely recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially of the WWII era.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find something much lighter to read, especially since the book I had originally planned to read next (Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone) also involves sexual abuse, and between these 2 books, I’ve had enough of that for a while.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review. 

Find out more about Cilka’s Journey
Publication date: October 1, 2019

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Fall 2019 TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. This one was easy for me because I had the next 9 books I’m going to read planned, and was easily able to add a 10th. I recently went a little crazy requesting ARCs from Netgalley, so I’m trying to get caught up (I don’t know how others do it without letting the pile of ARCs awaiting reviews drive them mad). But I wanted to space out the ARCs with other books from my TBR, so in the below list, every other book is an ARC. This list should take me through most of the fall (I’ll probably slow down in November because of NaNoWriMo), and I suppose they’re not necessarily fall-oriented…I don’t usually think in those terms when it comes to reading (except I probably will at Christmas time).

So without further ado…the ones near the end of the list may change as I get closer to them, but I think the order will be mostly this:

1. Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone
2. Smoke Screen by Terry Blackstock
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
4. The Passengers by John Marrs
5. The Battlemage by Taran Matharu
6. Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff
7. The Martian by Andy Weir
8. Claiming T-Mo by Eugen Bacon
(Not technically an ARC, I won it in a Goodreads giveaway, and have gotten a couple of emails requesting that I review it soon.)
9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
10. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
(This book was released in 208, but was re-released in hardcover with new illustrations, so is still an ARC.)

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