Book Review: The End of the Magi

Finished Reading: The End of the Magi
by Patrick W. Carr

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical historical fiction

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

Myrad is the adopted son of a Hebrew magi in ancient Persia. After having a dream of a star in the sky that didn’t move throughout the night, Myrad is brought into the order of the magi, just in time for a massacre. Barely escaping, Myrad now must outrun his pursuers while also attempting to discover the meaning of his dreams about the star and the prophecy of the Hebrews Messiah that his father taught him about.

With Christmas looming, I loved the idea of reading a book about the advent of Christ from the perspective of the magi that visited Him not long after his birth. This book really hit the spot, easing me into the season. With great characters and some fun relationships, following the star with Myrad was an adventure that highlighted some important Biblical truths.

Myrad himself is a decent protagonist, young and inexperienced, learning everything around him along with us. He has a clubfoot, which gets in his way quite often. Walagash is now one of my favorite characters ever. And the relationships between Myrad and Walagash, Roshan, and Aban are enjoyable to watch develop along the way.

One of the main reasons for 4 stars, instead of 5, is that there was a lot of politics in the book, which is the main thing that caused the story to drag in parts. It does make sense, given the state of the empires in that region at the time. But it wasn’t terribly interesting to read the characters discussing it.

(Warning: the following paragraph contains spoilers.) What I loved most about the book, though, was that it went past the birth of Christ to the real root of Christianity–His death and resurrection. We see the rift form between those Hebrews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah and those who don’t, because he didn’t conquer the Romans like they thought he should (or because he died and they left before his resurrection). And when the magi who stayed in Jerusalem even after the resurrection because they felt there was more for them there got exactly what they were looking for, they left changed.

For me in particular, the book really drove home the importance of trusting that God’s way is the best way, even when we can’t see what He’s doing. It’s a reminder that He can and does use anyone He chooses for his plans, even those people who think that they are worthless–even those people who don’t follow Him. We can only do our part and accept His will in our lives, and in this, we can have peace in stressful times. This has been really important for me lately.

While this book could easily be pigeon-holed as a Christmas book, it is so much more than that. I recommend it for all fans of Biblical fiction. In truth, I think it should be read by anyone who enjoys historical fiction or quest-driven stories, because the message contained within is important and should be heard by everyone.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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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: Christmas TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week is “Holiday Reads.” The intention was to list books that you love reading during the holiday season, so presumably books you’ve read before. However, until July of this year, I’ve barely read a book per year since my heavy reading days of the past (over 10 years ago). I do, however, love immersing myself in Christmas-related things during the holiday season, so I have already picked up some Christmas books to read over the next few weeks. I figured I’d just make today’s TTT about my Christmas season TBR then. Here are the 5 I’m currently planning to read (probably about all I’ll have time for before Christmas):

1. The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr
I’m currently reading this book. It is an interesting take on the “Christmas story” from the perspective of the magi and definitely doesn’t have a Christmas atmosphere like the others will, but I have been really enjoying it so far.

2. The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
I got a paperback of The Christmas Box Trilogy, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to read all 3 before Christmas, so the first one is officially on the list, and the others are there if I get to them.

3. Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock
I read my first Terri Blackstock book a couple months ago and enjoyed it, so when I saw this at Half Price Books, I didn’t hesitate to grab it.

4. A Kauffman Amish Christmas Collection by Amy Clipston
Amish romances are apparently pretty big in Christian fiction. This is me dipping my toe in to see what the big fuss is about.

5. A Christmas Star by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer
My husband knew about my quest to find some feel-good Christmas books to read this season, so he picked this up in the used book sale section of our library recently. He also knows that I like Thomas Kinkade’s art.

Have you read any of these books? What’s on your Christmas TBR?

November in Review

This will be a pretty quick post, since reading took a backseat to NaNoWriMo and other very important writing tasks. I finished 5 books last month and DNF’d one.

Here are the books I read in 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)

I did not finish: Claiming T-Mo by Eugen Bacon (mini-review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 0 re-reads. My favorite book from August was Anne of Green Gables. I finished 0 series, continued 0 series, and started 1 series. 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. 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.

Book Review: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek

Finished Reading: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek
by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Thriller, horror

Bleak Creek

In 1992, the small town of Bleak Creek, NC had a reform school where children who acted up where threatened to be sent. It is viewed by all of the locals as a necessary place that really works…even if 3 kids have died in freak accidents there in the last 10 years. Best friends Rex and Leif are horrified when the third member of their trio, Alicia, is sent to the school because of a catastrophe that all 3 were to blame for. They question what they might do to save Alicia, eventually teaming up with a recent film student graduate to delve into the mysteries of the school and expose its secrets.

This was a fun, easy read, with 90s references and characters that seemed all-too-real. Rex & Leif, while best friends, had issues that arose from being too close, almost like sibling rivalry. The mystery of the school developed in a way that kept my attention, and especially had me wanting to come back and keep reading after I’d hit the half-way point. And the ending, which can make or break a thriller more than most other genres, was well-executed.

The main reason for the half-star detraction is that some of Rex & Leif’s arguments were a little unrealistic, given what was going on around them when they had them. I know things like that can happen in real life–as someone with 3 sisters, I know that we didn’t always take into account whether or not our petty squabbles were a good idea in the current circumstances. But on the other hand, I’d like to think we would have been above that during some of the particular situations in which Rex & Leif argued (not giving specifics to avoid spoilers).

While it’s labeled as a horror book, this book was not scary to me at all. I said this in another review recently, but I’m really not into horror much as a genre, in any medium (so why did I just read 2 horror books in a row?). This also means I’ve not read much horror, so I don’t honestly know how it normally works in book-form. But to me, this was suspenseful, but I wouldn’t call it horror. If it were made into a movie, I could see some visuals being pretty horrific though, so maybe that means the tone wasn’t set right in the book to make parts that could have been scary appropriately creepy.

I’ve read so many thrillers lately that promise everything up until the last 20% of the book, and then fail to deliver the right punch to drive home the thrills. I was skeptical as I neared the end of this book, but it did its job perfectly! It was just what I would have wanted it to be. Plus, a character that was a minor annoyance (intentionally) throughout the book had me laughing and cheering at the end, which was a plus!

I read this book because my nearly adult son is a big fan of Rhett & Link and Good Mythical Morning. He was interested in reading it and thought I might like to too (mostly just because he knows I’ve been getting back into reading a lot lately). So we got it from the library as soon as their hardcover copy came in. He hasn’t finished it yet (he’s never been much of a recreational reader, so he needs nudges to even remember to read it), but I can say that from the perspective of someone who has seen very little of Rhett & Link’s online presence, I’m really glad I read this book. I would recommend it for fans of thrillers and horror, understanding that it’s a very mild horror.

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Book Review: The Dead Girls Club

Finished Reading: The Dead Girls Club
by Damien Angelica Walters

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Suspense, horror

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

Heather Cole is a 40ish-year-old child psychologist with a loving husband and a quiet life. Then her life is turned upside-down by the arrival of half of a “Best Friends Forever” necklace in the mail. While the other half of that necklace is safe at her house, she knows this half was last seen on the body of her best friend who died 30 years ago…at Heather’s own hand. What follows is a tale of fear and obsession as Heather tries to find out who sent her the necklace, while having terrifying memories and dreams about her teenage days, when she and her friends tried to summon a witch.

I know that the lower I rate a book, the longer the review tends to be, so I’ll try to be more succinct in this one. Most of what I really want to say is spoilery anyway, so here goes. I really did not like the main character…couldn’t connect with her at all. I also didn’t find the mystery or the twists all that interesting or surprising, and pretty strongly dislike the ending. And the synopsis is very misleading.

The story is told in 2 timelines–the NOW is first-person POV with Heather as an adult narrator. The THEN is third-person POV, but still focuses on teenage Heather. I could not stand adult Heather. She acts like a victim of this mysterious person who is sending her little things that Heather knows were directly related to the night Becca died, but uses this as an excuse to stalk people from her past and treat pretty much everyone she interacts with terribly. By the second half of the book, I would literally groan every time the book went back to the NOW storyline, because it was just so boring. Her obsession with finding out what was going on turned her into a monster. And don’t even get me started on how terrible she became at her job, which just bugged me so much.

I also got to a point by halfway in the book where reading it made me feel kinda skeevy. Heather had a habit of picking at her cuticles when she was nervous and stressed, which of course she was during the entire book. As an author, it is important to give characters quirks, ticks, habits like this to make them seem real, but the amount that her peeling, biting, and scratching at herself enough to draw blood is shown got under my skin (pun intended).

I am surprised I haven’t seen this in any reviews yet, but during the THEN timeline, the teenage girls go into a bit too much detail about their menstrual cycle for my taste, which makes me feel especially bad for any men who read it. There’s just no need for some of what they said to be included in this book…at all.

Now about the horror aspect…I honestly can’t even tell you why I requested a book classified as horror (I told myself that it must not have been listed as horror until later, but I really can’t say if that’s true), because I am really not into horror in general. But I steeled myself for a scary read…that hardly came. The supernatural elements that the book promised were flimsy and constantly explained away by the MC. I think I came to realize at some point that the narrator was very unreliable, which just made me doubt everything that happened in the THEN parts. I also didn’t find the stories about the Red Lady scary. A bit gruesome and over-the-top, yes, but not so much scary. Near the end, the combination of reading the last 25% at night and a decently creepy scene did finally give me some chills, but that was pretty much it. I’m seriously a wimp when it comes to scary things, so that might tell you something about the level of horror in this book. I also wouldn’t really classify it as a thriller, so suspense is the best I could come up with.

In the end, a lot of this probably boils down to personal preference. So this wasn’t a good book for me, but it has plenty of 4- and 5-star reviews. The THEN parts contain some 90s nostalgia that a lot of people will probably enjoy, and the horror and thriller elements will likely hit the mark with plenty of people. So if it seems interesting to you, please be sure to check out others’ reviews for this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.  

Find out more about The Dead Girls Club
Publication date: December 10, 2019

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Book Review: Anne of Green Gables

Finished Reading: Anne of Green Gables
Book #1
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic, coming of age

In the first installment of the books about Anne with an e, she is brought into the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a brother and sister who are both getting up in years. They had sent for an orphan boy to help them with the work on their property, but were sent Anne instead. She charms her way into their hearts (especially the shy, kind Matthew), and they raise her from the age of 11.

This is one of many well-known and much-loved classics that I have never read before. I have family members who really like it, so I decided that with my recent reading revolution, it was time to give it a try. I’m so glad I did, as I really enjoyed this book!

Anne has such a fiery spirit, and while I would probably be a bit frustrated to be around her much in person, I liked reading her monologues. The reactions by both of her guardians often produced a smile from me too. Though as a parent who is currently dealing with a strong-willed child who tends to melt down when she doesn’t get her way, some of scenes where Anne threw a fit made me cringe. To see Anne change as she aged 5 years in this book was wonderful and realistic, and while she lost some of her loquaciousness, she remained the same kind, generous girl at heart.

I absolutely loved Matthew, and really liked seeing Marilla’s character change throughout the book. When tragedy struck, even though I could guess what was coming, I was devastated with Anne. I am really looking forward to reading the further books in this series.

Fun fact: One of my sisters and her husband have named each of their 4 kids after characters from this book series (whether first or middle names), and it was fun to find 3 of them in this first book. Though I have since learned that one of them from this book wasn’t the actual inspiration for their son’s name, but he was named after a character with the same name in a later book in the series.

Find out more about Anne of Green Gables

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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: The Passengers

Finished Reading: The Passengers
by John Marrs

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi thriller

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

In a future where self-driving cars are becoming the norm, a mysterious Hacker takes control of 8 different vehicles, each with Passengers inside. These eight people are told that they will likely be dead in just over two hours. The Hacker than forces a jury of 5, alongside the entire world watching from their electronic devices, to decide which one of the eight should be saved.

I was really into this book for for the first 80%, which were parts 1 and 2. If I gave a rating just on that much of the book, it would be a solid 4 stars. Then part 3 came along, and everything just fell apart for me. The writing was good, for the most part, and some of the characters were interesting. Some were major stereotypes, but to be honest, with that many characters, it doesn’t surprise me. But the thriller aspect just died in the last 20%, even with a push to bring it back.

To be honest, the hacking done on the cars might have been wholly unrealistic, but I don’t really care. I’m blessed to be someone who can just enjoy it for what it is, because I don’t really know a lot about software, AI, or electronics in general. It was pretty clear that some of the Passengers were only in the book so that the Hacker could show how serious he was, as the number quickly dwindled from 8 to 5. Each of those 5 Passengers has their secrets, which are unveiled as the Hacker hurtles them to their doom.

While this is happening, the protagonist, a woman named Libby, is one of the 5 on the jury that is being forced to decide these people’s fate. While there were some things that she did that really bugged me, it was a good perspective to watch the events from. The very end of part 2 was a bit confusing to me, and unfortunately, in the mess that was parts 3 & 4, the book didn’t really give a satisfying reason for what happened.

Parts 3 & 4 are messy and mostly unnecessary. They felt like a tack-on, and frankly, soured the mysterious nature of the Hacker. I felt like there were too many attempted twists, and I quickly got to a point where I just didn’t believe anything, which makes it difficult to enjoy a book.

In the end, I am glad I read this book. Enough of it was enjoyable that I would recommend it for fans of sci-fi, especially people who enjoy books that show horror stories about the direction our technology is heading. Because of the many higher ratings this book has gotten, definitely check it out if you think you might enjoy it.

**Side note: One of the characters in this futuristic story mentioned that Facebook peaked in 2020. The idea of this was really funny to me.

Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.  

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Book Review: The Martian

Finished Reading: The Martian
by Andy Weir

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi drama, suspense

Martian

Following a dust storm that forced an evacuation from the surface of Mars, astronaut Mark Whatney is left behind, presumed dead. But he’s very much alive, and must now figure out how to survive alone on Mars while back on Earth, they work on how to bring him home.

I watched this movie a few years ago (as research for a mini escape room I helped build), and I really liked it. The book is even better! Whatney is resourceful and determined. The repertoire between him and the rest of his team is fun and touching. The determination of those back on Earth to do whatever they can to help him survive is really interesting too.

The book has a lot of explanation about the different sides of what Whatney needs to survive. Ideas are thrown out and dismissed for better ones. It has such a real feel to it, as if it were any other modern space mission that went wrong. The genre is sci-fi, and it’s obviously a bit in the future, but the science isn’t far out there. It’s just a bit past what we have now.

The format of the book was interesting. Much of the narration comes from journal entries by Whatney, so it basically reads like 1st person. Then there is the 3rd person narration of what happens back on Earth. There are other formats, but explaining that would be a bit spoilery. I enjoyed feeling like Whatney was sharing his experience directly with us.

I watched the movie again a few days after finishing the book. I still think the movie is good, but like with many adaptations, they weren’t able to reach the depth of characterization that the book did. Plus, some harrowing moments and difficulties that Whatney faced were completely written out for the movie. Still, a good movie, and a great book!

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October in Review

I read even less books this month than last month, but I’m not really surprised. Between homeschooling and working a part-time job with sporadic hours, plus spending a lot of my free time working on getting my own book ready for publication, I’m glad to have read what I did. Next month will probably be even lower, due to NaNoWriMo.

Here are the books I read in 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)

This list includes 4 ARCs and 0 re-reads. My favorite book from August was Priceless. I finished 1 series (a trilogy), continued 1 series, and started 0 series. 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. 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.

Book Review: The Butterfly Recluse

Finished Reading: The Butterfly Recluse
by Therese Heckenkamp

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian romance (YA?)

Butterfly

Lila lives alone in a secluded location and hasn’t leave her property for pretty much anything for years. She raises butterflies and is happy to just be alone with them. Until her life is disrupted by a man who wants her to sell him some butterflies for a butterfly release at her sister’s wedding. Harvey’s presence and persistence chip away at the fortress she’s built around herself and make her question if she’s really happy with her life the way it is.

On the surface, The Butterfly Recluse is a sweet, clean romance with some simple faith thrown in. There is a twist near the end and an action-filled climax. For me, it was a middle-of-the-road read. Harvey’s persistence annoyed me, and it was difficult for me to like him for a while.

Lila’s reclusiveness was what first interested me in the book. I am an extreme everything social (shy introvert with extreme social anxieties and even anti-social at times) that could easily lead to becoming a recluse in the right circumstances. In the end, though, her reasons for becoming a recluse weren’t related to her personality so much as caused by PTSD from a traumatic event in the past. Even still, she seemed to overcome her near-agoraphobia a little too easily from my perspective. And as far as her PTSD goes, I could see where the author was bring it out, but I felt it was swept away too easily in some areas. Meanwhile, at one point, she really overreacts to what I assumed was an innocent statement (we never really know for sure) related to her past trauma, for the sake of the plot.

The romance was sweet, but also very cliche and filled with tropes. The way the two characters flirted early on, when they’d barely met, seemed like something out of a TV show for kids/teens. Of course, I didn’t realize it was a YA novel until now, because it wasn’t listed that way on the site I read it through, and the main characters are adults. For that reason, the romance may be spot-on, though still not for me.

I had some inklings about the plot twist, but still didn’t actually see it coming when it happened. The climax was a little overdone for me, but I think it would still appeal to many. I would say people who enjoy clean, YA romance would very possibly enjoy this book, and for others, it’s worth checking out other reviews to decide if you want to read it or not.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Find out more about The Butterfly Recluse

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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!