April in Review

I read 13 books last month. This is a new record for me in my recent reading life, which will probably stand for a while. It was definitely due to not working for the last month, but I have picked up a bit of work. I don’t know how long it will last (I work as a sub-contractor), but I’ll take it while I can, even though it’ll take away some of my reading time.

Here are the books I read in April:

Landry Park by Bethany Hagen (3.5 / 5)
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
The Outcast by Taran Matharu (3.5 / 5)
Star of Persia by Jill Eileen Smith (4 / 5)
Storm by Evan Angler (4 / 5)
The Wounded Spirit by Frank E. Peretti (5 / 5)
Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery (4 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson (4 / 5)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (5 / 5)
The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin (4 / 5)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (3.5 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 2 re-reads*. My favorite book from March was When You Reach Me. I finished 2 series, continued 3 series, and started 1 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.

*One of the re-reads involved listening to the author read a few chapters of his book every night live on Facebook/YouTube to beat the quarantine blues. I count it the same as listening to an audio book.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. 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: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Classic sci-fi, dystopian

451

I read this book as a sophomore in high school, 22 years ago. I remember it being one of the easier-to-read classics of my 3 years of Honors English. All I really remembered about it, though, is the basic premise of book burning, the parlor screens, and a vague creepy idea of the Mechanical Hound. After reading it again now, I’m actually surprised that I remember it as a “simple” read, due to the writing style and a plethora of metaphors, but it does probably make a difference when you’re pushed to analyze it after reading each third. I didn’t dissect it for symbolism and analyze every paragraph like I did other classics, though, and I still have the short papers I wrote for assignments about it. It was fun to read those again after reading the book.

As an adult, I see the book differently than I did back then. For one thing, I have come to realize that the book is not about the censorship involved in book burning. The fire captain makes it clear that society turned from books long before it became illegal to own them. Rather, the technology that led them to that point seems to be what is being demonized. I suppose it’s a call to make sure we don’t let it take over our lives.

Though to be honest, I think there’s a mixed message here, because despite the explanation the captain gives, it’s also clear that the government doesn’t want the people thinking for themselves. Wants them distracted while they’re about to go to war–why and with whom, we never know. And due again to the writing style, I am not sure I understand what happened at the very end regarding the war.

I would say a strong theme, which is perhaps more relevant today, is the control the government is able to exert over the people. If the majority of society decides it doesn’t care about books, then those people just don’t read books. Why does that have to lead to books becoming illegal? The government decides that it needs to regulate the people’s “fun” and oppose the potential of anyone offending anyone else at all, and apparently the people let it happen. Especially considering how recently Faber was a professor at a liberal arts school, it’s amazing how quickly it must have happened.

One thing that I was absolutely correct about in remembering this book was how creepy the Mechanical Hound is. I actually had some unpleasant dreams the night in between the two days it took me to read the book this week, and the Hound was a highlight. (I don’t have specific memories of the dreams, but a general understanding that they were related to the book.) It’s seriously disturbing.

In the end, for me, at least, this book doesn’t hold up as the classic it’s hailed as. It’s not a bad story, but I don’t know that it’s worth studying or holding up as a warning. Between this and Ender’s Game, maybe I’m just not a fan of classic sci-fi.

Find out more about Fahrenheit 451

See what I’m reading next.

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

Book Review: The Sea Before Us

The Sea Before Us
Sunrise at Normandy #1
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Sea Before

Wyatt Paxton is a lieutenant in the US Navy. Dorothy Fairfax is a first officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Both of these divisions of the US and UK military are working closely together to plan the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, which is when Wyatt and Dorothy meet. Dorothy’s job is to piece together thousands of holiday pictures of the beaches of France so that Wyatt can make informed decisions for the invasion. Though Wyatt is drawn to Dorothy, she has her eyes set on another man…who has his eyes set on several other women. Both have to find a way to keep romantic entanglements, as well as other family drama, from distracting them from the ultimate goal–winning the war.

What I liked about this book is that it was not just about the romance. Wyatt and Dorothy both had a lot of other things going on in their lives, and that’s besides the looming invasion. In fact, the romance plot line is what detracted the most, or at least a particular aspect of it, as I’ll explain a bit further below. Overall, though, the book was engaging, enjoyable to read, and clearly well-researched.

The book begins by showing an incident in Wyatt’s past that haunts him throughout the book. It was especially interesting to me, because I’ve already read book #3 in this series and knew of the event, and now got to see it happen. Wyatt himself was a great character–great guy with a lot of depth, and I had an easy time imagining his Texas drawl, because his dialog was well-written. Feeling guilty about his part in the incident that happened before he joined the Navy, Wyatt sees himself as a prodigal son, leaning on God to get him through this tough time, and sharing his faith with Dorothy.

Dorothy had a lot more going on in her story, but I liked her less. She was a good daughter, and not necessarily mean to Wyatt (for the most part). But frankly, it took her way too long to see Eaton, her crush, for what he really was. There were times I was sure she was on the turning point, but she just kept pushing Wyatt aside in her mind and crushing on Eaton. And why was she so set on this? Because of what I felt was the weakest part of the book–her mother once told her that she regretted marrying her father, because he was boring, and she needed excitement. Her mother said that Dorothy was just like her, and warned her to marry someone exciting like Eaton. Why she wrote Wyatt off as “boring” so very quickly, I’m not sure, but she stuck by that assessment for far too long.

Other than a further contrivance later in the book, the rest of it was great. The book follows Wyatt into the invasion, from his position on a naval ship, and though a lot of the terminology was lost on me, I was caught up in it. There were several scenes in the last quarter of the book that made me so happy. In the end, I definitely recommend this book to all who enjoy Christian romance and Christian historical novels.

Find out more about The Land Beneath Us

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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!

Writing Wednesday: #StayHomeWriMo

WW Prompt

For today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt post, I’m going to again share a recent #StayHomeWriMo prompt from NaNoWriMo.

StayHomeWriMo-checklist-4-29

I’m really excited to try this prompt out! For more, follow this link.

How are you staying sane and healthy during this time? If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4** 

Book Review: When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Middle grade mystery, sci-fi

When You Reach Me

When she got the first note, Miranda was able to convince herself it was just trash–it wasn’t necessarily meant for her and didn’t mean anything. The second one couldn’t so easily be dismissed. Then she begins to unravel a mystery that involves her once-best friend, the crazy man on the corner, and a break-in where nothing was stolen. Can Miranda put the pieces together in time to prevent a death?

I am so glad I decided to see what this book is all about. Though it’s for a younger audience, it intrigued me when I saw it on a fellow blogger’s Top Ten Tuesday list a few weeks back. It was such a great read! I liked the book’s feel of living in a big city in the 70s, which was based on the author’s own childhood. The mystery was seriously engaging, and even the chapter titles were wonderfully themed!

The chapters are mostly short, some as short as 2 pages (on my Kindle, so probably less in a book format), which kept the story moving, even when a lot of the eralier chapters covered backstory that brought the reader up to date on the “present time.” Also, the main character’s mom is practicing to be on the game show The $10,000 Pyramid, and most of the chapter titles are themed around that (ex. “Things That Burn”), which is also explained well enough in the story that younger readers, who wouldn’t know the show at all, will understand it too.

I had my theories about who wrote the notes, going back and forth between 2 people before deciding on one. When the big reveal happened, though I suspected most of what was revealed, it still left my breathless for a moment. It was so well done!

I will say that I think Sal was maybe a bit more mature in his thoughts and decisions about friendship that makes much sense for a boy his age, but other than that, I loved everything about this book. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good mystery, with some time travel thrown in. It is middle grade fiction, but I don’t think it the younger audience makes the story any less readable for adults.

Find out more about When You Reach Me

See what I’m reading next.

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

Weekly Writing Update: 4/26

We’ve just ended another week of Camp NaNoWriMo. It was a little lighter for me, as I only averaged just over a half hour of work done per day (my goal was 1 hour per day). What I really did was small amounts of either busy work or work on book #3 without diving too deeply, because I was just killing time, so to speak, until my first proof copy of “Outcast,” arrived. It finally came on Thursday, so I’ve now had 3 days of reading through it and marking some changes for the next draft, which may not be the last one, but should be the next to last, at least.

The great news is that, unlike when I got my first proof copy of Pithea (book #1), the cover on this one looked great already! I keep looking at it and thinking surely I’ll need to make some tweaks, but other than needing to finalize the synopsis and author bio on the back (the bio was copied & pasted from Pithea, so still says it’s my first novel), I think the rest will end up left alone.

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: Adorning the Dark

Adorning the Dark
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir, Christian living

AtD

Singer, songwriter, and author Andrew Peterson shares his insight on creating in this book. He uses personal experience as well as wisdom from other songwriters and authors to discuss the process of writing songs, the ups and downs of the business, and using one’s creative abilities to tell a story.

I’ll start my review by saying that I was not the main target audience for this book. While Peterson does do his best to expand beyond songwriting into fiction-writing and other kinds of art, the heavy focus is on the musical realm (and poetry to a lesser degree). I’m a fiction writer, but have no experience with or even much of an understanding of writing songs. Plus, he referred to songs and books by various songwriters and authors a lot and talked about them as if the reader should know them as well as he did. I’m not nearly as well read as him, and I am definitely not as immersed in music culture, nor do I listed to as wide a range of music as he. As such, I do think that quite a bit of the book was lost on me.

Another way this book did not resonate with me is that I came to realize by maybe halfway through the book that my personality, and the way I see the world around me, is vastly different from his. He sees beauty in everything, but I’ve never been all that sentimental. So that was another chunk of the book that fell flat for me.

However, that does not mean that I did not find plenty of gems in the book, things that work for any kind of creating. For example: “If you wait until the conditions are perfect, you’ll never write a thing.” Or: “The songs won’t write themselves, and neither will the books, the recipes, the blueprints, or the gardens.” Even with the difference that Peterson describes between songwriting (which can also apply to poetry to a degree) and writing fiction, the clear point is that you have to get through the bad to find the good.

He also addresses the different between “Christian art” and art from a Christian perspective, which I really appreciated. As an author, I’ve struggled in the past with thinking that I should only be using the gift God gave me to write specifically Christian fiction. However, I no longer think that’s true. Instead, I can write stories with a Christian worldview, which will most likely be acceptable to most Christians, and will even be acceptable to many non-Christians who just want something good to read. And in approaching the art that way, perhaps it would allow the artist to actually reach more for Christ.

There were a few things about which I disagreed with the author, but even in those I think it mostly comes down to a difference in mindset or preference. I did agree with the idea that calling some people “creatives” excludes many people who really are more creative than they think. Just because “art” isn’t the end result, pretty much everyone creates in their own way–that can come out as critical thinking or problem solving, or so many other things that don’t seem as creative. In the end, I’m very glad I read this book, as it gave me some interesting insight into a singer whose music goes back as far as my marriage, and plenty of solid advice on writing, some of which I needed to hear even today. I recommend this book for Christians who are interesting in creating, no matter the form it takes.

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

Find out more about Adorning the Dark

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: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Book #7
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP 7

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

This is the hardest review yet, for me. I was so caught up in the book by the last half that I was excited to give it 5 stars. But then I thought back over the entire thing, and looked at the notes I’d written earlier on, and realized that there were some disappointing things that really were worth an entire star detraction. Rather than try to organize my thoughts in a way that flows well, I’m going to do bullet points for this review.

What I liked/loved

  • Dudley’s appreciation of Harry, which is touching, yet not overdone or out of character for him
  • 7 Harrys
  • Luna in general, but esp that she could see through Harry’s disguise at the wedding
  • Godric Hollow’s wizards’ monument to the Potters and the graffiti on the sign
  • Ron’s chance to save the day
  • The fruition of the DA was better than I could have hoped for
  • Harry getting to see his parents again, and 3 out of 4 of the Marauders (Sirius was one of my favorites before he died, after all)
  • Neville’s triumph
  • The final defeat of Voldemort, of course, and the knowledge that these people are finally free from his destruction
  • I felt the epilogue was pointless at first, but after a few days to let it rest, I appreciate being able to see how the characters moved on, that Hogwarts was restored, and that Neville was a teacher there

What I disliked

  • The middle really dragged with all of the moving around to camp, and a few little things happened that really didn’t advance the plot much, if at all
  • The Deathly Hallows seemed so out of place, like a tack-on to another otherwise solid-feeling plot, and ended up barely having any point (despite me liking Harry’s use of the stone, as I mentioned above)
    • It’s really hard for me to buy that the invisibility cloak is infallible…except where it needed to not be for the plots of past books (especially since, from my recollections, none of the times I can think of that someone did, or seemed to, see through it were necessary to the plot)
  • Lupin’s and Tonks’s deaths should really have been “on-screen.” I know everyone loves Dobby, but I think they were at least as important to the series and should have been given a bigger send-off.
  • The Battle of Hogwarts and most of the climaxes and falling action that occurred between them were exciting, except for one thing–there was just so much talking during all of it! After the battle we get pages of exposition about Snape, then an entire chapter of Dumbledore explaining things to Harry (some of which we already know or could easily have deduced from previous information). Then there’s rising action to the final stand-off with Voldemort…during which they talk…a lot. I wish Rowling had figured out a way to include more of this much sooner than during/between the epic battle and final stand-off.

Overall, I did like the book a LOT more than I didn’t, and probably a lot more than it looks like here. But it generally takes more words to explain a problem I had than to share the things I liked. I do think the book was longer than it needed to be, and wonder if that was on purpose–the previous books had gotten so long, Rowling and/or the publishers felt she couldn’t go back at this point. I don’t know. But as this is the final book in the series, I can say now that I do understand why it is so loved. I am already looking forward to starting back at the first book some day and reading through the series again with an understanding of how things play out, to find those things that I missed the first time around.

Find out more about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

See what I’m reading next.

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

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

Combine the following 3 elements into a scene, short story, story synopsis, etc:
romance novelist
empty theater
nobody is watching

(These elements were 3 randomly drawn cards from my Storymatic deck. The 2nd and 3rd elements go together almost too well, don’t they?)

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**

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Titles as Band Names

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is “Titles That Would Make Good Band Names”. I went through the list of books I’ve read and reviewed first, then to my TBR to round out the 10. Below is my list, in no particular order, with minimal discussion (because why justify titles that struck me as decent band names?), with a bonus at the end. There are some with words in parenthesis, because the band name should be without those words.

Landry Park by Bethany Hagen

 

(Blessed Are) The Misfits by Brant Hansen

 

His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac

 

Gemma and the Mites
This one does require a little explanation. The series is called Nanostealth, and none of the books are title what I listed above. However, in writing my review for book #2 in the series (Stealth Power), I used the phrase “Gemma and the mites,” and knew instantly it would be a good band name. So it was the first thing that actually came to mind for this TTT, even if it doesn’t exactly fit.

 

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(The) Gray Chamber by Grace Hitchcock

 

(The) Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

 

Synapse by Steven James

 

Redshirts by John Scalzi

 

(An) Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard

 

BONUS #11


Outcast
Yes, this is sort of cheating, since there’s already a band called Outkast, but I still thought it was funny that it worked so well.
Shown here: The Outcast by Taran Matharu and Outcast by Kristi Drillien

What do you think of my band names? Link your TTT post so I can check out yours!