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

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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: 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.

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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

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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!

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Book #6
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP 6

 

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve just finished #6. 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.

Well…I don’t even know where to start with my review of this book. Normally, I take a few notes while reading–just things I want to make sure I remember when I’m writing the review–things I really liked or things I didn’t like. I didn’t write any notes for half of this book, because I was just so caught up in the ride. So suffice it to say: I liked it.

I enjoyed seeing Harry as team captain, really liked the luck potion fake-out, and even liked that the Gryffindor team was able to win without Harry (because of the common Harry-is-best-at-everything complaint some people have with this series). The romance with Ginny was expected, but I think that’s only because of spoilers I’ve seen over the last few years. Harry suddenly being jealous of her relationship with Dean and daydreaming about her being with him, with no indication that he liked her that way before, was actually pretty abrupt. I’m curious, though I’ll never know, about how I would have felt if I hadn’t been anticipating it, because it came out of left field in this book.

The formula throughout this series of Harry suspecting something and not being able to get anyone (except maybe his friends, but not even them this time) to believe him is getting a little tiring. It’s even worse if he turns out to have been correct about everything, so it leaves little mystery for us.

The ending was a bit unpleasant, not just because of the obvious, but because of the realization of how very different the next book is going to be. After 6 books that covered a year of school (with more and more shown of the summer each year), knowing we won’t be going back to Hogwarts was as sad for me as it was for the characters. I also felt really let-down by the explanation of the Half-Blood Prince, which was fairly anticlimactic.

The one biggest issue I had was not a fault of the book’s. Back when this book first came out, my husband showed me the video of some guy driving by a bookstore yelling, “Snape kills Dumbledore!” at a crowd of people waiting in line to buy the new book, or walking way after buying it. Even though my memory isn’t what it used to be, this has stayed in my mind for 14 years, even when I never had any plans to read the book. So it’s also tainted my thoughts, expectations, and theories as I’ve read the entire series. Because of that, and who Snape has been shown to be up until and through this book, I did truly expect there to be more to it than there was when it actually happened. But there wasn’t.

In my reading and book blogging over the last 10 months, I am making sure to continue with series at a decent pace, but have never read 2 books from one series back-to-back. However, when I finished this book, I just knew I had to keep going. So I’ve already started on book #7. That’s probably as much of a testament to how much this series has sucked me in as anything. In a similar fashion to how a lot of questions and mysteries are tied up at the end of each HP book, I’m expecting a lot of tying-up of things left a mystery (or misunderstood, etc.) throughout the rest of the series, at the end of Deathly Hallows.

Find out more about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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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: Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island
Book #3
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic, coming of age

Anne 3

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

This book takes us through 4 years of college with Anne and her school and housemates. She makes new friends, experiences loss, runs from love, and finds comfort at home. Relationships form and blossom, and life continues on all around her.

There’s a lot to love about this book. The characters are written with the same heart as the previous books, and even Marilla has an outwardly loving moment. Davy is not as terrible as he was in the previous book, though Dora is still basically nothing. I will say that there has become a kind of repetition among the characters. Many newly introduced characters seem a lot like those that were larger in previous books. Phil, for example, is a lot like Ruby (and wow with what happened there). Even Patty’s Place has some similarities to Echo Lodge. However, the charm is still there.

There are some things that happen in this book that seem like a cliche, but I can forgive that, because this book was written before they became such cliches. Anne has started to become a little too perfect and loved by all, but it seems kind of natural, rather than forced. There are quite a few romances going on in this book, which I personally enjoyed quite a bit. 

Because of how quickly these books speed through time, I echo Anne’s sentiment that it’s sad people have to grow up. Characters come and go so much, it’s hard to get attached to any of them. Still, there are a few permanents, and at the end of this book, because of the writing and dialog style I was so immersed in by then, the word “sweetheart” seemed like a whole new word when it was used. I’m a little less excited about continuing the series than I was up to this point, but I’m still looking forward to seeing what happens to Anne next.

Find out more about Anne of the Island

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Book Review: The Wounded Spirit

Finished Reading: The Wounded Spirit
by Frank Peretti

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian non-fiction

Wounded Spirit

I bought the book used without a dust jacket, so this was the best I could do for a picture.

Peretti shares with us the difficulty he went through growing up with a medical condition that caused a deformity requiring many surgeries over his first handful of years. Fighting against infections and dealing with the condition left his body unable to develop as it should, and he went through school years smaller than the rest of his classmates. This led to years of persecution by his peers, and Peretti who was left feeling like those in authority had failed him, forcing him into the situation where he was bullied regularly, unable to do much of anything about it.

I read this entire book in one afternoon, and I won’t pretend that it left me feeling happy. I went through a range of emotions while reading, which was mostly pity and sadness, but included elation when Peretti described a turning point for him, which simply took a teacher caring enough to ask if things were okay.

More than just an autobiography about this part of Peretti’s life, he discusses the failure of teachers and other authority figures to keep kids from going through the same type of thing. The mindset that “we all went through it, you can too” or “it’s just part of life” is a big part of what he addresses, saying that it’s not nearly enough reason to turn a blind eye. That kids (and even adults) who are bullied suffer long-term effects that can cause problems in future relationships, and can lead to the bullied later becoming the bully. There have been a lot more anti-bullying programs started in the 20 years since this was written, but it does still happen.

He even puts out a challenge for those who see themselves as the victims to examine their lives for times when they might have been the bully. Even just laughing along when friends or peers are making fun of someone makes us guilty. It’s a hard thing to think about, but it really made a difference for me.

This book gave me a whole new insight into and appreciation for my favorite author and his lovable nature, joviality, brilliance, insight, and heart for God. It also puts my own life into perspective. I recommend this book for…everyone, really.

Find out more about The Wounded Spirit

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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 of My Youth

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is “Books I Enjoyed but Rarely Talk About”. Considering that I’ve only been reading seriously for 9 months, all of the books that I’ve really liked have been in a TTT post at some point or other (some multiple times). So I searched a little further back and came up with 10 books that I read back when I used to read avidly, a pastime that had ended by 15 years ago. Only 2 of these books have been on a TTT post of mine before this.

This list is mostly made up of books I read in high school (some for English class, some for myself), with maybe one or two a little later than that. Most I’ve read multiple times, but just not within the last 15 years. I own almost all of these, as I liked them enough back then to buy a copy, and all of them I will most likely again soon and give them a proper review.


Hangman’s Curse and Nightmare Academy by Frank Peretti
There are many reasons why Frank Peretti is my favorite author, and this far-too-short series is one of them. I’ve read both of these several times and love them so much, especially the 2nd one. I only wish Peretti had written more of them.

Obsessed by Ted Dekker
I read this book several times after it came out in 2004. It fed into my serious interest in the Holocaust as a teenager and young adult (as is evidenced by several more of the books below), even though it’s fiction.

Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman
In the AP English classes I took for the latter 3 years of high school, we had some assigned books, and were allowed to choose our own classics. At one point, the school librarian came to our class to talk about a list of books that had won or been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award in the past, referring to them as modern classics. Our teacher told us that we could pick one of these in place of an old classic. Considering that the books on this list were generally shorter and easier to read…I picked them as many times as I was allowed. Maus II was on that list. Of course, it was the 2nd half of a story, but I liked it so much, I later bought both books.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Corrie ten Boom’s story is incredibly inspirational. I’m pretty sure I wrote a research paper using this book in some way. I did a lot of papers and speeches on Holocaust-related subjects in high school.

Night by Elie Wiesel
I don’t really have any to say about this one besides that it’s just more testament to my fascination with the Holocaust. I don’t remember this book very well, so it’ll probably be almost like reading it new when I do get to it again. Also, there are other books of this subject that I read back then, but those I included in this list are the ones I remember the most.

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Ophelia Speaks by Sara Shandler
Like with Maus, this book was one I was allowed to read for English class as a “modern classic.” Though I’m pretty sure it was Reviving Ophelia that had won the award. This book gives a voice to the teenage girls that the other book discussed, and even I, in my sheltered world, really identified with a lot of the essays. Written by adolescent girls with a range of topics about struggling to become a woman–about family, friends, physical and emotional trauma, and much more, I will likely have my daughter read it in a few years.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is one of the few classics I read in high school that I actually enjoyed (and frankly, one of the few I could actually follow very well). However, being that I was in high school at the time, I definitely need to read it again now, partly because I can read it for pleasure (not having to analyze every chapter) and partly because I’ll most likely pick up on a lot that I missed back then.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
After we read Hamlet, our teacher had our class read this play. I remember thinking how great of a teacher she was, considering how much fun the play is. And then we watched the movie with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, of which I can really only remember the tennis scene…and papers flying everywhere that I didn’t get the point of. I’ll have to re-watch that after I re-read the book.

The Eagle and the Lamb by Darlene Mindrup
Story time: When I was a teenager, my family took a trip out to Arizona to visit my grandparents. My grandma had a huge collection of Christian romance books, and I read a few while we were staying there. There was one that I remembered liking more than all of the others, but years later, when I tried to find it again, I couldn’t remember the title. I thought it was something to do with “lion and lamb”, so over the last few years I’ve done Google searches for those words and what I could remember of the story, which is just that the main characters were a Roman centurion and a Jewish slave. For a while recently I thought it might have been A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers (it first in a series called Mark of the Lion and was published several years before my family went to AZ), but when I saw the length of that book–it wasn’t exactly the mass-market type romance I remembered reading–I dug a little more and was really excited when I found this book. The cover even looks familiar! Unlike when I came across A Voice in the Wind, I am 100% certain I have found the right one now. This will be an interesting experiment to find out if I even remotely like this book as much as an adult as I did as a teenager. (I still plan to read A Voice in the Wind at some point too!)

Have you read any of these, or are any on your own TBR? Link your TTT post so I can check out yours!

Book Review: Storm

Storm
Swipe
#3
by Evan Angler

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

Storm

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, Swipe and Sneak.

Unwitting leaders of a revolution for those who refused to pledge loyalty to the future global leader, Logan and the rest of the Dust are being pulled in multiple directions. While Logan, Peck, Erin, and Hailey head west to try to save Erin’s life and stop an epidemic, the rest of the Dust have a mission in the capital city of Beacon–continue to protest the leader’s minions while searching for their lost friend. Then Logan’s sister Lily brings him a new mission, as a brewing storm is about to be unleashed.

The continuing saga of Logan and the Dust ramps up in this book. The Dust continue to gain new members and allies, both Markless and Marked. The ending feels like a huge leap off the side of a cliff, but overall, the book was engaging.

In the first book, I really disliked both Tyler and Eddie. I know they’re kids, so of course their immaturity would be expected. But it’s taken to such an extreme, it just bugs me. I like both of them so much more in this book, even though they’re still goofy and immature. It’s like it has a purpose now.

There were a few oddball things that happened in the book, like horses showing up out of nowhere when two of the characters were traveling via the River, or a teenager being walked to the scene of his parents’ death, even to the point of them showing him their dead bodies. I just don’t know why the sheriff would do that.

By the end of this book, I had come to realize that Evan Angler is a pen name, considering that it turns out he’s actually a character in the book. I truly don’t understand why the author chose this plot device, though, as so far, it doesn’t add much to the book. I think that perhaps this could have been more fully utilized by having a narrator that was more connected to the reader throughout the series. I’ll be curious to see if this is expanded on in the next book though.

This story has really come into its own by this book. It’s uncommon, at least in my experience, for Christian end-times fiction to come in from this angle, as there’s very little in the way of Christianity even still now. One character did express his faith a bit more in this book and then left on some kind of pilgrimage, which I’m sure will come into play more in the next book. It did become clear in this book that the rapture had happened in the past though, which I’d been curious about. I’m not too optimistic about the next book, given reviews I’ve read, but I’m going in with an open mind, because I’ve disagreed with reviews plenty of times before. At this point, I’d still recommend this book to those who enjoy end-times fiction and YA books.

Find out more about Storm

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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!

Self-Publishing Spotlight: The Treasure Map

Do you like…

  • …portal fantasy?
  • …stories of rebellion against tyranny?
  • …people standing up for their faith?
  • …books that take place at Christmas time?
  • …dangerous adventure stories with a message?
  • …magical maps?

If you answered yes to 1 or more of these questions, consider checking out The Treasure Map.

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Jack is a 10-year-old boy ready for a joyous Christmas vacation, but as punishment for a poor report card, he is tasked with cleaning out his family’s long-forgotten attic. Inside, he finds a chest with a treasure map and a letter that transports him to another time, place, and existence.

Jack finds himself living the life of a young man named Niko, an enemy of the State of Ariel, a martyr of the Faithful, sentenced to die during the Independence Day celebrations. When an earthquake strikes, Niko finds the opportunity to escape, discovers a guide known only as the Elder, and teams up with a group of the Faithful to change history.

About Tyler Scott Hess: Tyler Scott Hess is a believer, writer, and author of the new novel The Treasure Map out November 4, 2019.

Trained in the business world, uplifted in the church, and dedicated to the craft of writing, Tyler has spent years sharing his thoughts on the world through an ever-increasing collection of novels, including the holiday classic, Christmas in Pineville.

Tyler grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where he graduated from Oregon State University, before moving down to southern California, where he also graduated from Calvary Chapel Bible College. After working, marrying, and beginning to raise three children, he moved back to Oregon with his family.

He is a lifelong disciple of Jesus Christ and seeks to emulate his favorite storytellers, such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Treasure Map was self-published by Tyler Scott Hess in November of 2019. It’s available on Kindle (and is currently on Kindle Unlimited) and as a paperback. You can read reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. Or see my review here.