Top Ten Tuesday: Top Reads from 2020

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl, which I haven’t done in a while now. The topic today is a look back at our favorite books from the past year. After a full year of reading, this was a little more difficult than it was last year, when I’d only been reading for half the year. Last year I had to include some 4-star books too, but this year, I had plenty of 5-star reads to choose from!

After narrowing it down to 10, these are in no particular order. I did clump similar genres together, though. Also, I did not include any re-reads, and I’m lumping series into 1 entry, even if the entire series wasn’t 5 stars.

1. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
I love all of Brant Hansen’s books, and I did give 5 stars to his newest book this year too. However, this one took the edge over The Truth About Us just a bit. Brant has a way of cutting to the heart of the matter. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and is funny to boot. (See my full review here.)

2. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
Continuing in a similar vein to the previous book, considering that Brant and Sherri are radio co-hosts, Sherri’s book is a hilarious take on PMS, the difficulties women face, and how they don’t have to be alone in their misery. (See my full review here.)

3. The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
This series of books has dominated my year. I read the entire series of 4 books between January and June, and then listened to the first three again as the author read them live online to beat the quarantine blues. He just started reading book #4, The Warden and the Wolf King, 3 nights ago. My 10-year-old daughter read the series upon my suggestion, watched the live readings with me, and has basically become obsessed. And my husband bought me the entire re-released series, with beautiful new covers and new illustrations inside, for my birthday back in May. It’s been a Wingfeather-heavy year. (See my full review for the first book in the series here.)

4. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
My daughter returned the favor of my recommendation on the previous series with this series. I’ve only read the first one so far, though she’s read all but the newest, and it was so much fun! It’s basically an escape room in a 3-story library with Willy Wonka as the game master. I mean, what can be better than that? (See my full review here.)

5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I love a well-done time travel story, and this is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s written for a younger audience, but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway (I’ve always been a little childish). (See my full review here.)

6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I’d never read any Tolkien before this. I have seen all of the movies, though. I love the LoTR movies, though I had only watched the Hobbit movies once (I watched them again after reading the book). I decided to start with The Hobbit, because it’s written for a younger audience, and after enjoying it, I went on to listen to the audiobooks of the LoTR trilogy (on the third one now). It has been very interesting seeing the differences between the books and the movies, and I know I’ll need to read it all again multiple times to really get a decent understanding of the depth. (See my full review here.)

7. The Shepherd’s Wife by Angela Hunt
This is the second book in a series of Biblical fiction set during and after the time Jesus was an adult on earth, from the perspectives of people on the peripheral of his ministry. I liked book #2, Daughter of Cana, but I loved this one. The book is character-driven, inspirational, and so engaging. I’m waiting anxiously for the 3rd book in the series to come out! (See my full review here.)

8. The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow by Kim Vogel Sawyer
I so loved the combination of characters and their arcs in this book, and how they brought out the themes of looking for blessings during difficulties and using love and kindness to drive away hatred. A plot that seems complicated was very well written by Sawyer, and I’m now looking into her other works. (See my full review here.)

9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
My sister highly recommended this book written entirely in epistolary form, and I wasn’t sure how I’d like it. But I loved it, unsurprisingly mostly due to the characters. But I found that the format of the story being told through letters made it a particularly quick and easy read, because there’s not a lot of description. I know that might bother some people, but I really liked it. (See my full review here.)

10. Sunrise at Normandy trilogy by Sarah Sundin
I read all of this trilogy this year, starting with #3, The Land Beneath Us (shown above), because I got it as an ARC. The third one was my favorite of the trilogy, but only by a little bit. The entire trilogy tells the story of three brothers who were separated by a very unfortunate series of events that led to three years of estrangement. During that time, each of the brothers trained in different branches of the military and became part of the invasion of Normandy. I love the way these books tell each of the brothers’ individual stories during WWII, but also tells the complete story of the broken relationship between the brothers and their family. I can’t wait until I read these books again, in order this time, of course. (See my review of the book shown above, which is third, but I read first, here.)

Have you read any of these? What were some of your favorite reads this year?

November in Review

I read 13 books last month, which is a startling amount for me, considering that it was the month of NaNoWriMo. Though not so surprising when you factor in how many of those were audiobooks, which I read at different times than my normal reading time that tends to suffer during NaNo.

Here are the books I read in November:

The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
A New Leaf by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (3.5 / 5)
To Steal a Heart by Jen Turano (3 / 5)
The Death Cure by James Dashner (3 / 5)
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien (5 / 5)
Obsessed by Ted Dekker (4 / 5)
Unclaimed Legacy by Deborah Heal (2.5 / 5)
A Castaway in Cornwall by Julie Klassen (4.5 / 5)
The Cat Who Turned on and Off by Lilian Jackson Braun (5 / 5)
Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (4 / 5)
Prophet by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
Escape from the Island of Aquarius by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
A Tale of Two Hearts by Michelle Griep (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 2 re-reads*. My favorite book from November was A Castaway in Cornwall (yes, I know it wasn’t my highest-rated for the month; I’m complicated). I finished 3 series**, continued 4 series, and started 0 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 audiobook.

**This includes 2 series that I did not reach the end of but decided not to continue reading, after being at least 2 books into the series.

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.

July in Review

I read 7 books last month, coming back a bit more from my unexpected reading slump. I’m still staying a little ahead of my reading challenge goal on Goodreads, and isn’t that really all that matters?

Here are the books I read in July:

A Bride of Convenience by Jody Hedlund (3.5 / 5)
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman (posting review on Aug. 7th as part of blog tour) (3.5 / 5)
What You Wish For by Katherine Center (4 / 5)
Loving a Rebel by Linda Ford (4 / 5)
Final Chance by E.B. Roshan (3.5 / 5)
The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart (4 / 5)

This list includes 5 ARCs. My favorite book from July was The Warden and the Wolf King. I finished 1 series, continued 0 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.

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: The Warden and the Wolf King

The Warden and the Wolf King
The Wingfeather Saga
#4
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy

wing 4

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

War has come to the Green Hollows and surrounding lands. King Kalmar knows that fighting the overwhelming forces of Fangs won’t be enough, though, and is determined to confront Gnag the Nameless himself. The Wingfeathers hope for a better future and a return to their homeland, but what will it cost to get there?

Again I find myself wishing I could say more, but not wanting to have to post behind a spoiler tag. The conclusion to the saga was at least as amazing, if not more so, as the run to get here. For a series that started a bit slow (not boring, but slow), the ensuing adventure, peril, emotion, and character development was worth every bit of the build up.

The character development throughout the series, and especially this last book, was realistic and even made me examine my own heart more closely. Though I have to admit that I don’t think Leeli had much development overall. The ending was incredible, and I never saw it coming. It left me in shock, and with the biggest book hangover I’ve ever experienced. I am already looking forward to when I re-read this series (which will probably be in September when the second half of the re-released books come out, which my husband already pre-ordered for me).

Keeping in mind that that this series is middle grade fiction, I’m going to share a bit of a story:

I read the first 2 books earlier this year, as ARCs for the re-release that will include all new illustrations and footnotes (the books originally came out 10 years ago). I remember thinking that my then 9-year-old daughter might enjoy them, but she likes reading in theory more than in practice, tending to start books and not finish them.

When Andrew Peterson started reading the first book live online during the quarantine back in March, she started listening with me part way through (she was usually outside playing when he read, and she didn’t have enough interest initially to stay inside to listen). By the time he finished reading book 2, she was hooked. She sped on ahead of me and listened to the audio books for 3 & 4. She loved them so much, she was desperate for me to read the rest so she could talk about them with me. She then proceeded to go back and read the first 2 books and re-listen to the last 2 books a few times. All in the space of a few months, by a girl who only halfheartedly read before this.

So to sum up, while the series itself is incredible–inventive, adventurous, emotional, even beautiful–the best thing about these books is that it gave my daughter and me something to enjoy together and discuss. Though we have to do it in whispers, because our enjoyment has gotten my husband’s interest piqued, and we don’t want to spoil anything for him.

Though I’ve been saying all through the reviews for this that the book is not overtly Christian–and it’s not–there was a message in this book that I really appreciated. And I just have to say that I think it’s okay to be jealous about someone else being allowed to literally directly encounter God, and you’re not invited. I can’t recommend this book enough to readers of all ages, and particularly suggest that reading it along with your kids, or even out loud to your kids, might just provide hours, days, weeks of great bonding time.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2014, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

Find out more about The Warden and the Wolf King

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 Monster in the Hollows

The Monster in the Hollows
The Wingfeather Saga
#3
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy

monster

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness & North! or Be Eaten.

The joyful ending of the previous book only carries so far into the Green Hollows, where the residents are wary, to say the least, about having a Grey Fang in their midst. Even as his family defends him, Janner can’t seem to help but be afraid of his brother as well. The Igibys begin to try to make their home in the Green Hollows, but there is more danger nearby than just the little Grey Fang.

Though there were some slower parts for me in this book, as I wasn’t as interested in the school system in the Green Hollows, it was not nearly enough to detract from the rest of the book as an exciting, heart-filled addition to this series.

Looking back on it, most of what I’d want to expand on would be a spoiler, so I don’t feel like I can say much in this review. However, as the danger ramps up, the heroes learn more and more who they are and who they should be. And though there were some dark and gut-wrenching moments, I have so much anticipation for the finale of this great series. More importantly, my 10-year-old daughter has gotten into this series since I started it, and she LOVES it! In fact, she’s kind of obsessed with it. She’s not an avid reader, so I’d say that’s a huge endorsement.

I highly recommend this book, and the series so far, for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. And to restate from my previous reviews–you might see it labeled as Christian, and there are some references to a deity that many of the people believe in, but it is not overtly Christian.

On a technical note, I initially listened to this as an audiobook, which isn’t normally my thing. It’s narrated by the author, though, and he does such great voices and really makes the characters come alive. When I got a copy of the ARC, I flipped through to find all of the illustrations and extras that the re-release will have, and they are great too! Definitely worth having the physical copy when it comes out someday.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2011, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

Find out more about The Monster in the Hollows

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!

June in Review

I read 5 books last month, which I’m happy with. Considering the month I went without reading more than a few pages a day (partly because of falling back into an online game black hole, and partly because the book I was reading when that happened was just not very interesting), I picked up a little more later in the month. I’m still not currently reading as much as I had been, but I’ve found a bit of a balance.

Here are the books I read in June:

The Tech by Mark Ravine (3 / 5)
A Soldier’s Promise by Laura Scott (3.5 / 5)
The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson (review pending) (5 / 5)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (review pending) (4.5 / 5)
Eye of the Storm by Ryan Stevenson (4 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC. My favorite book from June was The Monster in the Hollows. I finished 0 series, continued 1 series, and started 0 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.

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.

May in Review

I read 9 books last month, which is pretty good considering that I all but stopped reading right about the middle of the month. For Mother’s Day and my birthday, as a joint gift, since my birthday is always near Mother’s Day, my son bought me the latest expansion and a month of game time for a particular online game that used to eat WAY too much of my time…and clearly that has not changed. I’ve managed to just stay away from it for quite a while, but had recently been a bit jealously watching my son and husband play together. Not a bad move on my son’s part, but I clearly need to learn to find a balance with my free time.

Here are the books I read in May:

4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace by Johann Twiss (4.5 / 5)
Deep State Stealth by Vikki Kestell (3 / 5)
Time Benders: The Machine by J.B. Yanni (2 / 5)
Healing Her Heart by Laura Scott (3.5 / 5)
Unoffendable by Brant Hansen (5 / 5)
North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
A Lady of Esteem by Kristi Ann Hunter (review pending) (4 / 5)
Daughter of Cana by Angela Hunt (4 / 5)
The Green Dress by Liz Tolsma (4 / 5)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read*. My favorite book from May was 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace. I finished 1 series, continued 0 series, and started 2 series…sort of. One is a series of novellas/novelettes that I’m not sure I’ll continue. The other was a short story that precedes a series of novels, but I’m not diving into the rest of the series yet. 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.

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 April 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: 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 listen 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!

 

March in Review

I read 11 books last month, which is a tie for the most books I’ve read in a month since I started reading regularly back in July. The other time I read that many was August, so before homeschool started back up. I honestly don’t know how I did it this month. Well, maybe I do. I’ve been staying up way too late a lot lately. Thanks to Goodreads tracking my books per month & pages per month, I can see that I read over 400 pages more this last month than I did back in August. That has a lot to do with reading the longest Harry Potter book in March…stupid bulky book… Overall, I’m pretty impressed by my reading volume last month.

Here are the books I read in March:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (5 / 5)
Home Song by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (4 / 5)
Stealth Retribution by Vikki Kestell (3.5 / 5)
North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (3 / 5)
Hope Is a Dangerous Place by Jim Baton (3.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun (4 / 5)
The House at the End of the Moor by Michelle Griep (3 / 5)
The Dandelion Killer by Wanda Luttrell (4 / 5)
The Treasure Map by Tyler Scott Hess (4 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from March was North! or Be Eaten (by a slim margin). I finished 0 series, continued 4 series, and started 2 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.

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.