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?

October in Review

I read 14 books last month, which did break my previous record for books in one month by 1, but the page per book average was lower than normal for me (a lot of short books). Still, considering the reading slump I went through over the summer, I’d say I’m back in full swing. (Though NaNoWriMo being this month, I’m sure I’ll read a lot less this month, but at least it’ll be for a good reason.)

Here are the books I read in October:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (4 / 5)
The Sky Above Us by Sarah Sundin (5 / 5)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (5 / 5)
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (2.5 / 5)
The Lost Lieutenant by
(2 / 5)
(2 / 5)

(3.5 / 5)

Redshirts by John Scalzi
Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery (5 / 5)
The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from October was Anne’s House of Dreams. I finished 1 series, continued 2 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.

Book Review: The Truth about Us

The Truth about Us
by Brant Hansen

read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

The truth about us is that we are not all “basically good, deep down inside.” We are flawed, sinful humans. Yet we tend to believe at some level that we are better than average. We are biased towards ourselves, whether we consciously recognize it or not. Starting with this and going on to other cognitive biases, radio show host Brant Hansen challenges us to examine the way we view ourselves and the world around us and to maybe, just possibly, admit that we’re not “good” and that we need help from the only One who is.

This book intrigued me, entertained me, and challenged me. He has a way of getting to the heart of the matter, and he infuses insight and humor into the points he makes along the way. Early in the book Brant describes various studies that show how our brains work. I was fascinated, and at times astounded, by these studies. It’s surprising, really, to learn how little we actually observe and retain, and how we can fool ourselves. And yet, when someone who isn’t me forgets something important, how often do I give them grace?

Though I have more of an inferiority complex in some of the areas he talked about, there were some that were right on point for me. One easy example is about driving speed. I am one who tends to think that if I come up on you on the road, you’re driving too slowly (and sometimes you’re also ruining my day). But if you come up behind me, or pass me on the road, you’re driving entirely too fast. Clearly my chosen speed is the perfect speed (and no, it’s not usually exactly the speed limit), and while I don’t usually think about it more than in the moment (and no, I don’t get road rage), I can easily recognize this bias in myself. This book changed my viewpoint in a lot of areas, hopefully for the better.

One of the biggest take-aways from this book is the need for humility. We’re truly not as amazing or good as we think we are, but that’s okay! It’s good news, and understanding how it’s good news can be very freeing. I think everyone can benefit from this book, even those who hear about it and think they don’t need it, or think about others they know who need it. In fact, maybe the ones who are thinking those things are the people who need to read it the most. No matter who you are or what you’re thinking about this book, though, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

Find out more about The Truth about Us

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!

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.

Book Review: Unoffendable

Unoffendable
by Brant Hansen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Unoffendable

Radio show host Brant Hansen counters the common opinion that Christians are entitled to “righteous anger,” while also making a case about how learning to let go of our “right” to be offended can change our lives. He uses scripture as well as examples from both Christian and secular writers and thinkers to back up his claims.

This is the kind of book that you can get a lot out of, or you can dismiss as not for you, or even dismiss as flat-out wrong. One of the biggest arguments people seem to have for anger being all right (even a good thing) is that Jesus himself got angry. But I think one of the most important things to remember is that Jesus is God. He was perfect and sinless when he threw out the money changers. We need to remember that when we get angry about the sin of others…we’re just as bad, even when we find a way to feel like we aren’t.

It’s also important to note that Brant is not necessarily claiming that we should be able to find it easy to never get angry. We’re human; we get angry. The issue is feeling justified in holding onto that anger. In letting it drive us, and especially, in letting it drive us to sin.

More than just anger, Brant also addresses self-righteousness and hypocrisy. I think some of these areas convicted me more than the issue about anger. Not that I don’t get angry, but I definitely am guilty of letting myself believe I’m “not as bad as that other person.” I’m not going to pretend I’m all better now, but I’m noticing these things more in myself and I think that’s the first step to letting God get rid of them in me.

When I first started reading this, I really wondered how Brant could write an entire book about anger. But there were a lot more facets to it than I realized. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and I can see from my personal life that there is a lot of truth in the claim that learning to be unoffendable can make your life better. I recommend this book for all Christians; even if you don’t feel like you need it, I’ll bet you can find some understanding here. I also believe, and see from reviews of others, that non-Christians can find some truth in this book as well. And no matter who you are, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

Find out more about Unoffendable

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!

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!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to Escape Into

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is listed as “Genre Freebie,” which means we give our own spin to the list, with the broad theme of “genre.” I haven’t been reading seriously for long enough to be able to make 1 entire list with only 1 genre present, so I decided to let the current state of affairs inspire my list.

With dominoes continuing to fall as schools, businesses, and entire states close down in the US, it seems like a great time to escape into books. So my list today contains my recommendations for the best books (or series) to escape into. Simply put, I chose my single-favorite book from 10 different genres, so maybe there will be something for everyone, except for those who don’t read any of these 10 genres.

Some of these books can fit into more than 1 genre, of course, so I’ll mention that as well. I’m not going to say much about each book, though, because just the fact that they’re on this list says that I loved (or at least really liked) them, and I don’t want to go on at length today.

Sci-fi: Lock In by John Scalzi
Also a mystery, kind of a police-procedural. There is also a sequel, Head On, which I still liked, but not quite as much. See my review for the first book here.

wingfeather

Fantasy: The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
I have only read the first 2 of this 4-book series so far, but I highly recommend it.
See my review for book #1 here and my review for book #2 here.
The author, Andrew Peterson, has been reading the series on Facebook Live for the last 4 nights, and will continue to do so, I’m guessing at least through the first book, as a way to help people combat listlessness and to raise spirits during all of this virus business. He does voices and laughs at his own funny parts. It’s so much fun to listen to! If you want to check it out, the first day’s reading is still on his site, but due to licensing reasons, he said he can’t keep it up much longer.

Romance: The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin
Also historical fiction (WWII time period) & Christian fiction. It’s the third in a series, but they’re disconnected enough that you don’t have to have read the first 2 before you read this one. Though if you’re in the position to binge read, you might as well read them all in order. See my review here.

Historical: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
WWII time period, a stand-alone story. It’s been made into a Netflix movie, though I’m afraid to watch it. See my review here.

Mystery: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Also could be classified as a thriller, and has a touch of fantasy. See my review for this book here.

Classic: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
It may be written for kids, but adults will love it too. This is a series of 9 books. See my review for this book here.

Non-fiction: Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
I couldn’t decide between this and I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn. Both are funny and insightful. I only chose the one I did because, even though I firmly believe men should read Sherri Lynn’s book too, Brant’s book is a little less exclusive. See my review for this book here.

Thriller: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
Also could fit the mystery genre and is labeled as horror, though I didn’t find it all that frightening. See my review for this book here.

Christian: Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
Could also be classified as a mystery or thriller with a touch of fantasy/sci-fi. See my review for this book here.

Comic: West of Bathurst and It Never Rains by Kari Maaren
This one will take a bit more of an explanation. West of Bathurst is a book only in the technical sense. It’s actually a webcomic, and when the 7-year-long storyline and comic came to an end, Kari compiled it into a book. A big, heavy book. I do own this book, but I’m sure she does not have any more to sell (it was crowdsourced and not an easy endeavor for her). But the comic in its entirety can be read online, and it’s good for many hours of binge-reading. Though it’s a web comic, and some of what happens in it is specific to the setting (a residence hall at University of Toronto), even someone like me who is completely lost in that setting can get caught up in the story and find the jokes along the way funny.

It Never Rains is Kari’s currently on-going comic, with 6 years of story. This one has more of an actual story feel, and it’s really gotten good recently.

The links in the bold above for both of these lead to the first comic in each series.

What are your favorite books to escape into? Link your TTT post so I can see what you did with today’s freebie!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Single-Word Titles

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is “Books With Single-Word Titles.” I thought this would be really easy, and then I looked through my list of books on Goodreads and realized…it’s not so easy. At least, not for me with the amount of books on my Read and Want to Read shelves, which I generally want to stick to for these weekly posts. And because it is a Top Ten list, after all, I didn’t want to include any books I didn’t really enjoy. Below is what I came up with, which includes 8 books I’ve read and 2 that I haven’t, but have a very good feeling I will like more than the average books I read. For once, my list is ordered 10 to 1, with #1 being my favorite of all the books on the list.

10. Redshirts by John Scalzi
Between enjoying the 2 books of Scalzi’s that I’ve read so far and being a Star Trek fan, not to mention my husband’s recommendation, I expect to really like this book too.

9. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
I read Brant’s second book before reading this, his first, and have plans to get to it soon. His second book (Blessed Are the Misfits) is great, so I have high hopes for this one.

Pithea cover, Kindle

8. Pithea by Kristi Drillien
Bridging the gap between the books on the list that I haven’t read and those that I have is my own book (which, of course, I have read).  (See more about this book here.)

7. The Battlemage by Taran Matharu
I sort of cheated with the “The,” but ran out of books and wanted to fill out the final spot. This is the third book in a trilogy that that I really liked, and my favorite of the 3.  (See my review for this book here.)

6. Sneak by Evan Angler
This is book 2 in the Swipe series, which contains 4 books with 1-word titles. I’ve only read 2 of them so far. (See my review of this book here.)

5. Holes by Louis Sachar
Great book, great movie. If you haven’t read or seen this, you really should! (See my review of this book here.)

4. Thr3e by Ted Dekker
Great book, not such a great movie. I definitely recommend the book, though. (See my review of this book here.)

3. Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone
This book has a subtitle, but I’m ignoring that for this list. Actually, the 2nd book on the list has a subtitle too…oh well. (See my review of this book here.)

2. Obsessed by Ted Dekker
I tried to not include any 2 books by the same author, but oh well. I have not read this book for many years, but I read it a few times in my early adult days. I remember loving it, but plan to re-read it soon to see if it holds up.

1. Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
A new favorite of mine by my favorite author.  (See my review of this book here.)

What are your favorite books with single-word titles? If you also posted a TTT, share your link so I can check it out!

February in Review

I read 9 books last month. I’m really surprised by that amount, especially considering that it’s a slightly shorter month. It’s only 2 books less than how many I read last August before school started and I started working a lot more. What a fun and productive month!

Here are the books I read in February:


Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope (3 / 5)
Seconds to Live by Susan Sleeman (2.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (4.5 / 5)
Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen (5 / 5)
This Light Between Us by Andrew Fukuda (3.5 / 5)
Heaven’s Open Book by Sheldon Peart (2.5 / 5)
Sneak by Evan Angler (4 / 5)
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (4 / 5)
The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear (3.5 / 5)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from February was Blessed Are the Misfits. I finished 0 series, continued 3 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.

Book Review: Blessed Are the Misfits

Blessed Are the Misfits
by Brant Hansen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Blessed

Maybe you’re an extrovert. Maybe you go to church and totally fit in, never wonder if you don’t belong, never feel like others must be closer to God than you are. Radio show host Brant Hansen wrote this book for the rest of us. If you don’t understand modern church culture, feel like you must be missing something because you don’t feel the emotions others feel, maybe you’re not a good enough Christian, this book might just help. For the introverts, the outcasts, the spiritually numb, the misfits–this book might just change your life.

I knew from Brant’s radio show & podcast that he knows exactly what its like to feel out of touch with Christian church culture. In the book, he shows even more that he has every reason to feel disenfranchised and skeptical about even the existence of God. And yet, that is exactly what has led him to believe and trust in God. He shares some stories from his life, some of which had me laughing so much! (Seriously, the flute & folding chair incident never gets old, even though I’m sure it must have been terrible for him in the moment.)

One of my favorite things that he talks about in the book is the concept of “together, yet apart” in regards to our relationship with God. There’s so much about the Bible that we don’t really get because we don’t understand the culture back then, the people it was initially addressed to, or even the geography. Brant explains the betrothal period for Jewish couples, and equates that to us and God, and it can put your entire life into a whole new perspective!

More than just making me feel better knowing that I’m not alone in feeling like a misfit in church culture (and even in non-church culture), some of what Brant has to say really opened my eyes to my responsibility. For example, as an Aspie (someone who has Asperger’s syndrome), Brant has much more cause to stay away from people than I do–more reason to not fit in, not understand. And yet, he explains how he has to make a conscious effort to interact. To love people. I’ve never really bothered to do that. There’s also a whole section about bumping up against someone and seeing what kind of “fruit” falls off them, which can show you who they really are, not who they claim to be. I know that the responses I produce in moments like that are not always positive. I want my fruit to be loving, generous, and kind.

There’s so much more than I can go into in my review, but trust me, if any of this makes any kind of sense to you, make sure you read this book. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and uses the Bible to back it all up. I recommend this book for all Christians, because even if you don’t feel like a misfit, it might help you to understand those around you who do. And even if you’re not a Christian or just don’t think the book will be for you, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

Side note: My paperback is actually signed by Brant. My family went to a book event with both him and Producer Sherri. I asked him to sign as Tostare (Latin for toast).

Find out more about Blessed Are the Misfits

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!