Book Review: 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace

4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace
by Johann Twiss

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction, fantasy

4 Years

Fourteen-year-old Aaron spends two years paralyzed, but still aware of his surroundings. He’s believed to be brain dead, though, and left to his own thoughts during that time. After two years with only his imagination to sustain him, inside of which he created a world he calls his Mind Palace, he gets a new roommate–Solomon, a dementia patient with a colorful history. The next few years are the best of Aaron’s life, so far. An unlikely friendship is forged, and neither Aaron nor Solomon will ever be the same.

This is a book that I worry I’m going to have a difficult time reviewing. I really liked it, but it’s hard to explain why without giving anything away. There were moments that made me laugh, moments that made me cheer, and even moments that made me tear up. It was an interesting conglomeration of historical fiction and fantasy, and I really liked the characters.

Before Solomon moved in, Aaron had to find ways to cope, and he became a bit snarky and sarcastic (in his mind). This led to some humorous observations. And his paralysis led to a similar situation to someone who’s lost a sense, and the way their other senses compensate for that loss. As such, each other character that ever entered Aaron’s room was associated with a specific scent, which carried on throughout the book. I really appreciated this small touch.

The book takes place in the late 80s, and we get to experience some specific points in history, thanks to Solomon. 1920s NYC, the Chicago jazz scene of the 40s, and a night during WWII, amongst other things. Not to mention the first-hand experience of the 1989 earthquake in California.

Considering the name of the book, I thought the Mind Palace was fairly under-represented. In the end, I think it could have been written out of the book and it wouldn’t have made much difference. Partly because of this, and partly because of some comments made in the second half of the book, I expected a vastly different ending. I did like the ending, but was waiting for something more that never happened. That is my only real negative comment.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this book, and would highly recommend it for everyone who enjoys historical fiction, as the fantasy aspect is not a detraction whatsoever, and for readers of all ages.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Book Review: The Outcast

The Outcast
Summoner
Trilogy prequel
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Outcast

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the books in the trilogy, The Novice, The Inquisition, and The Battlemage.

In a land where only children of noble birth have the ability to summon demons, Arcturus, an orphan and stable boy, accidentally becomes the first common summoner. He is drawn into a political battle that threatens his life and the lives of those noble-born students he is studying alongside. He’ll have to choose between his fellow commoners or his fellow summoners.

On its own, this book was intriguing and exciting with good world-building and some engaging characters. However, as a prequel, it had some issues–namely too much repetition from the original trilogy and too many characters in common.

The first third or so was especially had a lot of similarities to the first book in the series. A commoner unintentionally summons a demon, is whisked away to Vocans, the summoner school, and is snubbed by some, but not all, of the nobles while being far friendlier with the servants and “lower” races than most other humans. Even some of the early explanations of how spells work felt repetitious.

Prince Harold in particular I really liked in this book. And Captain Lovett as a teenager was quite the fun and rambunctious character too. However, while it was kinda neat to see characters in this book that were in the trilogy, or were parents of characters in the trilogy, when all of these characters who we know are alive years later are put into peril, there’s no question of whether they will survive or not. Though I will say that, for me, this didn’t mean there was no suspense. There was still some danger, but it wasn’t as exciting as it could have been.

As for Arcturus himself, who is very similar in personality to Fletcher from the trilogy, when I was reading through the trilogy, I really liked Arcturus. And when I saw there was a prequel about him, I expected there to be a lot more of him in the last half of the trilogy than there ended up being. In the end, perhaps he wasn’t the best choice for the subject of a full-length prequel novel. Yes, he was the first common summoner, which was mentioned in the trilogy but made for a decent story on its own. But from what I understand, Matharu had already written a shorter story of his origin, and then later turned that into the full novel. But the story wasn’t far enough removed, and the time it took place wasn’t long enough before the trilogy, for this to work all that well as a prequel.

I wonder if it might actually work better if this book were to be read before the trilogy. I can’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be some world-building that was lacking in the prequel, because the reader is expected to know the world already, but I didn’t really think that was the case. Whether or not someone who has read the trilogy absolutely needs to read the prequel before calling this series complete, I would say…it’s a toss-up.

Find out more about The Outcast

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Reminder: Book Sale!

Don’t forget, Pithea on Kindle is currently discounted to $2.99, more than half off its normal price of $7.49. This price will be good through this weekend, so get your discounted copy while you can! And along with that, my novelette The Triangle is free today and tomorrow! See below for links and a little more information.

Hopefully these books can provide a little distraction from your isolation.

Pithea cover, Kindle

Pithea is the first book in a series of speculative, futuristic fiction. Check it out on Goodreads and Amazon.

1
The Triangle is a stand-alone novelette of Christian fiction. Check it out on Goodreads, and go here to get your free copy!

As many who will read this already know, authors, especially self-published or indie authors, need reviews to allow more readers to find their books. If you take advantage of either, or both, of the deals on my books, please make sure to leave me a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or preferably, both!
*Both of these books are also available through Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: The Treasure Map

The Treasure Map
by Tyler Scott Hess

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian fantasy

Treasure

When a bad report card leads to Jack spending Christmas vacation cleaning out the attic, the last thing he expected to find was a map and letters that magically whisked him away to another place and time. Suddenly he’s seeing events through the eyes of Niko, a young man who lives in a time when the Faithful are persecuted and even publicly executed in an annual celebration. Niko miraculously escapes this execution and then joins a group of rebels who are determined to expose the evils of the State.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this novella and found that I quite enjoyed it. By the time Jack had visited the other world twice, I was hooked and really wanted to know what would happen. I can’t say the characters were all that engaging, but to be honest, I didn’t really notice while I was reading it. It was a quick, enjoyable read.

By comparison, the “real world” became a bit dull and monotonous. Jack’s plight to clean out the attic was only made slightly more interesting by his inventiveness as he tried to get through it more quickly. But even that didn’t bother me too much, so it must have been less dull than reading about cleaning an attic sounds like it would be. I think the shorter length of the story might have helped with that.

On the other hand, the story in the other world became a bit rushed and muddled in the last quarter or so, so I think in that area, more pages would have helped. It lost a bit of its excitement for me because of this. And the ending was a little confusing.

I’ll just say a few things about the style and editing, which I don’t generally let affect my rating with a self-published book. I’m not saying that there is no burden of responsibility here, but it’s harder for self-published authors. There were some grammar issues, but for me, this area really came down to narration and tense. The first chapter reads like standard fiction–3rd person, past tense, seemingly limited to Jack. Then at the end, it becomes more omniscient, conversational. This crops up again one other place, but I think it would have been better if it had been more consistent. And in the other world, the writing is 1st person and present tense. But at some point in the second half of the book, I began to notice areas where it slipped into past tense. All of these things, and some of what I mentioned above, tell me that the book could have used a bit more editing.

None of that detracted enough from the book for me to not enjoy it overall, though. It was a real adventure and a cautionary tale. My guess is that the “Faithful” are meant to be Christians, but to be honest, the Christianity in the book is incredibly light. You could almost insert any real or fictional religion. And one more thing–before Jack even went to the other world for the first time, I noticed a couple of references to Calvin & Hobbes, in that Jack’s little brother’s name was Calvin, and there was a girl Jack’s age named Susie that was only really in the story to be the Susie Derkins of this book. I made a note to watch out for any hint of a tiger, to verify that it wasn’t a coincidence, and then it turned out there was a character later named Hobbes! (I thought it was great, by the way.) I would recommend this for fans of Christian fantasy & adventure books.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Book #5
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP5

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve just finished #5. 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.

There was so much to love about this book, and yet, a few things that really detracted for me. I’ll start with what I liked.

First of all, George and Fred are my heroes! Their roles in the story has grown throughout the books, starting out as just some background troublemakers. But in this book, their mischief found a target, and it was brilliant. After so long of Umbridge being one of the most despised characters I’ve ever read/seen, the culmination of George and Fred sticking it to her was almost worth it (but not really). Not to mention Peeves taking up the call.

I liked seeing Lupin again and loved seeing so much of Sirius. In my review of the previous book, I mentioned how much I liked him being around so much in that one, and his role was even bigger in this one. He’s become my favorite character, which I think may be as much because of what he’s able to be to Harry as anything. Of course, that just made it all the worse at the end. I am frustrated about the fact that Hermione actually did question if it could be a trap, only for them to take the word of the house elf and walk into the trap anyway. But I’m not sure if my frustration about his death is just because I liked him or if I’m legitimately bugged by what seems like a spot of weak plotting/characterization.

I also really liked the progression of the D.A. and Harry trying to explain that a lot of what he’d done in the past was luck. Yet they were aware that, luck or not, he still had more practice with these spells than anyone else. I was glad to see Neville have some good moments in this book, while still having plenty of struggles, poor kid.

There were some other smaller things that happened that I found particularly interesting, like Ron being made prefect and the reminder that Petunia would have at least a little knowledge of magic. Hermione’s drive for house elf freedom can die any time, in my opinion. But who knows, maybe it’ll have a purpose at some point in the last couple of books.

The biggest downside to this book is Umbridge herself, and how much power she was given by the end of the book, only to not really have a great resolution to it. And really, it’s not Umbridge, at least not solely, but the Ministry, and how much power they were able to wield with apparently no one to keep them in check. Because of how long the book was, this whole thing just seemed to drag on and on.

As for the book length…I have never been one for long books. I’ve never read anything longer than 550 pages, and that length is not common for me. But of course, I didn’t come this far to not finish the series. After reading it, though, I can see a few side plots that could have been cut out. Of course, I don’t know that these side plots won’t be more important in the later books, so maybe I’m wrong.

Things are getting real now, and there are only 2 books left. I’m so nervous about what other bad things will happen as this series finishes up (not to mention about spoilers I’ve heard out of context).

Find out more about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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Book Sale!

Social distancing, businesses closing down, etc., isn’t affecting me as much as it is others. I already work from home, homeschool, and am an introvert. Though I will admit that being told I can’t go out and do things makes me want to all the more. But still not much. But for those who are already going stir-crazy, or just for those who happily find themselves with more time to read than normal, I’m offering discounts on digital versions of both of my published books. My full-length novel Pithea will be more than half off for the next 2 weeks, and my novelette The Triangle is free now through Monday! See below for links and a little more information.

Pithea cover, Kindle

Pithea is the first book in a series of speculative, futuristic fiction. Check it out on Goodreads and Amazon.

1
The Triangle is a stand-alone novelette of Christian fiction. Check it out on Goodreads, and go here to get your free copy!

As many who will read this already know, authors, especially self-published or indie authors, need reviews to allow more readers to find their books. If you take advantage of either, or both, of the deals on my books, please make sure to leave me a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or preferably, both!
*Both of these books are also available through Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: North! or Be Eaten

North! or Be Eaten
The Wingfeather Saga
#2
by Andrew Peterson

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

North

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the first book in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

The danger is real as the Igibys escape the clutches of the Fangs of Dang and head north toward the Ice Prairies. The Lost Jewels of Anniera begin to realize their full potential along the way, but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Surviving Fangs, the Stranders, and even the wilds of Skree itself, the Igiby family gets separated, and that’s when things really get bad for young Janner, the Throne Warden of Anneira. Worse yet is when he loses his little brother, the High King of Anneira, whom he is meant to protect. Surprises await around every corner in this action-packed, heart-filled fantasy!

I don’t know if I can adequately express how much I enjoyed this book. The imagination that went into the characters, the creatures, and the plot itself is vast and enviable. I was swept up in the horrors, the betrayal, and the victories right along with the characters. I was annoyed every time I had to put it down and plunged back in with voracity every chance I got.

As in the first book, the main character really is Janner, the oldest of the Igiby children, and in this book it was even more clear why that was the best choice. He grew up so much in this book, even though only a short time passed (I don’t know how much for sure…months, maybe?). Leeli really blossomed in this book as well, even though we didn’t get to see her as much. She’s courageous and has a beautiful spirit, and I love her! Tink, who is know more and more as Kalmar, has a rough time of it in this book, but boy was that ending incredible.

At times, I felt like the action didn’t slow down enough for me to catch my own breath, but looking back at it, I don’t think it was a bad thing. There were some pretty dark moments, so I wonder about the age range it’s meant for, considering that my daughter falls into the middle grade range. I don’t think it would scare her, necessarily, but I wonder if she would still be bothered by some of it, though she is on the low end of that range.

I highly recommend this book, and the series so far, for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. Also, 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. I have a feeling I’m going to love the rest of this series and want to re-read many times. There’s no way I’m waiting for the new versions of the last 2 books to come out before I read them.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2009, but a new hardcover edition will be released tomorrow, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

Find out more about North! or Be Eaten

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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!