Book Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

This is not going to be a structured review with a recommendation or warning to stay away. It’s really just going to be my musings on my first foray into written Tolkien. First, let me give a reference point–as I said, I’ve never read any Tolkien before this. I have seen all of the movies, though. I love the LoTR movies, though have only watched the Hobbit movies once. Going into each of these 6 movies as they came out, I knew absolutely nothing about the stories. I know that having seen the movies, though, and fallen in love with some of the characters will taint the reading of the books for the first time. I’m okay with that.

So now, about this book. I decided some time last year to start with The Hobbit, because it’s written for a younger audience. I figured it’d give me an idea of what the LoTR books were like and of whether I even thought I’d be able to read them. Besides, The Hobbit precedes the other books, even if the movies came out in the opposite order. I am so very glad I did it this way. I enjoyed reading The Hobbit, even as I felt that the story meandered more than I would normally prefer. It was really interesting to get more depth on the story, on the world, on some of the characters.

I knew about some of the things that had been made up for the movie, like the female elf and her romance with one of the dwarves (Kili, I think?) or the fact that Legolas was there at all. But I had thought that the Necromancer was created by the movie makers as well, and it was interesting to see that Sauron was, in fact, a background menace in the book after all. No, we don’t follow Gandalf to see him, but he does speak of ousting him from Mirkwood.

I was surprised by how long the party tended to stay places. Days or even weeks on end, before they moved on. And I’ll tell you, Elrond does not seem to be portrayed well in the movies. I like Hugo Weaving, but I remember his Elrond as aloof, even haughty. He’s so much warmer in The Hobbit. But to be fair, I haven’t watched any of the movies for a few years now, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find out I’m remembering many things wrong.

So now that I’ve read this book, I have decided that I must move on to the LoTR books. I know they’ll be longer and probably harder to read, which is why I’m listening to audiobooks instead of reading physical copies (as I did with The Hobbit). I won’t become a lifelong Tolkien fan, I’m sure, but I’m already glad I’ve embarked on this quest.

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Book Review: Imagine… The Tower Rising

Imagine… The Tower Rising
Imagine series book #6
by Matt Koceich

My rating: ? / 5
Genre: Children’s Biblical fantasy-ish?

While on the observation deck of the Willis Tower in Chicago with her family, Bella is suddenly transported to Shinar in 2300 B.C. There she sees the Tower of Babel mid-construction and becomes caught up in a dark plot to lead the people astray.

I am not completely sure what I just read. I expected an adventure similar to Superbook or Adventures in Odyssey, but there is definitely something else going on here. The tower being built, the reasons behind it, and Bella’s attempt to stop the people and explain why what they’re doing is wrong is a small part of the book (which is quite short anyway). But then there are some strange and unexpected fantasy elements going on, with a boy and a woman who are sort of like her guides through this experience, while also at times seeming to not know anything outside of what they should know if they were just regular people from that time period.

Then there are a couple of chapters that are “outside” of the adventure, involving people who are never properly introduced, and it’s never explained who they are or why they’re involved. One of them can communicate with the “bad guy” involved in the tower building, and gives him instructions. It’s clear from this that there is a whole over-arcing plot going on throughout this series, and I jumped in at book 6. My mistake, but there was nothing in the synopsis at all that would give any indication that these stories are so very connected. Out of curiosity, I have now read the first book in the series, and it was nothing like this book; no over-arcing plot line was set up either, so I can only guess it came up later in the series.

So…I don’t know how to rate this book. It was like reading someone’s account of a dream. I don’t want to down-rate it due to being so completely lost about the series-long story, but it would have been a lot better if I’d known I was being thrust into this ongoing, apparently supernatural battle between good and evil (for as much as I could tell from those sections).

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Imagine… The Tower Rising
Publication date: November 1, 2020

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.