Top Ten Tuesday: Top Reads from 2019

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is a look back at our favorite books from the past year. First, a quick explanation about my reader-self. I used to read like crazy as a kid, teenager, and maybe the first few years out of high school. I don’t really know when it dropped off, but for most of my adult life, I’ve finished maybe 15 books total.

In the summer this year, I decided that I wanted, and in many ways needed to get back into reading. So I dove in, started building a TBR list that grew scarily fast, started posting reviews on my blog, and haven’t regretted it for one second. I re-discovered my love for reading almost immediately, and enjoy keeping track of what I’ve read, how I felt about it, and what I plan to read.

The following list starts with my favorite 4-star reads from this year, then some 4.5-stars, and finally the only books I gave 5 stars to this year. I’m not including re-reads and am lumping series into 1 entry (even if I haven’t finished the series yet).

10. The Summoner Trilogy by Taran Matharu
I enjoyed this trilogy pretty early on. The Harry Potter meets Pokemon vibe was just too fun. Even with the heavy race and class politics and the inescapable brutal war that was looming, I enjoyed all 3 books in this trilogy. There’s a prequel that is billed as book #4, and I have plans to read it some time in the first half of 2020. (See my full review for the first book in the trilogy here.)

9. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I’m currently almost halfway through my first reading of this series (finished with #3). Though I can tell I don’t love it as much as the majority of the rest of the world, I have been enjoying it for the most part. It’s possible that what makes it even more fun, though, is following each book with my first viewing of the movie, alongside my husband. It’s interesting to me that only 1 of the 3 I’ve read so far got 4 stars from me–the others were 3.5. And yet, when considering books to add to this list, I did decide that Harry Potter as a whole (so far) was worth putting on the list. (See full reviews for the books I’ve read so far here: book #1, book #2, book #3)

8. Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills
This is the first of 2 ARCs on this list. This book was exactly what I wanted it to be, and considering that it seems like a majority of the ARCs I read this year were busts, I was happy to be able to give this suspenseful romance a higher rating. (See my full review here.)

7. The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr
This was another ARC and really surprised me. I loved the idea of reading a book about the advent of Christ from the perspective of the magi that visited Him not long after his birth. This is one that really stuck with me for a while after I read it (probably partly because it was the Christmas season and I saw & heard related things everywhere). (See my full review here.)

6. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
I keep recommending this book to people. It was fun and engaging, and I know I will re-read it plenty of times in the future. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think is important to understand, in order to enjoy the book. Also, it’s billed as horror, but it’s not really scary, which doesn’t bother me personally, but may others. (See my full review here.)

5. The Martian by Andy Weir
I’d seen the movie years ago, and more recently a friend strongly suggested that I read the book too. I was so glad that I did, because for as good as the movie was, the book allowed me to feel even more connected to Whatney. Like my friend, I would really suggest that those who’ve seen the movie read the book too. (See my full review here.)

4. Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone
Another one where I’ve seen the movie, and didn’t even know it was a book until I happened to see it at a bargain store this summer. With some all-too-real situations and flawed characters, this book is brimming with emotion and depth. I’ll admit that the ending was maybe a bit too easy for the real world, but that’s what fiction is for. (See my full review here.)

3. Lock In by John Scalzi
This was probably my biggest surprise of the year. I remember seeing this book sitting around years ago when my husband was reading it. I thought at the time that I should probably read it, because it was in the same genre as my writing, and even had parallels to my world-building. But being sci-fi, I kinda thought it would be dry and technical (yes, I judged it with a very limited understanding of the literary sci-fi genre). When I finally did read it, I loved it! (See my full review here.)

2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
I actually knew nothing about this book or series before reading it. I’ve heard about it practically all my life, but mostly just in name, not with any kind of understanding of what it’s about. I fell in love pretty early in the book though, and by the end, I knew I had to read as much of this series as I could get my hands on, which I’ll be continuing with soon. (See my full review here.)

1. Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
I’ve had a lot to say about this book and author recently and don’t want to start repeating myself. This was definitely my favorite book from this year. It was really nice to get a fresh reminder of why Frank Peretti is my all-time favorite author. I’m already looking forward to the next time I read this book. (See my full review here.)

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

Christmas Book Haul

Because of the holidays, my reading has slowed way down this week. Normally I post a book review every Friday (and sometimes in between if I read more than 1 book in a week), but I don’t have any new reviews to post today. So instead, I thought I’d do a sort of follow-up post to Tuesday’s post of books that I hoped to receive for Christmas. I actually didn’t directly receive anything specifically listed there, but did get a couple of books, and thanks to cash-type gifts, I bought some more myself yesterday.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

My sister strongly recommended this series to me (amongst several other books/series), and I mentioned it to my daughter, who bought a paperback copy for my stocking.
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
Though I normally wait to make sure I like the first book in a series before I buy any others in the series, I found a copy of book #2 at Half Price Books for $3, and my sister continued to extol the series (she was at the store too), so I went ahead and got the second one.

Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope
This was a gift from my husband. Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite shows, and I’ve seen the whole series many times. I’ve already thumbed through the book a little and can tell it’s going to be amazing.

The Martian by Andy Weir
Of the books I read this year, this was one of my favorites. I like owning copies of my favorites, so I was happy to find a paperback copy at Half Price Books for cheap. (See my review here.)

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
I was pretty excited when I spotted a copy of this on the clearance shelf at HPB for a couple bucks. It was written by the founder of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve heard a lot about it from people who use it for NaNoPrep. I’ve done NaNo for 10 years, and I think the book is meant more to help first-timers, or at least early-timers. I’m still glad to have it.

I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
We got an email with a $10 Kindle book credit from Amazon about 2 weeks ago. My husband insisted I wait to use it until after Christmas, and then I could buy something on my wish list that I didn’t get. This book was at the top of that list, and I can’t wait to start reading it!

Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
This was probably my favorite of the books I read this year. My husband and I have all but 2 of Peretti’s adult fiction books, and with this one, we’ll have all but 1. I’ve got a used hardcover copy of this coming from eBay for only a few dollars.  (See my review here.)

Have you read any of these? What books are you excited about recently acquiring?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hope to Find Under My Tree

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is quite fitting with tomorrow being Christmas (I’ll bet that was on purpose!), and I do have a list of books that I’ve been careful to tell my husband I’d like to own, in case he or any others in my family needed ideas for me. I only told him 5 though (technically I only told him 4, but I added one I’d like to own to at least bring the list up to 5).

1. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
The hilarious producer of my favorite podcast wrote a book about handling PMS as a Christian, and unfortunately, my library doesn’t carry it. So my only hope is to get my own copy soon!

2. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
Related to the previous book, this one is not at my local library either. Of course, his second book is at the library, but that one I already own…and he’s coming out with a 3rd book soon, so I want to get caught up!

3. Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
I own most of Peretti’s books, including one I haven’t actually read yet. I didn’t even know about this one until earlier this year, so I definitely need to get my own copy to add to my collection! (See my review here.)

4. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
My family doesn’t have much room for books, not to mention not having a lot of money, so I generally only buy books at used or discount stores. Only when I really, really enjoy a book I got from the library do I consider buying it new, even if I can’t get it at a discount. This is one such book. (See my review here.)

5. Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills
This is the one book I didn’t specifically mention to my husband, but I would be happy to own it. Since I discovered ARCs this year, this is my favorite of all those I’ve read so far. (See my review here.)

6 – ? Amost anything
I’ll be pretty happy to get just about any books, because I’ve been so heavily into reading lately. If I mentioned a book in passing, or someone found a deal or gives me a book that they want to recommend to me, I’ll be thrilled!

Have you read any of these? What books would you most like to get for Christmas?

Book Review: Illusion

Finished Reading: Illusion
by Frank Peretti

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense

When half of a famous, married magical duo dies, the other half (Dane) is left to carry on in whatever way he can. When the wife that died (Mandy) wakes up alive and well, but thinking she’s only 19 and year is 1970, she has to figure out what’s real and what’s imaginary. Then these two meet, and Mandy doesn’t know Dane, while Dane thinks he’s going crazy. What follows is a tale of intrigue, as Dane helps Mandy with a solo magic act, and Mandy tries to understand a mysterious power she seems to have, which makes her magic much more real.

Frank Peretti has long been my favorite author, but there are still several of his books I haven’t read. This is his latest novel, published in 2012, well after I stopped reading regularly. I read the synopsis and immediately put it near the top of my TBR list. And it did not disappoint. I enjoyed the book from the beginning to the end.

I enjoyed watching Mandy’s abilities develop and the mystery surrounding them unfold. The shows she puts on get more and more spectacular, and I’ll admit, I wish I could see the illusions, rather than read about them, but Peretti does a good job of explaining what’s going on, both from the audience’s perspective and from Mandy’s.

The cause of Mandy’s abilities is not left unexplained, and while it gets a bit convoluted for my mind, I still thought it all played together nicely. There are some sci-fi elements that came together in such a way that I really liked (but can’t say more to avoid spoilers).

My main complaint about the book was that the first third, or so, was filled with so many minor characters that came and went, or that were called by one name, then another later (ex. Mr. Jones at first, then Tom later), that I was really confused more than once. I can’t say they weren’t all necessary, or that the change in name use didn’t make sense, but now and then, I would have like a subtle reminder of who someone was when they showed up again after being absent for a few chapters.

The ending was exactly what I wanted it to be and then some! I was just so happy when I finished this book. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoys Christian mystery, suspense, or general fiction. Also, the book definitely has a Christian bent, but it’s more in the main characters clearly being Christian and looking to God for help and comfort, then anything preachy.

Find out more about Illusion

Up nextThe Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Strands of Truth

Finished Reading: Strands of Truth
by Colleen Coble

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian mystery, romance

Strands of TruthHarper’s mother died just before Harper was born, and she never knew her father. At the age of 15, a man named Oliver took her under his wing and became like a father to her in many ways. His own children detested Harper, though, because of how much attention their father paid to her, and assuming that Harper was only after their father’s money. As an adult, Harper looks up to Oliver as a mentor, and now works with him as a business partner. At the start of the story, a DNA registry site has found a likely half-sister for Harper, and upon meeting, Harper realizes that both sisters have a similar story, with their mothers dying when they were infants, and neither knowing their father. At the same time, both women become the target of attempted kidnappings. Oliver is also attacked, and his son Ridge is determined to find out why, while also attempting to expose Harper for the fraud he believes her to be.

 
This book was a jumbled mess, and my mind feels a bit jumbled when trying to organize a review. I will start with what I did like. The premise was intriguing, and the mystery did hold my attention for the first half of the book. The descriptions of the Florida setting were good, and it was easy to imagine a warm, humid environment. The book brought some subjects to my attention that I otherwise might never have known about (for example, sea silk and other things related to pen shells).
 
However, this also leads me to my first issue. Many things came up in the book that were completely foreign to me, and I was left to figure out on my own what on earth it even was. Or the explanation would come so late that I was confused for a while. At one point early in the book, it says a character was in the “Weeki Wachee parking lot,” but really never actually says what Weeki Wachee is. My first guess was that it was a common supermarket chain in the region. Or maybe restaurant. But after Googling it, it’s apparently a state park and spring in Florida. It would have been really easy to explain this in the book, along with many other things, but instead, I had to Google more than I would prefer while reading a book.
 
Speaking of Google, there was a lot of mention of food and restaurants in the book that weirdly came across like name-dropping. As if, to make the book feel more authentic to the location, the author had done an internet search for popular restaurants in the real-life town in which the book is set, and even went to the online menus so that the characters could mention specific dishes that really do exist in those restaurants (I looked one up; it’s real!). Maybe this shouldn’t seem like a big deal, but it got to a point where it was just a bit too much, and took me out of the narrative enough to bother me.
 
And then there was the really weird part where the narration compared the main male character (Ridge) to “Chris McNally from Supernatural a bit, right down to the thick black hair.” I had to stop right there and look him up. I’ve seen Supernatural quite a bit, but I didn’t recognize the name, so I looked him up. He was in two episodes, 6 years apart, as basically bit roles! I have my theory about why Coble included this bit of obscure trivia, but no matter the reason, it was completely out of left field and made no sense. This reference is not going to help anyone envision the character, and to top it off, this still of McNally in Supernatural does not show him with “thick black hair.” This is indicative of what I felt was a greater issue in this book–it really could have done with another round of intensive editing.
 
This book was half-mystery, half-romance. The mystery half was the only thing that kept me going, because the romance was half-baked at best. For one thing, I really didn’t care about either of the two main characters. I did not connect with them at all. Also, the main characters strongly disliked each other for a while, then started to warm to each other. Then Ridge tells Harper that he misjudged her and wants to start fresh, making it clear that he has some sort of feelings for her. But two days later, she’s panicking over an idea that maybe he just thinks of her as a sister. And since the turn in their relationship came halfway through the story, it was very predictable what the bump in the romance was going to be, and even that turned out to be weakly done.
 
As for the mystery half of the story, it really fell apart in the 2nd half as well. For one thing, there are flashbacks throughout the book showing the life of a woman who was murdered around 1970 in the year leading up to that event, but by the end of the book, I realized that the flashbacks added basically nothing to the story. Spoiler: And to make things worse, Ridge was able to watch some video taken by the murdered woman, that ended right before the murder. After the video is described, the same moment is shown in a flashback, and it didn’t even match up with the video!
 
This review is getting very long, so I’ll try to be more brief in the rest of my notes. Clues to the mystery were given in an order that did not maximize suspense for the reader. The main characters investigated more than the authorities (who didn’t really seem all that concerned about the abductions), and yet the main characters are constantly questioning if these obviously related events are even related. Most of the mystery was fairly obvious (to me) early enough in the book to make any twists near the end fall flat. Several things happen that make no sense and are never explained. Spoiler: There’s a bomb that never goes off and is never mentioned again, that I forgot about until right now!


All in all, this half-mystery, half-romance didn’t deliver in either department. And this time, I don’t think I can chalk my biggest issues up to personal preference. The book has many flaws that clearly others were able to overlook, but I couldn’t. I would not be able to recommend this book to anyone, and again I’d state that with further revision, it could have been a much more enjoyable read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Find out more about Strands of Truth
Publication date: September 10, 2019

Up next: Illusion by Frank E. Peretti

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

 

Book Review: August Review

In my second month of reading with more intention, I picked up the pace at first, and then seemed to slow back down at the end of the month. Now that school has started (I homeschool), it remains to be seen how much time I have to read, but I will definitely make as much time for it as I can.

Here are the books I read in August:
The Curious Conspiracy on Gamma Ceti by Nemo West (2.5 / 5)
Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker (1.5 / 5)
Thr3e by Ted Dekker (4.5 / 5)
Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (4 / 5)
Tilly by Frank E. Peretti (3.5 / 5)
Lock In by John Scalzi (4.5 / 5)
#NotReadyToDie by Cate Carlyle (2.5 / 5)
The Inquisition
by Taran Matharu (4 / 5)
Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card (2.5 / 5) (review pending)
Illusion by Frank E. Peretti (5 / 5) (review pending)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (review & rating pending)

This list includes 5 ARCs, my first ever, and 1 re-read. My favorite book from August was Illusion. The rest of reviews from last month will go up in the next week and a half. My ever-changing 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, if anyone is interested in that. (Note: The list of books I have read overall is not remotely complete there. When I created my Goodreads page 4 years ago, I added some of my favorite books over the years, but to add everything I’ve ever read would be very time-consuming, not to mention impossible to remember it all.)

Despite my almost too-long list of TBRs, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

The sinister stranger never checked behind him.

(Today’s prompt is a quote from the book I’m currently reading: Illusion by Frank E. Peretti.)

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**