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!

Book Review: Head On

Head On
Lock In
#2
by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Sci-Fi mystery

Head On

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book, Lock In.

In the near-future world set up by Lock In, some of Earth’s population are paralyzed and are only able to interact with the world through robot bodies or by stepping inside another human known as an “Integrator.” In this world, a sport known as Hilketa becomes popular, which features these paralyzed people (known as Hadens) on the field in their robots (“threeps”) basically using weapons to beat each other up and score points by removing each others’ heads and running it through goal posts. When one of the players dies during the game, the FBI is brought in, which gives us a chance to see Haden FBI Agent Chris Shane in action again.

This book had a lot of what made Lock In so amazing, with the same easy-to-read and smoothly flowing writing and dialog, the same intriguing world where the prejudice toward Hadens emulates both racial prejudices and bias against disabled people, and the same complex conspiracies behind the initial death. I didn’t like it quite as much as I did the first book, but only subtracted half a star for this sequel.

In the first book, there was a major legislation on the horizon that would seriously financially hinder most Hadens, basically cutting off most government funding for them. The looming question of whether or not it will pass plays a role in the book. This book, set about a year later, shows some of the downfall after it did pass, and many Hadens–and by extension many companies that were involved with Hadens in some way–are worried about their financial future. It was interesting to see how the dust had started to settle after that decision.

We saw a lot more of the housemates that Chris first met in Lock In, and I really liked the way they added to the story. There were some fun scenes and conversations involving a cat that brought smiles to my face. And speaking of smiles, while I was reading this book, my husband made multiple “apply directly to the forehead” references, which made it all the more noticeable (and amusing) to me when I caught a reference in the book (I won’t presume to say for sure that it was intentional by Scalzi…but the way it was worded does not seem like it could be coincidence).

The mystery as a whole, and some of the rabbit trails the agents followed to solve it, wasn’t as enthralling to me as in the first book, which is the main reason for my slightly lower rating. However, overall, it was still a lot of fun to read. I would be quite happy if Scalzi decided to write a third book in this world. I would recommend this book for fans of near-future sci-fi and for mystery lovers, and while I will say that it’s probably very possible to read this book without having yet read the previous book, Lock In was really good and explained the whole Haden syndrome more anyway, so I’d still suggest starting there.

Find out more about Head On

See what’s coming up.

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Covers

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is a freebie about book covers. I’m going to keep it simple, since I’m still new to all of this keeping track of books I’ve read and want to read, and I’m definitely not ready to get detailed with a list like this. So I stuck with books that are on my Goodreads shelves and found 10 books with covers I really like for one reason or another. Here they are, in no particular order:

wingfeather

1. The Wingfeather Saga books by Andrew Peterson
If you click on the link above, you won’t see these covers. The series came out between 2009 & 2014, but the covers above are from a re-release. Those shown are the only 2 (of 4) that have new covers yet, but I’m guessing the other 2 eventually will as well. I actually do like the look of the original covers too, but it was these that first drew me to the series.
Shown here: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (read my review of this book) and North! or Be Eaten

2. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
I’ve always really liked the macabre cover to this book, which is a play about two minor characters from Hamlet. I remember reading it in high school, and then watching the movie with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth and that tennis court scene. My love of the cover might be as much nostalgia as anything, but it still counts!

3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
I’ll be honest–I might be more in love with the cover of this book than the synopsis (which is interesting, don’t get me wrong), but someday I’ll have to actually read it and find out if I like it.

4. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
I really like the way they made the cover (front and back) with a distressed look, so that it would look like it had been around since the 90s (when the book was set). (Read my review of this book.)

5. Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren
I had this book for over a year before I read it, and the cover always made me muse about just what was going on in that plot. The synopsis also mentions the neighbors’ house, which “defies the laws of physics.” Both are a good teaser for what’s inside the book. (Read my review of this book.)

6. Lock In by John Scalzi
It may not be the most visually appealing cover, but, like the previous book, I stared at this for a long time before I ever got around to reading it. And like with the previous book, it made me really curious about what was inside. (There’s a reason why when I started back into a heavy reading habit last year, these were some of the first books I read.) Knowing what the book is about, the cover is quite fitting. (Read my review of this book.)

7. The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels
I don’t think I have to explain why this cover appeals to me so much. If you’re viewing this post, you probably love books as much as I do, and a cover like this is just beautiful! From what I’ve read of the synopsis, it sounds like the book will be equally as wonderful for book lovers (I haven’t read it yet).

peregrine

8.  Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
I only heard about this series for the first time recently, but I was able to pick up books 1 & 2 for good deals, so I plan to start into it soon. For now, though, I really like the way the author took actual vintage photographs and used them to inspire the stories, and how employing them for the covers turned out.
Shown here: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City

summoner

9. Summoner series books by Taran Matharu
I really enjoy the covers of the all of the books in this series (a trilogy of 3, plus a prequel). The trilogy covers all feature the main character, showing him decked out in whatever gear he acquired in that book, and with some iteration of his summoned demon, who was practically like a character himself. The third book is my favorite cover of the trilogy (shown on the left) for many reasons, some of which are a bit spoilery. And the prequel cover, which features a different character, I chose to also show mostly because it’s so beautifully purple.
Shown here: The Battlemage (read my review of this book) and The Outcast

colors

10. True Colors series books by various authors
Though I’ve been a bit hit-or-miss in my love for the stories themselves, I really love the covers in this series of books. I’ve read 2 of them so far, and have a 3rd coming up on my TBR. They’re all basically stand-alones (maybe a little overlap of characters) about true crime stories in history, and they all have a color in the title. Most of the covers, then, are black & white, with one item of the same color as in the title standing out (as seen in the 2 I shared above).
Shown here: The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken (read my review of this book) and The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

What book covers are you crazy about? Link your own TTT post in the comments so I can see what you did with this week’s freebie!

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?

Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. This list should take me through most (or all) of the winter. They’re not winter-oriented at all, because I don’t usually think in those terms when it comes to reading (except for the 2.5 Christmas-related books I still want to read over the next week).  The actual order in which I read these will probably change as I go (plus more will probably be added in amongst some of these):

1. The Gray Chamber by Grace Hitchcock
This is one of the few remaining Netgalley ARCs I have right now, and even though it’s been on my list for 2 months and I’ve been looking forward to it, I will be pushing it to read it before it releases on Jan 1.

2. Stealth Power by Vikki Kestell
Book #2 in a 4-part series, the first of which was a 4-star read for me. It’s really about time I got on with the series.

3. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
This was on my fall TBR TTT post too, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s an ARC (a re-release due out in March) fantasy kids book that begins a series.

4. His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac
I’m not a fan of the zombie genre as a whole, but I’ve been stretching myself a little in some of my book choices recently, and this is another example of that. The sequel to this book is looming, so I really want to read the first one soon.

5. This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II by Andrew Fukuda
The premise of this book about young pen pals on opposite sides of WWII is really intriguing to me. It’s my last current ARC, and I’ve vowed to finish all 3 of these before I request more, because of how stressful it felt to get so backed up on them.

6. Head On by John Scalzi
The sequel to Lock In, which I really enjoyed, is one I’m highly anticipating digging into very soon.

7. Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
I read this book over the course of almost a year after I got it for Christmas 2 years ago. I want to read it in a shorter time period so I can give it a proper review.

8. Sneak by Evan Angler
This is also book #2 in a 4-part series (which, from what I can tell, isn’t necessarily a finished series). Unlike #2 on this list above, though, I gave the first book in this series 3-stars. I’m holding out some hope that the series will pick up.

9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My husband is antsy for me to get through these books faster, because he likes watching the movies with me. Since I’ve never read this series before, I insist on waiting until after each book to watch its respective movie. I’m trying to pick up the pace from here on.

10. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
Apparently I’m going to have something of a theme going here, reading book #2 in series of varying lengths. I loved Anne of Green Gables so much that I didn’t want to put off reading the next book like I’ve (unintentionally) done with continuing other series I’ve started this year.

Have you read any of these? What do you plan to read over the next few months?

Book Review: Lock In

Lock In
by John Scalzi

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Sci-Fi mystery

Lock In

In the near future, a disease ravages humanity, leaving a large population of Earth completely paralyzed. In the time period of Lock In, technology has been developed to allow those “locked in” to live as normally as possible, either putting their consciousness into a robotic being, or into the mind of someone who has the ability to accept the mind of someone else. Set against this backdrop, the book is a mystery that starts with a murder, but deepens continually as the story goes on.

I wasn’t really expecting to like this book that much, though I don’t know why. However, I ended up liking it a lot. The sci-fi element, mainly the roles the Hadens (those who were locked in) and the Integrators (those who could let a Haden use their mind & body) played in the mystery, really enhanced the mystery plot.

The main character, Chris Shane, is a Haden and an FBI agent, who interacts with the physical world in what they call a “threep” (basically a robot that is controlled by a Haden’s consciousness). In a lot of ways, the book was similar in this area to Ready Player One, which I only read recently, so it was fresh in my mind. I was interested reading about the laws surrounding Hadens and their threeps, when it comes to crimes committed both by and against them. I also enjoyed the main character’s intelligence, ingenuity, and stoicism.

Another thing that I found myself appreciating throughout the book was the writing style. There is not a lot of description or figurative language, which to my taste, at least, can slow a story down or add unnecessary filler. There were even times that I would read through an entire page and get this feeling in the back of my mind that I’d skipped some text (I do that sometimes, essentially accidentally skimming for a bit before deciding I need to go back), but when I’d go back to try to find what I’d skipped over, there was nothing. Conversations flowed quickly, with little in the way of descriptions of what the characters were doing. Some may find this a flaw, but I personally liked it. If the characters aren’t really doing anything but sitting and talking…maybe sometimes it’s okay to not add minor actions in just because. I usually write dialog this way too, but end up going back and adding more in, because I feel like it’s expected.

Scalzi’s world-building was brilliant too, from following the progression of politics, laws, and citizen response brought on by Haden’s syndrome in America, to the slang and lingo that seemed so natural in this world. My main detraction in the book is involved in this area though. At one point in the last quarter of the book, a side character who is an expert in a field that is needed for the investigation spends about 10 pages explaining some technological and coding mumbo jumbo that I had a difficult time wading through and understanding. I was at least able to come away with some idea of what was going on, though, so it didn’t cause enough problem for me to be more than a short frustration. I also feel it prudent to mention that there was a lot more language than I prefer.

I had seen that there is a follow-up to this novel when I wasn’t even halfway into reading it yet, and I didn’t expect to have much desire to read it. However, by the end of the book, I knew I had to read Head On at some point soon!

I would recommend Lock In for fans of near-future sci-fi and for mystery lovers too.

Find out more about Lock In

See what I’m reading next.

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

Book Review: Tilly

Tilly
by Frank E. Peretti

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

Tilly

Tilly is a touching novella about a woman coming to terms with something from her past that she regrets. It begins when a husband and wife, Kathy and Dan, are in a cemetery, and she spots a gravestone with the name Tilly one it, and only one date. From that point on, she can’t get that gravestone out of her mind, to the detriment of her family.

I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading, but it was short, and Peretti is my favorite writer. According to the back of the book, it was originally a radio drama, and it took me somewhere between 1-1.5 hours to read it.

Maybe because of my experience with Peretti’s other works, I expected more of a mystery than this book contained. In fact, if you read the synopsis on Goodreads, half of the book is almost unnecessary (thankfully I didn’t look the book up on Goodreads at all before reading it, though I normally do).

A good amount of the book is spent in a dream, with beautiful imagery and tender moments, as Kathy comes to grips with a mistake she made in the past, which has affected her family for 9 years. The reason for the past choice is not expounded on, which was probably one of the things I most wished was different about the story.

No matter what the past decision was that Kathy and Dan regret, the important message in this story is of the forgiveness we can have in Christ, though I’ll admit it’s only lightly presented. Maybe the greater message is that, even when we know Christ has forgiven us, sometimes we are unable to let go of that mistake, and that until we do, we will never truly feel we can accept God’s forgiveness.

I would recommend this light read to anyone who struggles with past mistakes, especially those they might consider unforgivable, but also for anyone interested in dramatic Christian stories.

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!