Top Ten Tuesday: Difficult Reviews to Write

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is “The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover.” I kinda get what that means, but it doesn’t really happen to me much. The most I could really say that about are books that ended up being my favorites, and listing the last 10 of those would be rehashing other posts I’ve made in the last few months. So I twisted the topic a bit. Sometimes the books that I love the most give me a hangover in the sense that I put off writing the review, because I don’t know how to put into words what I want to say. But there are other reasons that writing a review seems like a far more daunting task than normal. So my topic today is reviews (of those I’ve posted on this blog, the book review part of which only goes back to last July) that were the hardest for me to write, for various reasons. Here is my list in chronological order, starting with my very first book review on this blog:

1. Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren
Just by virtue of being the first book review I’ve written since school days, this was a difficult one to write. It was also written by a friend, so I wanted to make sure to be honest and kind. I wish I’d liked it more, but I’ve always had a different taste in literature than her, which I think influenced my view of the story. I’ve written a couple reviews since then that I knew the author was going to read, and am about to write another. It hasn’t gotten easier so far. (See my review for this book here.)

2. The Oath by Frank E. Peretti
This has been my favorite book for probably 15-20 years. I’ve read it many times. After reading it again for the first time in at least 10 years, I had a very difficult time putting what I liked about it into words. I don’t know if that’s because it was all too familiar, or if everything I liked had melded together over the years, or what. It turned out to be a fairly short review (compared to most of my others).  (See my review for this book here.)

3. Tilly by Frank E. Peretti
Same author, very different problem. I read this book for the first time last year, and it is incredibly short. It’s really hard to say much in a review without giving away what I thought was meant to be a mystery in the book (though it’s flat-out stated in the synopsis on Goodreads…I honestly don’t get it). But just in case, I skirted around it, and there just wasn’t much else to say. (See my review for this book here.)

4. Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble
As it turns out, I’m a pretty picky reader. If a book has 95% 4 and 5 stars on a review platform, I will usually be one of the 2 stars. I don’t really know why…maybe it’s that I have a harder time getting past things that others can ignore to see the positives. Maybe writing has ruined me for reading. Maybe I just have all the wrong personal preferences for books these days. Whatever it is, this is one example of a book that many others lauded, but I had a lot of problems with. I remember starting to write this review and having so much I wanted to say, I didn’t know how to organize it to even start, or how to make sure the review didn’t turn into a rant. (See my review for this book here.)

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
When I read this last year, for the first time ever, and without having seen the movies either, I considered not even writing a review. Everyone has already read it, right? They already know way more about it than I do. What am I going to say that thousands of others haven’t? I did write it, but it took some time. (See my review of this book here.)

6. Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell
The main reason this review was difficult to write is that my mom had strongly recommended it to me and was really anxious to see what I thought about it. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t like it a ton either. I wanted to be careful not to write the review in any way that would make it seem like I was speaking negatively of her opinion or taste. (See my review of this book here.)

7. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
I don’t think it’s at all uncommon to have a difficult time reviewing a book that is about such a dark subject. If you say you liked it, it might seem like you’re being flippant about the subject. If you say you didn’t, it might seem like you’re heartless. I’ve written a few reviews with the same trouble, so hopefully I’m getting some practice at getting it right.  (See my review of this book here.)

8. Holes by Louis Sachar
The biggest issue with this one is that I saw the movie before I read the book, and I loved the movie. It can be difficult to separate them in my mind when writing a review. Even though the movie was very close to the book, there are some differences, and the book had a bit more depth to it. But in the end, I had to be willing to allow some comparison in my review. (See my review of this book here.)

9. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
Have you ever recommended a book (or substitute “movie or TV show” here) to someone and just wanted to be able to say, “Just read it! I promise it’s good!” without having to give reasons. This is that book for me. It was hilarious, relatable, and made me hate Patty Michelle Sinclair just a tiny bit less (well, maybe not).  (See my review of this book here.)

Pithea cover, Kindle

10. Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
I finished this book 5 days ago, and I haven’t even started on the review. I never wait that long. I think part of it was because I knew I had plenty of time before it would be posted, but I’m also having a difficult time putting what I thought about it into words. I can say what I learned most from it, but that seems like a bit more soul-baring than I’m comfortable with. I can give some examples of Brant’s incredible humor, but I can’t tell his stories like he can. Hopefully by Friday, when this review will go up, I’ll have figured out something to say.

What books have you struggled to write a review for? Do you have a list of book hangovers to share? Link your TTT so I can check it out!

September in Review

I read a few less books this month than last month, but still not bad. A combination of homeschooling and starting a new part-time job are probably to blame, but I’m still happy with the amount I read. More importantly, all of the books I finished in September have already been reviewed, so that’s something!

Here are the books I read in September:
Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble (2 / 5)
The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken (3.5 / 5)
Swipe by Evan Angler (3 / 5)
Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills (4 / 5)
Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell (3.5 / 5)
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (3.5 / 5)
Synapse by Steven James (3.5 / 5)
Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris (4 / 5)
Holes by Louis Sachar (4.5 / 5)

This list includes 5 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from August was Holes (the re-read). My favorite previously unread book was Fatal Strike. 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.

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: Lost and Found

Finished Reading: Lost and Found
by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: YA speculative fiction

Lost and Found

Fourteen-year-old Ezekiel Blast has a talent for finding things and knowing who they belong to. Along with this talent comes a strong need to return things to the owner. This has earned him the label of thief by people who assume he stole the items in the first place. Now ostracized by peers and authority figures alike, he is not expecting to be befriended by fellow outcast Beth, who is thirteen, but looks like she’s seven. When he’s asked to use his “micropower” to find a missing girl, Ezekiel initially refuses for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that he finds things, not people. However, with the help of his friend and some others, Ezekiel realizes that there may be more to his micropower than he ever knew.

I was pretty excited when I was approved to read an advance copy of this book, since Orson Scott Card is a big name author. I haven’t read anything else by him (though Ender’s Game is on my TBR short list), but fortunately, I’ve read other reviews that say this isn’t like his other, especially earlier, work. Because this could have turned me off to his writing otherwise. I struggled a lot with various aspects of this book.

My biggest issue was the dialog. Not just the dialog itself, but the way it was framed. I’m a huge dialog person, both in my reading and my writing. And this book was something like 75% dialog. Because outside of the actual events that occurred surrounding the lost girl (and even during that), it felt like the characters were always either standing around or sitting around talking. And there was very little in the way of action happening during the talking, but while this worked in Lock In, it just didn’t work the same in this book. I’m not sure if I can explain why though. Maybe because the MC in Lock In is more of a mind at work, then a physical person? Maybe because it wasn’t 75% of the book?

But then, it might be because of the actual content of the dialog. There was so much snark and snappiness, it was just overwhelming. Almost like it was trying too hard to be witty and intelligent. Most of the characters talked nearly identically, even the minor ones, so it was really difficult to get a sense of who was talking. The only thing that really led me to understand that Ezekiel was particularly smart was that the detective said as much to him. But sometimes, the detective talked just like him, except without the constant need to correct people, so I guess that’s what made Ezekiel smarter? Some dialog scenes actually read as if the characters were doing nothing but one-up’ing each other in being more and more correct about what they were trying to say. And I really didn’t buy either Ezekiel or Beth as early teens due to their dialog.

Ezekiel’s micropower is analyzed to death, right up until the end of the book. On the other hand, a few certain elements (that I won’t detail for the sake of spoilers) were left completely unexplained. And there were certain things that happened in this book that reminded me of my 10-year-old self writing about a girl who got her best friend adopted alongside her simply because she was plucky enough to ask. It just felt a bit too unlikely in several spots (including what would likely be allowed in police work). But maybe Card has done some research and knows some things I don’t (I am definitely not an expert).

As far as the plot goes, it got off to a bit of a slow start, and then started to get interesting. And then went a surprising direction right at about the halfway point, and then became too predictable because of that. I know this is vague, but I don’t want to spoil anything. And a warning: it’s fairly dark and gritty for a YA book, dealing with things like (spoilers) kidnapping of young children, child pornography, parent death, and even one death scene (not a parent) described a bit graphically.

Now, the positives. Because I did give this book some stars. Ezekiel’s dad. I really like seeing a parent portrayed in such a great light, especially a father, because let’s face it, they’re pretty beat up in fiction of various mediums these days. I also liked the way the detective treated Ezekiel, for the most part, outside of the unlikely things. I really did like the premise, and even the plot, for the first half of the book. Then it felt like a rinse and repeat for the second half.

I struggled with how many stars to give this book. While I was reading it, I was hovering around 3-3.5. But by the end, I couldn’t figure out what I was seeing that gave it even that much redeeming value. I hate writing a review like this, and I will sum up by saying that a lot of this is personal preference. But it really didn’t suit my preference. I think there are plenty of people who would enjoy the quick, snarky dialog though, considering that the writing actually reminded me of a few people I know. So for those who enjoy that type of writing, it’s probably worth a read.

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

Find out more about Lost and Found
Publication date: September 10, 2019

Up next: Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble

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