December in Review

I read 9 books last month (10 if you count the super, super short one). To be fair, several of them were pretty short books; apparently it’s a bit of a trend amongst Christmas books. Still, I’m happy to have picked up the pace since such a slow November (thanks mostly to NaNoWriMo), even with the holidays eating up my reading time.

I’m also going to do a look back at the past year of reading, which is more like the past 6 months, since I started reading and writing reviews in July.

Here are the books I read in December:
The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr (4 / 5)
Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock (2 / 5)
Skipping Christmas by John Grishom (3.5 / 5)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Lucia Monfried (4.5 / 5)
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans (3.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (3.5 / 5)
A Plain and Simple Christmas by Amy Clipston (2 / 5)
12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep (4 / 5)
Cape Light by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (review pending) (3 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC and 0 re-reads. My favorite book from December was The End of the Magi (not counting Little Women, which I read with my daughter, so the rating was partially influenced by her). I finished 0 series, continued 1 series, and started 3 series. My ever-changing short 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. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: Catching Christmas

Finished Reading: Catching Christmas
by Terri Blackstock

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christmas romance

Catching Christmas.png

Cab driver Finn Parrish picks up 80-year old Callie Beecher to take her to a doctor appointment. Callie is barely aware of what is happening, which leads Finn to be concerned about her and find out that the appointment was made by Callie’s granddaughter Sydney. A first-year law associate, Sydney is struggling to keep her job when the company is going through downsizing, and she has been saddled with a case that goes against her own ethics. As her grandmother’s health goes downhill, Sydney is stuck at work, and Finn is stuck helping Callie find a Christmas date for Sydney. As Christmas approaches, secrets are revealed and lives are changed.

Continuing my seasonal reading, I was looking forward to a feel-good Christmas romance, even welcoming some sap and cheesiness. What I got was a sad story with an emotionless romance and flat characters.

The book goes back and forth between Finn’s and Sydney’s 1st-person points of view, which I still don’t really get, but realize might just be Terri Blackstock’s style (the other book of hers that I read was like this too). Fortunately, most of the time it was from Finn’s POV, because at least him I could stand. His characterization was weak, as the type of person I thought he was supposed to be didn’t jive with how he talked and acted in the 2nd half of the book. But Sydney barely had any characterization. She was a weak female stereotype, despite stating once near the end that she wasn’t the weak type. But she let everyone walk all over her, and everything happened to her. She didn’t do much of anything herself.

Callie would have been my favorite character, as a cheerful, friendly woman who believed so strongly in God and Heaven that her only regret about dying some day was that her granddaughter would be alone. Except that she tended to say really mean things about other people, things that were laughed off because she’s just an old lady with no filter (fat shaming, for example). On a positive note, I would love to pass on the kind of legacy that Callie strives to, pointing others to the God that I serve even in casual interactions.

I don’t read pure romance novels all that often because, though I love a good romance, I prefer subtle, slow builds, and of course in a romance novel, the genre itself tells you that the male and female MCs are going to end up together. I’m okay with that to a point, but that makes it too easy for the author to get lazy. So yes, it’s clear that Finn and Sydney are destined to end up together, but at least make it make sense! They barely had any interaction in the first half of the book, and the romance that developed between them made no sense and was flatly written.

Between the cute cover, the promise of a “feel-good Christmas book,” and the other Blackstock book I read being pretty good, I was excited about this one. Unfortunately, I feel like I wasted some of my limited Christmas reading time on this book. Thankfully, it was short. I wouldn’t really recommend this book to others, but if you don’t have a problem with the issues I mentioned above and are looking for a Christian romance, you may want to give it a try.

Find out more about Catching Christmas

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Christmas TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week is “Holiday Reads.” The intention was to list books that you love reading during the holiday season, so presumably books you’ve read before. However, until July of this year, I’ve barely read a book per year since my heavy reading days of the past (over 10 years ago). I do, however, love immersing myself in Christmas-related things during the holiday season, so I have already picked up some Christmas books to read over the next few weeks. I figured I’d just make today’s TTT about my Christmas season TBR then. Here are the 5 I’m currently planning to read (probably about all I’ll have time for before Christmas):

1. The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr
I’m currently reading this book. It is an interesting take on the “Christmas story” from the perspective of the magi and definitely doesn’t have a Christmas atmosphere like the others will, but I have been really enjoying it so far.

2. The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
I got a paperback of The Christmas Box Trilogy, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to read all 3 before Christmas, so the first one is officially on the list, and the others are there if I get to them.

3. Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock
I read my first Terri Blackstock book a couple months ago and enjoyed it, so when I saw this at Half Price Books, I didn’t hesitate to grab it.

4. A Plain and Simple Christmas by Amy Clipston
There are actually 2 novellas in the book I have collectively titled A Kauffman Amish Christmas Collection, but I only expect to have time to read the first of the 2 for now. Amish romances are apparently pretty big in Christian fiction. This is me dipping my toe in to see what the big fuss is about.

5. A Christmas Star by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer
My husband knew about my quest to find some feel-good Christmas books to read this season, so he picked this up in the used book sale section of our library recently. He also knows that I like Thomas Kinkade’s art.

Have you read any of these books? What’s on your Christmas TBR?

October in Review

I read even less books this month than last month, but I’m not really surprised. Between homeschooling and working a part-time job with sporadic hours, plus spending a lot of my free time working on getting my own book ready for publication, I’m glad to have read what I did. This month will probably be even lower, due to NaNoWriMo.

Here are the books I read in October:
Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock (4 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff (3 / 5)
The Battlemage by Taran Matharu (4 / 5)
The Dinner Party by R.J. Parker (2 / 5)
Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone (4.5 / 5)
The Butterfly Recluse by Therese Heckenkamp (3 / 5)

This list includes 4 ARCs and 0 re-reads. My favorite book from August was Priceless. I finished 1 series (a trilogy), continued 1 series, and started 0 series. 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. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Title Differently

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week was “Books I’d Give Different Titles To.” For this list, I definitely had to stick with books that I had read or that were on my TBR, because otherwise, I can imagine being sucked into a black hole of book titles and blurbs. I was only able to come up with 7, with 5 that I’ve read and 2 that I plan to read someday. There was an additional suggestion to give alternative titles, but that’s one of my weakest areas in my own writing, so I am going to skip that suggestion. Without further ado:

1. Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell
I get the book’s name–the main character is invisible during half of it. But I think it’s very weak and otherwise makes little sense. The series is titled Nanostealth, and all of the books have the word “Stealth” in their titles. I don’t know about the rest of the series titles yet, but this one I think could have been better. (See my review for this book.)

2. The Inquisition by Taran Matharu
This is the middle book in the Summoner trilogy, and the other two are aptly named. This one, however, is not. The Inquisition it mentions is such a small part of the entire book, we get past it to much more exciting things early on. I would have liked to see the title reflect more of the full story. (See my review for this book.)

3. Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card
To be honest, I have a more difficult time explaining my issue with this title. I think it might be because of the way the main character’s micro power of finding things is so analyzed to death, it’s almost like they talk their way out of the title making sense. (See my review for this book.)

4. Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock
I know this title was meant to at least partially reference one of the main characters’ profession as a smoke jumper. I assume it had a double meaning, referring to the secrets and mystery there to be uncovered. However, since that mystery angle didn’t really fill as much of the book as I expected, the title falls flat for me. (See my review for this book.)

5. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
I haven’t read this yet, though it’s on my short list, so I can only go by the blurb. But no matter what the book is about, the title has a silly redundancy to it. It is a book for a younger audience, but it has enough seriousness to it that the title seems weird. I am open to the possibility that reading the book will shed light on the title though.

6. Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
I know that my reasoning for including this book is not fair to it, but the first few times I saw this book, I assumed it was related to Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not, not even remotely, and is actually about a Soviet work camp in the 1940s. As far as I can tell, this book came out a couple months before Fifty Shades, and I wonder how many other people over the years have thought it was related. I’m glad I discovered it wasn’t, and hope to have a chance to read it someday.

7. The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken
The book is part of a series called True Colors, and all of the books (written by different authors) have a color in the title. In the case of this book, though, it was a pretty good stretch to be able to get that color in the title. The book involves a band of grave robbers, and the titular lantern provides light for these nocturnal activities. However, the grave robbing was such a minor (and muddled) aspect of the book, the lantern really had a tiny role, and the title just doesn’t work for me. I actually have the ARC for another book in this series on my list to read soon (The Gray Chamber by Grace Hitchcock), and I’ll be very interested to see if the colorful title holds up for that one.  (See my review for this book.)

Have you read any of these? What would you add to the list?

Book Review: Smoke Screen

Smoke Screen
by Terri Blackstock

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

Brenna and Nate were high school sweethearts, a relationship that ended in heartache when Nate’s father was convicted of killing Brenna’s father. Soon after, Nate left town amid accusations that he’d burned down the local church. Fast forward almost 15 years, and Nate returns to town an injured hero, and Brenna is fighting a bitter custody battle for her two children. Nate’s father has been released from prison, but most people still believe he is guilty, including Nate. While Nate tries to reconnect with his father and Brenna tries to fight her own demons while also fighting her ex-husband, Nate and Brenna realize that their flame is still burning.

This book gave me all the feels…I got angry, I smiled, and I shed some tears. Nate was incredible, Brenna was all too real, and their relationships with God were presented in a very real, positive way. I am very glad that I read this book.

The book is listed on Netgalley as a mystery/thriller, but it really isn’t either of those. It’s more drama & suspense, with a heavy romance. Yes, the mystery of who killed Brenna’s father, as well as who burned down the local church, are addressed in the book, but they are some of the smallest plot threads, at least until near the end. One of the biggest arcs is Brenna’s battle with her horrid ex-husband. That was the part that had me angry. I won’t pretend that things like this can’t happen in real life, but the way it all went down was just…so aggravating. And because of this situation, Brenna was struggling with alcoholism, which was a heavy element in the book as well. But it was difficult to blame her, considering how she was being steamrolled into not being able to take care of her children properly.

The relationship between Nate and Brenna was one of the sweetest romances I’ve read in a long time. It was not about the physical, but purely about the emotional & historical connection between them. That Nate was able to look past the effects of her currently terrible circumstances to see the real woman, and gave her a lifeline when she needed one the most, while allowing her to build her own strength, rather than relying purely on him, all makes him one of my favorite male romantic protagonists ever.

The book was told in first-person perspective, but switched back and forth between Nate’s and Brenna’s points of view, which I found a little disorienting. Each time we switch, or even just when there’s a new chapter, we are clearly told who’s perspective we’re in, but I still had a difficult time with it. And I’m not sure there was really a good enough reason to do it this way.

I think that one of my biggest issues was with the predictability and contrivances that I noticed. One of the things that happened near the end I basically assumed had to happen, though weirdly, even when it did happen, it turned out to not be for the reason I thought it was necessary. And a few events were a little too coincidental, happening purely to make sure the plot went where it was supposed to.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I was surprised by how quick and easy of a read it was, and would recommend it to all fans of Christian drama, suspense, and romance.

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

Find out more about Smoke Screen
Publication date: November 5, 2019

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