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!

Top Ten Tuesday: Side Characters I Love

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is a freebie about love. I was going to skip this week, but then I hit on an idea. For my list this week, I’m listing 10 side/minor characters in novels that I loved. It’s easy to list main characters that I like, especially in books that I rated high. But something I always find fascinating is when I like a side character at least much as I like the main character(s). Even if the book ends up being one that I don’t love, I’ll always feel connected to that character. Here is my list in no particular order, because I couldn’t quite order them:

1. Levi Cobb from The Oath by Frank E. Peretti
He’s the town crackpot…talks to inanimate objects, preaches at everyone who comes to his garage, and talks about dragons. But really, he knows a lot more than people realize and is the only one in town with any real sense. And then he saves the day! (See my review for this book here.)

2. Dale of Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone
With his own troubled past to fuel him, Dale prods the main character to do the right thing. I don’t know if I would have loved Dale as much as I do if I hadn’t seen the movie before reading the book, as he was very well-portrayed by David Koechner. But even if that’s the reason, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s my favorite character in the book. (See my review for this book here.)

3. Matthew Cuthbert of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anne herself is a lovable character, but I really identified with her adoptive…father? Uncle? To be honest, I’m not real clear on how that whole thing worked. But this older gentleman is shyer than me, and that’s truly saying something. Yet, to watch how he fell in love with this little girl I really think I think was a huge part of what made me fall in love with the book.  (See my review for this book here.)

4. Walagash of The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr
The way Walagash treated Myrad, the MC, in a culture where people took care of their own and didn’t have much love for strangers, endeared him to me early on in this book. And as the story went on, he became like a father to Myrad, and I loved him more and more. (See my review for this book here.)

5 & 6. Berdon Wulf and Arcturus of The Summoner Trilogy by Taran Matharu
I tried to decide between these two, but I gave up and decided to include them both. Berdon is the MC’s adoptive father and provides much-needed strength and stability throughout the trilogy, when he can anyway. Maybe it’s because he’s a blacksmith like my own dad, or maybe it’s because the MC’s dad in my own book is also a blacksmith, but I really liked Berdon.

Arcturus is the kind and fair mentor who takes Fletcher, who is brand new to this magical world, under his wing somewhat. Even more, there’s a question about a familial connection that I won’t say any more about, because it ventures into spoiler territory. There’s a reason that the prequel to the series focuses on Arcturus, and I’m looking forward to reading it. (See my review for the first book in the trilogy here.)

7. Dr. John Francis of Thr3e by Ted Dekker
Dr. Francis was a professor (I think of theology), and the book starts with him and Kevin (the MC) discussing the nature of evil in man. As the story unfolds and the FBI agent is trying to understand what on earth is happening to/with Kevin, the professor helps her work through some questions. And he ended up playing a huge role in the climax that I really loved, which made it all the worse that the professor had no part in the climax in the movie version. (See my review of this book here.)

8. Arthur Weasley of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
I just finished reading this, so it’s fresh in my mind. While the HP books have a lot of interesting and lovable side characters, I found myself mentally cheering for the Weasley patriarch when he was so appalled by the way the Dursleys treated Harry near the beginning of the book. While the reader (and Harry) may accept their terrible behavior (because what else can we do about it?), Arthur gets to say to them what we wish we could.

9. Zander Cruz of Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell
Christians in fiction (in any medium) are often represented as overly preachy or as more depraved than the non-Christians. This associate pastor was a realistic example of Christians–he loved God and loved people, had a difficult past, and still struggled with his sinful nature as a pastor. Sadly, his status as my favorite character in the book slipped in the 2nd installment of the series, but I’m hoping to see him re-instated in the last 2 books. (See my review of this book here.)

 

Pithea cover, Kindle

10. Jonathan of Pithea by Kristi Drillien
I ran out of ideas after 9, so I decided to include one from my own book. Yes, I like all of my characters because I created them. But contrary to what some might think, I do have favorites. Jonathan is one of them. He becomes a good friend to the MC when she needs one most and is not afraid to call her out when she does something stupid. (See more about this book here.)

What side characters did you fall in love with? Link your own TTT post in the comments so I can see what you did with this week’s freebie!

Book Review: July Review

At the beginning of this month, I decided to devote more time to reading. Of course, in my case, based on how much I’ve read over the last 10 years, more time meant…any time. Over the course of the month, I read 6 books, which surprised me. But even more importantly (and more excitingly), I quickly rediscovered how much I loved reading. Two days ago, my husband saw where the bookmark was in my 6th book for the month and said, “You really are getting back into reading, aren’t you?” My response: “Yes! This is what I used to do, and I’m loving it!”

So while in my first post announcing this new feature (and hobby re-kindling), I suggested that posting about what books I’m reading would be a way to hold myself accountable, I know that’s not necessary. Now I’m just posting what I’ve read to share it with others and make my recommendations. But while I planned for this feature to be weekly, and thought it might even sometimes have to be filled in with something besides a review of what I recently read because I wouldn’t read fast enough, my reading pace has made me realize I’m quickly going to get behind in posting reviews.

My plan going forward will be to post on a Tuesday now and then to catch back up, because I can’t guarantee this pace will be consistent. For example, The Novice (a YA book that I enjoyed), I read in 3 days. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (an adult murder-mystery with a complicated premise) took 7 days. I’ve also been lucky to have had a quiet month, but I know that at times I will be too busy to finish books this quickly. So I’m not ready to completely move to a twice a week schedule, but I’ll stick in some extra posts to stay caught up.

Here are the books I read in July, only half of which have been posted about:
Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The Oath by Frank Peretti
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (review pending)
The Novice by Taran Matharu (review pending)
The Trials of Lance Eliot by M.L. Brown, a.k.a. Adam Stück (review pending)

The rest of these posts will go up in the next few weeks. 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: The Oath

Finished Reading: The Oath
by Frank Peretti

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian Thriller

The Oath

People are disappearing, possibly dying, in or around a small mining town in the Pacific northwest, and the the people in town seem to know what’s going on, but are unwilling or unable to talk about it. When an outsider dies, it opens up their small-town secrets to the rest of the world. The brother of the outsider who died starts to dig and uncovers a creature that he is determined to bring to light, but the town’s occupants won’t let go of their dragon without a fight.

The Oath has been my favorite book pretty much since I first read it, at least 20 years ago. Up until maybe 10 years ago, I re-read it just about every year. It used to scare me when I read it at night, despite how well I knew the story. Now that I’m getting back to reading regularly, I realized how much I wanted to read it again, and part of that was curiosity about whether or not its status as my favorite book would hold up. I’m happy to say it did!

I fully admit that the book could have been shorter, as there is a decent amount of description of old mining operations and mountain views that I generally skim, but overall, the book is a great example of a Christian thriller. It is also an allegory, which I think is important to realize while reading it.

Once again, by the time I was in the 2nd half of this book, I found myself caught up in the hunt and the excitement of what was happening. I did not have any issues reading at night though, so apparently I’ve either gotten used to it enough, or I’ve grown out of that problem. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and in a way felt like I was coming home as I read this classic favorite.

Find out more about The Oath

Up next: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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

Book Review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Finished Reading: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Mystery Thriller

(Recommended by amusing2write)
7.5 Deaths

Imagine coming to consciousness in the middle of a dark forest, mid-sentence, with no memories of who you are, where you are, or why you’re in the middle of a dark forest yelling someone’s name. That is how this book begins, and it only gets more interesting from there. The main character & narrator eventually finds out that he is going to relive the same day 8 times, and that each time, someone will die (the same someone). Only if he can solve the murder will he be released from doing all of this over again, wiped of memories at the start of doing it again.

I had my ups and downs with this book, but in the end, the ups did outweigh the downs. I’ll start with what I enjoyed.

The murder-mystery itself was intricate and well-planned. It kept me guessing throughout the book, especially in the later half, when answers were finally starting to come, yet kept being not what they appeared to be. No one is ever quite who they seem to be, even the people that you are certain couldn’t possibly be hiding something. And I really appreciated the way that the narrator’s different hosts contributed their own abilities toward solving the murder.

As the same day is being relived by the narrator, it reads a lot like a time travel story, as the narrator sees the same events happen over and over. The author did a good job with the continuity in this respect. There were a few things that confused me in this area, but they were intentional (not intentionally confusing, but intentional as in not a continuity issue). I can’t say more without giving some spoilers.

I was certain throughout the book that there would never be an explanation given for the greater mystery–who or what was behind the narrator being trapped inside the various guests at Blackheath, forced to solve a murder. A combination of some reviews that I read and my own assumption that this wouldn’t be explained, due to the why not being the focus of the story, led me to this certainty. I was pleasantly surprised to find that an explanation was given, and while I was still left with some questions when the book ended, a Q&A section at the back of the book clarified things. To be clear though–this wasn’t a cheat on the author’s part to leave out some information and fill in the blanks later. It didn’t bother me to be left with the questions I had–it was the kind of thing where the reader was left to infer their own answers, and it turned out I had inferred them correctly.

Here were the downsides to the book for me (as spoiler-free as I can be), which can be mostly chalked up to personal preference:

Early on, I struggled with how long it took to get into the mystery, and what was happening that seemed to be completely unrelated, or at least very different, from what the book was going to be about. Between the title of the book and the inside of the book jacket, I knew a lot more than I feel like I was meant to know, and grew impatient waiting for that information to be presented in the book. Even the name of the narrator is right there on the book jacket, but that information wasn’t given until at least 1/4 of the way into the book. I don’t think this is the fault of the book itself though, so much as the fault of the blurb and, to a lesser degree, the title.

The book is written in 1st person and present tense. It works well for the premise, but the downside to this is that certain events are a little too up-close and personal for my taste. This mainly relates to violence and death, but other situations as well. By the end of the book, I felt like I should take a shower, as the mustiness and decay of Blackheath and the alcohol- and smoke-covered guests is described so often, and in such intimate detail that at times it felt like I was swimming in it. I also didn’t care for the extreme way that the author portrayed one of the narrator’s guest’s overweight body, with such disdain, and not to mention as if the host could barely walk 10 feet without being out of breath. I was as thankful to be out of that host as the narrator was.

The last downside I want to mention is that I didn’t personally care for the author’s style. There was so much figurative language that, by the end of the book, I actually said to my husband, “I’ve read this sentence 5 times, but I can’t tell if something big just happened, or if it’s just a metaphor.” There is also quite a bit of description, so between that and the figurative language, the narration often bogged down the story for me. I came to appreciate the dialog, because it was much more straight-forward, but a lot of the story happens in the narration. By the last third of the book, though, I had started to skim the descriptions (how many different ways can you tell me that a new room we’ve entered is dirty, run-down, and dark?), hoping I wouldn’t miss anything important along the way.

To sum up, I did enjoy the book, and once I really got into the mystery, I found myself wanting to come back to it whenever I could. I would recommend it for people who enjoy mystery, especially those with intricate plots. I think many would struggle with the complexity of it though. I would not recommend it to my friends and family, however, as I think the violence and debauchery might bother them as much as, if not more than, it did me, so keep that in mind if you don’t care for that sort of thing.

Find out more about The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle*
*This is the US title. The book is elsewhere titled The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Up next: The Oath by Frank Peretti

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