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!

Ultimate Book Tag

I took these questions from a post on Kitty Marie’s Reading Corner and had a lot of fun answering them. It seemed fitting after getting back into reading as heavily as I have.

1. Do you get sick while reading in the car?
Unfortunately, yes, reading, looking at a phone or tablet, etc. can give me a headache and make me queasy. It didn’t used to; I don’t know what changed.

2. The Harry Potter Series or The Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer
Well…I haven’t read either, or watched movies from either. But I have put the first Harry Potter on my TBR list, while I still have no particular desire to read Twilight, so…I guess there’s your answer.

3. Do you carry a book bag? If so what is in it?
I don’t, but in the right situation, I do put a few books into my Handbag of Holding, usually whatever I’m currently reading (if it fits), and at least one notebook.

4. Do you smell your books?
All the time. Though even more than that, I smell my notebooks a lot, especially now that I’ve organized them in a location closer to my computer, and especially those that have leather or wood covers or cotton pages.

5. Books with or without illustrations?
I haven’t read a lot of books with illustrations, but I wouldn’t be adverse to them. I often have a difficult time understanding descriptions, so images can’t hurt.

6. What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing?
I really hate to say this, because this series was a big deal to me growing up, and I’ve collected some of them as an adult, in the hopes of getting my daughter to love them too, but I have realized that the Mandie series by Lois Gladys Leppard have a lot of issues, both in the plots and characters, and in the writing itself.

7. Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!
I remember writing school subject names on the front of some of my books and pretending to teach school with them. I still have a few, one with “Spelling” written on it, for example.

8. What is the thinnest book on your shelf?
It’s technically my own novelette, The Triangle. Not including my own though, it’s Tilly by Frank E. Peretti.

9. What is the thickest book on your shelf?
These 2 questions are difficult to answer, because my books are spread across several bookshelves (not because I have so many, but because our books take up a shelf or two on a bookshelf with movies, on a bookshelf with my daughter’s books, on a bookshelf with my writing stuff, etc. But as far as I can tell, excluding multi-book volumes (because that’s just not fair), I think it’s The Visitation, also by Frank E. Peretti.

10. Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future becoming an author?
I do write, to which this blog is a testament. I have published a novelette and am working on a series of speculative fiction books.

11. When did you get into reading?
I was reading as early as I can remember. In first grade, I went to a second grade class for reading. Though I stopped for a while, getting back into it has been like coming home again.

12. What is Your Favorite Classic Book?
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (just fyi though, I have not ready many classics).

13. In school was your best subject English or another Language Arts subject?
It was one of my best. That and math subjects. I did well in English, though to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it that much. Especially the part about picking apart everything we read for theme, symbolism, figurative language, etc.

14. If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated, what would you do?
If it had been a while since I read it, I’d probably keep it to re-read it and see if my feelings had changed. If I’d read it recently…I’d probably keep it for a while and eventually decide to donate it or give it away.

15. What is a lesser known series that you know of that is similar to Harry Potter or The Hunger Games?
The Summoner trilogy, of which I’ve recently finished book 2, reminds me of Harry Potter, though as mentioned above, I’ve not read Harry Potter yet.

16. What is your favorite word?
Surreptitious

17. Are you a Nerd, Dork, or Dweeb? Or all of the above?
I don’t really know…maybe more of a dork than the other 2?

18. Vampires or Faeries?
I’d say neither, but I’m a Buffy/Angel fan. I’m not a vampire fan in general though.

19. Bookmark or Random Piece of Paper?
Bookmark if at all possible, and so far, I’ve managed to keep 2 of the 3 bookmarks I bought over a month ago. If the other 2 disappear though, it’ll be back to random pieces of paper again for a while.

20. Love Triangle or Forbidden Love?
Forbidden love. Love triangles just make me sad, especially if I care at all about the characters involved.

21. One book at a time or several books at once?
Usually one at a time. If a book is uninteresting enough for me to not want to keep coming back to it as much as I can, I might start another one along the way, but most of the time, I stick it out with one.

22. Can you stop reading at any part of the book or does it have to be the end of the chapter?
Any part is usually fine. In fact, stopping at the end of a chapter brings the potential of being at a cliffhanger, which isn’t an easy place to stop either!

23. Do you write in your books?
I don’t think I ever have before. I even have a hard time underlining or writing notes in my Bible.

24. Can you read while listening to music or watching TV?
Maybe lyric-less music, but even that can distract me, so usually, I prefer quiet. Though I may soon try out using coffitivity.com with my reading like I do with my writing. It may help me block out sounds of people going about their lives around me, though to be honest, as long as I’m not being directly addressed, or the sound is not loud or persistent (or strange), I can usually ignore it.

25. Do you read out loud or silently in your head?
In my head. When I read out loud, I actually have a very difficult time understanding what I’m reading.

BONUS QUESTION: Physical book, e-book or audio book?
By and large I prefer physical books, both for the feel, the look, the sense of tradition, and the smell. I’ve recently realized the benefits of reading on my Kindle, because of the potential for hands-free reading, so that’s a good alternative. I avoid audio books as much as possible, because I have a difficult time focusing on the words, and then end up lost. There’s also the fact that when I’m reading, I often go back in the book to remember a character, or a scene that is referenced later but didn’t stick out in my head at the time, or even in some cases, to go back to a scene that I find out later had a lot more going on in it than I realized at the time, and I want to re-read it with a new understanding. (I did this so much with one particular time-travel book that I ended up bookmarking the earlier section so I could find it again easier.) Anyway, with audio books…well, all of that is a lot harder to do.

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!

Book Review: Things You Save in a Fire

Things You Save in a Fire
by Katherine Center

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Women’s fiction, romance

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Multiple events conspire together to cause Cassie Hanwell to move away from the city in which she’s just received an award for her service as a firefighter to a new city where, she’s told, they don’t even think women should be firefighters. But Cassie has taught herself how to overcome almost anything–by keeping emotions and feelings at bay and always following a schedule and a plan. This method serves her well, but also poorly, in her new life. A very strained relationship with her sick mother and a crush on the rookie at her new fire station both lead to changes she could never have expected.

This book was a fun read for me, and I think it is interesting that it isn’t quite as much of a pure romance as I thought it would be. The romance is a key factor, but it’s not the only factor. Other important elements include recovering from past trauma (or lack thereof), mother-daughter relationship (focusing on abandonment of the daughter), surviving in a not-entirely-friendly workplace, and most of all, forgiveness.

I really liked the fact that the book had that last angle in it, because I think it’s something that many people don’t really take the time and effort to try to do. The book may have taken a fairly simplistic approach, but for what it was, I appreciated it.

There are a lot of tropes wrapped up in Cassie, but at the same time, she had some traits that I really connected with. For example, I watched as she pushed another character away, and then was truly disappointed that the other character left. She wanted this person to push harder to reach her, help her, get her to open up, whatever, even while at the same time knowing that she would never let that person in. I am like that as well, especially with my husband, though with his help, I’ve identified it and am working on it.

One thing that bugged me throughout the book was Cassie’s mother. I had a really hard time sympathizing with her, for reasons that I won’t explain, because it would broach spoiler territory. But in the end, I decided that I didn’t have to agree with Cassie’s assessment of her mother or the situation. It wasn’t my mother, so I just let it be.

The ending had a few wrap-ups that were a little strange to me, but I enjoyed the book overall. I recommend it to fans of romance, especially those where the romance isn’t quite so in-your-face.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review!

Find out more about Things You Save in a Fire

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!