June in Review

I read 16 books last month, which beat my old record by 2 books. It does not beat my record for actual reading done in a month, since many of the books last month were fairly short. My daughter gifted me a month of Kindle Unlimited for my birthday, so I’ve been using it to get through the list I’d been collecting of books I can only read on KU (if I don’t want to buy them) as I can in a month. That list is mostly comprised of a couple of series I read back in the late 90s as a teenager and really wanted to revisit, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the trip back in time. I was also sick in the last couple of weeks and spent a few days just laying in bed, which allowed for extra reading time. What’s really impressive is that I managed to keep up with the reviews as well as I did, since for a week or so, between those shorter books and audiobooks, I was finishing a book a day. I’m caught up now (with only one that will get posted later) and have already slowed down on reading, due to work picking back up, even though I still have KU for another couple of weeks. Now my goal is to make sure to at least finish the 2 series I started in KU before the month is up and I have to wait for the next time I decide to buy a month.

Here are the books I read in June:

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes & Joe Layden (5 / 5)
Rabbits by Terry Miles (2 / 5)
Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (4 / 5)
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (5 / 5)
The Widows of Champagne by Renee Ryan (3 / 5)
No More Broken Promises by Angela Elwell Hunt (5 / 5)
Welcome to Vietnam by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
A Forever Friend by Angela Elwell Hunt (5 / 5)
Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu by Lee Goldberg (2 / 5)
The Compass by Tyler Scott Hess (2.5 / 5)
A Basket of Roses by Angela Elwell Hunt (4 / 5)
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (3.5 / 5)
Hill 568 by Ellen Emerson White (5 / 5)
Princess in the Spotlight by Meg Cabot (4 / 5)
A Dream to Cherish by Angela Elwell Hunt (review pending)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 6 re-reads. My favorite book from June was Project Hail Mary. I started 3 series, continued 3 series, and finished (or caught up on) 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.

*This includes 2 series that I did not reach the end of but decided not to continue reading, after being 2 books into the series.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. 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: The Compass

The Compass
The Adventures of Niko Monroe
#2
by Tyler Scott Hess

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian fantasy/sci-fi

It’s been a year since Jack’s unexpected adventure in the mind of Niko Monroe some time in the future, with no new rumblings from the map and letters that sucked him in. When new markings appear on the papers, he’s not prepared for what happens next to Niko and his friends, for whom a year has also passed.

Though I enjoyed the book that preceded this one, I had some difficulties with both storylines of book 2. There are basically two different stories being told—that of Jack in present time, hoping to complete a group social studies project in time for Christmas Eve and that of Niko dealing with a future where a specific group of people are heavily persecuted for their beliefs. In the present time, Jack and his friends are 11 years old working on a project where they’re supposed to create a people group complete with culture, language, etc. While it makes some sense for Jack’s glimpses into Niko’s life and the future world to influence his work on this project, it doesn’t influence him in ways that make much of sense to me. In fact, the kids’ discussion of the project doesn’t always make sense to me in general, and they seem to go around in circles a lot. These kids also talk and act far older than 11, and one of them is way too quick to resort to violence in response to even mild joking. Along with some other issues I had, it all led to me feeling really disconnected from this side of the story.

Unfortunately, I also felt pretty disconnected from the other side of the story too. Niko spends all of his time either in prison (sometimes the prison is plush, but it’s still prison) or on the run. But his counterparts spend a lot of time learning, doing, and acting. Then Niko hears about it after the fact in very vague snippets, as they are always hesitant to give him any real information. So the reader doesn’t really know anything either, until things are revealed near the end, which are too little, too late. It all felt a little too contrived to provide suspense, but mostly I just felt left out. And on that note, I was really hoping that the Maiden would not turn out to be who she ended up turning out to be, because it seems too cliche and I don’t really get it.

I think what I was really missing, though, was the “why.” I mentioned in my review of the first book that the beliefs the persecuted people are following is probably meant to be Christianity, but it’s not stated all that clearly. They reference the “King” a lot, but there weren’t even any references to God in this book, while the previous book had at least a few. In fact, the one thing from the previous book that had seemed to be God intervening turns out to have been an act of man! Essentially, the people in this book are being persecuted for not falling in line with the government more than anything else. They even state themselves that what they most want is just to be left alone, to be free. It’s usually a secondary statement that they would also want to share their beliefs with others. But what beliefs? Because I really don’t know what they believe other than that “the King” will guide their paths, even though it seems more like it’s the Maiden who’s been guiding their paths.

As is the case with so many reviews I write, it’s clear that there are plenty of other people who really enjoyed this book, so please be sure to check out their reviews at the link below if the book is of interest to you.

Find out more about The Compass

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!

Self-Publishing Spotlight: The Treasure Map

Do you like…

  • …portal fantasy?
  • …stories of rebellion against tyranny?
  • …people standing up for their faith?
  • …books that take place at Christmas time?
  • …dangerous adventure stories with a message?
  • …magical maps?

If you answered yes to 1 or more of these questions, consider checking out The Treasure Map.

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Jack is a 10-year-old boy ready for a joyous Christmas vacation, but as punishment for a poor report card, he is tasked with cleaning out his family’s long-forgotten attic. Inside, he finds a chest with a treasure map and a letter that transports him to another time, place, and existence.

Jack finds himself living the life of a young man named Niko, an enemy of the State of Ariel, a martyr of the Faithful, sentenced to die during the Independence Day celebrations. When an earthquake strikes, Niko finds the opportunity to escape, discovers a guide known only as the Elder, and teams up with a group of the Faithful to change history.

About Tyler Scott Hess: Tyler Scott Hess is a believer, writer, and author of the new novel The Treasure Map out November 4, 2019.

Trained in the business world, uplifted in the church, and dedicated to the craft of writing, Tyler has spent years sharing his thoughts on the world through an ever-increasing collection of novels, including the holiday classic, Christmas in Pineville.

Tyler grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where he graduated from Oregon State University, before moving down to southern California, where he also graduated from Calvary Chapel Bible College. After working, marrying, and beginning to raise three children, he moved back to Oregon with his family.

He is a lifelong disciple of Jesus Christ and seeks to emulate his favorite storytellers, such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Treasure Map was self-published by Tyler Scott Hess in November of 2019. It’s available on Kindle (and is currently on Kindle Unlimited) and as a paperback. You can read reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. Or see my review here.

March in Review

I read 11 books last month, which is a tie for the most books I’ve read in a month since I started reading regularly back in July. The other time I read that many was August, so before homeschool started back up. I honestly don’t know how I did it this month. Well, maybe I do. I’ve been staying up way too late a lot lately. Thanks to Goodreads tracking my books per month & pages per month, I can see that I read over 400 pages more this last month than I did back in August. That has a lot to do with reading the longest Harry Potter book in March…stupid bulky book… Overall, I’m pretty impressed by my reading volume last month.

Here are the books I read in March:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (5 / 5)
Home Song by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (4 / 5)
Stealth Retribution by Vikki Kestell (3.5 / 5)
North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (3 / 5)
Hope Is a Dangerous Place by Jim Baton (3.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun (4 / 5)
The House at the End of the Moor by Michelle Griep (3 / 5)
The Dandelion Killer by Wanda Luttrell (4 / 5)
The Treasure Map by Tyler Scott Hess (4 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from March was North! or Be Eaten (by a slim margin). I finished 0 series, continued 4 series, and started 2 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. 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: The Treasure Map

The Treasure Map
by Tyler Scott Hess

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian fantasy

When a bad report card leads to Jack spending Christmas vacation cleaning out the attic, the last thing he expected to find was a map and letters that magically whisked him away to another place and time. Suddenly he’s seeing events through the eyes of Niko, a young man who lives in a time when the Faithful are persecuted and even publicly executed in an annual celebration. Niko miraculously escapes this execution and then joins a group of rebels who are determined to expose the evils of the State.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this novella and found that I quite enjoyed it. By the time Jack had visited the other world twice, I was hooked and really wanted to know what would happen. I can’t say the characters were all that engaging, but to be honest, I didn’t really notice while I was reading it. It was a quick, enjoyable read.

By comparison, the “real world” became a bit dull and monotonous. Jack’s plight to clean out the attic was only made slightly more interesting by his inventiveness as he tried to get through it more quickly. But even that didn’t bother me too much, so it must have been less dull than reading about cleaning an attic sounds like it would be. I think the shorter length of the story might have helped with that.

On the other hand, the story in the other world became a bit rushed and muddled in the last quarter or so, so I think in that area, more pages would have helped. It lost a bit of its excitement for me because of this. And the ending was a little confusing.

I’ll just say a few things about the style and editing, which I don’t generally let affect my rating with a self-published book. I’m not saying that there is no burden of responsibility here, but it’s harder for self-published authors. There were some grammar issues, but for me, this area really came down to narration and tense. The first chapter reads like standard fiction–3rd person, past tense, seemingly limited to Jack. Then at the end, it becomes more omniscient, conversational. This crops up again one other place, but I think it would have been better if it had been more consistent. And in the other world, the writing is 1st person and present tense. But at some point in the second half of the book, I began to notice areas where it slipped into past tense. All of these things, and some of what I mentioned above, tell me that the book could have used a bit more editing.

None of that detracted enough from the book for me to not enjoy it overall, though. It was a real adventure and a cautionary tale. My guess is that the “Faithful” are meant to be Christians, but to be honest, the Christianity in the book is incredibly light. You could almost insert any real or fictional religion. And one more thing–before Jack even went to the other world for the first time, I noticed a couple of references to Calvin & Hobbes, in that Jack’s little brother’s name was Calvin, and there was a girl Jack’s age named Susie that was only really in the story to be the Susie Derkins of this book. I made a note to watch out for any hint of a tiger, to verify that it wasn’t a coincidence, and then it turned out there was a character later named Hobbes! (I thought it was great, by the way.) I would recommend this for fans of Christian fantasy & adventure books.

Find out more about The Treasure Map

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!

Top Ten Tuesday: My Spring TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is my spring TBR. I don’t choose books based on the season (except at Christmas time), but I do keep a short list of the next 5-10 books I want to read out of the longer TBR. In the 3 months since posting my winter TBR, the way that I choose my next few books has become more structured. I didn’t want to leave any books on the list too long, or leave a series sitting too long before going on to the next book. And I’m not a mood reader. So I decided that whenever my short list gets down to 5 books, I’d add 5 more to it based on specific criteria. Each addition of 5 will include:

1 book recommended to me by family/close friends OR a book that was self-published
1 book I own
1 book to continue a series
1 book that’s oldest on my full TBR list
1 book that’s an ARC, if needed (and it always is)

Based on past experience, the below list of my next 10 planned books should be approximately half of what I read during spring. (I don’t think the social distancing will affect how much I read by a lot, since I tend to stay home a lot anyway, and I already work from home, so don’t see a lot of extra time to read in my future. Note: I’m not complaining.) 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 Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
I read a bit of the Cat Who… series when I was a teenager and really liked them. Straight mystery was my favorite genre back then, but I’ve barely read any since coming back to reading. I’ve picked up 1/3 of the 29 books in the series over the years, from garage sales and bargain bins. It’s finally time to get back to my mystery roots, start at #1 (which I own), and go through the whole series.

2. The House at the End of the Moor by Michelle Griep
This is a Netgalley ARC. I read my first Michelle Griep book back at Christmas time and really liked it, so I’m looking forward to reading a non-holiday book of hers.

3. Landry Park by Bethany Hagen
When I first started to get back into reading seriously, before I built my TBR list up to even what it is now, I found this book at Half Price Books and decided to buy it, with no knowledge of it whatsoever. So this book is currently the oldest one on my TBR list.

4. The Outcast by Taran Matharu
This book qualifies as one that continues a series. It’s technically a prequel to a trilogy, but I’ve read the trilogy and don’t feel like it’s complete until I read this. So not only will this book continue a series, it will actually end a series for me, and let’s be honest–how often do we actually finish series we start?

5. The Treasure Map by Tyler Scott Hess
This self-published novelette is apparently a Christmas book, but I probably won’t have Kindle Unlimited for much longer, so I want to read it while I can do so with that service.

6. The Dandelion Killer by Wanda Luttrell
I’ve had this book since probably not long after it came out (2003) and read it a couple of times back then. Along with the criteria mentioned above, I also want to re-read at least 1 book a month, because I do have a lot of books I haven’t read in years that I want to read again and write reviews for and will ignore them if I’m not intentional about it.

7. Star of Persia by Jill Eileen Smith
This is also a Netgalley ARC, the story of Esther, who saved her people from extermination in Persia in around 486 BC. I’m pretty excited to read it.

8. Storm by Evan Angler
This is book #3 in the Swipe series. I wasn’t terribly excited with the series at first, but it really picked up with book #2, so I’m anxious to see what happens next.

9. The Wounded Spirit by Frank E. Peretti
I’ve had this book for a long time, but haven’t read it yet, even though it’s written by my favorite author. That’s probably just because it’s non-fiction, which I’m not usually very interested in. But I do plan to read it soon, checking off another book that’s been on my TBR for a while.

10. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
I’ve enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series so far, and I’m looking forward to continuing with book #3.

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