I’d like to give a bit of explanation for my ratings in the reviews I write. I probably should have done this when I started rating reviews…but it seemed self-explanatory. Except my ratings are more nuanced than five stars=a spectacular book. I read a lot. Like, a lot. But just because I loved a book, doesn’t mean you will. And just because something bothered me in a book, doesn’t mean it will bother a single other person on the planet. A review is an opinion, and we all know what they say about opinions.

It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see a one- or two-star rating on a review here. Because if I think the writing is that bad, or I dislike the content that much, I won’t finish reading the book. (It took me years—most of my life—to embrace the freedom of not finishing a book that was a bad choice for me.) Writing is hard work, and I refuse to give a bad review to a book just because I don’t like it a bit. That’s disrespectful to the author and the work that went into creating the book. And, just because I don’t care for the book, doesn’t mean you won’t, either.

So, as a general guideline:
-5 stars means I loved the book. It might have a few issues, but I loved it anyway.
-4 stars means I liked the book, possibly loved parts of it. A solid read.
-3 stars means I thought it was good enough to finish—but there was something I
didn’t really care for (could have been a writing issued, could have been a character
I found annoying). The writing might have been superb—which I’ll mention—but if
the MC is whiny and annoying, that detracts enough that it knocked the rating
down.
-anything with a decimal number means it leaned towards the next number up (So,
the character was annoying, but not that annoying.).

Again, my reviews are my opinions. We don’t all have the same tastes or pet peeves or preferences. That’s what makes us individuals. If you think my 3-star rating is wrong on a book, please tell me why. Maybe your insight into the character I disliked will change my mind. Anything is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sundays are for Writing #83

This was a good writing week. I wrote three book reviews plus my Best Books I Read in July post. I did a couple of lessons in the Maggie Stiefvater class and wrote a short outline of the first chapter of the story I’m editing. And, I got in two fiction-writing sessions, so I’m happy with my writing this week.

Happy writing!

Book Review: Talland House, by Maggie Humm

talland house
Image belongs to She Writes Press.

Title:Talland House
Author: Maggie Humm
Genre: Fiction
Rating:  3.8 out of 5

Royal Academy, London 1919: Lily has put her student days in St. Ives, Cornwall, behind her―a time when her substitute mother, Mrs. Ramsay, seemingly disliked Lily’s portrait of her and Louis Grier, her tutor, never seduced her as she hoped he would. In the years since, she’s been a suffragette and a nurse in WWI, and now she’s a successful artist with a painting displayed at the Royal Academy. Then Louis appears at the exhibition with the news that Mrs. Ramsay has died under suspicious circumstances. Talking to Louis, Lily realizes two things: 1) she must find out more about her beloved Mrs. Ramsay’s death (and her sometimes-violent husband, Mr. Ramsay), and 2) She still loves Louis.

Set between 1900 and 1919 in picturesque Cornwall and war-blasted London, Talland House takes Lily Briscoe from the pages of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and tells her story outside the confines of Woolf’s novel―as a student in 1900, as a young woman becoming a professional artist, her loves and friendships, mourning her dead mother, and solving the mystery of her friend Mrs. Ramsay’s sudden death. Talland House is both a story for our present time, exploring the tensions women experience between their public careers and private loves, and a story of a specific moment in our past―a time when women first began to be truly independent.

I’ve never read To the Lighthouse, but I did enjoy this book. However, it’s very slow-paced, almost dreamy—which seems sort of appropriate for Lily and her artistic mindset. I feel like she was a bit obsessive over everything in her life—Louis, Mrs. Ramsay, painting, nursing—and a bit clueless, too. However, this was an enjoyable read, even if the answer to the mystery was anti-climatic and downplayed quite a bit.

(Galley courtesy of She Writes Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Friendship List, by Susan Mallery

the friendship list
Image belongs to Harlequin/HQN.

Title: The Friendship List
Author:  Susan Mallery   
Genre: Fiction, romance
Rating: 4 out of 5

Ellen and Unity have been best friends basically since birth, but they couldn’t be more different. Unity married her childhood sweetheart just after high school and became an Army wife, moving from base to base…until her husband’s shocking death in the line of duty leaves her a widow. Grief-stricken, it’s time for Unity to come back home to Ellen—the only person she can trust to help her rebuild her life. But Ellen has troubles of her own. Boys never seemed to notice Ellen…until one got her pregnant in high school and disappeared. Her son is now 17 and she’s wondering what to do with herself now that he’s heading off to college and he’s literally her entire world.

But now that Ellen and Unity are reunited, they’re done with their stale lives. It’s time to shake things up and start living again, knowing that they’ll always have one another to lean on. So they create a list of challenges they have to accomplish–everything from getting a tattoo to skydiving to staying out all night. And whoever completes the most challenges is the winner. But with new adventures and love just around the corner, there’s no such thing as losing…

The friendship between Ellen and Unity was so much fun to read—even when they fought. And I loved the fact that we got to see what the guys were thinking, too. That made everything much more interesting. Unity’s hanging out with all the older adults made the story charming, although her refusal to face reality was slightly annoying. This was a cute, fun read and I enjoyed seeing the characters grow and change.

Susan Mallery is a bestselling author. The Friendship List is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/HQN in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Hero of Hope Springs, by Maisey Yates

the hero of hope springs
Image belongs to Harlequin/HQN.

Title: The Hero of Hope Springs
Author:   Maisey Yates  
Genre: Romance
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

For as long as brooding cowboy Ryder Daniels has known Sammy Marshall, she has been his sunshine. Her free spirit and bright smile saved him after the devastating loss of his parents and gave him the strength to care for his orphaned family. Only Ryder knows how vulnerable Sammy is, so he’s kept his attraction for his best friend under wraps for years. But what Sammy’s asking for now might be a step too far…

Something has been missing from Sammy’s life, and she thinks she knows what it is. Deciding she wants a baby is easy; realizing she wants her best friend to be the father is…complicated. Especially when a new heat between them sparks to life! When Sammy discovers she’s pregnant, Ryder makes it clear he wants it all. But having suffered the fallout of her parents’ disastrous relationship, Sammy is wary of letting Ryder too close. This cowboy will have to prove he’s proposing out of more than just honor…

I haven’t read any of the Gold Valley series, but these are all stand-alones, so that was no problem. Solid writing here and vivid scenes, but the characters didn’t keep me engaged. Sammy is a very selfish person. She really doesn’t care how her behavior affects other people or if it affects them. She just wants to do and say what she wants and expects other people to just know that’s her free spirit. I didn’t care for her or her excuses and willful obliviousness at all.

Ryder was a lot more likable, but he’s just about as clueless as Sammy when it comes to a lot of things. Pretty rigid and inflexible when it comes to a lot of things, but he does try, so there’s that.

Maisey Yates is a bestselling author. The Hero of Hope Springs is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/HQN in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Lobizona, by Romina Garber

lobizona
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  Lobizona
Author:  Romina Garber  
Genre:     YA, fantasy
Rating:     4 out of 5

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.

This was quite an interesting read. Parts of it felt like I’d fallen into a dreamscape, parts of it felt a tiny bit clichéd, but it was original enough to capture my attention at the start and keep me reading.

It was probably the characters themselves I found clichéd—the mean girl, the brainiac, the hot athlete—but several of the other characters were unique enough to make this a pleasure to read. I did not figure out the big reveal ahead of time and I definitely want to read more.

Romina Garber was born in Buenos Aires and raised in Miami. Logizona is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Best Books I Read in July (2020)

How is it August already? This year…

In July, I read 27 books, bringing my total for the year to 187 books. I feel like most of those books ranged from “meh” to “solid,” but there were a few that were excellent reads.

where dreams descend

Where Dreams Descend, by Janella Angeles (review forthcoming). I really enjoyed this! It had a dark, lush feel to it, and I really had no idea what was actually going on, but I loved the vibrant characters and the creepy setting.

upset the world

Upset the World, by Tim Ross. I know there are a lot of different beliefs out there, and nonfiction and Christian books aren’t for everyone, but I really enjoyed this! Pastor Tim’s enthusiasm is so inspiring, and his anecdotes are hilarious. (The one about the carrot cake made me laugh so much.)

tipping point

Tipping Point, by Jimmy Evans. This is another book that’s probably not for everyone, but it was a fascinating read. Pastor Jimmy has been studying the end times for 45 years, so his insights are fascinating and his voice is casual and down-to-earth.

Book Review and Blog Tour: Someone’s Listening, by Seraphina Nova Glass

someone's listening blog tour

Someone's Listening cover_smp
Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House

Title:   Someone’s Listening
Author:  Seraphina Nova Glass
Genre:   Thriller
Rating:   4 out of 5

Dr. Faith Finley has everything she’s ever wanted: she’s a renowned psychologist, a radio personality—host of the wildly popular “Someone’s Listening with Dr. Faith Finley”—and a soon-to-be bestselling author. She’s young, beautiful, and married to the perfect man, Liam.

Of course Liam was at Faith’s book launch with her. But after her car crashes on the way home and she’s pulled from the wreckage, nobody can confirm that Liam was with her at the party. The police claim she was alone in car, and they don’t believe her when she says otherwise. Perhaps that’s understandable, given the horrible thing Faith was accused of doing a few weeks ago.

And then the notes start arriving—the ones literally ripped from the pages of Faith’s own self-help book on leaving an abusive relationship. Ones like “Secure your new home. Consider new window and door locks, an alarm system, and steel doors…”

Where is Liam? Is his disappearance connected to the scandal that ruined Faith’s life? Who is sending the notes? Faith’s very life will depend on finding the answers.

This one took me a while to get into. I almost stopped reading about 15% in because I didn’t like Faith very much. It ended up improving, but I still didn’t care for Faith. I felt like she was either just letting life happen to her, or she was making colossally stupid decisions that even she knew were a bad idea at the time. Neither of those things make me like a character, and if I don’t like a character, what’s the point in reading?

I think the mystery was well-done, with a nice red herring thrown in at the end. I didn’t figure out who did it, possibly because I was distracted by all my other guesses. In the end, this was a solid read, but yeah, still didn’t like Faith.

Seraphina Nova Glass is an Assistant Professor of Instruction and Playwright-In-Residence at the University of Texas, Arlington where she teaches Film Studies and Playwriting. Someone’s Listening is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Sundays are for Writing #82

I only worked Monday through Wednesday this week, and it was a solid writing week, even if it was only three days long:  two fiction-writing sessions, five book reviews, work in the Stiefvater class, and brainstorming on my planned revision.

Happy writing!

What I Read in July (2020)

Books Read in July: 27

Books Read for the Year: 187/200

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

Emma, by Jane Austen (classic). Re-read. Better than Sense and Sensibility not as good as P & P.

Upset the World, by Tim Ross (spiritual). I love Pastor Tim, and I thoroughly enjoyed this books. The bit about the carrot cake made me laugh so much. I feel that…

I Am David, by Jimmy Evans (spiritual). Really enjoyed this.

The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer (spiritual/TBR).

Lament, by Maggie Stiefvater (TBR/re-read). I forgot about Stiefvater’s penchant for breaking my heart with her characters.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman (TBR). Wow. I really enjoyed this! Ove was such a trip.

For Review:

haze

Haze, by Rebecca Crunden. Lots of normalized drug use in this one (like, it was treated as normal behavior), and the paranormal elements didn’t show up until 2/3 of the way through the novel, so it felt like a surprise shift,  but solid writing.

the rightfulqueen

The Rightful Queen, by Isabell Steger (review forthcoming). This was not a quick read for me and I hadn’t read the previous book in the series, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Someone's Listening cover_smp

Someone’s Listening, by Seraphine Nova Glass (review forthcoming). I did not care for the MC here—she did stupid things all the time and was almost willful in her ridiculous decisions—which means I usually stop reading. I actually finished this one, and it ended up being just an okay read, because of my character dislike.

lobizona

Lobizona, by Robina Garber (review forthcoming). Thoroughly enjoyed this magic/paranormal tale, although parts of it felt a bit cliched.

the friendship list

The Friendship List, by Susan Mallery (review forthcoming). This book made me laugh so much! I loved the main characters and their adventures and I highly recommend this!

lies lies lies

Lies, Lies, Lies, by Adele Park (review forthcoming). I seem to be encountering a lot of characters in the past few months that I just don’t like. Is it me…or is it people? Daisy was the most passive character ever, Simon was a horrible person, and they were just disastrous.

the hero of hope springs

The Hero of Hope Springs, by Maisey Yates (review forthcoming). Again, these characters were not my favorite. Sammy was unbelievably selfish and willfully clueless. Ryder was better, but still had some issues. An okay read.

here to stay

Here to Stay, by Adriana Herrera (review forthcoming). I have to admit, this book made me hungry! I enjoyed the cultural diversity in this—and the food descriptions—but the main characters were a bit erratic. Especially Rocco, who was most of the time very polite, respectful, nice…and then devolved into this x-rated character at times. It just didn’t make sense for him. The characters were either very professional and businesslike, or they were very casual and vibrant, but the separate parts of their personalities were never meshed, and that seemed off to me as well.

the dazzling truth

The Dazzling Truth, by Helen Cullen (review forthcoming). This was a very powerful, moving novel, and I’m not sure I can put it into words.

where dreams descend

Where Dreams Descend, by Janella Angeles (review forthcoming). I found this dark fantasy captivating from the very beginning.

child on his doorstep

Child on His Doorstep, by Lee Tobin McClain (review forthcoming). This felt a little rushed and several things were outside the realm of believability for me, but it was a solid read.

mina lee

The Last Story of Mina Lee, by Nancy Jooyoun Kim (review forthcoming). This had a leisurely pace and the main character (the daughter) wasn’t very likable, but this was a good read.

some kind of animal

Some Kind of Animal, by Maria Romasco Moore (review forthcoming). This was…frankly a little too far-fetched to me, and why were all the characters just not-nice people or not smart?

talland house

Talland House, by Maggie Humm (review forthcoming). I enjoyed this book, although it was a bit slow-paced.

Just Because:

Slow Dance in Purgatory and Prom Night in Purgatory, by Amy Harmon. Two quick, fun reads that I enjoyed.

Tribulation Force, by Tim LaHaye. Re-read.

American Dream, by Kim Harrison. Because I love this series, and Rachel gets in more trouble merely by breathing than I can even fathom. Also, Jenks.

Nicolae, by Tim LaHaye. Re-read.

Tipping Point:  The End is Here, by Jimmy Evans (spiritual). This was a fascinating read.

How to Study the Bible for Yourself, by Tim LaHaye.

Stopped Reading:

The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals, by Beckie Mandelbaum. I read about 30% of this before giving up. I had high hopes for this, but every last character was narrow-minded and actively despised/hated anyone with a different opinion than them. Look, people have different opinions. If you despise everyone who disagrees with you, you’re not a nice person. The conditions the animals lived in were horrible and Mona seemed to think that was fine (and she was hateful and condescending), and Ariel was completely selfish and mean.

 

Book Review: Upset the World, by Tim Ross

upset the world
Image belongs to Gateway Press.

Title: Upset the World
Author: Tim Ross
Genre: Nonfiction, Christian
Rating:5 out of 5

Following Jesus is not a safe course of action, it can upset your life and others. How does He do that? Through random acts of kindness, unexpected encounters, or a friendly stranger. Upsetting people can break down barriers and build relationships.

Pastor Ross teaches you how to:
Create a new ordinary of relating to others
Practice listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit’s voice
Learn how to do everyday evangelism
Love everybody (even people who disagree with you)
Change the way people think about Christianity

Upset the world with the message of hope and the love of Jesus Christ.

From the very first time I heard Pastor Tim speak—when he was still on staff at Gateway Church—I’ve loved his dynamic way of speaking. His presence is vivid and dramatic, and he dares to say what you’re thinking out loud.

This book is filled with stories and anecdotes of his experiences and he doesn’t urge his readers to take big leaps of faith—just the next small step forward in their everyday lives. His tone is conversational and relatable, and his love for Jesus and people shines through on every page.

Tim Ross is the pastor of Embassy City Church.