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The Top 5 Books I Read in 2019

Hello Friends!

2019 was the year of reading for me. I’ve always loved books, and there hasn’t been a day in my life that I’ve gone without reading, but around college โ€“ and for years after โ€“ published books kind of fell to the wayside for me. I read a lot of online works and while there are so many talented writers producing fiction (both original and derivative) for free โ€“ and I applaud their hard work and willingness to share their writing with the wide world โ€“ as an indie author I felt very strongly that I needed to support more self-published writers.

That’s not to say that I haven’t read traditionally published books, but indies made up a large portion of the 50 books I ticked off in the Goodreads reading challenge last year. There have been gems, there have been lesserly polished works, but it’s been fascinating reading them all, and I’ve loved re-discovering the wonderful world of books (particularly with the help of audiobooks, which I’ll cover in a future post).

Of course, my main goal as an author is to spread the joy of reading, so following are my top 5 books I read in 2019, the ones I think about often and treasure.

These books (a mix of traditionally and independently published) made me laugh, cry, gasp in shock, and relive some of the best moments from my childhood, and it is my hope that you all will read these and be as thrilled with them as I have been:


The Blight of Muirwood1. The Blight of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler
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Hands down, this was my favourite book of 2019. Somehow I stumbled onto โ€œThe Queen’s Poisonerโ€ โ€“ the first book in the โ€œKingfountain Seriesโ€ โ€“ early last year and fell headfirst into the worlds of Jeff Wheeler. A fantastic author who liberally peppers his work with underlying Christian themes (ร  la C.S. Lewis), I’ve read almost 14 of his books since that first one.

But the singular novel that has stuck with me is โ€œThe Blight of Muirwood.โ€ It’s actually the second book in the initial Muirwood trilogy, and though the prose isn’t as delicately refined as his later books, it’s the characters, story, and core values that stood out to me. I fell in love with the main character, Lia, and related to her so much. As I was listening to her story, her struggles became my struggles, her victories, my victories, her steadfastness to her convictions and beliefs, my steadfastness.

I truly believe this book will stick with me as one of my favourite books of all time.


Project Starfighter2. Project Starfighter by Stephen J. Sweeney
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This book nearly took the top spot. Science fiction is just as dear to my heart as the fantasy genre, and this is a true space adventure. I already wrote quite a long, adoring ode to this book in 2019, so I will copy portions of that below, and link to it here.

As a kid I played the game released by Parallel Realities over and over again. It wasn’t easy, as timed missions, heavy artillery from the WEAPCO ships, and literal minefields made completing it difficult at the best of times. But I loved the challenge, playing over and over and over, memorising the dialogue from the cut scenes, and falling in love with the characters โ€“ Chris, Phoebe, and Ursula.

You can imagine my excitement when I discovered that the creator of the game had decided to write a novel based on it.

I was not disappointed. Yes, the writing and dialogue could have been stronger in parts, and there were some disturbing events that happened to the characters that I could have done without, but overall, the story was well told. The novel greatly expanded on the world I’d been introduced to in the โ€œProject Starfighterโ€ game, taking us down onto the planets and interacting with the characters at a personal level.

The ending was fantastic and didn’t let me down in the slightest, topped off with a short, well crafted epilogue that brought me to tears. This book took me back to my childhood and teen years, and I got to relive some of my fondest memories while experiencing something new. I definitely recommend โ€œProject Starfighterโ€ to anyone who loves sci-fi, gaming, or both.

Suffice to say, another book that is going on the permanent favourites list!


Urban Heroes3. Urban Heroes by T. J. Lockwood
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The twist, the twist, the twist.

This book gutted me โ€“ not so much emotionally, but on a thematic and storytelling and structural level. It asks (and answers) such a huge question, one posed by media such as โ€œAlmost Humanโ€ and โ€œDetroit Become Humanโ€ and by the works of sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov. I can’t reveal it here, because that would involve ruining the near-perfect slow moment of revelation, but I hope that everyone who reads this book will feel the same wonder and shock that I did when I finally understood what the novel was saying.

And of course, the in-media-res start, almost non-stop action, excellent writing, and wonderful characters round out this absolute gem of a story.


Twilight to Son Shine4. Twilight to Son Shine by Jim McDonald
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This is a beautiful book of poems documenting the transformation of man from darkness into light. A few of them (“Depression” and “It Comes in Threes” in particular) really touched my heart.

I’m not usually much for poetry, but: 1. I’d recently read a story that changed my perspective on the purpose of poetry that put me in a more curious mindset, and 2. I had the great pleasure of meeting the author at a book fair, and his life story and genuine manner convinced me to give his works a try. I’m really glad I did!


Warmaiden of Arna5. Warmaiden of Arna by JT Archer
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This book was long โ€“ but the wonderful kind of long. From the very first pages I wanted to sink into the world of this story and never leave. I listened to it while riding my bike. I listened to it running the track at the gym. I listened to it while practising piano, and while driving in my car.

I couldn’t get enough of this book, and I can hardly wait to read the sequel.

 
So there you have it, my top 5 books of 2019! You can find the full list of stories I read and reviewed last year on my goodreads page, as well as the full reviews of each book I’ve mentioned above.

I’m so excited to dive into a new set of books this year, and in fact, have already started! I can hardly wait to discover some new favourites from fantastically talented authors in 2020.

Pick a book from this list, dive in, and happy reading!

ETJ.
 
View all my goodreads reviews

Project Starfighter Review

Hello Friends!

Thought I’d share my review of the book I most recently finished, since I was so excited about it.

Dreamer Project Starfighter
by Stephen J. Sweeney
Category: NA/Adult
Genre: Science Fiction
4.5 stars out of 5.


 

“The story was
a whole new world
that never forgot
where it came from.”

 

 

 


I’ve been wanting to read โ€œProject Starfighterโ€ for a long time.

As a kid I played the game released by Parallel Realities over and over again. Even then I adored stories set in space and the idea of one man fighting against an entire corporation to save the universe. The game wasn’t easy either, as timed missions, heavy artillery from the WEAPCO ships, and literal minefields made completing it difficult at the best of times. But I loved the challenge, playing over and over and over, memorising the dialogue from the cut scenes, and falling in love with the characters โ€“ Chris, Phoebe, and Ursula.

I even had a soft spot for the villainous Kline Kethlan, despite the fact that I spent months trying to beat the final mission the first time I played through it. (I played the game so much that eventually I was able to complete the entire story in one day, sans any kinds of cheat codes).

You can imagine my excitement when I discovered that the creator of the game had decided to write a novel based on it. I read the sample chapters years ago, enjoyed them and knew I had to buy the book someday.

I was not disappointed. Yes, the writing and dialogue could have been stronger in parts, and there were some disturbing events that happened to the characters that I could have done without โ€“ though not described in explicit detail, which I am thankful for, but overall, the story was told well, every plot point being set up and executed nicely. The novel greatly expanded on the world I’d been introduced to in the โ€œProject Starfighterโ€ game, taking us down onto the planets and interacting with the characters at a personal level. I also loved the fact that Ursula got her own viewpoint chapters โ€“ even though we spend a lot of the story with Chris, the novel would not work half so well without Ursula, and I almost felt that she carried the main story at times. The second-to-last scene with her was extremely satisfying, and I had a big grin on my face throughout it.

Another aspect of the story that went in a completely different direction than I was expecting was the introduction of Athena. She was such a soft and lovely character, contrasting nicely with her…military profession, shall we say (to avoid spoilers), and I really started to get really attached to her, and was genuinely upset when one of the other characters didn’t accept her as readily. The imagery around her was gorgeous as well, and the moment when she was talking about her namesake and her shield, spear, and helmet stunned me with how meaningful it was.

The direct references to the โ€œProject Starfighterโ€ game delighted me. The story was a whole new world that never forgot where it came from, and I found myself saying the lines out loud โ€“ lines that, as I mentioned above โ€“ I’d long ago memorised. Lines that came from confrontations with WEAPCO, the mercenaries, or Kline Kethlan, and I had to laugh at the โ€œHumans do it better,โ€ phrase, which was a cheat code for the original game.

The ending was fantastic and didn’t let me down in the slightest, topped off with a short, well crafted epilogue that brought me to tears. I’m not quite ready to let go of this world just yet โ€“ and since I still have the game, I don’t have to. Now when I play through it, I’ll have a new version of the story to accompany all the scenes and battles, making it richer and more immersive.

This book took me back to my childhood, my teen years, and I got to relive some of my fondest memories while experiencing something new. I definitely recommend โ€œProject Starfighterโ€ to anyone who loves sci-fi, gaming, or both. 4.5 stars for this truly fantastic escape into a different world.

See all my reviews


Happy reading!
ETJ

Dreamer Review

Hello Friends!

I’m so excited to see everyone here, and to present you with my review of Dreamer! (It’s also posted on Goodreads, so be sure to head over there and add the book to your โ€œwant-to-readโ€ shelves.)

I first came across Ja-Mel Vinson because of his ARC unboxing video that popped up in my twitter feed, and his genuine excitement and enthusiasm about his story caught my interest.

I also thought the cover was really neat and conveyed an air of mystery and wonder, so when an opportunity came along to review Vinson’s novel, I jumped at the chance. I feel that reading this book has given me a better understanding of Vinson’s brand as an author, and re-introduced me to a genre I’d almost forgotten about.

You may have noticed the picture that accompanies this review โ€“ in one of my livetweets from my reading sessions, I said that I hoped people would be eager to cosplay Vinson’s characters, and since I dabble a bit in the art myself, I thought I might as well lead the charge on that one. I had a lot of fun putting this together, so without further ado, let’s get to my thoughts about Dreamer.

Dreamer Dreamer by Ja-Mel Vinson | Category: NA/YA
Genre: Urban Fantasy
(Age range 14โ€“25)
3.5 stars out of 5.

ja-mel-vinson

**Note: I received an ARC for this blog tour that in no way influenced my honest review**

โ€œDreamerโ€ tells the story of Maya, a young adult whose troubling dreams begin to unfold in reality just as she embarks on her college adventures. Soon she discovers long buried secrets and a host of dangers that affect the lives of everyone she cares about, and in the middle of it all is the mysterious Lucent, whom Maya feels strongly compelled toward, for reasons she doesn’t understand.

I did like this novel. The opening of the story definitely grabbed my attention, and though I’m not a huge fan of first person POV, in this case that actually helped me to sink into Maya’s perspective and really believe the story was being told by a young lady and not the male author.

For the first six or so chapters, I had a hard time connecting with the story, particularly because of the rather high stakes presented with very little build up, but when the corset dresses were introduced, things began to click into place for me, and I realised that with its large cast of strong female characters, sparkly transformative powers, and animal companions that are more than they seem that “Dreamer” falls into the same category as “Cardcaptor Sakura,” “Tokyo Mew Mew,” or “Sailor Moon.” I felt like I was reading an anime in novel form, and that was only reinforced more and more as the book went along. Once I was able to visualise the novel in that way, the rest of the book made a lot more sense, as the storytelling tropes and plot devices of the genre sometimes referred to as โ€œmagical girl animeโ€ rely on a set of very different rules that are not typical to your average western YA novel.

I very much enjoyed all the strong friendships the characters have, and the underlying mystery surrounding Lucent helps drive the story and keep it interesting. There are a few big plot twists and key events that Vinson pulled off nicely, and the way “Dreamer” ended was quite well done. For a story that foreshadowed rather a lot, and explained even more, I still found myself pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t quite predicted how everything would turn out.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the writing. “Dreamer” has good, clear prose interspersed with more poetic lines that demand attention without tipping into purple prose. It’s very easy to imagine what the characters look like, and my favourite bit of description comes from Chapter 10:

โ€œThe moon moved with its star-servants but remained higher and closer and larger to the eye. Atop its stellar seat, it commanded attention while clouds grew and shrank like animals bound by a leash. The moon was the ringleader, wielding power over everything, presumably even the bestial and elongated vapors that drifted ahead of it.โ€

(As an aside, having read the story, the cover is very symbolic of quite a few different events that happen, and I can see why Vinson is so thrilled with it.)

The one thing I was curious about was how the Tri-Curve looked, and upon reaching out to the author, he kindly provided me with a graphic which greatly helped to visualise it properly, and I’ve included my stylised version of it in this review:

Now, the world of Dreamer is similar to ours, but also quite different, with a large set of internal rules and in-depth history, and because of this, there is a lot of exposition to explain how everything works. At times this really slowed the pace of the story, and dragged out scenes longer than they needed to be. At some points, explanations are included very organically in the story, through training sessions, or information presented in class through learning games, but at other times, the story would be progressing, a new element would be introduced, the plot would pause as Maya reflected on it, and then the story would resume. For me, this resulted in uneven pacing that lacked urgency, especially when new expositional information continued to be introduced near the end of the story.

Overall pacing was also a little stilted, and I felt like the story really began once we reached chapter 12, which made the preceding chapters feel like backstory, or at least story arcs that could have been told at a later point to preserve the forward motion of the narrative. (Not that the novel ever came to a standstill, but sometimes I felt as if it were in slow motion.) I often felt that I was waiting for the plot to really kick in. Because of this, my actual rating for โ€œDreamerโ€ comes to a 3.5, although I am giving it 4 stars since I don’t believe the quality of the novel merits only a 3, and there’s no option for including half star ratings.

All in all, I think this book is something 14-16 year me would have loved, given my (somewhat concerning) obsession with anything anime at the time, and I don’t doubt that other teens and young adults will enjoy it and relate to the characters and their friendships and conflicts. I’m looking forward to what Vinson produces next, and believe that his storycrafting can only continue to advance.

See all my reviews


(So there you have it, my review of Dreamer by Ja-Mel Vinson. I wish him much success with the launch of his debut novel, and many thanks to Shealea for making this whole blog tour experience very smooth and easy to navigate. (Launch post and other bloggers on the tour here.)

Don’t forget to join in on twitter March 2nd, 2019 for a live chat regarding Dreamer, and a chance to win a signed ARC of the novel!

 

 

Happy reading!
ETJ

7 Swashbuckling Tales Celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Yo, ho, ho, me hearties!

In honour of โ€œInternational Talk Like A Pirate Dayโ€ below be ye finding a treasure filled list of me favourite pirate tales for me second lot of themed book recommendations. Plunder yer local library or bookstore for 1, 2 or all of these outrageous yarns, an’ be swept away on the tides of adventure!

ARRR!


The Pirate Meets the QueenThe Pirate Meets the Queen by Matt Faulkner | All ages
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This exciting tale tells the story of the real life Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley who was a feared corsair all her life and respected by everyone she met โ€“ even Queen Elizabeth!

Born in Ireland in the 1500’s, Grace quickly carved out a reputation for herself that was unmatched in that part of the world for centuries. Readers will delight in the captivating true story paired with stunning illustrations that bring to life the seas of 16th century Ireland in vivid detail.


Peter PanPeter Pan by J.M. Barrie | 3-4th Grade+
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Everyone remembers the fearsome Captain Hook from this timeless tale. Without his relentless pursuit of Peter the fantastical world of Never-Never Land wouldn’t be half so captivating.

A menace to Lost boys, Indian girls, and his own crew alike, the only two inhabitants not afraid of Hook are Peter…and the hungry crocodile.


The Legend of LukeThe Legend of Luke by Brian Jacques | Ages 10+
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Beloved children’s author Brian Jacques delivers a superb tale of mystery and heartbreak told through the eyes of Luke, the father of the Infamous Martin the Warrior of Redwall Abbey.

After losing his tribe to a vicious Pirate Captain, Luke makes it his life’s mission to right the wrongs done against him and gathers many steadfast companions along the way.

(A great many of the Redwall tales also feature pirates โ€“ “Mariel of Redwall”, “Triss”, and “The Pearls of Lutra” are 3 notable stories in the series.)


Treasure IslandTreasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson | Ages 10+
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The quintessential pirate tale, this epic classic has it all: mystery, intrigue, double crossing, pirates, a long forgotten secret, swashbuckling action, and most important of all โ€“ buried treasure!

Join young Jim as the ransacking of his mother’s inn plunges him headfirst into a dangerous and thrilling world that he must navigate expertly โ€“ or perish.


Tedenbarr of Have LathTedenbarr of Have Lath by Esther T. Jones | Grades 6+
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Tedenbarr might have journeyed safely to the Eastern Kingdom and back, missing out on the adventure of a lifetime if the Black Sailed Pirates โ€“ absent for 15 years and suddenly returned, hadn’t attacked and sunk the cargo ship he was on.

As he makes his way home after his narrow escape from their deathly clutches, Tedenbarr hopes to stay clear of their destructive path โ€“ but no one can outrun the Fraecana forever…


One PieceOne Piece by Eiichiro Oda | Ages 12+
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A charming & hilarious – often brash, sometimes heartbreaking, but always dramatic – saga, this manga hailing from Japan tells the story of Luffy, a pirate boy with a stretchy rubber body, whose aim is to enter the Grand Line, reclaim Gold Roger’s hidden treasure known as One Piece, and become king of the pirates.

Along the way, Luffy collects a staunch cohort of friends and allies who never fail to fight by his side against the corrupt navy and the evil pirates of the high seas.


Under the Jolly RogerUnder the Jolly Roger by L. A. Meyer | Ages 12+
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The third in a meaty 12-book series, Under the Jolly Roger follows Mary โ€œJackyโ€ Faber’s adventures as she is dubbed a pirate, loses the love of her life to another, classier girl, and becomes captain of her own ship before half the book is through.

Leaving her past behind won’t be easy, but Jacky must do it if she is to embrace her destiny, and truly become the woman she is meant to be.

(A note to parents โ€“ although the publisher’s suggested audience is middle school ongoing, the themes and subject matter of the series might best be suited to 10th โ€“ 12th readers and up.)

View all my goodreads reviews

5 Great Thought Provoking Books About Freedom

Hello Friends!

Welcome to the first in a series of theme based reading recommendations. Whether you’re reminiscing over old favourites, or looking for something new to add to you or your family/friend’s bookshelves, the books mentioned below are sure to delight and entertain.


Twice FreedTwice Freed by Patricia St John | Grades 3+
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A captivating tale that follows Onesimus, the unrepentant slave of Philemon, who doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about this โ€œgospelโ€ that’s come from Israel. Afterall, if his master is a new, better person now, shouldn’t he free Onesimus?

A wonderful story based around real biblical figures, “Twice Freed” should be on every child’s bookshelf.


Molly BannakyMolly Bannaky by Alice McGill | All ages
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Set in the early days of Colonial America, this beautifully illustrated children’s storybook explores the past of indentured servitude that brought Molly (the grandmother of the renowned Benjamin Banneker) to America where she met the kidnapped African prince who became her husband.


The circle of shadowsThe Circle of Shadows by Jenny Robertson | Ages 8+
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A masterfully written story, short yet breathtaking in theme, scope, and prose, “The Circle of Shadows” is about a young Gaelic boy captured by the Romans and thereby brought into the hearing of the truth of the gospel.

Although he never forgets his homeland, Dercc comes to realise that the dark arts practiced by the druids are the true chains binding his people, and the freedom he so desires is not physical but spiritual.


Tedenbarr of Have LathTedenbarr of Have Lath by Esther T. Jones | Grades 6+
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Tedenbarr has been a slave all his life, but when the opportunity unexpectedly arises for him to seize his freedom, Tedenbarr finds himself caught between the taste of a life he’s never had, and the friends he will have to leave behind if he pursues this sudden turn of good fortune.

As he wrestles with this dilemma, Tedenbarr finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime, new adversaries and allies alike appearing at every turn.


Ben-Hur: A Tale of the ChristBen-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace | Grades 7+
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This list wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include the classic, โ€œBen Hur.โ€ Revolving around Judah, a young Jewish man living during the time of the new testament, the story takes us on a fantastic journey of love, betrayal, and redemption.

(More interesting still is that the author starting working on the book almost as a mental exercise, and ended up professing faith during the writing of it). The galley scene aboard the roman ship was masterfully depicted on film in the 1950’s, and serves as a powerful reminder of both the cruelty and kindness of men.

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