Book Review: Final Chance

Finished Reading: Final Chance
by E.B. Roshan

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Suspense, drama

Final

Preen has just fully accepted that her husband, Rama, died at the hands of a rival militia, in the tumultuous city of Dor. But a late-night phone call with her husband’s voice on the other end prompts her to travel to the war-torn city, where she used to live with her husband and daughter. What follows is a dangerous journey that will force Preen to relive unpleasant memories and test old loyalties.

This is a difficult book to rate, and a difficult review to write. I didn’t really know what I thought of it as I was reading it, and I’m not sure how I feel about it now, over a week after finishing it. This is not to say that the story is bad, nor the writing. More that I didn’t feel much draw to the characters and had no real understanding of the theme or purpose of the story.

The biggest thing that I took away from it was a sadness for the Tur people who were being evacuated from Dor and forced to live in a refugee camp. The fact that they didn’t even seem to have a complaint about their living conditions seems to say that either they have already been living in terrible conditions so long that they’re used to it, or that their lives in Dor was so terrible that the camp was an upgrade. I’m not entirely sure which, but it still made me sad, considering that, though the setting was fictional, the situation is entirely too real.

The book is novella-length, so there is not a lot of depth in the world-building or characterization. On the former point, I wasn’t bothered at all. Once I got used to the melding of modern and primitive, I appreciated the way the author used it in the story. There were some allusions to culture and customs that made the setting feel real. For various reasons, I imagined the story to be taking place somewhere around the Middle East, but again, that is not specified. Regarding the characters, the history between Preen and Rama is basically empty. If I was meant to feel much at all about their relationship and whether or not Rama is alive, it’s very difficult when I know almost nothing about them.

I think the story is worthy of a good rating, but in the end, I think I am not quite the right audience for it. I’m not sorry I read it, however, and because my review may not be entirely helpful, I definitely suggest checking out what others have to say.

I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Loving a Rebel

Loving a Rebel
Glory, Montana #1, The Preacher’s Daughters
by Linda Ford

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

To avoid succumbing to a winter storm, Flora Kinsley and Kade Thomas are forced to spend two whole days alone together in Kade’s small dwelling. The year is 1884, and Flora’s dad is a strict preacher, who she knows will not take kindly to the circumstances. With her honor and reputation at stake, will Flora’s rebel heart be forced into a marriage she does not want, or will Kade be able to convince either of the two stubborn Kinsleys into an amicable arrangement?

This is a short, clean romance that hits the nail on the head in regards to a person of Flora’s personality–simply that forcing her to do something will only lead to rebellion and hardship. I’ve always appreciated a well-done story about two characters who are thrust into a relationship or marriage and have to learn how to make it work. That isn’t quite how this story plays out, but it was still a good read.

From early in the book, as Flora and Kade spend their two days together, it is clear that they are both completely different in the taking-risks department. Yet, they begin to learn from each other and minds and hearts are eventually changed. I really appreciated the depth we delve into the reasons behind why both of these characters are how they are, which I wouldn’t have expected in such a short space. One thing that bothered me, though, is just how stubborn everyone in this book is. No one is willing to bend when it seems like they have no reason to be so firm. The preacher annoyed me in particular, given the way he acted toward Kade even way past the point when he had any reason to treat him that way.

There is one particular character who seemed a bit over-the-top, which I think is because I sensed his inclusion as a simple plot-driver more than I normally would. In the end, though, I was a little amused by him, which is pretty strange, given how he acted in the book. There’s a large part of me that would like to hear more about him in the future–perhaps a change in perspective, maybe even a conversion.

There are points in the book that felt way too modern to me, given the time period. Overall, though, I enjoyed the story. It is the beginning of a series, which I do intend to continue at this point. I recommend this book to fans of Christian historical romances, and have high hopes for the rest of the series.

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Book Review: North and South

North and South
by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Classic, romance

I’ve seen the BBC mini-series of this book several times in the past. I even watched it once with my husband, who appreciated the way that both sides of the labor dispute are presented–both the good and the bad of unions. While I’ve had moderate success in enjoyment of classics in my recent reading, I decided it was time to read the book that inspired a mini-series I love. I’m so glad I did.

One of the things that was great about reading the book is that, as is usually the case with books that are made into movies, mini-series, TV shows, etc., the characters were able to have more depth. We get to read about their thought processes, the reasons behind their actions, which are more difficult to put across on screen. In the case of Thornton, it gave me a lot more insight into his feelings for Margaret. I really appreciated the way he treated her on her dad’s behalf, considering that he saw her as far too good for him and his dirty northern town. And sadly, she didn’t do anything to dispel that feeling.

That is the crux of this story, though, as both sides–the northerners and the southerners–tend to make assumptions about the other, sometimes only due to a cultural difference. Other times due to a shortcoming on someone’s behalf, or simply a bad day.

Unfortunately, I disliked Margaret more by the end of the book than I expected to. While some of the misconceptions are unfounded, she really was quite haughty and seemed even heartless at times, at least in regard to Thornton. As has been the case in the past when I read a book that I have already watched a screen version of, I can’t really say for sure if Higgins would have become such a favorite character of mine as he did, if I hadn’t first seen the mini-series, but I still really liked him in the book. One of my biggest frustrations was that Mr. Hale’s reason for leaving the church is never really expounded upon. I found myself wanting to be able to have my own opinion about how good or bad of a decision it was to uproot his family, but I suppose Gaskell didn’t think it was an important aspect to the story.

I do get why some don’t care for the story. Some compare it to Pride and Prejudice in both positive and negative ways, though I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. While I do sometimes want to sit both Thornton and Margaret down and tell them to stop being stupid and proud, I still quite enjoyed the book and recommend it for any who enjoys romance from this period, and for fans of the mini-series.

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Book Review: What You Wish For

What You Wish For
by Katherine Center

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

Wish

Sam Casey, librarian at a private elementary school, is one of many left to pick up the pieces when the school’s beloved principal and founder dies unexpectedly over the summer. But when she hears that Max’s replacement will be none other than an old crush that she remembers being an awful lot like Max, she’s partially excited for him to come, but mostly terrified that her old crush, which is really more like a full-blown obsession, for Duncan Carpenter will rear its ugly head and destroy the nice life she’s made in Galveston. So it’s kind of a blessing when Duncan turns out to have drastically changed since she saw him. A blessing that becomes a curse when he starts changing everything she loves about the school–everything Max built and stood for.

There was a lot about this book that I wasn’t able to connect with, like the hidden pasts of both of the MCs and Sam’s life-altering obsession with Duncan. However, I think it’s saying something that, even still, I enjoyed the overall story. The burdens and joys the characters went through felt real. Things didn’t fall into place easily–they were really worked for.

I strongly suspected Duncan’s secret based on the way he was acting; in fact, I’d imagine most would. But that didn’t make it any less heart-breaking when it was revealed. Sam’s secret seemed to pale in comparison to his, but I don’t think that’s really fair to her. However, considering the way she spoke and acted throughout the book, she greatly annoyed me near the end. I think that part may have been a bit overdone, but at the same time, I can’t say a real person wouldn’t have acted just like that. Trauma can affect people in a lot of ways.

Like with the previous book of this author’s that I read, Things You Save in a Fire, I liked the slow burn to the romance and the fact that it wasn’t so in-your-face as it so often is in these types of books. It was maybe a little bit anticlimactic at the end, but it didn’t leave me disappointed. For those who want to know about how clean a book is before reading–it’s light on language (but with a couple of f-words), and there is more physical interaction and description than I prefer, but not enough to make me too uncomfortable. (Not even to the detail of what I remember from Things You Save in a Fire.)

The overall theme in this book, as many others have mentioned, is the idea of choosing joy. While that theme didn’t really come up until the second half or so of the book, it is heavily focused on in that latter half (not in a bad way). Of course that is always easier said than done, as Sam herself makes clear. I have found that following and trusting God, the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), is the only way I’ve ever had true and lasting peace and joy. I appreciated the message here, though as a Christian, I found it a bit empty. This did not factor into my rating, though, and I do recommend this book for anyone looking for a sweet, goofy, mostly uplifting romance (I only say “mostly” because there is definitely some darkness along the way).

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

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Book Review: The Warden and the Wolf King

The Warden and the Wolf King
The Wingfeather Saga
#4
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy

wing 4

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

War has come to the Green Hollows and surrounding lands. King Kalmar knows that fighting the overwhelming forces of Fangs won’t be enough, though, and is determined to confront Gnag the Nameless himself. The Wingfeathers hope for a better future and a return to their homeland, but what will it cost to get there?

Again I find myself wishing I could say more, but not wanting to have to post behind a spoiler tag. The conclusion to the saga was at least as amazing, if not more so, as the run to get here. For a series that started a bit slow (not boring, but slow), the ensuing adventure, peril, emotion, and character development was worth every bit of the build up.

The character development throughout the series, and especially this last book, was realistic and even made me examine my own heart more closely. Though I have to admit that I don’t think Leeli had much development overall. The ending was incredible, and I never saw it coming. It left me in shock, and with the biggest book hangover I’ve ever experienced. I am already looking forward to when I re-read this series (which will probably be in September when the second half of the re-released books come out, which my husband already pre-ordered for me).

Keeping in mind that that this series is middle grade fiction, I’m going to share a bit of a story:

I read the first 2 books earlier this year, as ARCs for the re-release that will include all new illustrations and footnotes (the books originally came out 10 years ago). I remember thinking that my then 9-year-old daughter might enjoy them, but she likes reading in theory more than in practice, tending to start books and not finish them.

When Andrew Peterson started reading the first book live online during the quarantine back in March, she started listening with me part way through (she was usually outside playing when he read, and she didn’t have enough interest initially to stay inside to listen). By the time he finished reading book 2, she was hooked. She sped on ahead of me and listened to the audio books for 3 & 4. She loved them so much, she was desperate for me to read the rest so she could talk about them with me. She then proceeded to go back and read the first 2 books and re-listen to the last 2 books a few times. All in the space of a few months, by a girl who only halfheartedly read before this.

So to sum up, while the series itself is incredible–inventive, adventurous, emotional, even beautiful–the best thing about these books is that it gave my daughter and me something to enjoy together and discuss. Though we have to do it in whispers, because our enjoyment has gotten my husband’s interest piqued, and we don’t want to spoil anything for him.

Though I’ve been saying all through the reviews for this that the book is not overtly Christian–and it’s not–there was a message in this book that I really appreciated. And I just have to say that I think it’s okay to be jealous about someone else being allowed to literally directly encounter God, and you’re not invited. I can’t recommend this book enough to readers of all ages, and particularly suggest that reading it along with your kids, or even out loud to your kids, might just provide hours, days, weeks of great bonding time.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2014, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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Book Review: The Monster in the Hollows

The Monster in the Hollows
The Wingfeather Saga
#3
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy

monster

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness & North! or Be Eaten.

The joyful ending of the previous book only carries so far into the Green Hollows, where the residents are wary, to say the least, about having a Grey Fang in their midst. Even as his family defends him, Janner can’t seem to help but be afraid of his brother as well. The Igibys begin to try to make their home in the Green Hollows, but there is more danger nearby than just the little Grey Fang.

Though there were some slower parts for me in this book, as I wasn’t as interested in the school system in the Green Hollows, it was not nearly enough to detract from the rest of the book as an exciting, heart-filled addition to this series.

Looking back on it, most of what I’d want to expand on would be a spoiler, so I don’t feel like I can say much in this review. However, as the danger ramps up, the heroes learn more and more who they are and who they should be. And though there were some dark and gut-wrenching moments, I have so much anticipation for the finale of this great series. More importantly, my 10-year-old daughter has gotten into this series since I started it, and she LOVES it! In fact, she’s kind of obsessed with it. She’s not an avid reader, so I’d say that’s a huge endorsement.

I highly recommend this book, and the series so far, for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. And to restate from my previous reviews–you might see it labeled as Christian, and there are some references to a deity that many of the people believe in, but it is not overtly Christian.

On a technical note, I initially listened to this as an audiobook, which isn’t normally my thing. It’s narrated by the author, though, and he does such great voices and really makes the characters come alive. When I got a copy of the ARC, I flipped through to find all of the illustrations and extras that the re-release will have, and they are great too! Definitely worth having the physical copy when it comes out someday.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2011, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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Book Review: A Bride of Convenience

A Bride of Convenience
The Bride Ships
#3
by Jody Hedlund

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Bride

In the 1860s, women were shipped from England to Victoria, in what is now Canada, to become wives for the bachelors who lived and worked in the British colonies. Author Jody Hedlund imagines what might have happened to some of the women on those ships in her series The Bride Ships. This is book #3 of that series, though can be read as a standalone. Only a day off the ship, Zoe becomes the guardian of an abandoned infant. While a local pastor named Abe attempts to find the baby’s father, Zoe resolves to care for the baby herself. But single-motherhood is not only difficult, but nearly impossible in this untamed land. Through a misunderstanding, Zoe and Abe marry and then are faced with the difficult decisions that come from a hasty marriage of convenience.

Marriages of convenience have always been something that draw my attention, especially in a Christian setting. The story of Zoe and Abe and how they get to know each other, become friends, and hope for more, was sweet and captivating. If my rating were based only on that, it would have been at least 4 stars, maybe more. However, my lower rating is because of the physical lust that I had to wade through.

I’ll start with the positives, though, because outside of the physical stuff, or if I’d been able to skip over it, I really enjoyed the overall story. I liked both of the main characters as individuals, which seems fairly uncommon in romances I read these days. Abe had some issues being assertive (which I can relate to), but found a backbone when it was needed. Zoe was uncertain about her ability to be a “proper” pastor’s wife, but had a lot more actionable compassion than she realized. I was able to predict what happened near the end, but would have been pretty surprised about the way the rest of the story had gone if my prediction had not come true. I would actually like to see more of these two, as long as they can keep their physical desires about each other out of the narrative.

So obviously, the fact that Abe and Zoe are married through most of the book is going to involve some physical desires. And because they’re married, even though they’re still basically strangers, it’s okay, right? Sure, I don’t have a problem with a husband and wife lusting after each other, even if they’ve only just met, or if their marriage was not borne of love for each other. And I really appreciate the fact that they were completely respectful of each other, because, as Zoe herself observes, in the confines of being married, Abe may have felt he had the right to take whatever he wanted. But what did bother me was the near-constant leering. More specifically, it’s the fairly detailed descriptions of the leering that made me uncomfortable as I read. Just because two people are married doesn’t mean I want to hear the details of their love lives, lusts, or desires. Even Abe himself, in the story, finds himself uncomfortable in the presence of his friend and friend’s new bride, as they apparently made out in front of him a lot. Just because they’re married doesn’t mean we all want to watch them enjoying each other.

I’m sure it might seem to some like there’s no way around it, given the story presented, but I think that it could have been toned way down. And because this is a Christian book, which will be expected to be clean and okay for younger people, I wanted to make sure to mention this possible issue for others. To be fair, there’s nothing I would call explicit, but it’s about the closest I can remember reading in a Christian book. From the other reviews, it’s clear that I’m in the minority here, but as another reviewer stated, I would not allow my daughter to read this when she’s a teenager, and would be very uncomfortable listening to an audiobook of this with any members of my family around.

I hate to say this, because I do think the story was well-written. I have a feeling the other books in this series, maybe others by the author too, likely don’t have the same problem (I certainly hope not, at least). But I would have a difficult time recommending this book too widely. If you aren’t bothered by this kind of thing and enjoy Christian romance, certainly give it a try. But be careful where you’re reading it or listening to it, and please make sure to read it before allowing your teenager to read it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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June in Review

I read 5 books last month, which I’m happy with. Considering the month I went without reading more than a few pages a day (partly because of falling back into an online game black hole, and partly because the book I was reading when that happened was just not very interesting), I picked up a little more later in the month. I’m still not currently reading as much as I had been, but I’ve found a bit of a balance.

Here are the books I read in June:

The Tech by Mark Ravine (3 / 5)
A Soldier’s Promise by Laura Scott (3.5 / 5)
The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson (review pending) (5 / 5)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (review pending) (4.5 / 5)
Eye of the Storm by Ryan Stevenson (4 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC. My favorite book from June was The Monster in the Hollows. I finished 0 series, continued 1 series, and started 0 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.

Notebook Collection, part 7

This is the second half of my attempt to get caught up on posting about the newest additions to my notebook collection (which is really more of an obsession than a collection).

If anyone is interested in the previous posts as my smattering of notebooks became a collection and has grown:
Post #1
Post #2
Post #3
Post #4
Post #5
Post #6

notebook 5b

The story of this first notebook is a little sad. I recently read the entire Harry Potter series for the first time. Of course that opens up a whole new world of fandom merchandise to be interested in, which for me means notebooks. Though I prefer to shop for notebooks at stores, rather than online, I came across this one on Amazon (or maybe my husband did). It is not simply due to the fact that it’s from the series I’d recently read that I really liked it; it was also due simply to the overall look and style, being made to look like the Hogwarts letter from the very first book/movie. The seal has a magnet in it and keeps the notebook closed, and the cover is faux leather. And the best part is, like a LoTR notebook I got last year, what you see here is actually a book cover, inside which is a plain notebook with a cardboard front and back cover that can be removed when it’s filled, allowing this cover to be used again!

notebook 5a

Unfortunately, when the notebook arrived, it had a large sticker around the bottom of the cover. And when I peeled the sticker off, a lot of the adhesive was left behind and small bits of coating on the cover were removed with the sticker. I cleaned most of the adhesive off with Goo Gone, but the damage was done. Plus, the Goo Gone got into the material a bit and just would not come off, no matter what I used on it (trying to be careful not to further ruin the parts where the coating had come off). As you can tell from the bottom picture, it’s not too noticeable, especially if you don’t know where to look. I did contact the company that manufactures them, though, and strongly recommended that they do not put STICKERS directly on their notebooks.


notebook 6a

Let me mention now that, though I did like the Harry Potter series, I didn’t love it to the degree that this post may make it seem. But while either waiting for the other notebook to arrive or possibly while dealing with the sticker issue (I don’t remember the timing), I saw a boxnotebook 6b set at the mall that included the notebook shown to the left, a pen modeled after Harry’s wand from the movie, and the mug shown here too. I have a thing about mugs that appeal to me in some way too (though have far less mugs than I do notebooks), so it seemed perfect for me. I’ve used the mug many times (especially during the winter and early spring when I was still reading the HP books and it was cold outside).


notebook 7

This was an online purchase around the same time as the letter notebook. I stopped myself there, though, because I’m sure I could find so many notebooks in the the vast supply online (compared to in stores that I visit now and then) that I loved that it would bankrupt my family, if I didn’t put a tiny limit on it.

I love the nautical theme on this notebook with a leather-type cover. The anchor actually hangs along the spine, but I wanted to make sure it could be seen in the picture. And the wheel is at the end of a long piece of leather that wraps around the book to keep it closed.

While the outside has this adventure & travel feel to it, inside there is actually a 3-ring binder contraption, with plastic dividers that can be used to organize whatever you use the notebook pages for.


notebook 8aI’ve said it before, but I always love a good bargain on a notebook. My husband basically goes to every Goodwill store he passes, looking for uncommon board game deals (which he finds pretty often, actually). When I go with him, I generally look at the books for the same reason. Notebooks are much less notebook 8bcommon to find, for probably obvious reasons. But we did see this one, and though I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, my husband is. So he decided I should have this, and for $1, it’s not worth putting up an argument. I do like the style of artwork on it, so I’m not complaining. Besides, with how many notebooks that I have that are almost too pretty to use, it’s nice to have some that don’t give me that feeling.


While I’ve done a decent job this year in not buying a ton of notebooks (compared to before that), when my husband and I go on trips, we tend to find notebooks that I just have to have (I say “we” because he buys them for me, or pushes me to buy ones he can see I really like, at least as often as I decide to buy them myself). At the time of this posting, we’re on a week-long anniversary trip, so it’s very possible I’ll have more to share soon!

Do you collect anything related to reading or writing? Feel free to share!