Book Review: The Indebted Earl

The Indebted Earl
Serendipity & Secrets #3
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

When her fiance Rich succumbed to injuries sustained near the end of the war between France and her home country of England, Lady Sophia Haverly did not not expect to ever fall in love and marry someone else. Instead, she would continue to care for her elderly almost-mother-in-law, who developed a strong desire to return to the seaside, where she’d grown up. She finds assistance in this endeavor in the form of Captain Charles Wyvern, close friend of her late fiance, who tells her that Rich died saving his life, leaving him indebted to helping Sophia however he can. The captain, while desperate to head back out to sea, has his own reason for going to the coast–his uncle has just died, and he’s inherited the estate and title of earl. When he finds that the estate is in bad shape, not to mention the three young girls he’s inherited as wards, he seeks help from the young woman to whom he owes a great debt.

The third book in the series stands as tall as the first two. I loved how the captain was so out of his element on land, while Sophia equally did not take to the sea very well. The three girls, aged between 5 and 16, added a layer of life to the story that all worked together so well. Sophia, not much older than the eldest girl herself, found herself in the role of mothering the kids simply because she fell in love with them so quickly. And her relationship with her late fiance’s mother-in-law, Mamie, as well as Mamie’s relationship with the three wards, made this book about so much more than the main romance.

In fact, my biggest frustration with the book was the repetitiveness that came with Sophia starting to let herself move on from her loss. She kept sort of chastising herself for holding another man in high esteem and possibly wanting more from that, always ending with a question of whether that was how it should be or not. This may be completely realistic, but the repetition wore on me just a bit. That’s pretty much where the half point rating detraction came from. On the other hand, 5-year-old Betsy’s attachment to the captain’s hat is wonderful!

Here at the end of the series, my favorite character overall has been Marcus Haverly. He also played the most significant role throughout, being the male lead in the 2nd book, while also having decent roles in the first and third. I love that his alter ego gets to play a role in all three books, too, and wish Erica Vetsch would somehow write a little more about him (maybe a short story in which Sophia and Charles learn of his former occupation?).

While I found parts of this story predictable, and one particular part far too convenient, I loved it overall. It’s a great ending to a great series, which I highly recommend to fans of Christian romance, historical or otherwise, and fans of Regency romance. And if you do plan to read these books, or already have, make sure you also look into the book Joy to the World, a collection of 3 novella-length Christmas stories. Vetsch’s contribution to that book takes place directly after this third book in the series and ties up the story of a character that has been involved in the series.

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

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Book Review: Wives and Daughters

Wives and Daughters
by Elizabeth Gaskell
read by Nadia May

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic Victorian literature

When 17-year-old Molly Gibson’s long-widowed father remarries, she gains a step-mother and step-sister, the latter of which is near her age. However, she now has to share her father and defer to her new mother, both things that are completely foreign to her. There are some clashes beyond that, though, as step-sister Cynthia, who becomes Molly’s dear friend, is keeping secrets that will shock the entire town of Hollingford. As Molly matures into a woman, she befriends the Hamley family with their two young, eligible sons, and Lady Harriet, much to the chagrin of Molly’s new mother.

This book is long, originally written as a serial of shorter parts for publication in a magazine, and it does tend to meander a bit, without seeming like there’s much of a central plot at first. However, once things pick up a few chapters in, I found almost every bit of it interesting, even if it didn’t seem to add to a main plot. There are so many things happening, probably because the story was meant to be more of a snapshot of everyday life at the time, rather than a single, solid novel. Yet with all of that, I was never bored (well, maybe when someone’s style of dress was described or when Molly’s step-mother Hyacinth’s thoughts about someone or something was explained). I think that is mostly because the characters were so well written, I enjoyed following them through this life they were living. I really liked Molly, but also loved her father, the town doctor who was an incredibly wise and caring man. And Squire Hamley, for all his blustering and cultural prejudices, found his way into my heart.

Cynthia is probably the most complex character–I’m not sure she knew her own mind for more than a moment at a time. The exploration of what a child who was raised by a single mother who showed no love or affection would grow into was fascinating, even as she drove me crazy. But I felt for her. While she did make her own choices, and as she grows older will be held more and more accountable for them, she didn’t enter into womanhood with a very good example. Hyacinth was a selfish, uncaring individual, bordering on sociopathy, really. Her utter lack of empathy and penchant for manipulation were very well written, though, and are a large part of the reason it seems, in a way, that Cynthia never had a chance to be normal.

I know that if I had been reading the text, rather than listening the audiobook, it would have taken me a lot longer to finish this book. However, of all of the audiobooks I’ve listened to in the last several months that I’ve started opening myself up to them more, this was the first one that I felt a strong desire to come back to whenever I could, rather than simply putting it on when doing the activities that allow me the chance to listen. This is mostly because of the story itself, of course, but I also want to be clear that Nadia May did a superb job with the narration. The way she differentiated all of the larger characters was astounding, and I especially loved her voice for Mr. Gibson (Molly’s dad). There were times that I’d get so caught up in it that I’d completely forget this was one person doing all of the voices. This is my second read by Elizabeth Gaskell, and I think I liked it a little more than North and South, which really surprised me. Though I do still prefer the North and South mini-series to the one based on this novel, but I’m probably biased there for reasons I won’t get in to right now.

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Book Review: Wingfeather Tales

Wingfeather Tales
by multiple authors (see details below)

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy short stories

For me, last year will forever be known as the year of the Wingfeathers. I read the entire Wingfeather Saga for the 1st time…and the 2nd time, in a way, as the author, Andrew Peterson, read his books live, a few chapters a day, throughout the year. This book is a collection of 7 stories set in that same world, written by 6 different authors. First, let me get some basic info out of the way: Yes, you really should read this only if you’ve read the Wingfeather Saga in its entirety, which I fully recommend that you do either way. No, none of these stories is a continuation of that series in any way. Well, one sort of is, to a very small degree, but more on that in the details below. Let’s just say that it will not answer the burningest questions you’ve most likely been left with after finishing the series. Andrew Peterson has stated on more than one occasion that he would prefer to leave any answers up to the imagination of his readers, which is fair.

My overall book rating is a reflection of the average of individual ratings for each story. I did not love the stories overall as I might have hoped. However, I did go into this uncertain about how I’d enjoy them. I’m not really huge on short stories in general, but I couldn’t help but give this book a go, considering how much I loved the original series. What follows is a list of each story with its author and illustrator, my rating, and a brief (as much as possible) review for each.

“The Prince of Yorsha Doon” by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5) – This was my favorite short story in the collection, with a ragged, loner street urchin getting the chance to be something more, to do something more. It’s charming and contains a wonderful appearance by one of the bigger characters in the original series. (illustrated by Cory Godbey, Nicholas Kole, & Hein Zaayman)

“The Wooing of Sophelia Stupe” by Jennifer Trafton (3 / 5) – The story of the author of the Creaturepedia books on its own was decent, if open-ended. However, I was slowed down and tripped up by the character’s vocabulary. He had a penchant for using very large, at times ridiculous words, both real and made-up (though a lot more made-up than real, I’m pretty sure). I’m sure it’s meant to be whimsical, and that plenty of people will find the fun in it, but it’s not really my preference. (illustrated by John Hendrix)

“Willow Worlds” by N.D. Wilson (4 / 5) – I really liked seeing young Podo, and perhaps the genesis of what made him who he is in the Wingfeather books. The plot to this story, especially coupled with the story before it, paints such a vastly different fabric for this fantasy world than what was in the original books, leaving me a little surprised and confused. The story is particularly short and abrupt, but I liked the general idea of it and wish there was more on this subject. (illustrated by Joe Sutphin)

“ShadowBlade and the Florid Sword” by Andrew Peterson & Jay Myers (4 / 5) – As alluded to in the first paragraph of my review, this is the one tale in the book that is a continuation of the original series. The title tells it all, and it’s actually in comic-book format. I did like having the chance to see the two together, and wish it had been longer. Though several of the stories in this collection end abruptly and with more that could be told, I think this is the one I most want to see more of.

“From the Deeps of the Dragon King” by A.S. Peterson (2 / 5) – This story was tragic and disturbing, and while it was clearly meant to be so, my rating is not due to the theme or mood. Considering how Podo’s story and character arc went in the original series, especially at the end of North! or Be Eaten, I really think I would have preferred not seeing him at this time of his life. It almost felt like undoing everything related to this that happened in the series. Plenty of others, I’m sure, will be happy to read about Podo’s past, but it just made me sad. (illustrated by Doug TenNapel)

“The Ballad of Lanric and Rube” by Jonathan Rogers (4 / 5) – This story was short and silly, maybe a little predictable to me, but overall just fun. (illustrated by Justin Gerard)

“The Places Beyond the Maps” by Douglas Kaine McKelvey (2 / 5) – This is the kind of story that I wish I could rate higher and feel like a rube rating so low, because I’m sure it’s meant to be beautiful and poignant, but it’s just not for me. It’s the story of a man whose daughter was taken away by the Black Carriage, and all that he goes through as he tries first to get her back, then to get justice, and finally just to find some meaning and purpose after the tragedy. It is long (literally as long as all of the other stories put together, since it started at 50% in the e-book) and moves slowly most of the time. There is a lot of introspection, depression, even self-hatred–all things you might expect in the situation, but I felt like it plodded along most of the time. It didn’t help that the author has a tendency toward long, run-on sentences. Entire paragraphs, long in their own right, can be made up of just one or two sentences. It’s a style choice, I’m sure, but not one I care for.

This story is also one that actually caused squeamish me to wince as injuries and the attempt at mending such were described in fairly vivid detail at least once. The man contemplates killing himself or at least giving up on life multiple times. It’s dark, much darker than even the most serious parts of the original series. There were a few bright points for me, like the inclusion of a wonderful character from the original series and the epilogue that added a little hope after the disturbing (and just plain weird) ending. (illustrated by Aedan Peterson)

Final thoughts: I didn’t mention illustrations in the individual reviews, but I enjoyed every one of them. Andrew Peterson has a way of collecting talented people around him (not to mention his own talented children), and I can imagine the honor of having other authors and artists take part in a project like this for his books. I think, though, that some of this collection lost the charm and feel of the original series, and I especially don’t think I’d say this is as great for the age group that the first series was so well suited for. What’s most telling to me is that my daughter (10 years old), who has read/listened to the Wingfeather Saga in some format probably half a dozen times, only read about a story and a half from this collection and walked away. She’ll go back to it eventually, but clearly it didn’t draw her in like the original books. I do think that fans of the original series should read this collection, or at least some of it. I know I’ll re-read some of these stories again in the future, but I was not quite the right audience for some of them.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2016, but a new hardcover edition is being released tomorrow, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations, and the inclusion of one new tale (the comic one).

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Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Book #1
by Douglas Adams
read by Stephen Fry

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Science fiction

This will probably be my shortest review ever, because I just don’t have a lot to say. I really wanted to like this book, to find it humorous and enjoyable like so many people I know. But I didn’t. I could see where the humor was supposed to be, but most of the time I didn’t find it particularly funny. Maybe a little clever, and I do remember laughing out loud once. I think part of this is that the humor was a bit too British for me, though I’ve enjoyed plenty of British comedy in the past, and part of it is because it just felt forced a lot of the time.

There was barely a plot, until maybe the last third or so, but not nearly soon enough to hook me. And from early in the book, I got the distinct impression that Douglas Adams does not hold much regard at all for humankind. It left me feeling a bit sad, really. I listened to the audiobook read by Stephen Fry and at times would just zone out when descriptions of insignificant things went on at length. As strange as it might sound after I gave it 2 stars, I might (might) read it again in the future, but this time read the actual book, and going into it knowing what kind of book it is, maybe I’ll be able to appreciate it more. But in the end, it’s probably just not the type of book for me.

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Book Review: Maus II

Maus II
Book #2
by Art Spiegelman

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical non-fiction graphic novel

The 1st volume of the story of Polish Jew Vladek Spiegelman took him right up to the gates of Auschwitz. In this second volume, Vladek and his wife survive the horrors of two of the deadliest camps the Nazis ran, but at what cost? As seen in their lives after the war, as well as in the life and psyche of their son, coming out alive at the end of the Holocaust was just the first battle (though granted, a very, very difficult battle).

The previous book was rough enough in some ways, but this one is like a gut punch. The images portrayed of Vladek and those around him, the death and torture, can be difficult to handle. Add to that the depression that Art Spiegelman himself goes through as he works on putting his father’s story on paper, and it is not a book to be taken lightly. Amidst the terror, I am still fascinated to read about Vladek’s ingenuity, the tricks he used to stay alive. Sometimes it was pure luck, but often it was intelligence and quick thinking.

The emotions were heavy when the separated Vladek and Anja manage to even simply hear word that each other is alive. That hit me hard, thinking about my husband and me being in a similar situation. When I finished the book, I was left with a feeling of heaviness that was hard to shake. There’s just no way to be able to imagine a fraction of what those involved in the Holocaust went through, living easy lives as we are. I think it’s important for us to never forget what humanity is capable of, lest we begin to believe something like this could never happen again. I would recommend this to be read by anyone interested in this part of history, even if you don’t normally read graphic novels. I don’t either, but these books have captivated me for years.

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Book Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Chronicles of Narnia #1 (original order)

by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

This is my first foray into The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve seen the movies (or at least some of them), but only once when they first came out, and don’t remember much past the first one. So overall, this will all be very new for me. This is yet another book I wish I’d read when I was younger; I have a feeling I would have liked it more as a kid. Overall, I did enjoy it, but it was a lot shorter and shallower than I would have expected it to be. Be aware, there will likely be spoilers ahead.

I can appreciate the parallel to Christ in Aslan, though I went into the story expecting the entire thing to be an allegory, just from things I’ve heard. So some things really confused me, like Father Christmas showing up and giving everyone gifts. Or the kids needing to fight against the witch and her army, weakening her before Aslan could then defeat her. However, I’m understanding more that the entire book (and series) was not necessarily meant to be an allegory, even while one can certainly draw a Christ-like parallel in Aslan’s actions in this book. That does change my perspective on it after the fact.

Now to Edmund…oh, Edmund…he’s a bit of a brat, even before he betrays his siblings, but I kinda get it. He’s a middle child and struggling to find a place under his big brother. I’m in the same position in my family of 4 kids and definitely remembering struggling sometimes to feel special (though I have all sisters, we did not always get along at all). Of course it seems as though he went too far, though we’re supposed to understand he was under some sort of enchantment. His mental reasoning, though, as he prepared to betray his siblings, sounded less like enthrallment and more like sibling rivalry to me. In the end, though, I did like how the entire thing turned out.

As soon as I finished this book, I recommended it to my 10-year-old daughter. I can see similarities in it to books that she has already read and enjoyed, so I think she’ll love it. I’m looking forward to hearing her thoughts; it’s always fun when we both read and enjoy the same books and then get to talk about them, and I see that being a possibility with this series.

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Book Review: Jo & Laurie

Jo & Laurie
by Margaret Stohl & Melissa de la Cruz

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Romantic retelling, YA historical fiction

If you’ve ever read Little Women and wondered what could have been between Jo and Laurie, if the author had allowed it, this book might be for you (or even if you haven’t). It’s a bit meta and can be difficult to fully understand, but the authors are not so much rewriting the second half of Little Women as they are imagining that the book that we know was itself written by another fictional Jo March (and it was, within the context of the book), and that the second half (originally published as a sequel novel titled Good Wives) was more of a departure from her real life than the first half was.

I’d say the primary audience for this book is those who really wish Jo and Laurie had ended up together. However, I think there’s still a place for the rest of us to read it, out of curiosity if nothing else. Or for die-hard fans of Little Women who want to revisit that world in a way. (Though those seem to be the strongest opponents to this retelling.) As for myself, I only really read this book to see if it’s something I’m okay with my 10-year-old daughter reading. We read the Great Illustrated Classic version of Little Women together just over a year ago, and the little romantic that she is, she was quite unhappy that Jo and Laurie both married other people. I’ve since read the original book, and personally have no problems with the way the whole thing worked out.

My rating on this book, however, is wholly unrelated to the re-imagining of fictional-author Jo’s life and love, but based on the book itself. I think the authors did a pretty good job with the historical fiction feel to the book, and even with making it feel similar to the source material (though understand I’ve only read it once, so I’m not exactly an expert). However, to me, it seemed repetitive and a bit slow through most of it. Jo rehashed her confusion about how she felt about Laurie so many times. And for being a feminist and bucking against the way women are treated in her time, Jo doesn’t have the slightest problem seeing a woman she doesn’t care for only as a pair of bosoms. That really bugged me.

In the end, I did like the culmination of the romance, which itself was fairly unromantic most of the time (though even that is true to who Jo is). I think that Laurie himself reflects the reaction a lot of readers would have, especially those that I mentioned above, who read Little Women and really wished Jo and Laurie had married each other. The book is listed as young adult, though I do think it’s good for readers of all ages.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game

Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #4
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

If Kyle Keeley and his team thought the previous Lemoncello game was big, they haven’t seen anything yet. The next competition Kyle’s hero has dreamed up will be broadcast live on national television! And the winners will get to choose one from their team to be the host of a new kids’ game show, while the rest of the team are the first contestants. It’s game on as Kyle is up against his nemesis Charles Chiltington and some other competitors that will be tough to beat.

These books are beginning to become a bit formulaic, which is probably not good for this type of book. Kyle almost can’t compete for some reason, and then he can. Kyle/his team stops normal game play to solve some side mystery/issue. Spoiler: Kyle/his team wins almost by default because all or most of the other kids/teams were disqualified or gave up or joined Kyle’s team. Considering how much I loved the first book, I want to continue enjoying this series. But it’s starting to become repetitive and just silly. I did like the game, putting the kids into their own fictional stories in a way like holodecks work in Star Trek shows. Who of us hasn’t wanted to be able to do that? I still miss the more escape room, puzzle-y nature of the first book, though. There was a tiny bit of that again here, with 5 locks to open per team, but the puzzles, riddles, etc. that gave the codes were a lot lighter this time around.

I really appreciated that the game forced the kids (or at least Kyle) to see the “bad guy” in a new light. I only wish a little more had come from that. The thing that bugged me the most as I read this book was the dialog. I don’t know if this is new to this book, or if I simply didn’t notice it before, but all of the kids seem to talk the same way, in a particular format that I began to find grating. I won’t take the time to explain what I mean, because it seems really petty, but it happened enough that it started to bring the rest of the story down for me. And seriously…the TV-star kids were just over-the-top silly and ridiculous in their shticks.

I wonder if maybe they wouldn’t feel so formulaic if I wasn’t reading through them so quickly. It’s hard to know. I also want to stress that this book is meant for kids around 8-12 years old, and the things that bother me may well not be noticeable to them. My 10-year-old daughter loved this book as much as the previous ones, and I think that’s important to remember.

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February in Review

I read 11 books last month, which was only 1 less than last month, but the total page count was about 1/3 of what I read last month. Apparently I read a lot more short books this month!

Here are the books I read in February:

Awake and Alive to Truth by John L. Cooper (5 / 5)
The Orchard House by Heidi Chiavaroli (3.5 / 5)
The Cat Who Saw Red by Lilian Jackson Braun (5 / 5)
Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race by Chris Grabenstein (3.5 / 5)
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (3 / 5)
Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
The Secret of The Desert Stone by Frank E. Peretti (3 / 5)
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom with John & Elizabeth Sherrill (5 / 5)
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as retold by Gary D. Schmidt (2 / 5)
From this Moment by Kim Vogel Sawyer (3 / 5)
Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game by Chris Grabenstein (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 2 re-reads. My favorite book from February was The Hiding Place. I finished 0 series, continued 3 series, and started 1 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.