Book Review: Escape from Fire Lake

Escape from Fire Lake
Last Chance Detectives #3
by Robert Vernon

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

When Mike Fowler stumbles across bank robbers making a getaway, he becomes an accidental hostage. Unwilling to let him point the finger at them, the thieves leave him for dead in the middle of the desert. Can Mike make it to civilization before succumbing to the sun in Fire Lake?

Wow! For a short book meant for kids, this was quite an intense ride! Unlike the first book in the series, this one was completely new to me, and it really sucked me in. Mike’s trek through the desert, trying not to give in to the sun or his own worries, was really suspenseful and kept me hooked all throughout. At the same time, the other Last Chance Detectives are looking for him, and that part is interesting too. Whereas children’s books can sometimes venture away from reality, in that the kids in the story do things that kids wouldn’t really be able to do in real life, I felt like all of it was quite plausible in this case.

Though there wasn’t any kind of mystery in this story, at least not to the reader, it was still full of adventure and great lessons about relying on God and letting Him give you peace in scary situations. Again the danger is very real, but it doesn’t get to be what I’d consider too scary for kids, and I highly recommend this book for those around 10-14.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Escape from Fire Lake
**Note: This book has been out since 1996, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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Book Review: Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa

Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa
Last Chance Detectives #1
by Jake & Luke Thoene

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

It started with a cryptic radio transmission that led to Ben seeing some green lights in the desert. But his friends, the other Last Chance Detectives, Mike, Winnie, and Spence, aren’t sure his story of UFOs in the desert is believable. Still, there’s obviously something going on out there, so it’s time to investigate!

This was a fast-paced adventure with a realistic feel to it. The kids are friends but still have arguments, one of which led to the adventure in the first place. I liked the small-town setting that goes even further into a feeling of remoteness due to being surrounded by vast desert. Though I wasn’t as baffled as Ben was when the sheriff didn’t corroborate what he saw, readers of the age group for which the book is intended will likely get swept up into the adventure and intrigue. The stakes are high and the danger is real, but nothing too intense for kids around 10-14, for whom I highly recommend this book.

I watched the movie many times in my teenage years (we only owned this one, though, so I’ve never seen/read any others in the series). I didn’t expect to remember as much as I did when I read the book. A few lines I could even hear the characters saying in my head. It was a really fun way to re-visit my childhood, and I’m looking forward to watching the movie again too (and reading/watching the rest of the series)!

Clarification: I didn’t read the version shown in the picture above, which is the original based on the movie that came out in 1994. I own the older book and had intended to read it soon, but hadn’t yet when I saw that it was being re-released, along with at least 1 other in the series and 2 new ones that I can see. For this review, I read the new release version, which does have some differences from the original.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa
**Note: This book has been out since 1994, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: All That Is Secret

All That Is Secret
by Patricia Raybon

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

One year after her somewhat-estranged father’s maybe-not-accidental death, Annalee Spain leaves her home and job in Chicago to travel back to Denver and seek answers. But the truth won’t be easy to find, even for an admirer of Sherlock Holmes, and even the trip to Denver provides danger and intrigue, as well as a new companion in the form of a young orphan searching for his father.

I’m a fan of mysteries and really liked the idea of a Christian mystery story set in the 1920s. And the prologue was great, ending with such a bang, I was excited to keep going! Sadly, the rest of the book didn’t really hold up to the thrilling start. One of the biggest issues I had was with the protagonist herself. A young, black woman in a nation dominated by white men, Annalee had all the makings of a smart, compassionate, innovative sleuth. Except she told herself, while trying to solve the crime, to stop trying to solve it and let it solve itself…which is exactly what you want from the main character in a murder mystery.

There’s a romance sub-plot in this book, too, which fell pretty flat for me. For one thing, there was mention about falling in love after Annalee and Jack only knew each other for a day or two. There was also a cliched contrivance to push the romance forward, which seemed unnecessary. And I think they weren’t nearly as concerned about perceived propriety as they should have been for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he’s a pastor, living in the church’s parsonage.

What tipped the scale to the rating I gave is that some things happened in the story that didn’t really make a lot of sense and weren’t explained. One character shows up somewhere in a fairly bizarre scene, and for a while, I suspected she might simply be a figment of Annalee’s imagination. It’s partially explained, but not nearly enough, in my opinion. This looks to be the beginning of a series of books with this MC, and I really wanted to be right there at the start of it. However, while I’m sure many who enjoy mysteries and Christian fiction will like this book, it definitely isn’t for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: October 5, 2021

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Book Review: Socks

Socks
by Beverly Cleary

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

This short, simple tale about a cat that is adopted by a young couple and is eventually displaced by a newborn baby was a lot of fun to read, not to mention very true to cat ownership. In life, cats certainly do often get ignored, even pushed aside, when important things are happening, and it seems perfectly all right. But the indignation from the cat’s perspective felt completely justified too. I only wish cats really understood as much as Socks did in the book—it would make certain parts of life a lot simpler. 

I haven’t read much Cleary in my life, maybe just a Ramona book or two when I was younger, but I think I’ll have to remedy that, as I just loved this story so much. The fact that I’m heavily a cat person probably affects my feelings on it, but my 10-year-old daughter, who is pretty equal on dogs and cats, also loved it. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never look at my cats the same way again.

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Book Review: Independence Hall

Independence Hall
I, Q #1
by Roland Smith

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s spy thriller

New step-siblings Q (short for Quest) and Angela are thrust into the world of espionage when Angela is told that her mother, who had died 4 years previous, might not actually be dead. But if she’s alive, she may also be a deadly terrorist. And now it appears that someone may be after Angela, but she and Q aren’t sure who they can trust.

Spy thrillers aren’t really my thing, but I really enjoyed this one written for teens and pre-teens. There were quite a few twists along the way, no one is quite who they seem to be, and even the bad guys weren’t just bad guys. I second-guessed a lot of what I was shown during the bulk of the book, and of course it’s not the most realistic thing that these two teenagers are being caught up in this plot. However, the author does a decent job of at least making it plausible. And I really like the way they do whatever they can not to ruin things for their newlywed parents, who have recently made it big in the music industry.

My husband brought home the first 3 books in this series of 6 without knowing anything about it, thinking I might enjoy it. It took me quite a while to get to it, and I was really unsure how I’d like it. However, now I’m sad I only have 3 of the 6 (though the rest are available at my local library), because I am looking forward to seeing how this all turns out! I would recommend this for younger readers who want something exciting or thrilling, or even adults who don’t necessarily care for adult spy thrillers but enjoy a good adventure story.

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Book Review: The Face of the Earth

The Face of the Earth
by Deborah Raney

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

When Mitch Brannon’s wife doesn’t return home after a conference, he does everything he can to find her. Hours turn to days, and many theories are given about why she has yet to return home. Mitch knows she wouldn’t have left him voluntarily, though, so he he can’t give up trying to find out what happened to her, with the help of their next-door-neighbor and his wife’s best friend, Shelley. But how can she handle her growing attraction for her missing friend’s husband as she begins to spend more time with him?

When I first heard about this book, I had some concerns about how it might go, based on the synopsis, regarding the developing relationship between Mitch and Shelley. But after reading some reviews, I decided to give it a try. While my concerns were not entirely unfounded, the author did handle the situation as well as I think could be possible in this type of book, especially on Mitch’s side of things. I did not like Shelley, however, who had been attracted to her best friend’s husband long before any of this happened, and whose actions I didn’t care for throughout the book.

The book is written well, but the story was not as engaging as I would have hoped for. It’s said to be suspense, but to me, there wasn’t much of that. The mystery involving Mitch’s wife made me curious, but curiosity is not suspense. In the end, it went on a little long and included a few romance cliches that made me cringe, since I couldn’t buy into any kind of romance between the two main characters. It’s an interesting perspective regarding a Christian man or woman whose spouse goes missing (not dead, not moved out/divorced, but just disappeared) and the question of how or when, if at all, the one left behind should move on with their life, especially relationship-wise.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Titles with Numbers (II)

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is “Books With Numbers In the Title.” It’s interesting to me that in the fairly short amount of time I’ve been doing these posts, I’ve done this topic before. But when I looked through the list of books I’ve read since then and my current TBR, I was able to easily come up with 10 more. Whereas last time, I decided to find 1 book for each number 1-10, this time I just went with any numbers. The first 7 books are in the order of when I read them, and the last 3 books I haven’t read, but are on my TBR.

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
 See my review here.

2. 12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep
The 2nd book in this trilogy has a number in the title too (A Tale of Two Hearts), but I chose this one because I liked it more than the other. See my review here.

6. 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace by Johan Twiss
See my review here.

4. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkein
See my review here.

5. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
See my review here.

6. Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred by Frank E. Peretti
See my review here.

7. Hill 568 by Ellen Emerson White
See my review here.

8. The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans
The rest of these books I have not read. This series was recommended to me by my husband.

9. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
I watched this movie long ago, but the only thing I remember about it is that I liked it more than I expected to.

10. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Since I ran out of books with a number in the title, have one with the word number! I read this in middle school, or maybe earlier than that, but I don’t remember it much. I plan to re-read it soon(ish).

Have you read any of these books? What’s on your list of books with numbers in the titles?

Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
Tales from Ivy Hill #1
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

It’s been a year since Jane Bell’s husband died and left her his coaching inn, but Jane isn’t any more prepared to end her mourning period than she was a year ago. The inn has gone on without her direct involvement during that year, but she’s finding out that it hasn’t necessarily gone on well. A large loan from the bank is about to come due, but the inn isn’t nearly as prosperous as it used to be, and now it’s in danger of being taken away. Jane’s mother-in-law, Thora, will do anything she can to help save her family’s inn, even while feeling displaced by the new mistress of The Bell. There are others who might be able to help as well, but Jane isn’t completely sure how to proceed…or who to trust.

This is the type of book where the story may focus on one main character for now, but this first book also introduces several other characters who will have more of a spotlight in future books, and gives us a decent set-up to those future stories. So a good amount of characters overall were introduced, but it didn’t take me long to get invested in their lives. I thought the set-up was giving us more of a mystery than there turned out to be, and I seriously anticipated the revelation of a conspiracy that never happened. But that was my own fault, not necessarily the book’s. I think I read more into certain people’s behavior than was intended (or maybe the author did want us to suspect that person).

Jane was a very dynamic character, in that she changed fairly drastically from the beginning of the book, where she spent her days languishing in her small home and ignoring the inn, to the end of the book, by which point she’d at least attempted to take the reigns of the inn firmly in hand. I liked the way the story and characters come together by the end, and that there is no sudden, miraculous save. Hard work and diligence are required, and a perfect ending is not guaranteed.

In some places this book is billed as a romance, and there is some romance involved. However, it is nowhere near a focal point, and (spoiler alert) the main character doesn’t end up with a beau by the end of the book. I believe that is another storyline that will continue on throughout the trilogy, and I’m quite okay with that. If you’re a fan of historical Christian fiction, keep that in mind when considering this book. I do recommend it, and am looking forward to continuing the series.

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August in Review

I read 9 books last month, a fairly standard month for me with an interesting variety of books.

Here are the books I read in August:

The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
Hangman’s Curse by Frank Peretti (5 / 5)
The Glory of Love by Angela Hunt (3.5 / 5)
A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden (3.5 / 5)
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (4 / 5)
The Eagle and the Lamb by Darlene Mindrup (5 / 5)
Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman (5 / 5)
Trace of Doubt by DiAnn Mills (2 / 5)
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis (4 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC and 4 re-reads. My favorite book (that wasn’t a re-read) from August was Hollow City. I started 2 series, continued 3 series, and finished (or caught up on) 2 series. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian
The Chronicles of Narnia #2 (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 about the movie based on this book. This is yet another series I wish I’d read when I was younger; I have a feeling I would have liked it more as a kid. Overall, I enjoyed it a little more than the previous book. Maybe that’s because the Pevensies aren’t newcomers to Narnia anymore, but I think it’s more due to the Narnians that they encounter this time. Reepicheep made my heart melt!

The story involving Caspian, as well as Peter and Edmund’s additions to the conflict, I enjoyed. I’ve never been one for reading battle sequences, so I appreciated that most of the fighting was summarized. Even the one full fight that was shown had a lot of interjection by other characters, so it was more fun than it probably should have been. I was not a fan of the sequence of events that followed Susan, Lucy, and Aslan as they gathered up the rest of the Old Narnians. It all felt a little strange to me and made me wonder what the purpose of it was. Most of what was shown didn’t really affect the rest of the story much.

It is possible I misinterpreted parts of this book, though it is meant for readers more like my daughter’s age, and I doubt she will get bigger meaning out of it than I did when she reads the book. However, aside from those areas, I enjoyed the book overall and think she will too.

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