Book Review: The Cat Who Sniffed Glue

The Cat Who Sniffed Glue
Book #8
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When the son and daughter-in-law of a prominent family in the far-north town of Pickax is murdered by what looks like a robbery gone wrong, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran can’t help but ask the probing questions the police aren’t. And is it possible that someone is using the recent rash of vandalism in the area to cover something more sinister?

Koko is at it again, though he seems to be licking glue at least as much as he’s smelling it. I always try to figure out how his antics connect to the crime, and I don’t know if my lack of being able to do so is because I’ve never been very good at making connections when reading or watching mystery stories or because Braun doesn’t give the readers enough clues.

I’ve been enjoying this series overall, though this one didn’t stand out to me as much as others have. Qwill made some wise decisions in this book regarding the women in his life, though I knew what the outcome would ultimately be, since I’ve read some of the later books in the series long ago. This is my first time going through from start to finish, though, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so.

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Book Review: The Bride of Ivy Green

The Bride of Ivy Green
Tales from Ivy Hill #3
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

In this culmination of the trilogy, the women who have been in focus so far are joined by another—a mysterious, new, possibly French dressmaker. More secrets will come to light as some old relationships are mended and others are just beginning.

In a way, this trilogy reminds me of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, in that it sometimes seems to meander through daily life, weaving a story of a small group of characters, rather than having a focused plot. However, by the time you get to this third book, it’s clear that all of that meandering was deliberately wending its way toward this final book. Even with the wrapping up that happened here, new plots were introduced. I’ll admit I didn’t care much about the dressmaker, probably because adding a brand new character, after so many pages of being engrossed in the lives of others already, made that new character’s life seem shallow by comparison.

I was quite happy with how things turned out, and the way they got there (though the “near misses” started to wear on me), for each of the main characters save one. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I really wish Mercy’s story had gone differently. I sometimes write down my thoughts as I read—when I want to make sure I remember something for the review or simply when I feel strongly about something. In this case, I wrote down a couple of predictions (or, rather, hopes and wishes) for Mercy, even though I had good reason to believe they would not happen. My reason for assuming that, though, was simply due to the nature of the romance (especially Christian romance) genre. And while I was correct in my assumption that what I hoped for Mercy would not happen, the conclusion of her story did include an offer that I did not predict and was pleased to see happen.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Ivy Hill—so much so that after I finished this book, I immediately re-read the follow-up Christmas novella, An Ivy Hill Christmas, in the hopes of “catching up” with the main characters in this trilogy, even though I knew the focus had moved on. I don’t think this is the kind of series I will decide to re-read some day, but I am all the more excited to read more books by Julie Klassen.

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Book Review: The Slippery Slope

The Slippery Slope
A Series of Unfortunate Events #10
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Carnivorous Carnival (and possibly others before it).

The three Baudelaire orphans are separated but must find a way to work together to save one of them from the clutches of Count Olaf and his troop. As they close in on some answers, other questions only grow more mysterious.

I don’t want to repeat myself in regards to what I don’t care for about this series, so if you’re interested, feel free to check out my reviews of the previous books. I’ll instead mention a few things that led me to give this book a higher rating than the previous one. I appreciate that the repetitiveness of the formula in the earlier books in the series is a thing of the past. No more new guardian every book, though that does lead me to wonder if Mr. Poe is doing anything to try to find these lost orphans at this point. Yes, he’s gullible enough that he probably believes the newspaper reports that they killed someone, but they were still his responsibility. I hope to see something more from him before the end of the series.

There was a twist in this book that I didn’t expect and something else unexpected happened too. Both bright spots in an otherwise un-surprising plot. I like that Sunny is growing (probably not physically, though), yet the other two siblings don’t change much. “VFD” is becoming my least-favorite acronym, considering how much Snicket forces it into the story. Three books ’til the end, and I’ll probably never re-visit this series.

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Book Review: Number the Stars

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s historical fiction

Annemarie Johansen doesn’t really understand why she has to pretend that her friend Ellen is her sister. Or why Ellen’s parents have to leave without her. But when Annemarie’s parents and uncle try to help Ellen’s family and some other Jewish people in Denmark flee to a safer country, Annemarie knows it’s important and will do anything she can to help, even if it’s dangerous.

I really appreciate that in so few pages and in language kids can understand and get into, Lowry not only paints a vivid picture of the danger and fear that those who lived in Nazi-occupied countries dealt with, but also touches on the resistance offered by non-Jews living in Denmark. I also liked seeing the love and loyalty the Danes had for their king, which is something most American’s can fully understand, and the way the scientific community pulled together to help save lives.

Many of us remember reading this book for school, though I didn’t remember it nearly as well as I thought (or maybe I was thinking about a different book the whole time, though if so, I can’t pin down what it was). Required reading or not, this is a good book to introduce young readers to the darkness that many in Europe faced during WWII.

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Book Review: A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet
Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

I almost feel like I should write two separate reviews for this book, considering how vastly different parts 1 and 2 are from each other. I can’t say that Doyle’s decision to leave England and go back in time several years to show the victim and murderer’s backstory in America up close is one that makes a lot of sense to me, but I didn’t hate it like some seem to. If this had been the first Holmes story I’d read, though, I could see where it might make my hesitate to pick up another. In the end, I think that, though the Utah diversion was interesting in its own right, it felt completely unnecessary to the mystery story.

Now, outside of the trip to Utah, it was great to see the original meeting between two characters who have been duplicated and imitated so many times since. Watson learning what Holmes does and seeing the first glimpses at his methods and madness is fun to read. I liked the introduction of Watson himself too. Overall, I’ve been enjoying my first time reading these stories.

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Book Review: Between Heaven and the Real World

Between Heaven and the Real World
by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Singer and songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman shares the story of his life so far—childhood, romancing his wife, the road to becoming a household name in Christian music, and the loss of his young daughter. Chapman does not hold back as he tells of doubt, uncertainty, even anger, but also of learning to trust God, to believe He’s working even when we can’t see it, and to let Him lead the way.

I went into this book knowing that there would be tears involved, considering the circumstances around his loss (I don’t know if spoilers are an issue for an autobiography, but I’ll still avoid it, just in case), and I’d imagine it would be even more difficult for those who have experienced a similar loss. The emotion is raw, unfiltered, and there’s no attempt to cover it up and say “God’s got this,” since that would be disingenuous to how they were feeling at the time. One thing Chapman points out in this book is that you can know and fully believe that God is good all the time, and that His plan and timing are perfect, but that won’t necessarily keep you from feeling completely devastated by a loss, especially when in the immediate moments, days, months, when you’re still in shock, reeling, trying to process and figure out how you even take another step forward. This book is certainly not a how-to on picking yourself back up after a devastating loss, trusting in God, and moving forward firmly in His plan, but more a picture of one family’s muddled, messy attempts at finding daylight in the utter darkness.

And of course, this was just one chapter of Chapman’s and his family’s lives (several chapters in the book, though). I appreciated reading about how his earlier life led him to be the man he is and write some of the songs he’s written. I was fascinated by some of the stories behind songs that are well known to me. I do wish some of the theology had been delved into a little more deeply, for example the foundational reason that a loving God allows bad things to happen, but in the end, he was sharing his life, not trying to preach a sermon. I was also often disappointed with the picture placement, because pictures would come too early and sort of “give away” something that was coming. It might have just been an issue with the Kindle version, but then some pictures came on time or a little later than the event was discussed, so who knows. (I fully enjoyed the pictures themselves, though.) Overall, it was a deep, at times dark, fascinating read, and think that fans of Steven Curtis Chapman’s music will enjoy it, as well as people interested in the behind the scenes of the Christian music industry.

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April in Review

I read 8 books last month, an overall light month of reading for me, compared to the rest of the year. I think it was a combination of reading a few books that took longer to get through and working more at my job lately, as well as working more on my own writing. Plus, my audiobook-listening time has been diminished of late, so I only finished 1 last month. I also got pretty lazy at writing the reviews and thus am ending the month with two that I haven’t written yet, which is pretty unusual for me.

Here are the books I read in April:

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis (5 / 5)
Treasure Hunters by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein (3 / 5)
Behind the Lights by Helen Smallbone (4 / 5)
The Alamo by Roland Smith and Michael P. Spradlin (3.5 / 5)
The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers (4 / 5)
Gospel Reset by Ken Ham (4 / 5)
Between Heaven and the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham (review pending)
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (review pending)

This list includes 1 ARC. My favorite book from April was The Silver Chair. I started 1 series, continued 3 series, and finished 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.

Book Review: The Last Sin Eater

The Last Sin Eater
by Francine Rivers

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

Appalachia, 1850s – Cadi Forbes is a 10-year-old member of a clan of Irish immigrants who have resurrected a tradition of their ancestors. Upon the death of a clan member, a ritual is performed to summon the sin eater, who will eat the sins of that person so that the deceased can go to heaven. The sin eater, being a man himself, takes the sins of hundreds, sacrificing his own soul to save the souls of others. Weighed down with the guilt of her own sin, Cadi seeks out the sin eater in the hopes that he can eat her sin now and give her some rest.

Let me start by saying that the setting in this book is top-notch. The way the characters talk took a little getting used to, but that adds to the immersion. Though that makes it all the more strange when a new character shows up partway through the book and talks like a KJV Bible. And stranger still that the other characters seem to have no trouble understanding him.

The story that revolves more directly around Cadi and the sin eater is what I liked most about the book. Her quest to be absolved of her sins and his desire to better understand his role are heartbreaking, yet allow for maximum hopefulness as the story unfolds. I’ll admit I didn’t care for the way the preacher’s storyline plays out though. The book overall feels really allegorical, with a character that is clearly not “real” in the strictest sense of the word and the instantaneous way that the characters know entire passages of the Bible by heart. Not that I’m against an allegory, but there was one particular element in the story that it would have been really nice to get even a partial explanation for that was completely left unaddressed. Overall, though, this was an engaging read, and I think most fans of historical Christian fiction, especially those with a missions-type storyline, would like it.

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Notebook Collection, part 13

That’s right. Thirteen. And by now, I’m running out of unique things to say at the start of these posts. So let’s just dive right into today’s notebooks.

Past posts about the collection I have so far: Post #1  |  Post #2  |  Post #3  |  Post #4  |  Post #5  |  Post #6  |  Post #7  |  Post #8  |  Post #9 | Post #10 | Post #11 | Post #12

Barnes & Noble has some of the nicest-looking, leather-bound notebooks anywhere. Most of the time that I go, though, I see the same ones I’ve seen before and decided I didn’t have to have quite that badly (or the couple I already have). Every once in a while I’ll see one I don’t remember seeing before that I really like, and if I don’t hide my interest well enough, my husband usually pushes me to buy it. This is one such notebook.

Very few times have I known of a notebook’s existence in advance of then seeking it out to buy it. This is one such notebook. I’ve now read all but the last book of this series and enjoyed it overall, so when I saw on Goodreads that there was a notebook themed after the series, I looked it up online. Not only does it have a creepy cover that fits the overall feel of the stories, every 7 pages or so inside of the book has a picture like those in the books (some are ones I definitely remember seeing before) and a quote from one of the first 3 books in the series, like this:

This marks the first of the largest batch of notebooks I’ve ever bought in one outing, trip, etc. My husband and I went to Cincinnati to visit the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, and being the thrift-shopping lover he is, we went to three different Half-Price Books that were not far from our hotel. HPB has lots of notebooks, all brand new, but my husband spotted this one in a clearance box. I guessed immediately that it was originally from Barnes & Noble, and that it would normally be a lot more than the $2 price tag on it, which meant it was probably written in. I opened it, and sure enough, the “This journal belongs to” line had a name on it. And that was all. My name may not be Emily, but I can pretend it is for such a great deal on a beautiful notebook.

This notebook also came from HPB in Cincy. It’s one of those that I can’t necessarily explain why I liked, but it caught my eye immediately. Maybe it comes from liking Stargate so much, who knows. Some pages inside have images of items in the Ancient Egypt collection in the British Museum, which I also think is really cool.

My only experience playing a musical instrument more than a brief moment in a general music class was when I was in the middle school band in 6th grade. Though I’d always wanted to play the trumpet, I was talked into playing the French horn, I assume because they needed French horn players more than they needed trumpet players. However, while my fellow French horn player had taken lessons before the year started, I was learning from scratch. I remember using the music book to try to understand how to play it while the entire class was learning new songs together, but it was a huge failure. Playing the French horn is about more than just knowing which buttons to push (other brass instruments probably are too, but from what I understand, the French horn is particularly difficult to learn for a beginner). In the entire year I was in band, I never really knew what I was doing and did not choose to continue on the next year. I don’t think there’s anything I could have done differently (YouTube wasn’t a thing back then), and though I don’t exactly look back on that time fondly, since I often felt inept at my inability to play the notes right, I do still think of the French horn somewhat fondly. This notebook, also found at HPB, has a magnetic closure, which is also kind of neat (though might be more trouble than it’s worth during actual use).

Wow, that last one took longer to explain than I expected. I have 4 more notebooks to share, and while I’d like to say they’ll be my last for a while, I’d be like a broken record if I did (plus, both my birthday and Mother’s Day are coming up, so I can’t completely control what those might produce). So I’ll just say…we’ll see what happens.

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