Book Review: Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse

Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse
Mr. Monk #1
by Lee Goldberg
read by Laura Hicks

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When a firehouse dog is murdered, the defective detective Adrian Monk’s help is enlisted by his assistant’s daugher Julie. During the course of the investigation, Monk discovers that the dog’s death might be connected to a fatal house fire. His work is hampered, though, by the fact that he’s been displaced, due to his apartment building being fumigated. Though she knows it will be difficult, his assistant Natalie offers to take Monk into her home while they solve the murders.

Fans of the television show Monk will likely find this a good read. All of the characters we love are involved, the story seeming to take place not too long after Natalie becomes his assistant. It’s not directly tied to any episodes of the show, though, and is a brand new plot. It’s narrated by Natalie, and I enjoyed it as essentially a longer episode of the show. In a way, it seemed like a mash-up of 2 different episodes (“Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing” and “Mr. Monk Stays in Bed”), but it’s unique enough to not just feel like a rip-off of one of those episodes.

The author does a pretty good job of capturing the feel of each of the characters with one execption–Monk himself. As someone who has seen the show in its entirety several times, I kept noticing things that just seemed very un-Monk-like. The most glaring was him holding a glass of milk, milk being high up on his list of fears. But he was also frankly a little too warm and tender toward Natalie and especially Julie. Though Monk can be kind, he is also often quite selfish, or at the very least, so wrapped up in his own issues that he doesn’t easily take others’ thoughts or feelings into consideration. He also called Julie “honey” at least once in the book, which just felt so wrong.

Overall, as a way to get more Monk in my life, the book was fun to listen to. The narrator was pretty good with the voices–I especially liked her Stottlemeyer. However, her depiction of Monk left a lot to be desired. I just kept putting it into Tony Shaloub’s voice as I listened. I’ll definitely keep reading this series.

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Book Review: Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah, Plain and Tall
by Patricia MacLachlan

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

Anna and Caleb have had no mother for 6 years, as theirs died the day after Caleb was born. When their father decides to place an advertisement for a wife and mother, Sarah Wheaton answers it, coming from her home in Maine to visit the Whittings in Kansas to see if they’re a good fit.

I remember watching the movies with Christopher Walken and Glen Close when I was younger and liking them. I was surprised to see how short the book is, and I wondered how much depth it could really have. When my daughter read it recently and pushed me to read it too, so we could then watch the movie together, I was really glad I did. For being so short, it’s very charming and sweet. Because it’s so short, there is little in the way of character development, but I still felt like I got a good enough feel for them.

As the kids grew more and more attached to Sarah, Anna worried that she wouldn’t stay, and Caleb kept looking for clues that she would. I loved how he’d say things like, “Sarah said ‘later.’ That means she’ll stay.” The worry about her missing the sea too much to stay, and the culmination of that along with Caleb hoping she’d bring the sea with her from Maine, made for a great ending to the book. I loved it and look forward to reading the next book.

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Book Review: The Purple Nightgown

The Purple Nightgown
by A.D. Lawrence

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Stella Burke, heir to a clothing company and accompanying fortune left when her father died, suffers from near-daily debilitating migraines. When the latest suggested treatment doesn’t work, she comes across a book called Fasting for the Cure of Disease by Linda Burfield Hazzard and then discovers that the doctor has a health spa not too far away. Desperate for anything to ease her pain, she insists that her family chauffeur take her to the spa. Henry is more than just her chauffeur, a close friend and confidante who has been part of her life since they were both kids. He doesn’t trust the doctor’s methods and definitely doesn’t easily agree to take Stella to the spa. When the spa turns into a prison and Hazzard’s methods prove even worse than Henry imagined, can Stella find a way to escape, or will she die alone as one of Hazzard’s walking skeletons?

A solid entry to the True Colors series, which focuses on different true crimes from history, with real historical facts melded with fictional characters and situations. I liked it more than most of the others I’ve read in the series, mostly due to the fact that the crime part of the story was more a focal point than the romance. Though the two main characters’ thoughts about how they feel about each other was brought up at a couple of random or wildly irrelevant times, it was not overly pervasive. Stella’s struggles at the spa, with the treatment, with her uncertainty about whether or not she should stay, and then with her futile attempts to escape, were a well-written driving force.

Adding to that is a sub-plot with Henry and his dream to start a children’s home, which gave the story somewhere to go to avoid a slow, plodding narrative of Stella wasting away. It also allowed a light in the darkness of Stella’s story. I really liked the culmination of all of that at the end of the story. I also appreciated that we weren’t expected to just accept that these two people liked each other simply because we were told they did. They fit together well, had a history, and even had flaws that the other had to be willing to accept.

If I hadn’t known that this woman and her spa were historical fact, I would have had a difficult time believing anyone would go to her for treatments. But I think the author did a good job trying to imagine a scenario in which someone of sound mind would be desperate enough to place themselves in such danger for the hope of relief–not that the victims expected such danger when they checked into the spa. It had a few dark moments as Stella saw things she wasn’t meant to see, the truth about what was going on at the spa; they didn’t bother me, but it seems good to mention it for those who prefer to avoid dead bodies and other things related to that in their reading (it’s a small amount, really).

There was a particular Chekov’s gun-style “prop” that I really expected to come into play more near the end of the book. I’m not sure that’s a fault of the author’s, as the prop definitely had its uses, but I still expected something in the way of even a minor twist involving it. However, overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s not too pushy in its inclusion of Christianity. Stella has to realize that she’s not very good at being still and letting God be in control, but she really doesn’t even come to the place where she “sits still” and turns to him until she’s literally forced to not move for a while. It’s a shallow theme of God’s will being best, but it’s there. I think anyone who enjoys clean romance, especially historical romance, and especially those who like crime or darker content in novels, will like this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: An Elegant Façade

An Elegant Façade
Hawthorne House #2
by Kristi Ann Hunter

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, A Noble Masquerade.

Lady Georgina Hawthorne has spent years planning her debut season, during which she feels a strong need to make the match of the season. She has also spent years cultivating her look, her personality, and the way she is perceived to others, including her own family. She’s certain that her hard work will get her a duke, or at least an earl. Certainly not a mere gentleman like Colin McCrae, who keeps showing up everywhere she goes. What she doesn’t know is that he’s involved in his own game of manipulation, instigated by another, and would rather not see or talk to Georgina any more than she wants to see or talk to him. However, once he sees a tiny glimpse of the real Georgina behind the facade, he begins to think there’s more to her than the spoiled, selfish demeanor she puts on. When he discovers her shameful secret, the one she’s buried since childhood behind that practiced face, he thinks he might be able to help her…but what will it cost them both?

I’ve been going back and forth with how I felt about this book in my mind for a few days now. I think it had some good points, but not quite enough to make it really enjoyable. It was weirdly not so focused on the romance as some pure romance novels are, and yet the attempt at still making the romance front and center made it feel repetitive. There was so much more going on than the building relationship, to a point where many say there wasn’t much romance at all, which is totally fine with me–I like a slow build or a romance that’s in the background. But the MCs would still think about each other before or after each encounter with thoughts like,”Why am I thinking about him/her at all?” and “I keep forgetting I want nothing to do with him/her,” which I guess are supposed to be the insertion of romance. Just made me roll my eyes.

Colin was a really nice guy, smart and thoughtful. It bothered me, though, that the first full chunk of his story was showing how he helped Ryland (male MC from the previous book) manipulate poor Miranda (female MC from the previous book). It just reminded me of why that story bugged me, plus had me forgetting a lot early on that Colin was the MC, not Ryland. As for Georgina, she’s the main reason I read this book. After the last one, which was only okay for me, I probably wouldn’t have continued the series, except that the synopsis for this one really intrigued me, hinting at a secret that was the reason she acted the way she does. I wanted to know what it was. And that part of the story was good, I thought. She was really a lot more real than she appeared, and I loved seeing the shift in her life when things started to change. Her relationship with her sister was a bright spot for me too.

I don’t know if I can quite explain adequately why I felt the way I did about this book. It was okay, but somehow didn’t have much charm to it for me. Many others feel differently, though, so click the link below if you are interested and want to see what others thought. As for me, I won’t be continuing this series.

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Book Review: The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey

The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #6
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure

Dr. Cooper is asked to solve the mystery of some treasure hunters who disappeared in the jungles of Central America, and if he happens to find the treasure himself, all the better for those who brought him in. The stories of a curse on the treasure may seem ridiculous at first, but there’s no denying the fact that the treasure hunters who disappeared all have either died or gone crazy. Soon enough, Dr. Cooper and his two kids are in danger themselves and have precious little time to solve the mystery and save lives.

This book had a lot of excitement and even some moments that could be a little scary for kids (not in a bad way). All 3 of the members of the Cooper family are on their own at some point, and all 3 are in peril at some point, upping stakes from previous books. I like the pure reliance on God, turning so quickly to him for help in desperate situations. The curse and other aspects that went along with it were, in the end, an interesting concoction and pretty scary menace.

Though I didn’t quite enjoy this story as much as I did others in the series that I gave 4 stars, I still think it was a solid addition. I listened again to the audiobook, and I’ve decided that I love hearing Peretti read his own books. There are 2 books left in this series, and I’m looking forward to listening to both of them.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket

Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #5
by Chris Grabenstein

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

Mr. Lemoncello’s game-making factory is in Hudson Hills, NY, and recently a new, top-secret building was added to the grounds. Now it’s time for another game, for the first time taking place outside of Ohio, with competitors from Hudson Hills. The playing field is inside that new building, and the prize is a titanium ticket, one of multiple that will eventually be awarded. But the real prize, what the ticket gives its holder a chance at, is the biggest one yet!

Each book after the first in this series got a little less exciting for me. A little less interesting, a little less fresh. In this fifth book, all of the excitement from the first one came rushing back. It’s different and fun again. Not that some of the formula the series has developed isn’t there, but it feels new again. It helps a lot that we step away from the Ohio kids and meet some brand new ones. Kyle makes an appearance, but he’s just a side character. And the new MC, Simon, is different in a lot of ways.

There are several things that happen in the story that caused me to mentally cheer. I so wish I could expand on that at all, but I’ll just say that there were some great moments. I love the friendship that’s formed in the story and the way that whole thing turns out. And I really love how Simon’s personal story came to fruition.

The titanium ticket angle was a little predictable, and it’s a little frustrating to have another Charles Chiltington-type character, though this new one (Jack) is different in many ways too. I suppose some of that might just be the genre and intended age group. But those very minor issues aren’t even worth a partial-point detraction for me, and I am happy to highly recommend this book to kids around 8-12 years old, as well as others who are interested in this type of book. While I did feel the last few books in the series weren’t quite as book, I would suggested reading it all up to this point. And based on the ending, it’s clear that this series isn’t over yet.

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March in Review

I read 9 books last month, which I’m pretty happy with. Somewhere in the middle of the month I slowed way down on reading, partly due to the book I was reading dragging a lot. The 3 audiobooks I read last month definitely kept me going when my normal reading faltered

Here are the books I read in March:

Jo & Laurie by Margaret Stohl & Melissa de la Cruz (3.5 / 5)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (4 / 5)
Maus II by Art Spiegelman (5 / 5)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (2 / 5)
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (5 / 5)
Wingfeather Tales by Andrew Peterson and other authors (3.5 / 5)

The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters (3.5 / 5)
Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket by Chris Grabenstein (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from March was Wives and Daughters. I finished 2 series, continued 2 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.

Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs

The Curse of the Pharaohs
Amelia Peabody #2
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

When Amelia’s husband is invited by the effervescent Lady Baskerville to finish an excavation that her late husband was unable to, Amelia goes with him to Egypt. She’s certain Lord Baskerville was murdered, so while she helps Emerson with the work, she also formulates theories about the various people around her. Before Amelia can point to a culprit, though, there is another death and more than one accident that threatens Emerson’s safety. Can she solve the crime before her husband is the next victim?

I liked this book a little more than the first one. That’s mostly because Amelia’s haughtiness and disdain were toned down a little, or at least focused on Emerson, which made for some fairly amusing interactions between the married couple. However, there was such a rehashing of elements from the first book that it made it a little dull. There’s the curse angle, which all of the local workers believe in, making the work more difficult. There are sightings of some sort of supernatural being that scares people. There’s the one woman that most of the male characters are falling over themselves to win the hand of. Overall, a lot of it felt like it had been done before.

I liked the introduction of the cat Bastet and the revelation of the true identity of one of the characters. I disliked the way Amelia kept feeling the need to allude to her and Emerson’s private moments. Overall, I don’t think I was invested in the story as I would like to be when reading a mystery. Whether or not I continue the series remains to be seen, but keep in mind that there are many positive reviews, so if you are a mystery reader and/or like the setting of this series, the book might be a good read for you.

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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 three. 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 predicable, 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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