February in Review

I read 8 books last month, which was a kinda low number for me, but it was a rough month. My mom died on the 1st after a recent diagnosis of Lewy Body dementia. There has been a lot of up and down over the last month, and at times reading is a nice distraction, while at other times, I just don’t care (some of the difference there was also caused by how interested I was in the book I was reading, and at least one slowed me waaaaay down because it was a bit plodding). The only reason I even managed to get all of the books I read last month reviewed before posting this is because I didn’t read that many and I wrote the last couple here at the beginning of March.

Here are the books I read in February:

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle (4 / 5)
Saint Patrick the Forgiver by Ned Bustard (5 / 5)
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (5 / 5)
The Cat Who Went into the Closet by Lilian Jackson Braun (5 / 5)
A Star In The Breaking by Bill Myers & Ken C. Johnson (4 / 5)
The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer & Angela Kinsey (5 / 5)
Olivia & the Gentleman from Outer Space by Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev (2 / 5)
The Escape Game by Marilyn Turk (2.5 / 5)

This list includes 3 ARCs. My favorite book from February was The Office BFFs. I started 0 series, continued 4 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 Office BFFs

The Office BFFs
by Jenna Fischer & Angela Kinsey
Read by the authors

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey—Pam and Angela, respectively, from the TV show The Office—talk about their time on the show (both on and off set), how they came to be on it, and life after the show. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably enjoy the stories about their fellow cast members, the directors and other crew, and ways that working on this show was different than other acting jobs they’ve had. I liked the conversational style and the topics they hit.

I listened to the audiobook, which was great, because there were extras like a letter about the authors written and read by Rainn Wilson and a song written and sung by Creed Bratton. It also adds a lot to the conversational style, and you can hear their love for the subject at hand and for their friends. Some reviewers have mentioned that this book doesn’t cover much more than you can hear about on the Office Ladies podcast, and I can’t speak to that—I’ve only listened to a few episodes. But I did enjoy the book, and if you plan to read it, I highly recommend the audiobook. (On the other hand, there are pictures all throughout the book, so if you can get a copy of the book or e-book, even if from the library to look through, you might want to do that too.)

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Book Review: A Star In The Breaking

A Star In The Breaking
McGee and Me! #2
by Bill Myers

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

Unlike the first book in the series, I did not watch the short movie that came out around the same time as this book over and over (maybe once, but I’m not even sure about that). That might be a small part of why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the previous, but I think the main reason is that the story just wasn’t as emotional and heart-filled. The pattern so far is that Nick makes some bad decisions and learns a lesson as he has to correct or overcome those decisions. In this book, his bad decision was mostly to get too full of himself as he let the “fame” of being selected to be on a local kids’ game show go to his head. Then he’s taken down a few pegs and has to re-think his view of himself. It’s a good short story overall, though McGee, Nick’s animated friend, isn’t as enjoyable on the page as he is on the screen. These books may not be easy to find anymore, but if you do have the chance to read this book or procure it for an 8-10-year-old child, I recommend it.

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Book Review: The Escape Game

The Escape Game
Heroines of WWII #9
by Marilyn Turk

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

Beryl Clarke is doing her part in England during WWII, working as an air raid warden and helping her mom get through the devastation of her husband’s recent death during a bombing. More bad news comes when they learn that Beryl’s brother James has been captured by the Germans. The women will do whatever they can to help, even if it’s just packing Red Cross boxes and their own care packages for James and his friend Kenneth, who is also in the camp. But then Beryl learns of an escape kit disguised as a Monopoly game that is headed to various POW camps and knows she has to try to give the prisoners a heads up about it.

This book promises intrigue, adventure, and romance, but I found very little of any of those things. Most of the story was just showing life in Leeds during WWII, as well as life in a POW camp. James’s friend Kenneth is actually the second MC and is captured and taken to a POW camp before James is. He attempts to escape several times, unsuccessfully, but more detail is given to his time in the camp than the actual escapes. Kenneth and Beryl knew each other before the war started, when the two of them and James all attended Oxford University, and Kenneth and Beryl both thought fondly of each other at that time. This is what we’re told. So when Kenneth starts writing letters for his crippled friend James, Kenneth and Beryl remember each other fondly and start to hope for more some day. This we’re also told. The romance doesn’t really develop as much as it is just there for us to be told about. Maybe some flashbacks to the time they knew each other before would have helped, but overall, it just felt forced and empty.

The story of the Monopoly game being sent to POWs with an escape kit hidden inside is such a tiny part of this book. I feel like the story would have been better to have been more focused on the camp and less on Beryl’s life, but then, the series is called “Heroines of WWII,” so clearly she needed to be a main character. I also think it would have been better if Kenneth had been a stranger that Beryl met and got to know through letters he wrote for her brother, and then maybe the romance could have been more of a budding one by the end of the book, rather than what it was. Also, the epilogue was completely unnecessary, and that reminds me of the incredible coincidences that happen throughout the book. After several of these moments, I still thought for sure that my suspicion about the identity of a certain character’s relative would turn out to be wrong, because there was no reason I could think of to have such a huge coincidence. But sure enough…well, I won’t give away any spoilers. And the truth is, most people probably won’t be bothered by most of this. If you’re a fan of WWII-related Christian romance and aren’t bothered by the things I mentioned in my review, please do give the book a try. It does have plenty of good reviews.

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

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Book Review: Olivia & the Gentleman from Outer Space

Olivia & the Gentleman from Outer Space
by Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s science fiction

12-year-old Olivia is surprised when a visitor from outer space lands in the wheat field near her house and even more surprised when she’s told he might be able to heal her father’s cancer. But first he needs Olivia’s help to find a black ruby that will give him the power he needs.

This book has an interesting premise (and a pretty cover), but I’m afraid it falls apart in execution. A lot of the story is kind of muddled, especially in the details. Olivia is called the Princess of Blue Earth, but I never did understand what makes her a princess exactly. Her dad doesn’t seem to be a king of anything, and maybe her rare ability to read the treasure map to the black ruby is what makes her a princess, but it wasn’t really explained. The gentleman from outer space, who might have been about Olivia’s age, but it’s hard to say, tends to glow in different ways depending on mood, physical status, etc. (like the alien in the movie Home), which was an interesting addition to the story. However, somehow his glowing didn’t attract the attention of the bad guys, though Olivia could often see his face, hands, and even chest glowing through/inside his space suit. And they’re in a hurry to bring the black ruby back before Olivia’s dad dies, but somehow they have time to stop on the moon for sightseeing, not once, but twice.

I didn’t realize until after I’d started reading it that it is self-published, though I’m not against self-published books by any means and am a self-published author myself. I think the book needed more editing, someone to ask important questions (like why does the author write as if Olivia would literally float away on the moon? There is some gravity) and notice some of the more nonsensical dialog and narration moments. The author seemed to put a lot more effort into the settings, and while his imagination does come through, and I appreciate the brilliant visuals in some of the locations, I would have preferred a more cohesive plot and more developed characters.

Thank you to the author and Netgalley for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: April 11, 2023

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Book Review: The Cat Who Went into the Closet

The Cat Who Went into the Closet
Book #15
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

Former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran plans to spend the winter in the northern climate of Pickaxe City in an old mansion, rather than in his converted apple barn, where snow drifts make it difficult to come and go. He must battle the elements as he stages a one-man show throughout the area, while the mansion’s former owner’s purported suicide and a seemingly unrelated disappearance provide a mysterious diversion.

Braun had a thing for starting her books with some kind of shocking scene. While some of them don’t work so well (like trying to make us think that Qwilleran—the main character of the series, mind you—was killed in a car accident), this one really got me. And it sets the tone for the rest of the book, which contained quite a bit of action compared to the rest of the series. Those action scenes are a good balance against the scenes in the old, dark mansion, where Koko’s antics-of-the-moment provide Qwilleran with a plethora of clues. All of the elements in this story, from the main mystery to the side plots, came together to be one of the better installments in the series for me.

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Book Review: Saint Patrick the Forgiver

Saint Patrick the Forgiver
by Ned Bustard

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian historical picture book (biographical)

I’m not Catholic, but then St. Patrick was never officially canonized as a saint either. I didn’t know much about St. Patrick, and what I did know was probably false. I appreciate that this book not only sheds light on a legendary figure’s true history, but does it in a way that kids can relate to, with simple, rhyming verse. I’ve never read anything by this author, nor have I seen his art before, but I did like the illustrations in the boo; they’re engaging and detailed. With a focus on Patrick first becoming a slave in Ireland and then later returning to preach the truth of the Gospel to them, it’s a great lesson on forgiveness. Specifically, Bustard explains clearly that true forgiveness, especially of one’s enemies, is only possible with Christ. I will never think of St. Patrick’s Day the same way again.

Thank you to Netgalley and InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: February 21, 2023

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Book Review: On the Banks of Plum Creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek
Little House #4
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

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

I continue to be amazed that anyone survived life in these conditions, and I continue to be amazed at some of the choices Pa makes. Between the plague of grasshoppers and the dozen blizzards before Christmas, this family defines the “pioneer spirit.” Pa’s decision to borrow against a future wheat crop doesn’t seem wise, but it isn’t even the first questionable thing he’s done in this series. I liked reading about Ma and the two young girls working together to take care of things while Pa was away for months at a time and Laura learning to read. While some aspects of the stories seem to be the same from book to book, the setting and hardships tend to change drastically, keeping the series fresh so far.

As before, my enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator, Cherry Jones, who does a fantastic job, and being able to hear Pa’s fiddle, thanks to Paul Woodiel. If you’ve ever considered reading this series, or have already read it and have occasion to listen to the audiobooks, I say do it!

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Book Review: The Valley of Fear

The Valley of Fear
Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

Like A Study in Scarlet, this novella is in two parts—the mystery being solved by Holmes and the backstory of the principle character in the mystery. Each part has a bit of a twist near the end. The mystery section is interesting enough, though doesn’t stand out much from the others I’ve read so far. I was spoiled on the twist (people seem to care a lot less about spoiler tags and warnings when leaving a low rating), so it’s difficult to say how I would have felt about it. It didn’t seem particularly inspired, that’s all I can really say. The backstory portion I found interesting and unnecessarily long in turns. It’s very difficult for me to get into the head of someone who is so brutal and uncaring. The twist, though, was probably one of the most surprising twists I’ve read. I did not see it coming and mentally applauded Doyle for the misdirect. I raised the story at least half a star, maybe a full star, just because of that twist.

I have to say that screen writers over the years have really done a number with Moriarty. I am sure I’m not the only person who has read these stories after seeing and hearing about Holmes over the years and imagining Moriarty as a dastardly foil for the great detective, only to realize that book Moriarty is nothing compared to his on-screen counterparts. This book had even less Moriarty than the short story in which he was introduced (“The Final Problem” in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes), and now that I’ve read both stories with the infamous villain in them, I really can’t believe how big of a deal the character became. We really only know he’s brilliant because we’re told he is. There’s no proof given; Sherlock says he’s a criminal mastermind, so that’s all we need to make up stories about his treachery. Anyway, all of that aside, this was a more memorable Holmes story for me, so that’s something (though it has nothing to do with Moriarty).

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Book Review: Kidnapping Kevin Kowalski

Kidnapping Kevin Kowalski
by Mary Jane Auch

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

After an accident, Kevin Kowalski isn’t quite the same anymore. But his best friends, Ryan and Mooch, think he can do more than his mom will let him do, and they plan to prove it to him by kidnapping him.

Another book I remember from childhood, I read this again recently so I could discuss it with my daughter. We both enjoyed the antics that the kids get up to in the book and like the friendship displayed. While it certainly isn’t easy for Ryan and Mooch to know how to act around their friend who has some brain damage from a bike accident, I appreciate the narrator, Ryan, in his attempts to learn how to be the friend Kevin needs. There is a moment in the story when a group of older kids are hanging out in the woods near where our main characters are camping, and it gets a little risque, but not graphic. Still, it gave me pause, as I knew my 12-year-old daughter had read the scene as well, and she did say it got a little uncomfortable for her too. Other than that, though, I enjoyed the book, as did my daughter.

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