Book Review: Unclaimed Legacy

Unclaimed Legacy
History Mystery #2
by Deborah Heal

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian sci-fi

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Time and Again.

Abby’s summer tutoring job continues, but the computer program that allowed them to “time surf” the history of her pupil’s house has stopped working. When they house sit for a relative of a friend, though, the program invites them to view the history of a whole new area, this time alongside the handsome John Roberts. They get much more than they bargained for.

This second installment in the series is, to me, a step down from the first. While the story that they dig up in the lives of the past occupants of the house is more in-depth than what is shown in the first book, it’s also a lot darker. What bothers me more, though, is the story in the present time.

I’ll start with some good things before I get to what might seem like a rant. I really liked the little name game that John and Merri, Abby’s pupil, played throughout some of the story. I liked that the little boy with the deaf mother has people who care enough about him to help with his speech issues. And I did like the “Old Dears” as characters–maybe just a little over the top, but generally cute (the big secret between them notwithstanding). I also really liked Merri’s connection with the Old Dears. It was nice to see her come out of her shell more, even as her mom ignored her more than before and her dad acted like a typical fictional deadbeat dad (not quite so typical in the end, though).

However…if I wasn’t a fan of Abby (the main character, mind you) in the previous book, I just plain disliked her in this book. Her best friend, with whom she talks on the phone a few times throughout the book, refers to Merri, as “chubster,” as well as several other unflattering, harsh terms, which she uses because Abby had previously used them in referring to Merri. Abby chides her friend, but only because Merri is trying to do better now, not because Abby recognizes that those were just horrible things to say about the 11-year-old girl she’s tutoring, who already has huge issues! If Merri had heard any of those terms, would she have just accepted that they were okay to use in the past, before she was “trying”? No, she’d probably be devastated.

Then there’s the developing relationship between Abby and John. The problem is that he tends to take off when things get a little intimate. This leads Merri’s mom to speculate that maybe he’s gay, because goodness knows he couldn’t possibly have any other reason to not paw a girl he likes. But thank goodness he checked out her butt so that we can lay that question to rest. Seriously? And there’s a friend of John’s who’s basically a 90s tech geek, right down to the 90s lingo. It was really strange.

This book, like the previous, has absolutely nothing in the way of mid-chapter scene transitions, which can be really jarring when you’re reading and suddenly it’s another day, location, etc. Overall, though, it’s the characters and present-day plot that make me not so sure I want to read the final book in this series. Especially since the synopsis involves Abby’s best friend who almost seemed offended when Abby told her not to call Merri a chubster, and who otherwise is a bit pushy and annoying to me. If you’re really into history, you may still find this series to your liking if the things I mentioned above don’t bother you. Definitely start with the first book, though.

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Book Review: A Castaway in Cornwall

A Castaway in Cornwall
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

Laura Callaway feels like a castaway as she searches flotsam and jetsam from nearby shipwrecks on the coast in Cornwall for anything that might be of value, either monetarily or sentimentally. She’s not completely alone, but she does feel abandoned by her parents. Then she discovers a real castaway on the beach–Alexander Lucas, who managed to survive a shipwreck. As Laura helps nurse him back to health, clues begin to surface about his identity, and before she knows it, Laura is caught up in a game of spies, smugglers, and prisoners.

This book had my attention from chapter one and kept it all the way through. I was surprised to realize how many pages it had once I was done, and the only reason it even took me more than two days to read is because I was too busy to get back to it like I wanted to. Laura and Alexander were both really interesting characters, and the description of shipwrecks, smugglers, and treasure kept me firmly in early 1800s England.

Even side characters and small side plots were interesting, and what I really liked about the story is that the romance wasn’t so in-your-face, as if it was the only thing that mattered in the book. The half-point detraction was for a few minor quibbles that mostly came about near the end of the book. Some things were resolved a bit too easily, in my opinion, including a relationship that ended up feeling like it was only strained to give the MC a stronger reason to feel “castaway.” Also the villain’s arc ended with a trope that I find tired.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am already looking for more from this author. I highly recommend it to fans of Christian books in the historical and/or romantic genres.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: December 1, 2020

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Book Review: Obsessed

Obsessed
by Ted Dekker
My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical thriller, Christian

It’s 1973, and Stephen Friedman is a realtor in Los Angeles. He has no family, no history, no roots, but that doesn’t bother him–or so he claims. When he finds out that a Jewish Holocaust survivor who died recently might have been his mother, it doesn’t affect him–or so he tries to convince himself. But then he learns that she may have left behind a vast treasure…and some very real danger, both of which are now his to uncover.

This book is quite captivating, as basically a conjunction of many different people’s obsessions. Shown in dual timelines, love, hate, hope, thirst for power–all of these combine into a story that spans almost 30 years. The second time period shown, besides Stephen in 1973, is that of 2 women in a concentration camp in 1944-45. And while their lives are threatened by the man who runs the camp, Stephen’s life is threatened by that Nazi’s serial killer son. It’s really interesting to go back and forth and see the story play out, but also see how the son, Roth Braun, was shaped into a psychopath by his equally sadistic father.

The biggest downside in the story, in my opinion, is right there in the title. It’s not the obsession, per se, but how unrealistically quickly it’s developed by Stephen. And the jump from being obsessed with getting his hands on what his mother might have left to being in love with a woman he’s never met, simply because he’s told they were born for each other, doesn’t stir any emotion in me. Except eye-rolling. Is that an emotion? Plus, too many people in the story seem to have the same take on love and obsession, which is fairly unrealistic.

I also think suspense could have been built a little more without some of the scenes shown from Braun’s perspective. And there was one particular major action he took that did not really add anything to the plot.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s not my first time reading it, but it is my first time in 10+ years. I’m really glad it held up as the book I remember loving, and I would recommend it for all fans of Christian suspense or thrillers (understanding that it’s fairly light on a Christian message).

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Book Review: The Two Towers

The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings #2
by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of The Fellowship of the Ring, this is going to be less of a real review and more just my thoughts on my experience with this book. This is my first time through the trilogy, and I’m listening to the audiobooks, because I don’t think I’d make it through if I was reading. One note about the audiobook–Rob Inglis, the narrator, does a fantastic job! He even sings the songs, and while I suppose it would be strange if the narrator of these books with so many songs didn’t attempt to sing them, I still think it’s particularly neat.

I liked this book more than the previous, as we jump right back into the story. It felt more swiftly paced, too, even during the part where Frodo and Sam were wandering for a while. As with the previous book, my notes on this book are from a standpoint of having seen the movies several times, and I prefer the movie that goes back and forth between the two storylines, rather than showing all of one, then all of another. But I do appreciate that they were written to be two separate books, and then had to be combined into one. I also liked better, in the movie, not knowing that Sam had taken the ring from Frodo when he thought he was dead, or knowing that Sam was even following him, until the right moment.

One of the things I’m getting most out of reading the books after having a cursory understanding of the story from the movies is getting to understand the world and the characters more. For example, I like having a better understanding that Gandalf is something special (celestial, even), not just a simple wizard (whatever that would mean anyway). Also, Gollum is so wonderfully sarcastic in the book, which I just loved!

I know that I’m not going to appreciate these books the way that many others do; I don’t think I’m the right kind of person to really get into the history and depth Tolkien put into his world. But I’m still enjoying them and am glad I’m reading them.

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Book Review: The Death Cure

The Death Cure
The Maze Runner #3
by James Dashner

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, The Maze Runner & The Scorch Trials.

The first thought I had after I finished reading this book was, “Eh.” And in a lot of ways, that accurately sums up my thoughts on it. It was…okay. Not terrible (better than book #2), but not great either. The answers in this book only solidified my theory that Dashner did not have the trilogy planned out when he wrote the first book and didn’t really know where to go from the maze.

The reasoning behind all of the trials and “variables” was mediocre at best. Terminology was strange and didn’t always make sense (like “killzone”), and in the end, most of what was going on was not any more grand, exciting, or surprising than everything I guessed at along the way. The ending was more of what I would call a “non-ending.” Not satisfying in any way.

The characters didn’t get much better in this book. The only character I really liked throughout the series was shafted in this book. Teresa was even more pointless in this book than in the previous. And I seriously don’t get any kind of a feel for Brenda. So many people like her, but she seems fairly lifeless to me. And something she said near the beginning of this book, now that I think of it, makes no real sense and barely came into play.

So in the end, would I recommend this series? No. Not to adult readers, at least. Maybe teenagers get more out of it, I don’t know. It seems like it’s one of those that you either love or just don’t care for at all. I liked the first book, but the rest of the series didn’t deliver on that set-up. And I have no desire to read the two prequel books.

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Book Review: To Steal a Heart

To Steal a Heart
The Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency #1
by Jen Turano

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

When a resident at the Holbrooke boardinghouse is falsely accused of theft, the other ladies of the boardinghouse band together, using their diverse talents and abilities, to clear her name. From this comes the idea to form the Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency, which appeals to the ladies of New York City in 1886. For Gabriella Goodhue, who puts her childhood as a thief to use for the agency, this leads to a reunion with her once-best friend from her childhood, who has also turned from a life of crime. Nicholas Quinn is as surprised to see Gabriella as she is to see him and even more surprised by the fact that she seems to hate him now.

This book, unfortunately, was not really for me. It hit a lot of wrong chords with me, and I really don’t care for the author’s writing style. The characters are okay, though most of the larger characters seem too similar to each other, with only a few stand-outs. The villain is incredibly over-the-top and cliched. The plot is disjointed and doesn’t really follow one thread all the way through, except maybe for the connection between Gabriella and Nicholas.

The premise is interesting and the story that comes out of it is decent. The given synopsis (clearing the friend’s name) comes to a conclusion before the 50% mark, which led me to wonder what the book was really about. In the end, the story goal seems to really have been about giving both of these street urchins (Gabriella and Nicholas, who were both orphans and part of a gang of thieves in their childhood) answers to their past. This came out of nowhere, as it wasn’t really established in the first part of the book, other than the simple fact that they had been orphans.

I also thought the history between Gabriella and Nicholas was not nearly strong or deep enough for how they acted and talked. Gabriella was 12 when she was taken away from the gang. Nicholas was (I think) 14. Yet they act and talk as if they were much older and more mature when they knew each other in the past. When they meet again, they’ve been apart longer than they’ve been together, and they certainly don’t act like they were super close as kids. We only know they were because they say they were.

All of the above things, however, would probably still have left me with a book I could enjoy, had it not been for the writing style itself. It was very wordy and felt really shallow. I’m not a stickler at all for the “show, don’t tell” adage, but if I am noticing an abundance of adverbs, it’s probably too much. Take for example the following: “That he looked incredibly furious was not in question, nor was it in question that he also looked rather dangerous.” Not only is this pure telling, it’s telling with way more words than necessary (and this happened often). Various expressions were overused throughout the book, too, like “resuming the friendship” and “lady love.”

I like the idea of the premise of the series, and the fact that the next book is about one of the most interesting characters from this book makes me a little sad. Because from reviews I’ve read of other Jen Turano books, I have a feeling this one is not a stand-out in regards to writing style. I don’t have any plans at this time to read any more of her books. However, she has many great reviews on a lot of books, including this one. So if you don’t think the issues I’ve mentioned in my review would bother you, please do give this book a try. It’s just a miss for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: November 17, 2020

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Book Review: A New Leaf

A New Leaf
Cape Light
#4
by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

It’s near the end of winter in Cape Light and a time for new beginnings for many of its residents. This includes the newest resident, Dr. Matthew Harding, who has just moved to town with his teenage daughter, hoping to start a new life three years after his wife’s death. Molly Willoughby is toying with the idea of starting a new business, Sophie Potter has to figure out how to move on after her ailing husband is gone, and a controversy from many years past shakes things up for Tucker Tulley.

One of the best things about this book is that the story moved away from the Warwick family, after 3 books about them in some capacity. They were in the background, which was fine, but the main storyline in this book involved Dr. Harding and Molly Willoughby. Overall, it was a decent read. Parts of it were better than others, and some characters were better than others.

The romance thread in this story didn’t draw me in like it probably should have. I liked how both grew as individuals and how they had a hand in helping each other see what they needed to work on. But even by the end, I didn’t feel much chemistry between them. They seemed more like really good friends. And there was an obstacle in there that seemed completely pointless.

On another story front, I was appalled by Fran Tulley’s actions in the book, even if she did feel bad about it later. And Tucker began to wear on me after a while too, since most of his own thoughts were about how uncertain he was of his feelings and actions at pretty much every step of the way.

In the end, the book was decent, but I didn’t love it enough to continue this series that has been mostly just okay so far. It feels like a good stopping point anyway, though, because all of the books after this are Christmas-themed, and the final page of this book provided a nice wrap-up to the first 4 books. I don’t know if that was intentional or not–maybe the series wasn’t originally meant to continue? However, I do have a copy of book #9, and with Christmas coming up and feeling like I have a good enough introduction to the series and the town, I do still plan to read that book, most likely my final go at the Cape Light series.

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October in Review

I read 14 books last month, which did break my previous record for books in one month by 1, but the page per book average was lower than normal for me (a lot of short books). Still, considering the reading slump I went through over the summer, I’d say I’m back in full swing. (Though NaNoWriMo being this month, I’m sure I’ll read a lot less this month, but at least it’ll be for a good reason.)

Here are the books I read in October:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (4 / 5)
The Sky Above Us by Sarah Sundin (5 / 5)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (5 / 5)
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (2.5 / 5)
The Lost Lieutenant by
(2 / 5)
(2 / 5)

(3.5 / 5)

Redshirts by John Scalzi
Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery (5 / 5)
The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from October was Anne’s House of Dreams. I finished 1 series, continued 2 series, and started 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: The Saturday Night Ghost Club

The Saturday Night Ghost Club
by Craig Davidson

My rating: 1 / 5
Genre: Coming of age drama

The blurb for this book says that it’s about some kids who spend the summer investigating local urban legends and ghost stories. It mentions the MC’s uncle with whom the MC spends most of his time. And in some places online, the book is compared to Stranger Things. None of these things is accurate. Oh, and you may see the book listed as horror. It’s not.

What really happens is that the summer passes quickly and only 5 local legends are investigated, the MC (Jake) goes long stretches without seeing his Uncle Calvin, and the only comparison that can be made to Stranger Things is that the book is set in the 80s and there are kids who do things.

The very first legend this club investigated was nice and creepy, and I thought it would ramp up from there. Instead, it ramped down. And the characters were limp and/or cliched. The girl felt like such a stereotype, and from the moment she’s introduced, Jake sees her as a goddess…for what reason, I still can’t tell you. Because she’s older, I guess?

Each chapter begins with tales of adult Jake’s life, from stories about his neurosurgeon cases to an account of his son being born. The reception of these parts seems to vary widely from reviewer to reviewer. I could have done without them, especially the too-descriptive explanations about how a brain looks and feels, and what it’s like to do surgery on one.

The “reveal” wasn’t very exciting, and I found it strange that the previous events didn’t all tie together like it seemed like they should (hard to explain what I mean without spoiling). Also, the book is possibly meant to be YA–it depends on where you look, but the MC is 12, after all–but there is some language and references to adult situations.

So clearly this book was a miss for me. I’m not generally one for horror anyway (and the fact that I read it a few days before Halloween is completely coincidence, as I don’t really do Halloween), but I thought it’d be a fun, intriguing read. Instead, I found myself wondering what the point of it was. And though I generally rate lower than the average book reviewer, this is the first book I’ve ever rated 1 star (I gave 1.5 stars once last year). I hate writing a review like this, and I know that the author put a lot of work into the book (as every author does) and that other people really liked it.

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Book Review: Anne’s House of Dreams

Anne’s House of Dreams
Book #5
by L.M. Montgomery

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

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

After the first book in the series, I have liked each one just a little less than the one before it. It didn’t seem quite the same anymore and also began to feel repetitive. Fortunately, this book brought me back to the love I had for the first book.

It’s not as if there are no more characters or situations that in some way mirror those from earlier books. But there was a lot less of that, and overall, everything felt new and fresh again. I’d say the characters introduced in this book, as well as getting to see Marilla and some of the others a bit more, really made the book for me. Not to mention Gilbert and Anne starting their lives together. I loved Captain Jim and got a kick out of Miss Cornelia, especially the way she and Captain Jim bantered.

Then there’s Leslie Moore. Of all the ways her story could have gone–and I had a few different predictions, believe me–I never imagined that twist.

Overall, I loved this book about as much as I loved the first book in the series. Unfortunately, it only highlighted the slower, drier books in between. I have no idea what to expect of the rest of the books in the series, but I can’t wait to find out.

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