Book Review: Maus

Maus
Book #1
by Art Spiegelman

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical non-fiction graphic novel

The story of Polish Jew Vladek Spiegelman, as told to his son, is not an easy one. In this 1st volume of 2, we’re shown in images what Vladek’s life was in the time leading up to and in the early days of the Nazis’ suppression of Jews in Poland. In tandem, Art shows his research process with his father, as he tries to interview him about his past and get along with him at the same time. The 1st volume takes Vladek right up to the gates of Auschwitz, and takes Art to the brink of despair with his tormented father.

The horrific things that happened during the time leading up to the Holocaust (and some of the beginning) is difficult enough to read about, but to see it in this format can make it even more difficult. Spiegelman doesn’t pull any punches in his father’s account or his own. It’s a depressing story, yet I’ve always appreciated reading about the amazing ingenuity of survivors of the Holocaust. Even while we see the depths of human depravity, we also see a shining light as those who are basically safe (the Germans may not have been rounding up the average Polish citizen, but they weren’t exactly making life easy on them either) risk their own safety to help those who are being persecuted.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories like this, preferring real accounts to fictional ones, and it’s difficult not to imagine myself in that situation. While the characters in this book are depicted as animals, in a way, this adds another layer to the realism while also making it a little more palatable (though just a little). I would recommend this to be read by anyone interested in this part of history, even if you don’t normally read graphic novels. I don’t either, but this book, and it’s follow-up, have captivated me for years.

Find out more about Maus

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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: The Return of the King

The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings #3
by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of the other books in this series, 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. Also to reiterate–I have watched the movies several times, though it’s now been a few years since I last did so. And keep in mind, there may be some slight spoilers ahead.

So first, let me just say that wow, was I surprised when the ring was destroyed so early in the book! Seriously, does anyone get away with pacing like that these days? I understand a lot more now why the film had so many “endings,” which never bothered me like it did some others. It’s not hard to see how such an epic tale is owed so much wrap-up. But to see that the movies actually toned down the amount of story that took place after the climax was a surprise. And while I could have done without the storyline with Eowyn and Faramir, overall, I didn’t hate all of that follow-up like I expected to. The story of the hobbits taking back the Shire was interesting and gave a culmination for a major character that, when last seen, had become weak and whiny. I’d say maybe Tolkien should have kept this story for another book or appendix, but to be honest, I may not have read it then. So I can’t really complain about the length of the book after the climax. It’s still strange, though.

And in a related note, the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen, which is a huge deal in the movies (maybe too huge) is mostly shown in an appendix, as I understand it. So without reading that, it’s pretty lacking for me. Maybe someday I will, but I’m going to let Middle Earth sit for a while right now.

One more thing–I know a lot of people see Eowyn as a great example of a strong female character. In some ways, yes, she’s strong and determined. But I think I would have admired her more if she had chosen to stay behind. She essentially states that she has sworn to rule Rohan in place of those who are going to war, but seems to simply decide she’s tired of doing so. And she assumes that she was left to do so only because she was a woman. Whether or not that last part is true, I think the important factor here is that she agreed to it, and then decided to leave her homeland anyway. To me, honesty and integrity are more important than showing that women can do as much as men can. But yes, good did come of the action she chose, and if nothing else, it shows her as a real, flawed character.

I find it interesting that the 2nd book in the series was my favorite of the 3, even while I’m pretty sure it was my least favorite of the movies (though I did still like it plenty). I don’t think I’ll ever appreciate these books or the author as much as the diehard Tolkien fans do. However, I do anticipate re-reading these books more than once in the future (probably still as audiobooks, but who knows) and picking up something new each time.

Find out more about The Return of the King

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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!

2020 in Books

2020 was my first full year of reading and reviewing the books I read. I’ve really enjoyed this journey, ever since starting it in July 2019. I’ve had some ups and downs with my reading–months packed with books and months where I barely got through any. But I’m so glad I’ve gotten back into the habit of reading regularly, which I left behind when life took over! From my Goodreads “My Year in Books” page:

I miss the graphic that used be on the page, where books piled up as you read more throughout the year.

My total is more accurately 117 books for the year, because one of them is my own book that was published last month, and the other is a super short story taking place between 2 books I read.

Below are the books I read in 2020. The link is to my review for that book, and a link to the book on Goodreads is at the bottom of each review.

January

I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn (5 / 5)
The Gray Chamber* by Grace Hitchcock (3.5 / 5)
Stealth Power by Vikki Kestell (4 / 5)
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness* by Andrew Peterson (4.5 / 5)
His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac (3 / 5)
The Land Beneath Us* by Sarah Sundin (5 / 5)
Head On by John Scalzi (4 / 5)

February

Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope (3 / 5)
Seconds to Live* by Susan Sleeman (2.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (4.5 / 5)
Blessed Are the Misfits** by Brant Hansen (5 / 5)
This Light Between Us* by Andrew Fukuda (3.5 / 5)
Heaven’s Open Book by Sheldon Peart (2.5 / 5)
Sneak by Evan Angler (4 / 5)
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (4 / 5)
The Blue Cloak* by Shannon McNear (3.5 / 5)

March

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (5 / 5)
Home Song by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (4 / 5)
Stealth Retribution by Vikki Kestell (3.5 / 5)
North! or Be Eaten* by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (3 / 5)
Hope Is a Dangerous Place by Jim Baton (3.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun (4 / 5)
The House at the End of the Moor* by Michelle Griep (3 / 5)
The Dandelion Killer** by Wanda Luttrell (4 / 5)
The Treasure Map by Tyler Scott Hess (4 / 5)

April

Landry Park by Bethany Hagen (3.5 / 5)
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness** by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
The Outcast by Taran Matharu (3.5 / 5)
Star of Persia* by Jill Eileen Smith (4 / 5)
Storm by Evan Angler (4 / 5)
The Wounded Spirit by Frank E. Peretti (5 / 5)
Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery (4 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
Adorning the Dark* by Andrew Peterson (4 / 5)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (5 / 5)
The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin (4 / 5)
Fahrenheit 451** by Ray Bradbury (3.5 / 5)

May

4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace* by Johann Twiss (4.5 / 5)
Deep State Stealth by Vikki Kestell (3 / 5)
Time Benders: The Machine by J.B. Yanni (2 / 5)
Healing Her Heart by Laura Scott (3.5 / 5)
Unoffendable by Brant Hansen (5 / 5)
North! Or Be Eaten** by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
A Lady of Esteem by Kristi Ann Hunter (4 / 5)
Daughter of Cana* by Angela Hunt (4 / 5)
The Green Dress* by Liz Tolsma (4 / 5)

June

The Tech by Mark Ravine (3 / 5)
A Soldier’s Promise by Laura Scott (3.5 / 5)
The Monster in the Hollows* by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (4.5 / 5)
Eye of the Storm* by Ryan Stevenson (4 / 5)

July

A Bride of Convenience* by Jody Hedlund (3.5 / 5)
The Warden and the Wolf King* by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
Paris Never Leaves You* by Ellen Feldman (3.5 / 5)
What You Wish For* by Katherine Center (4 / 5)
Loving a Rebel by Linda Ford (4 / 5)
Final Chance by E.B. Roshan (3.5 / 5)
The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne* by Elsa Hart (4 / 5)

August

Forsaking All Others by Kari Trumbo (2 / 5)
Don’t Keep Silent* by Elizabeth Goddard (2.5 / 5)
The Maze Runner by James Dashner (4 / 5)
The Black Midnight* by Kathleen Y’Barbo (3 / 5)
A Gathering Place by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (3.5 / 5)
Shoelaces and Brussels Sprouts** by Nancy S. Levene (5 / 5)
Peanut Butter and Jelly Secrets** by Nancy S. Levene (5 / 5)
Grapefruit Basket Upset by Nancy S. Levene (5 / 5)

September

Armada by Ernest Cline (2 / 5)
The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow* by Kim Vogel Sawyer (5 / 5)
Sadie by Courtney Summers (4 / 5)
Time and Again by Deborah Heal (3.5 / 5)
Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery (3.5 / 5)
The Shepherd’s Wife* by Angela Elwell Hunt (5 / 5)
The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern by Lilian Jackson Braun (4 / 5)
Jubilee Manor by Bethany Hagen (4 / 5)
The Door in the Dragon’s Throat by Frank Peretti (3.5 / 5)
before i knew you by Beth Steury (3.5 / 5)

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

November

The Monster in the Hollows** by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
A New Leaf by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (3.5 / 5)
To Steal a Heart* by Jen Turano (3 / 5)
The Death Cure by James Dashner (3 / 5)
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien (5 / 5)
Obsessed** by Ted Dekker (4 / 5)
Unclaimed Legacy by Deborah Heal (2.5 / 5)
A Castaway in Cornwall* by Julie Klassen (4.5 / 5)
The Cat Who Turned on and Off by Lilian Jackson Braun (5 / 5)
Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (4 / 5)
Prophet by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
Escape from the Island of Aquarius by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
A Tale of Two Hearts by Michelle Griep (2 / 5)

December

An Ivy Hill Christmas* by Julie Klassen (5 / 5)
The Tombs of Anak by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (5 / 5)
A Christmas Star by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (4 / 5)
The Gentleman Spy by Erica Vetsch (4.5 / 5)
The Old Lace Shop by Michelle Griep (4 / 5)
Cupcakes for Christmas by Kate Hewitt (3.5 / 5)
Joy to the World* by Carolyn Miller, Amanda Barratt, & Erica Vetsch (4 / 5)
All Through the Night* by Tara Johnson (4 / 5)
The End of the Magi** by Patrick W. Carr (4 / 5)

This list includes 32 ARCs (marked with a *) and 11 re-reads (marked with a **). I’m not going to try to pick my single favorite book from the year, but I did post about my top 10 favorites already. During the last year, I started 13 series and finished 10 series (some started in 2019). I currently have 10 series in progress. I also DNF’d 2 books (not listed anywhere in this post).

I’m really glad to see that I gave a much higher ratio of 5-star ratings this year than I did in 2019. Also a higher ratio of ratings 4 stars and above, which are all books I consider very good. I’ve started to find my preference in books, I think, while still trying to make sure I read outside of my preferred genres some, to keep things fresh and keep my mind open to new things.

Here is a break-down of the ratings I gave (there were a few books I read twice during the year, so I only counted them once each):
1 star: 1
1.5 stars: 0
2 stars: 7
2.5 stars: 5
3 stars: 9
3.5 stars: 21
4 stars: 39
4.5 stars: 7
5 stars: 24
Average rating: 3.85

Based on 2020’s results, I’ve set my 2021 reading goal on Goodreads at 125 books. I know I have a lot of short and/or middle-grade books I plan to read, so interspersing those will make 125 not too difficult to reach, barring unforeseen circumstances.

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, if anyone is interested in that.

What did you read last year? Let me know in the comments, and even feel free to link to your own summary post!

December in Review

Happy New Year to all who see this post!!

I read 10 books last month, which surprises me, considering that it took me an entire week to read the last one, due to holidays slowing me down. I wrote my 150th review earlier this month, after starting to read more and put up reviews on my blog back in July 2019.

Also of note, I finished my Goodreads reading challenge back in November, though I forgot to mention it then.

Outcast cover, Kindle
Here are the books I read in December:

An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen (5 / 5)
The Tombs of Anak by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (5 / 5)
A Christmas Star by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (4 / 5)
The Gentleman Spy by Erica Vetsch (4.5 / 5)
The Old Lace Shop by Michelle Griep (4 / 5)
Cupcakes for Christmas by Kate Hewitt (3.5 / 5)
Joy to the World by Carolyn Miller, Amanda Barratt, & Erica Vetsch (4 / 5)
All Through the Night by Tara Johnson (4 / 5)
The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr (4 / 5)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from December was Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. I finished 1 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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Reads from 2020

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl, which I haven’t done in a while now. The topic today is a look back at our favorite books from the past year. After a full year of reading, this was a little more difficult than it was last year, when I’d only been reading for half the year. Last year I had to include some 4-star books too, but this year, I had plenty of 5-star reads to choose from!

After narrowing it down to 10, these are in no particular order. I did clump similar genres together, though. Also, I did not include any re-reads, and I’m lumping series into 1 entry, even if the entire series wasn’t 5 stars.

1. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
I love all of Brant Hansen’s books, and I did give 5 stars to his newest book this year too. However, this one took the edge over The Truth About Us just a bit. Brant has a way of cutting to the heart of the matter. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and is funny to boot. (See my full review here.)

2. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
Continuing in a similar vein to the previous book, considering that Brant and Sherri are radio co-hosts, Sherri’s book is a hilarious take on PMS, the difficulties women face, and how they don’t have to be alone in their misery. (See my full review here.)

3. The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
This series of books has dominated my year. I read the entire series of 4 books between January and June, and then listened to the first three again as the author read them live online to beat the quarantine blues. He just started reading book #4, The Warden and the Wolf King, 3 nights ago. My 10-year-old daughter read the series upon my suggestion, watched the live readings with me, and has basically become obsessed. And my husband bought me the entire re-released series, with beautiful new covers and new illustrations inside, for my birthday back in May. It’s been a Wingfeather-heavy year. (See my full review for the first book in the series here.)

4. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
My daughter returned the favor of my recommendation on the previous series with this series. I’ve only read the first one so far, though she’s read all but the newest, and it was so much fun! It’s basically an escape room in a 3-story library with Willy Wonka as the game master. I mean, what can be better than that? (See my full review here.)

5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I love a well-done time travel story, and this is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s written for a younger audience, but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway (I’ve always been a little childish). (See my full review here.)

6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I’d never read any Tolkien before this. I have seen all of the movies, though. I love the LoTR movies, though I had only watched the Hobbit movies once (I watched them again after reading the book). I decided to start with The Hobbit, because it’s written for a younger audience, and after enjoying it, I went on to listen to the audiobooks of the LoTR trilogy (on the third one now). It has been very interesting seeing the differences between the books and the movies, and I know I’ll need to read it all again multiple times to really get a decent understanding of the depth. (See my full review here.)

7. The Shepherd’s Wife by Angela Hunt
This is the second book in a series of Biblical fiction set during and after the time Jesus was an adult on earth, from the perspectives of people on the peripheral of his ministry. I liked book #2, Daughter of Cana, but I loved this one. The book is character-driven, inspirational, and so engaging. I’m waiting anxiously for the 3rd book in the series to come out! (See my full review here.)

8. The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow by Kim Vogel Sawyer
I so loved the combination of characters and their arcs in this book, and how they brought out the themes of looking for blessings during difficulties and using love and kindness to drive away hatred. A plot that seems complicated was very well written by Sawyer, and I’m now looking into her other works. (See my full review here.)

9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
My sister highly recommended this book written entirely in epistolary form, and I wasn’t sure how I’d like it. But I loved it, unsurprisingly mostly due to the characters. But I found that the format of the story being told through letters made it a particularly quick and easy read, because there’s not a lot of description. I know that might bother some people, but I really liked it. (See my full review here.)

10. Sunrise at Normandy trilogy by Sarah Sundin
I read all of this trilogy this year, starting with #3, The Land Beneath Us (shown above), because I got it as an ARC. The third one was my favorite of the trilogy, but only by a little bit. The entire trilogy tells the story of three brothers who were separated by a very unfortunate series of events that led to three years of estrangement. During that time, each of the brothers trained in different branches of the military and became part of the invasion of Normandy. I love the way these books tell each of the brothers’ individual stories during WWII, but also tells the complete story of the broken relationship between the brothers and their family. I can’t wait until I read these books again, in order this time, of course. (See my review of the book shown above, which is third, but I read first, here.)

Have you read any of these? What were some of your favorite reads this year?

Book Review: All Through the Night

All Through the Night
by Tara Johnson

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

When war between the states breaks out, Cadence Piper wants to help in some way, thereby also helping her family regain some of the honor brought on by her brother who ran away after their mother died. But she’s not allowed to be a nurse, because she’s young, pretty, and unmarried. Her beautiful voice, though, opens doors when the wounded soldiers begin to ask for her songs. In the hospital, she meets Dr. Joshua Ivy, a surgeon, who knows Cadence doesn’t belong there and kicks her out. But when Cadence stumbles onto his clandestine activities, the two eventually become linked in ways neither would have wanted or expected.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I had some ups and downs, especially as the story went on for a little while. But I did like the characters and several of the different plots presented. Both Cadence and Joshua were quite spirited, and it definitely caused some issues. But it also has a lot to do with how they got into the situations they got into. I liked the time period and the realism involved in Joshua’s work with the soldiers (heartbreaking, but real), as well as his “other” work.

Most of what bothered me about the book came in the second half or later. I think the story has a little too much packed into it, and that with some trimming, it might have been a 5-star read for me. Don’t get me wrong, 4 stars is still great! Still, there is one arc that never goes anywhere, and another arc that is resolved far too easily for my taste. Both of these probably could have been cut out. There are also a few things that happen that really bug me and make characters seem incompetent or insensitive, when they aren’t otherwise shown to be that way, but I can’t go into detail due to spoilers.

I did like the cameo by Fanny Crosby, which made this Psalty-loving girl really happy. In the end, I liked the book quite a bit, and I would recommend it to fans of Christian historical romance.

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

Find out more about All Through the Night
Publication date: January 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: Cupcakes for Christmas

Cupcakes for Christmas
Return to Willoughby Close #1
by Kate Hewitt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christmas romance

Olivia has been living in the English village of Wychwood-on-Lea for a couple of years now, taking over her mom’s tea shop and bakery. She’s content in her single life, but with her friends all recently starting new families, when a friendly stranger begins to show up at the shop now and then, Olivia starts to wonder if she’s ready for a new chapter in her life. However, Simon is quite the enigma–buying cupcakes from her “12 Days of Cupcakes” promotion and not eating them, showing up places with a woman and child that may or may not be his wife and son, and simply disappearing for days at a time. He may be hiding some kind of secret, but he’s also funny, compassionate, and is there when she really needs someone, as her mom begins to show signs of health problems. What does Christmas have in store for Olivia?

As sweet, novella-length Christmas romances go, this one was decent. There were some things that happened that I found strange and weren’t really explained, and it was a little slow overall, but not in a way that bothered me. I began to suspect Simon’s big secret before it was revealed, but it turned out to be a lot worse and more involved than I thought.

There was a whole cast of side characters that I believe were all stars in their own romances in a series the author had previously written. I hadn’t read any of that, and I don’t think it’s necessary, though I’m sure readers of the Willoughby Close series will enjoy seeing these people. The big downside to me is that there are a lot of these ladies/families, and they basically all blended together without distinct personalities, at least in the space of this story. So it was a whole aspect to the story that fell flat.

If you’re looking for a light, fluffy Christmas story, this really isn’t it. There were some dark moments and difficult subjects, which the author did handle well. It was a bit heavy for the story length, but in the end, I appreciated what both Olivia and Simon were going through and the connection it helped forge between them. If you don’t mind some heaviness in your romance, whether at Christmas time or not, consider checking out this book.

Find out more about Cupcakes for Christmas

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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: Joy to the World

Joy to the World
by Carolyn Miller, Amanda Barratt, & Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christmas-themed short stories, Christian historical romance

Joy to the World contains three novellas from three different authors, each in the genre of Regency romance, perfect for the Christmas season. My overall rating for the book is an average of my ratings for each story, shown below. Below the ratings are brief (as much as possible) reviews for each book.

“Heaven and Nature Sing” by Carolyn Miller2 / 5
“Far as the Curse Is Found” by Amanda Barratt5 / 5
“Wonders of His Love” by Erica Vetsch5 / 5

“Heaven and Nature Sing” is the tale of 2 people who were close to engagement a year past, but are now estranged and are thrust together during the holidays, which certainly allows for a romance to develop in a short time period. There’s history there. But strangely, the only way the author seemed to be able to inject romance was related to kissing. Everything was about finding ways to put them under a kissing ball (mistletoe) or thrust them into some other awkward situation with physical closeness, before they’d even had a chance to try to work out their issues from the past.

Other things happened that made me dislike the characters or made me scratch my head, like Edith (female lead) allowing the other young adults to set George (male lead) up to mock propose to her, and then Edith actually blaming George for the situation! She also spends at least half of the story thinking about George and then mentally berating herself for doing that…and then she gets angry at him for saving her from a falling tree branch. I also noted a bit of dialog in which George asks Edith if she wants him to “kiss it better” in a story filled with flowery, old-fashioned language both in the dialog and surrounding it. Sadly, this story did not go over well with me. 

“Far as the Curse is Found” is the tale of two very broken people, albeit in different ways, who help each other out of the darkness. The connection between them is fast, but not in an unbelievable way. I think that Jenny’s background and brokenness are dealt with less than Dwight’s, and if the story had been longer, I would have liked to see more of how she had to overcome the trauma she’d gone through. It’s not treated frivolously, though, and she’s shown to be a strong character throughout.

Dwight undergoes the largest transformation, and I really like him every step of the way. Again, things may be a bit too quick, but it was explored well in the space the author had. The curse angle is a really nice glue for the story and ties into the story’s title and the book’s theme very well. Other reviewers have compared this story to Beauty and the Beast, which I can’t comment on, never having seen any version of it, but I can see some possible allusions. That aside, in case it’s not obvious, I loved this story! 

“Wonders of His Love” is the tale of a Scottish portrait painter trying to make a name for himself in England and the picture-perfect young widow that feels as displaced as he does. Cilla had married the future Duke of Haverly, who then died before he inherited the title. She’s left in limbo, having practically become a servant to her very demanding and prissy mother-in-law. She reminds me a lot of me–defaulting to the a spot in the background, wondering if this will be her entire life. Even when she starts to make strides forward, she still falls back on old, “easy” habits. If the story had been novel-length, there would have been a lot more room to explore that, I think, but on the other hand, it might have started to get tiring, too.

Hamish is a different kind of character than I’ve read in this genre in the past (not that I have a very long history reading Regency romance), and I really liked that. I liked him in a lot of different ways, including the fact that the author didn’t dwell so much on him being tall and ridiculously handsome as every romantic hero seems to be. His talent and compulsion for sketching scenes, coupled with his ability to bring out the truth of  a subject, were all really interesting facets to his character. That’s a lot of why I would have loved to see a particular sketch Hamish had made come to fruition, and I’m not sure if the author simply ran out of space or forgot about it.

This third story was my favorite of the three by a very slim margin. I’ll admit right now, though, that what pushed it over the top was most likely the inclusion of characters from two of Erica Vetsch’s other novels. As soon as I realized who the female lead in this story was, I was so excited. And sure enough, both the Haverlys from The Gentleman Spy and the Whitelocks from The Lost Lieutenant were in the story (the Haverlys moreso, which makes sense, given that Cilla is the duke’s sister-in-law). Both of these books I read just recently and loved, but if you haven’t read them, don’t let that put you off from reading this story. You don’t need to know their stories to still follow and enjoy this novella.

Final thoughts on the whole book: Overall, it’s a wonderful collection of Christmas-related Regency romance stories. I do think plenty of others will like the first story, based on large differences in personal preferences, and I recommend the entire book to fans of the genres mentioned above, or even those looking for good Christian romance in general. I have a feeling I’ll re-read this during a future Christmas season and will even give the first story another chance.

Thank you to Netgalley and Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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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!

Weekly Writing Update: 12/20

I’m not even going to pretend that I did much work on book #3 in the series this last week. I put the new order of scenes that I came up with the week before into Scrivener, and then I started writing one of the new scenes I have planned. I didn’t even get that scene finished, as various things, mostly related to preparing for Christmas, took up much more of my time than I’d expected. Plus, I’ve been having headaches more often lately, which makes focusing on writing difficult.

This coming week, of course, will hold even more Christmas prep, plus the day itself. I will attempt to spend at least a little time in Pithea, even if it’s not official revision. I have a character interview in mind, so maybe I’ll do that in little snatches of time throughout the week.

While I work on continuing the series, if you’re interested in reading where it all starts, Pithea is available on Amazon as both an e-book and paperback (it’s also on Kindle Unlimited).


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Book Review: The Old Lace Shop

The Old Lace Shop
Once Upon a Dickens Christmas #3
by Michelle Griep

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance, Christmas fiction

Recently widowed Bella White spent almost a decade with a man who frightened and abused her. Now that he’s gone, she’s free to make her own path. Keeping one of the businesses her husband owned, Bella decides to help run the lace factory. Her business partner, though, who owns 49% of the business and is used to running it alone, is not so pleased. And since that partner is Edmund Archer, who was once Bella’s beau, things are quite awkward when Bella arrives to help run the factory. And the lace manufacturing business is a lot more cut-throat than Bella expected.

After the disappointment of book #2 in this series, I was glad to be able to enjoy this one more. I applauded Bella’s desire to earn her own money, rather than just live on what her husband left her. And her heart for local women who’d gone blind working in the lace factories was a really nice side plot. The overall story was decent, if not a little too cluttered for a short novel.

Right off the bat, it was strange going into this book after reading the first two in the series, because they were both told in 3rd person past tense, while this one is in 1st person present tense. This is an odd choice for a book with alternating POVs, and I’ll admit to being a little confused a few times when I’d forget whose perspective we were in at the time. Also, there’s more pressure to make sure both characters’ voices are unique, since they’re obviously not the exact same person, and that wasn’t necessarily done well enough here. It didn’t help that I listened to the audiobook though, which I’ve now decided to avoid for romances if at all possible. And that may have been why the romance in this story felt a little weak, or it may have been the story itself, but I don’t think I can say for sure.

The epilogue of this story was about the 2nd-chance coin that shows up in all 3 books. This is a shame, because I wasn’t as connected to that coin as I could have been, and so the epilogue mostly fell flat for me. Be that as it may, I still liked the story in general, and I do recommend this book for anyone looking for a quick Christmas read, or for a historical and/or Christian romance.

Find out more about The Old Lace Shop
**As far as I can tell, this story is not available in any format by itself. It is only available as the third story in the collection titled Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, which contains all three stories in this series.

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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!