Book Review: A Love to Cherish

A Love to Cherish
Glory, Montana #2, The Preacher’s Daughters
by Linda Ford

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

When Reese first sees Victoria, he’s convinced that she’s the missing daughter of a wealthy man from Chicago, where he used to live. But why is the woman living under an assumed name and claiming to be the adopted daughter of the local preacher and his wife? What Reese doesn’t know is that Victoria doesn’t remember anything about her life before 4 years ago when she was the sole survivor of a terrible accident. As Reese tries to untangle the truth, he grows closer to Victoria and begins to wonder if the truth might do more harm than good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this story very much. I did not care for the main male character, starting right from the beginning when Reese makes a big deal (in the narration) about valuing trust so highly, and then he misleads a storekeeper into thinking he was asking questions about Victoria because he was interested in her as a possible suitor. And then he proceeds to hide his suspicions from Victoria, under the guise of protecting her. The fact that this story is a romance, and thus the male and female leads have to end up together, doesn’t excuse the author from such contradictory characterization, or the fact that there’s no real consequence for this deception.

The book is short, maybe novella length, and yet, there is a lot of repetition. The story is shallow, mostly focusing on the difficulties Victoria faces not knowing her past and Reese’s vow to always find the truth, after being spurned by a deceitful woman. What added to the shallow feeling of the story is the author’s way of showing how the characters are feeling. Generally, they either shuddered or shivered if they were worried, nervous, unhappy, scared, maybe even confused. That’s it…shuddering or shivering (which, it can be argued, are practically the same thing anyway) are all they, especially Victoria, seem to be able to do to show those feelings.

I liked the first story in this series, but I don’t think I’ll continue on after reading this one. It felt rushed and hollow. As is common with books that I don’t care for, though, most of the other reviews for it are positive, so please check them out if the story interests you.

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Book Review: A Dream to Cherish

A Dream to Cherish
Cassie Perkins
#4

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with No More Broken Promises.

Cassie thought that going back to school with her friends would be great, but life seemed to have moved on without her while she was gone. Her best friend spends a lot of time with a guy she likes, Cassie’s sort-of boyfriend is busy with a new after-school job, and life isn’t much better at home. It seems like Cassie’s whole family is…well, a family, except her. So when a popular, accomplished older girl at school befriends Cassie and gives her an excuse to be away from home more, Cassie jumps at the chance.

At this point in the series, I still really like the overall story, but Cassie is starting to grate on my nerves. I do get that a lot has happened, and that the adults in her life are frankly not doing a lot to help her with the transitions, but every time I hope something has happened to change her perspective, it’s not quite enough to keep her from complaining about everything.

On the other hand, the main story that unfolds in this book is pretty amazing, and the way Cassie handles all of that is a lot better than how she’s handling the changes in her home life. Well, eventually, it is. She definitely takes some time to adjust, but I think it’s pretty safe to say her reactions are realistic. The story really touched me and hit home, because (and this will be a bit of a spoiler if you know who I’m referring to or look it up) Ryan White was from a town not far from where I live. I remember hearing about him when I was in elementary school, though I don’t know if it was because of legislation that passed or if I’m remembering hearing he’d died, since I’d have been 8 at the time. This book probably got some inspiration from his story, and knowing how real it is makes it all the more heartbreaking.

I think what I loved most about the story was the message about having hope in the face possible death for those who have accepted Christ. Though the Christian message has always been a bit light in this series, since Cassie herself is a new Christian who still needs to learn a lot about following God, this book has a great lesson and some wonderful quotes. “On the day of victory, no one is tired…When you win, you’ll forget about all this.”

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June in Review

I read 16 books last month, which beat my old record by 2 books. It does not beat my record for actual reading done in a month, since many of the books last month were fairly short. My daughter gifted me a month of Kindle Unlimited for my birthday, so I’ve been using it to get through the list I’d been collecting of books I can only read on KU (if I don’t want to buy them) as I can in a month. That list is mostly comprised of a couple of series I read back in the late 90s as a teenager and really wanted to revisit, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the trip back in time. I was also sick in the last couple of weeks and spent a few days just laying in bed, which allowed for extra reading time. What’s really impressive is that I managed to keep up with the reviews as well as I did, since for a week or so, between those shorter books and audiobooks, I was finishing a book a day. I’m caught up now (with only one that will get posted later) and have already slowed down on reading, due to work picking back up, even though I still have KU for another couple of weeks. Now my goal is to make sure to at least finish the 2 series I started in KU before the month is up and I have to wait for the next time I decide to buy a month.

Here are the books I read in June:

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes & Joe Layden (5 / 5)
Rabbits by Terry Miles (2 / 5)
Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (4 / 5)
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (5 / 5)
The Widows of Champagne by Renee Ryan (3 / 5)
No More Broken Promises by Angela Elwell Hunt (5 / 5)
Welcome to Vietnam by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
A Forever Friend by Angela Elwell Hunt (5 / 5)
Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu by Lee Goldberg (2 / 5)
The Compass by Tyler Scott Hess (2.5 / 5)
A Basket of Roses by Angela Elwell Hunt (4 / 5)
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (3.5 / 5)
Hill 568 by Ellen Emerson White (5 / 5)
Princess in the Spotlight by Meg Cabot (4 / 5)
A Dream to Cherish by Angela Elwell Hunt (review pending)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 6 re-reads. My favorite book from June was Project Hail Mary. I started 3 series, continued 3 series, and finished (or caught up on) 3 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.

*This includes 2 series that I did not reach the end of but decided not to continue reading, after being 2 books into the series.

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: Princess in the Spotlight

Princess in the Spotlight
The Princess Diaries #2
by Meg Cabot
read by Anne Hathaway

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA contemporary fiction

Mia Thermopolis really just wants to be a normal NYC high school student. But as the crown princess of a small European country, she has to deal with primetime interviews and princess lessons instead. Then her mother drops a bombshell on her, and Mia begins receiving letters from a secret admirer. Will it all be too much to handle?

Boy, Mia sure does like to complain. I mean, I get that she has a lot going on, but it seems like every diary entry starts with her exclaiming about how something terrible has happened. And yet, I still enjoyed the book. It did get a little much when she made such a huge deal out a really low temperature when she got sick, and I couldn’t tell if she was exaggerating or if she/the author really thinks that a 100-degree temperature is really a big deal.

I think what keeps all of this from making the story annoying is the writing style. Things move quickly, the writing is easy to read (or in my case, listen to), and Anne Hathaway does a great job with the narration (I mean, she basically is Mia anyway). I can’t say I love the way Mia seems to treat her best friend, considering that she almost never shares any big news with Lily, leaving her to find out some other way. Lily gives as good as she gets, though; it’s a wonder these two are friends. Lest this review sound like a negative one, though, the book is fun and feels like a real diary from a teenager around the beginning of the millennium.

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Book Review: Hill 568

Hill 568
Echo Company
#2

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Welcome to Vietnam.

Now that Michael Jennings has been in Vietnam for a whole whopping not-quite two weeks, the sergeant asks him to walk point, the most dangerous job in the squad. To make things worse, the entire battalion is grouping up for a full-scale assault of a fortified hill. Fighting sleep deprivation, jungle rot, grief over their recent loss, and pure terror, Michael and the other guys from his squad will do what they have to, because what other choice to they have?

Even after reading the first book in the series recently, which I did like, I was still surprised at how much this series stuck with me since I read it as a teenager. But after reading this second book, I understand more of what I saw in it back then. The characters really begin to come into their own in this story—not just Michael, but also his friends and even at least one guy that pretty much hates Michael (the feeling is mutual). I really loved Michael and Snoopy reading Michael’s letter from his mom together—and then re-reading it. Michael, who almost prides himself on being antagonistic, especially to authority figures, just can’t seem to suppress his good principles, and it makes for some really touching scenes. Even the stilted narration is growing on me—it seems to add to the atmosphere of terror and uncertainty.

The book is still very dark; it’s written for teens, but certainly doesn’t pull many punches regarding the horrors of war—this war in particular. As with the previous book, there is definitely some language in it, but probably still not as much as adult books about the same subject would have. I’m highly anticipating continuing this series now.

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Book Review: The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning
A Series of Unfortunate Events #1
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

When the Baudelaire children are orphaned and sent to live with a very odd relative they’ve never heard of, their misfortune is only beginning. Their new guardian, Count Olaf, has designs on the fortune their parents left behind, and will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.

I’ve never read any of these books, nor have I seen any of the adaptations. It always seemed a little dark and strange for my tastes. And I would have continued in ignorance without any qualms had I not discovered that Tim Curry narrated the audiobooks for the series. I love Tim Curry, and I especially love his voice. And yes, he brought my rating up an entire star all by himself. Because overall, the book was only okay, maybe even less than okay. I wasn’t even entirely sure what genre (other than children’s fiction) to put this in, because it seems like it’s supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it all that humorous. And I guess there’s supposed to be a mystery, and I was actually looking forward to seeing what clever way the kids got out of Count Olaf’s snare, only for it to be a really simple, boring solution. Really, it was a little dark for children’s fiction, and Count Olaf’s and his friends were ridiculously and unnecessarily over-the-top mean.

I did like the way the kids stuck together and didn’t give up when things were bleak. I didn’t even mind the way the narrator inserted definitions for some possibly difficult words for kids, though to be honest, I don’t know that it wouldn’t have annoyed me if it wasn’t Tim Curry giving me those definitions. I’ve seen some reviews that say it gets better after the first book, so for Tim Curry’s sake, I’ll keep going for now.

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Book Review: A Basket of Roses

A Basket of Roses
Cassie Perkins
#3

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, which starts with No More Broken Promises.

Soon after Cassie starts at a new, high-pressure school, her newly divorced mom announces that she’s getting re-married. But Cassie can’t stand her mom’s fiance and certainly doesn’t want to have Nick Harris as a step-brother or to move out of her house to live with her new family. So she sets to work trying to break the couple up, and if she can get her parents back together too, so much the better. But Cassie has a lot to learn about trusting in the God she’s just getting to know.

This book was a small step down from the previous ones in the series. Though Cassie’s childish feelings and actions might have been completely realistic, she got to a point of really making me cringe. Maybe it just went on a little too long. Even as she’s given good advice about praying for God’s will to be done, rather than for what we want to be done, she goes on assuming that it must be God’s will that her mom’s wedding not happen. Her mom is mostly sensitive to the issues her daughter is having, though of course she has her limits too. However, I certainly did wish that her mom wasn’t so caught up in and distracted by the pending nuptials that she didn’t notice what was going on with both of her kids, especially the one that didn’t live at home. Max broke my heart.

The ending to the story was tragic, yet nice in a way too. And one thing I want to mention now that I’m 3 books into the series is the way each book starts—Cassie lists all of the important people in her life with a brief description and a star rating. Both the list and the descriptions about the people listed change from book to book as things change in her life, and it serves as a nice recap of the previous book if one needs a refresher going forward in the series (the first book has this list too, so is more of an intro at that point than a refresher). Though I’m not sure this book was quite as good as the previous ones were in regards to being able to glean some truth from them, Cassie still grew and changed in the book, and it was still a good read.

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Book Review: The Compass

The Compass
The Adventures of Niko Monroe
#2
by Tyler Scott Hess

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

It’s been a year since Jack’s unexpected adventure in the mind of Niko Monroe some time in the future, with no new rumblings from the map and letters that sucked him in. When new markings appear on the papers, he’s not prepared for what happens next to Niko and his friends, for whom a year has also passed.

Though I enjoyed the book that preceded this one, I had some difficulties with both storylines of book 2. There are basically two different stories being told—that of Jack in present time, hoping to complete a group social studies project in time for Christmas Eve and that of Niko dealing with a future where a specific group of people are heavily persecuted for their beliefs. In the present time, Jack and his friends are 11 years old working on a project where they’re supposed to create a people group complete with culture, language, etc. While it makes some sense for Jack’s glimpses into Niko’s life and the future world to influence his work on this project, it doesn’t influence him in ways that make much of sense to me. In fact, the kids’ discussion of the project doesn’t always make sense to me in general, and they seem to go around in circles a lot. These kids also talk and act far older than 11, and one of them is way too quick to resort to violence in response to even mild joking. Along with some other issues I had, it all led to me feeling really disconnected from this side of the story.

Unfortunately, I also felt pretty disconnected from the other side of the story too. Niko spends all of his time either in prison (sometimes the prison is plush, but it’s still prison) or on the run. But his counterparts spend a lot of time learning, doing, and acting. Then Niko hears about it after the fact in very vague snippets, as they are always hesitant to give him any real information. So the reader doesn’t really know anything either, until things are revealed near the end, which are too little, too late. It all felt a little too contrived to provide suspense, but mostly I just felt left out. And on that note, I was really hoping that the Maiden would not turn out to be who she ended up turning out to be, because it seems too cliche and I don’t really get it.

I think what I was really missing, though, was the “why.” I mentioned in my review of the first book that the beliefs the persecuted people are following is probably meant to be Christianity, but it’s not stated all that clearly. They reference the “King” a lot, but there weren’t even any references to God in this book, while the previous book had at least a few. In fact, the one thing from the previous book that had seemed to be God intervening turns out to have been an act of man! Essentially, the people in this book are being persecuted for not falling in line with the government more than anything else. They even state themselves that what they most want is just to be left alone, to be free. It’s usually a secondary statement that they would also want to share their beliefs with others. But what beliefs? Because I really don’t know what they believe other than that “the King” will guide their paths, even though it seems more like it’s the Maiden who’s been guiding their paths.

As is the case with so many reviews I write, it’s clear that there are plenty of other people who really enjoyed this book, so please be sure to check out their reviews at the link below if the book is of interest to you.

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Book Review: Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu

Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu
Mr. Monk #3
by Lee Goldberg
read by Angela Brazil

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When much of the police force calls in sick as part of a contract dispute, Monk is asked to take on the role of a captain in the department. Though this means he’ll be betraying his friends in the department, Monk can’t resist the allure of getting his badge back. Unfortunately, San Francisco suddenly seems to be in the midst of a crime spree, and the squad Monk is given command of make him look almost normal by comparison. Almost.

Well, 3 books into this series, and I’m calling it quits. For now. Maybe I’ll try again later when I’m looking for something else to listen to. I love the show and have watched it several times through. Unfortunately, that means that I’ve also seen this story done before. At least part of it. The main part. There are two mysteries that happen in this book, one being the serial killings that kick the story off. And the way it played out was the same as an episode in which Monk has his badge back for a little while (the episode came after the book was published, so it’s not a rip-off…maybe the other way around though). So that does tend to bring the enjoyment down some, considering that I easily guessed at what was going on.

The three detectives Monk is saddled with as captain, though, brought the enjoyment down even more. I guess they’re supposed to provide humor, them all being so outlandish, but seriously…it just smacks of ineptitude on the part of whoever hired them. One of them has a radio taped to her head when we first see her, for goodness sake, a full-blown paranoid conspiracy theorist. One is so old he can’t even remember his own name half the time (and that’s not hyperbole), and the other is trigger-happy. Each of them comes with their own assistant, à la Monk’s Natalie, and frankly, I can’t find the humor in any of it. It’s just too over-the-top ridiculous, the kind of thing I might cringe at but live with when watching the show, but when hearing it described by pseudo-Natalie, I just can’t.

It’s too bad, too, because there were some really funny moments early in the story. Things that remind me of why I love Monk so much. But they didn’t occur much after that, definitely not enough to elevate the rest of the book. If you’re a fan of the show and think you’ll enjoy the book, though, don’t let me stop you from giving the series a try. I don’t think you even need to start at the beginning, since I haven’t seen any real correlation between the books so far.

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Book Review: A Forever Friend

A Forever Friend
Cassie Perkins
#2

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, No More Broken Promises.

The summer before Cassie’s first year of high school isn’t starting out as carefree as most teenagers hope for. Her parents are going through a divorce, her little brother is taken away to live with their dad, and Cassie has a crush on the son of her mom’s new boyfriend, whom Cassie strongly dislikes. To top it off, Cassie has to try to convince her parents to let her try out for a spot at a performing arts school her teacher recommended to her. Through all of this upheaval and difficulty, Cassie learns a little more about God and what it means to let Him be in control of her life.

This book was great in so many ways. A short and easy read, it contained some common tropes of teen books while subverting them at the same time. For example, a love triangle (more like rectangle, really) began to form, but wasn’t super angsty and fortunately didn’t last too long. And the way it began, at least on Cassie’s side, really made sense for her age. I wasn’t completely sure in the first book whether or not Cassie and her family were Christians, but from this book I think they’re more the type who believe in God, but don’t necessarily follow him. I realize what I’m about to say is a spoiler, but I think it’s good to know for anyone who might be considering this series for their teenage kids—Cassie’s real conversion comes in this book, and though it’s maybe a little easy or shallow, it’s also very realistic for her age. I really appreciated Hunt’s way of explaining that becoming a Christian isn’t necessarily about a feeling or about praying the exact right words, but it’s about making a decision to follow Christ (this explanation was given by one of Cassie’s friends).

I think one of the reasons I loved this book is because it reminds me so much of my own teenage years. There’s one scene at a youth group event where the boy Cassie kind of likes sits on the floor next to where she was seated on a footstool. That is almost exactly the same thing that happened when my now-husband first expressed interest in me at a mutual friend’s party. I certainly didn’t have the same struggles as Cassie does in this book when I was a teenager, and I know that today’s teens face vastly different types of challenges. I don’t truly know if the series will be relatable to today’s generation of teens, but I think the lessons are timeless. And for me, at least, the nostalgia factor is high, so I can’t wait to continue the series.

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