Book Review: Remembering Christmas

Remembering Christmas
by Dan Walsh

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian, Christmas fiction

Rick Denton likes his life as a high-powered accountant, living how he wants, with very few responsibilities. But when his step-father, who he never much cared for, has a stroke on Thanksgiving weekend, his mother asks him to come to Florida and help out at the bookstore the couple own and run together. Rick agrees out of obligation, not expecting to stay more than a few days…which stretches on past what he expected. Rick isn’t sure he can handle much more of the people who frequent the store, and worse yet, they always seem to have great things to say about his step-father, who Rick always saw as an interloper. Is it possible there’s more going on here than he would have thought?

I kicked off my Christmas-season reading a little late this year, but this was a great book to start it off. The story was a little predictable, as Christmas stories tend to be (especially those that involve romance, which this one does), but it was still sweet. I teared up during a particularly emotional scene with Rick’s mom (Leanne) and step-dad (Art) at the hospital, because it reminded me of being in my dad’s hospital room after his heart attack, while we were waiting for them to be able to do surgery on him. And at other times, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like if I were in Leanne’s place, where my husband was the one in the bed. It was well written, with Leanne’s perspective showing what a loving, long-term relationship can look like.

By the end of the book, I had a few issues, the most glaring being the incredible amount of typos and grammatical errors. I can’t believe this book was ever published by a traditional publishing house, as it seems to need a lot of polishing. There was also one moment that made me cringe a little, and later, I was surprised that no one in the story seemed to feel that Rick was trying to buy some of the characters’ love. But those things aside, I enjoyed reading this book; it’s a sweet, warm Christmas read.

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Book Review: Chapter and Curse

Chapter and Curse
The Cambridge Bookshop Series #1
by Elizabeth Penney

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When American Molly Kimball and her recently widowed British mother move to Cambridge to take over the running of a bookstore that’s been in their family for generations, the last thing they expect is to get caught up in a murder investigation. But within days of their arrival, someone dies near the bookstore, and Molly’s great aunt, who invited them to England, is the prime suspect. Now, amidst trying to help the bookstore get back on its feet, learning about and meeting members of her previously estranged family, and getting to know the good-looking guy who works next door, Molly is determined to clear her aunt’s name.

Overall, the book was decent. The plot drags in some places, and the mystery seems a little watered-down to me, which is certainly not what you want in a book from this genre. I liked most of the characters, though Molly herself is sort of “meh,” in my opinion. The bookstore and the community around it were a lot of fun to read about. Aunt Violet’s friends are a little on the bizarre side, and I had a difficult time pinning down what age anyone was supposed to be. I can figure it out with some math, but a lot of the characters act similarly to each other, so it was difficult to imagine age differences between some who I assume should have been in different generations.

I don’t go into a cozy mystery expecting to figure out whodunit by the end, though that doesn’t stop me from speculating. I have a tendency to take things at face value and get too caught up in the red herrings. The resolution to this mystery wasn’t a total surprise to me, though, even while I didn’t expect it to go that way simply because it felt so bland. The resolution to the mystery and motivation behind it seemed weak, like much more effort went into setting up this location and cast of characters for future stories than into making the mystery interesting. That’s my opinion, however, and it’s not enough to keep me from being interested in the continuation of this new series, due to how much I liked the setting and characters.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Chronicles of Narnia #3 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

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

This is my favorite of the series so far. There’s so much adventure to get caught up in, even if one doesn’t look past the surface, and it’s full of magic and fun. It was nice to be able to see characters from the previous book this time (besides the Pevensies and Aslan), namely Caspian and Reepicheep, and the search for the seven Narnian lords who’d been sent off into the east was an good backdrop to the story.

The end to the story was emotional, and I really felt for the Pevensies in their loss. I wonder if it’s similar to what the disciples must have felt when Jesus left them on Earth. My favorite part of the book, though, was Eustace’s arc. It was brilliant, a true redemption story, and even realistic in that he certainly wasn’t perfect afterward, but he certainly was changed. While I’m sure I’ll need to go back through the series again to catch things I didn’t pick up on this first time through, I loved this book and am curious to see how things will change with the four Pevensies all “retired.”

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Book Review: Shadows of Swanford Abbey

Shadows of Swanford Abbey
by Julie Klassen

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

Tasked by her brother to present his manuscript to a well-known author, Rebecca Lane takes a room in the monastery-turned-hotel Swanford Abbey, where the author is also staying. And so is Frederick Wilford, an older man Rebecca once had a huge crush on. When the famous writer is murdered, Frederick, as local magistrate, is determined to find the guilty party, even if the investigation shines a light on secrets Rebecca is hiding.

As a Regency-era romance, the story here is pretty good. As a mystery, it’s only okay. My biggest issue is that it takes quite a while to really get going; so much of the first half is spent describing the abbey, hinting at things from the past that affect the present (which we won’t know more about until much later), and setting up the mystery around the murder, which doesn’t even occur until over halfway through the book. I don’t mind a mystery taking so long to get started if I spend that time trying to figure out who the victim might end up being, along with who the murderer will be, but in this case, the synopsis tells us who the victim will be. All of this led the book to feel slow for a while.

I mostly liked the characters. Rebecca had her issues in the story, mostly stemming from the task her brother insists she help him with, but this seems to lead her to not care at all about the societal conventions of her time or about her reputation. That leaves Frederick to be the most understanding man ever. He ends up having to help her in a lot of different ways, more times than I might normally prefer in a story like this, but it didn’t bother me this time, I think because it didn’t seem as contrived as it could have.

I raised my eyebrows during part of a scene that seemed to be straight out of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, and found out while reading the author’s note at the end of the book that I was correct. She also mentioned other classics that she took some direct inspiration from, though those others I either haven’t read or don’t know well enough to have recognized the way she used that inspiration. Overall, I enjoyed the book and the characters and recommend it to fans of historical romance. Fans of mystery books may like it, too, if they’re not bothered by what I described above.

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

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Book Review: Lead Me

Lead Me
by Matt Hammitt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living, memoir

Former Sanctus Real lead singer Matt Hammitt talks about the difficulties he faced for many years trying to balance life on the road with life at home. With a wife and eventually 4 kids, he wanted to be the husband and father they needed while also following God’s calling on his life and providing for his family. In this book, he lays bare the doubts, anxieties, even depression he went through while his wife was at home simply wanting him to lead the family the way he was meant to.

This book really hit home to me in so many ways. My husband and I are at a good point in our 21-year marriage right now, but it hasn’t always been so, and I know it won’t always be so. When Sanctus Real’s song “Lead Me” came out, it spoke to me every time I heard it, and I used the lyrics to explain to my husband where I felt our relationship was lacking at the time. I’m sure the song spoke to countless others as well, just as I’m sure this book will speak to many hearts. Hammitt’s insights into what it means to be present in a marriage, even if you can’t be physically present (though that certainly helps) come from a place of experience, all of which he shares in this book. That his marriage survived some of what he describes is a testament to what can happen if two people refuse to take the easy way out and instead determine to do life together, even when it gets rough (really rough, from the sound of it).

I also found some insight into an issue my extended family is dealing with right now, and highlighted some quotes that apply to that situation. Though we all have our own stories that we’re writing as we go through life, we can certainly learn from each other along the way, even if circumstances don’t match up perfectly. And though I can’t fully connect with what Hammitt and his wife went through during and after the birth of their first son, my heart broke to read about the pain and uncertainty they went through.

My favorite thing about the book is that he points back to the Bible with every uncertainty he has, with every lesson he learns. It’s all right there for us to discover, and Hammitt lays some of it out in a way that could be beneficial to so many people who are struggling with their own families, marriages, or other relationships, whether their issue is trying to balance work and home or a plethora of other possible things that can cause a divide. Also, fans of Matt Hammitt and/or Sanctus Real might appreciate this peek into his life and why he left the band in 2015. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has interest for any reason. (Plus, any book that mentions Psalty the Singing Songbook, not once but twice, is a winner in my book!)

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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November in Review

I read 7 books last month, which wasn’t bad considering that it was the month of NaNoWriMo, so a lot of my free time was spent writing. One book in particular dragged on for a week, due as much to not being interesting enough for me to make it a priority.

Here are the books I read in November:

Lost in Darkness by Michelle Griep (3.5 / 5)
Return to the Hiding Place by Hans Poley (5 / 5)
Princess in Love by Meg Cabot (4 / 5)
The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (2 / 5)
The White House by Roland Smith (4 / 5)
Elinor by Shannon McNear (3 / 5)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis (5 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs. My favorite book from November was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I started 0 series (yay, self control!), continued 2 series, and finished 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.

*This is a series I didn’t reach the end of, but decided not to continue reading, after being at least 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: The White House

The White House
I, Q #2
by Roland Smith

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s spy thriller

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Independence Hall.

New step-siblings Q (short for Quest) and Angela delve deeper into the world of espionage as they try to help Angela’s mother, who was until recently believed dead, work against the terrorist cell she has infiltrated. Q and Angela are staying at the White House while their newly married rock-star parents prepare for a show for the president. Can they help flush out the bad guys in the White House and keep the first family safe?

This book really hits the ground running, with not much in the way of reminders from the first book, either about plot or about who’s who. I’m glad I made some notes and also didn’t wait too long to continue the series. It was a fast-paced story, building on what the first book set up, and even giving us Angela’s mom’s perspective throughout. Angela and Q were a little less involved this time, more watching, listening, reacting, even lucking into things, but on the other hand, it’s a little more realistic. Still, I like seeing Q’s and Angela’s smarts and abilities come into play.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here, and I would recommend this for younger readers who want something exciting or thrilling, or even adults who don’t necessarily care for adult spy thrillers but enjoy a good adventure story. This series is the type where the whole thing tells one long story (from what I’ve seen so far, at least), so keep that in mind if you consider reading it—start with #1.

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Book Review: The Wide Window

The Wide Window
A Series of Unfortunate Events #3
by Lemony Snicket
read by the author

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

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian, Aunt Josephine. She’s afraid of everything, including cooking food, and thus only serves cold food, insists on correcting everyone’s grammar, and lives in a house that’s nearly falling into a lake, of which she’s also afraid. Count Olaf trying to get the kids out of her guardianship seems like a blessing this time, except that he’s happy to commit murder to do so.

I do not get what people have seen in this series that it went as far as 11 books and spawned 2 adaptations. I’m not necessarily against formulaic series—sometimes the formula is what makes something work well, but not when the formula is held to this strictly. Not nearly enough changes, and the “dark” tone is just unpleasant, in my opinion. After the first book, I thought surely it would get more interesting or creative, but it’s really just a rinse and repeat of the book before it. Except that while the guardian in the previous book was a nice, somewhat normal-seeming guy, Aunt Josephine was an over-the-top, ridiculous loony.

What made it all worse for me was that I started into this series primarily because the books were narrated by Tim Curry, but the places I have access to audiobooks for free only have a version narrated by the author for this one and the next 2. I almost ended the series right there, and maybe I should have. But they’re short, quick listens, so I figured I’d stick it out. For now. We’ll see how it goes from here on.

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NaNoWriMo Day 27

The Words: 1686 words today, starting with a 15-minute sprint with my daughter and the @NaNoWordSprints feed on Twitter. Then I realized I was close to the end of the draft, so I just kept going on my own and finished it!

The Story: A lot of explanation ended up needing to fit into the final scene, and it wasn’t very organized. And then I realized I left something (smallish) out. During revision, I’ll have to figure out if it all needs kept or not, and how to make it flow better. But that’s future-me’s problem, along with the fact that the draft is 20k words too short, so I’ll need to figure out something else for it, maybe even an entire sub-plot. Now-me is just glad to have finished the draft as planned.

Final word count: 54,756

If you want to join me in my journey through the second year of NaNoToons (with a storyline), check out the NaNoToon from November 27, 2011. (Though you’re on your own to finish them, since this is my last of these posts for the month!

Oh, and be sure to watch the wrap-up of the NaNoMusical!

NaNoWriMo Day 26

The Words: 1864 words today, all in one 30-minute sprint with the @NaNoWordSprints feed on Twitter. I didn’t write at all yesterday, which wasn’t intentional. I usually try to at least get some words in on Thanksgiving, but it was an unusual Thanksgiving for us this year, and I completely forgot to write until after midnight. I’m a little annoyed that I ruined the daily writing streak I’ve had going all month, but not as much as I would be if I wasn’t already planning to stop early if I finished the draft before the end of the month.

The Story: Today was all post-climax falling action. I’m on the last scene of the book, though it’s probably going to be a fairly long scene. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll finish the draft tomorrow.

Total word count: 53,070

If you want to join me in my journey through the second year of NaNoToons (with a storyline), check out the NaNoToon from November 26, 2011!