Book Review: Socks

by Beverly Cleary

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

This short, simple tale about a cat that is adopted by a young couple and is eventually displaced by a newborn baby was a lot of fun to read, not to mention very true to cat ownership. In life, cats certainly do often get ignored, even pushed aside, when important things are happening, and it seems perfectly all right. But the indignation from the cat’s perspective felt completely justified too. I only wish cats really understood as much as Socks did in the book—it would make certain parts of life a lot simpler. 

I haven’t read much Cleary in my life, maybe just a Ramona book or two when I was younger, but I think I’ll have to remedy that, as I just loved this story so much. The fact that I’m heavily a cat person probably affects my feelings on it, but my 10-year-old daughter, who is pretty equal on dogs and cats, also loved it. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never look at my cats the same way again.

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Book Review: Independence Hall

Independence Hall
I, Q #1
by Roland Smith

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

New step-siblings Q (short for Quest) and Angela are thrust into the world of espionage when Angela is told that her mother, who had died 4 years previous, might not actually be dead. But if she’s alive, she may also be a deadly terrorist. And now it appears that someone may be after Angela, but she and Q aren’t sure who they can trust.

Spy thrillers aren’t really my thing, but I really enjoyed this one written for teens and pre-teens. There were quite a few twists along the way, no one is quite who they seem to be, and even the bad guys weren’t just bad guys. I second-guessed a lot of what I was shown during the bulk of the book, and of course it’s not the most realistic thing that these two teenagers are being caught up in this plot. However, the author does a decent job of at least making it plausible. And I really like the way they do whatever they can not to ruin things for their newlywed parents, who have recently made it big in the music industry.

My husband brought home the first 3 books in this series of 6 without knowing anything about it, thinking I might enjoy it. It took me quite a while to get to it, and I was really unsure how I’d like it. However, now I’m sad I only have 3 of the 6 (though the rest are available at my local library), because I am looking forward to seeing how this all turns out! 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.

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Book Review: The Face of the Earth

The Face of the Earth
by Deborah Raney

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

When Mitch Brannon’s wife doesn’t return home after a conference, he does everything he can to find her. Hours turn to days, and many theories are given about why she has yet to return home. Mitch knows she wouldn’t have left him voluntarily, though, so he he can’t give up trying to find out what happened to her, with the help of their next-door-neighbor and his wife’s best friend, Shelley. But how can she handle her growing attraction for her missing friend’s husband as she begins to spend more time with him?

When I first heard about this book, I had some concerns about how it might go, based on the synopsis, regarding the developing relationship between Mitch and Shelley. But after reading some reviews, I decided to give it a try. While my concerns were not entirely unfounded, the author did handle the situation as well as I think could be possible in this type of book, especially on Mitch’s side of things. I did not like Shelley, however, who had been attracted to her best friend’s husband long before any of this happened, and whose actions I didn’t care for throughout the book.

The book is written well, but the story was not as engaging as I would have hoped for. It’s said to be suspense, but to me, there wasn’t much of that. The mystery involving Mitch’s wife made me curious, but curiosity is not suspense. In the end, it went on a little long and included a few romance cliches that made me cringe, since I couldn’t buy into any kind of romance between the two main characters. It’s an interesting perspective regarding a Christian man or woman whose spouse goes missing (not dead, not moved out/divorced, but just disappeared) and the question of how or when, if at all, the one left behind should move on with their life, especially relationship-wise.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Titles with Numbers (II)

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is “Books With Numbers In the Title.” It’s interesting to me that in the fairly short amount of time I’ve been doing these posts, I’ve done this topic before. But when I looked through the list of books I’ve read since then and my current TBR, I was able to easily come up with 10 more. Whereas last time, I decided to find 1 book for each number 1-10, this time I just went with any numbers. The first 7 books are in the order of when I read them, and the last 3 books I haven’t read, but are on my TBR.

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
 See my review here.

2. 12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep
The 2nd book in this trilogy has a number in the title too (A Tale of Two Hearts), but I chose this one because I liked it more than the other. See my review here.

6. 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace by Johan Twiss
See my review here.

4. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkein
See my review here.

5. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
See my review here.

6. Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred by Frank E. Peretti
See my review here.

7. Hill 568 by Ellen Emerson White
See my review here.

8. The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans
The rest of these books I have not read. This series was recommended to me by my husband.

9. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
I watched this movie long ago, but the only thing I remember about it is that I liked it more than I expected to.

10. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Since I ran out of books with a number in the title, have one with the word number! I read this in middle school, or maybe earlier than that, but I don’t remember it much. I plan to re-read it soon(ish).

Have you read any of these books? What’s on your list of books with numbers in the titles?

Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
Tales from Ivy Hill #1
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

It’s been a year since Jane Bell’s husband died and left her his coaching inn, but Jane isn’t any more prepared to end her mourning period than she was a year ago. The inn has gone on without her direct involvement during that year, but she’s finding out that it hasn’t necessarily gone on well. A large loan from the bank is about to come due, but the inn isn’t nearly as prosperous as it used to be, and now it’s in danger of being taken away. Jane’s mother-in-law, Thora, will do anything she can to help save her family’s inn, even while feeling displaced by the new mistress of The Bell. There are others who might be able to help as well, but Jane isn’t completely sure how to proceed…or who to trust.

This is the type of book where the story may focus on one main character for now, but this first book also introduces several other characters who will have more of a spotlight in future books, and gives us a decent set-up to those future stories. So a good amount of characters overall were introduced, but it didn’t take me long to get invested in their lives. I thought the set-up was giving us more of a mystery than there turned out to be, and I seriously anticipated the revelation of a conspiracy that never happened. But that was my own fault, not necessarily the book’s. I think I read more into certain people’s behavior than was intended (or maybe the author did want us to suspect that person).

Jane was a very dynamic character, in that she changed fairly drastically from the beginning of the book, where she spent her days languishing in her small home and ignoring the inn, to the end of the book, by which point she’d at least attempted to take the reigns of the inn firmly in hand. I liked the way the story and characters come together by the end, and that there is no sudden, miraculous save. Hard work and diligence are required, and a perfect ending is not guaranteed.

In some places this book is billed as a romance, and there is some romance involved. However, it is nowhere near a focal point, and (spoiler alert) the main character doesn’t end up with a beau by the end of the book. I believe that is another storyline that will continue on throughout the trilogy, and I’m quite okay with that. If you’re a fan of historical Christian fiction, keep that in mind when considering this book. I do recommend it, and am looking forward to continuing the series.

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August in Review

I read 9 books last month, a fairly standard month for me with an interesting variety of books.

Here are the books I read in August:

The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
Hangman’s Curse by Frank Peretti (5 / 5)
The Glory of Love by Angela Hunt (3.5 / 5)
A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden (3.5 / 5)
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (4 / 5)
The Eagle and the Lamb by Darlene Mindrup (5 / 5)
Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman (5 / 5)
Trace of Doubt by DiAnn Mills (2 / 5)
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis (4 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC and 4 re-reads. My favorite book (that wasn’t a re-read) from August was Hollow City. I started 2 series, continued 3 series, and finished (or caught up on) 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: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian
The Chronicles of Narnia #2 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

This is my first foray into The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve seen the movies (or at least some of them), but only once when they first came out, and don’t remember much about the movie based on this book. This is yet another series I wish I’d read when I was younger; I have a feeling I would have liked it more as a kid. Overall, I enjoyed it a little more than the previous book. Maybe that’s because the Pevensies aren’t newcomers to Narnia anymore, but I think it’s more due to the Narnians that they encounter this time. Reepicheep made my heart melt!

The story involving Caspian, as well as Peter and Edmund’s additions to the conflict, I enjoyed. I’ve never been one for reading battle sequences, so I appreciated that most of the fighting was summarized. Even the one full fight that was shown had a lot of interjection by other characters, so it was more fun than it probably should have been. I was not a fan of the sequence of events that followed Susan, Lucy, and Aslan as they gathered up the rest of the Old Narnians. It all felt a little strange to me and made me wonder what the purpose of it was. Most of what was shown didn’t really affect the rest of the story much.

It is possible I misinterpreted parts of this book, though it is meant for readers more like my daughter’s age, and I doubt she will get bigger meaning out of it than I did when she reads the book. However, aside from those areas, I enjoyed the book overall and think she will too.

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Book Review: Night of the Twisters

Night of the Twisters
by Ivy Ruckman

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s suspense

Inspired by an actual event in Nebraska in 1980, when multiple twisters ravaged one town in a meteorological anomaly, 12-year-old Dan Hatch must protect his baby brother and tornado-newbie best friend Arthur, as both of his parents are gone when the tornado comes.

I read this book when I was younger, but only remembered a few details. I really enjoyed it even as an adult. It’s realistic to how kids were back in those days, off riding their bikes or swimming in the local water hole during the summer, especially in a smaller town like this. No cell phones, no video games, and then they went home in the evening to watch Happy Days, which is a little before my time, but I still appreciate the overall feel the author paints of life in the early 80s, when this book was written and set. I also thought that, while the descriptions of the devastation caused by the storm aren’t necessarily vast and detailed, they felt realistic to someone like me who’s never been in a tornado but has seen the aftermath in pictures or videos. And most likely toned down due to being a book for kids.

There were not a whole lot of characters, but I liked the ones that were around much. Dan’s feelings about his little brother throughout were pretty real for a kid his age who had been an only child until the age of 12. Arthur provided an interesting foil in multiple ways. The elderly neighbor Mrs. Smiley and her part in the story made me smile (no pun intended). My only complaint is that I would have liked to know how Officer Kelly ended up. But overall, the book was an exciting, suspenseful read that I think would be great for kids around age 10-12.

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Book Review: The Eagle and the Lamb

The Eagle and the Lamb
by Darlene Mindrup

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Sarah, a young Jewish woman, is made the slave/companion to a young, ailing woman named Diana by Diana’s brother, Antonius, a tribune of Rome. Diana wonders about the peace that Sara has, even as a slave, and Sara can’t help but talk about her faith in Jesus Christ. Antonius, however, doesn’t wants Christianity poisoning his sister, even while he has to admit to being unable to stop thinking about Sara and how different she is from Roman women. What began as a terrible situation for Sara and her family when they became indebted to the Roman might just turn out to be part of God’s will for the lives of everyone involved.

I am so glad I found this book and read it again! When I was in high school, my family went to visit my grandparents in Arizona (I live in the midwest), and I remember them having a library full of paperback romance novels (probably mostly Christian, if not wholly, since they lived at a church). I read several of those books during our stay there, but this is the only one I remembered well enough to track it down again, which took me a long time and a lot of digging. It’s a sweet romance, but also a tale of early Christians during the time of Roman persecution around 62 A.D. and the difficulties they had to face just to be able to practice their faith. Sara is a great example of a Christ-follower spreading His love and message to everyone she spends time with. Secondary characters add to the enjoyment of this book, especially a fellow slave and Christian who some readers likely see as a serious contender for Sara’s heart.

Antonius may be harsh through much of the book, but he’s a well-written, realistic character. He’s a Roman soldier, taught to believe that Rome is the center of the universe and that the rest of the world should fall at his feet. Even with his culture and training, he’s actually set apart from others of his type, which is clearly shown in the story. And let’s not forget that he actually saved Sara and her parents from being sold into much harsher slavery near the beginning of the book. When he treats her badly, she stands her ground. When he insists she not speak to Diana about God, she weighs the obedience of her slave master against the obedience of her one true master, God.

The book’s title is an apt description of the contrast between these two characters, and I think that contrast is why I love the story so much. I read the book to reminisce about the first time I read it, and didn’t expect to find much of substance, but it’s really quite a lovely story. It’s pretty short, but I didn’t feel that detracted at all—in fact, that kept the story from dragging out like some romance books can do. I also didn’t think I’d care about the series this book is the beginning of, but now that I know the next book is about Decimus, the fellow slave I mentioned above, I’d love to see his story.

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Book Review: Trace of Doubt

Trace of Doubt
by DiAnn Mills

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

After fifteen years in prison, Shelby Pearce is ready to start her life over. But as a convicted murderer, allies are hard to come by, especially since there’s still the question of $500,000 that she’s suspected of stealing at the same time as the murder. Denton McClure, who’d worked the embezzlement case as a rookie agent, is sure she’s guilty and is determined to prove her guilt and uncover the cash. As he gets to know her, though, he begins to doubt what he’s known as fact for 15 years. And it looks like he’s not the only one who’s out to find the money.

This is the second DiAnn Mills book I’ve read, and though I quite liked the other one, this one was a miss for me. I think that mostly boils down to the author’s writing style, which I don’t remember being quite so distracting for me during the other book I read. In this book, though, I often found myself confused by what thought or emotion was being portrayed in a scene, unable to quite grasp the meaning in the author’s choice of words. In many scenes, dialog felt unnatural or stilted, or even felt as though the characters were not having the same conversation as each other.

I did like some of the characters, though mostly secondary ones. Shelby was written well for the bulk of the book, but I didn’t connect with her as much due to my own very different personality as anything. By the end, though, I realized she was actually pretty terrible at making good decisions. Denton was confusing and a little unbelievable in his drive to prove her guilt, letting the search for $500k control/ruin his life. As the mystery of who is targeting Shelby since she’s been released from prison is revealed, as well as why, the premise of her confessing to murder and going to jail becomes less and less believable to me. I won’t give any spoilers, but it mostly goes back to what I said above about Shelby making terrible decisions.

I struggled with consistency issues in various places and with a couple of antagonists that were fairly one-dimensional. I did, however, like the theme about redemption that was brought out more by the secondary characters that were willing to look past Shelby’s history and give her a chance to start over as much as anything. I really dislike giving this low of a rating to any book, and I can already tell that this is going to be one of those books that makes me wonder if I got a different version than everyone else. Please check out other reviews for different opinions, as most of them are positive so far, if you’re interested in the synopsis and/or genre.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: September 7, 2021

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