Book Review: before i knew you

before i knew you
Choices Matter #1
by Beth Steury

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian romantic drama

When high school juniors Preston and Maggie meet, they’re both planning for abstinence until marriage. But where Maggie has always had that plan, for Preston, it’s a result of a period of bad decisions with girls that he wants to come back from. Though he knows it’s a bad idea, he keeps his past a secret from his new girlfriend. Unfortunately, the truth has a way of coming out. Can their relationship survive when Preston’s past comes back to complicate his life?

For about the first half of this book, I felt like there wasn’t much of a story. It was a fairly standard building of a relationship between two high schoolers. But the second half of the book contained all of the story, and I found that it was interesting enough to redeem the first half.

During the first half of the book, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as the story only seemed to be a progression of Preston and Maggie going further and further in their physical relationship. Lots of kissing, touching, making out, etc. I was, quite frankly, relieved when things started to get awkward between them for various reasons. For a book that is meant to help teenagers make good choices in their relationships, it certainly is steamy, and it seems to me that it might just make hormonal young people more desirous. That is my biggest issue with the book.

Outside of that, and especially after that was over, the story had more plot. And I was able to answer the question I had during the first half, which was whether the characters were actually Christians or not, as it was only vaguely discussed during that part (seems to be a commentary on how God doesn’t really enter into the picture when one is giving in to desires of the flesh, but I don’t know if that was intentional or not). I also found it strange that Preston says his parents are involved, in regards to keeping their relationship in check, but I didn’t see that at all. As someone who had strict restrictions about how alone I could be with a guy in high school, the parents in this book were downright lax by comparison, especially for Christian parents.

The difficulties that come up due to Preston’s past experiences, as well as for other teens that the two MCs know, help to give an understanding about why saving yourself for a future spouse is the best way to go–not just as a Christian to avoid sinning, but because of so many undesirable consequences that can happen, even beyond the obvious like teen pregnancy.

Though I give the book 3.5 stars, I don’t know that I could recommend it for the audience it’s intended, due to what I said above about the intense way the ramping-up is described. But I don’t know that I’d recommend it to adults either, because they’re not necessarily the audience that really needs it. Maybe the best set of people to read this book is parents of teens, or future teens, to help them understand better the minefield that is teenage romance.

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Book Review: The Door in the Dragon’s Throat

The Door in the Dragon’s Throat
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #1
by Frank Peretti

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure

Archaeologist Dr. Cooper and his kids, Jay and Lila, travel to a small country in the Middle East at the behest of the country’s president. Dr. Cooper is tasked with getting past the door in the Dragon’s Throat, a cave that has proved deadly during past expeditions. The president is hoping to find a fabled treasure, but what is really behind the door?

This is the first book in a Christian adventure series for kids and teenagers. I expected more of a straight adventure with a Christian message. Instead, it had quite the supernatural element to it, but I don’t want to say more and spoil anything. I should not have been surprised by how the story turned out, given the kind of books the author is most known for. It wasn’t bad, but it was surprising. I’m curious to see how if the rest of the series is similar in that regard.

One thing that I think was strange about the book is that the dad is really the focal point, at least in the first half of the book. I expected the kids to be doing their own investigating and discovering, but that didn’t happen for most of the story.

I’ve read others say that this is not their favorite book in the series, so I’ll be interested to see how the others are.

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September in Review

I read 10 books last month, which I’d say means I’m officially past my reading slump of recent months. Though according to Goodreads, the total page count was fairly low for 10 books, and yes, some of these books are a bit on the short side, but it wasn’t intentional, unlike last month. (Update: 3 of the books I read didn’t have a page count for the Kindle version, which is why the total page count was so low. I had to reluctantly change my reviews to the paperbacks for those to get the correct page total for the month, which was quite a bit higher then. Yes, I am picky about the book I mark as read being the version I actually read. To a fault, almost.)

Here are the books I read in 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 (review pending)
before i knew you by Beth Steury (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs. My favorite book from September was The Shepherd’s Wife. I finished 1 series, continued 2 series, and started 2 series. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: Jubilee Manor

Jubilee Manor
Landry Park
#2
by Bethany Hagen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Dystopian romance

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book, Landry Park.

As Madeline, her family, and the estate deal with the actions at the end of Landry Park, one of Madeline’s fellow gentry heirs is murdered. Madeline suspects a particularly hateful Rootless man, which puts her at odds with her uncle and cousin, as well as with David Dana. A second murder only serves to escalate the threat of violence between the Rootless and the gentry, as Madeline feels caught in the middle, hoping to make a difference, but unsure of who will listen.

This short book series has a difficult-to-define quality to it that gives it a charm and depth that I really enjoyed. Several surprises came up in this book, and though a few threads were still left hanging, overall, it was a nice conclusion to the short series.

Most of the things that bothered me in the first book were gone in this one. The relationship between Madeline and David deepened in a way that did still cause a lot of drama for Madeline, but it was based on a real conflict, rather than the immature-feeling jealousy in the first book. They argued a lot over Madeline’s insistence that the murderer was a Rootless man, though, and there were several things about that whole situation that bothered me–probably the biggest detraction in the entire book for me.

The mystery wasn’t very deep or intriguing, but it was a good catalyst for the plot. I wouldn’t go as far as to put this book into the mystery genre, but I think fans of romance and dystopian worlds, especially those who also like books set in the Victorian or Regency eras should give this 2-book series a try.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern

The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern
Book #2
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

TCW 1-3

Former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran is ready to get off the art beat, though he doesn’t expect to move on to interior design. But the work isn’t boring, when the first subject of the newspaper’s new interior design magazine is burglarized, and there’s even a death involved. And it won’t be the last death in the interior design world.

The first full adventure of Koko and Qwill has a lot of charm, as Qwill takes to cat ownership with aplomb. Koko’s antics lead Qwill to question whether the cat is somehow psychic or it’s all just a big coincidence. The interactions between man and cat are always my favorite thing about the books in this series. And now we have Yum Yum to add to the fun in future books.

The mystery itself was better done than the first book, in my opinion. I was more interested in it and felt I had a chance of solving it. I didn’t, not really, but there was at least one crime I had pretty much figured out correctly.

In my review for the first book, I mentioned the male chauvinism, which is still present in this book, but not as heartily. Unless you count Odd Bunsen, a married father of six, who makes somewhat suggestive comments about other women all throughout this book. But hey, at least he only talks about looking, and nothing more…a distinction I’m sure his wife would appreciate.

Overall, it was a fun read, and I would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

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NaNoWriMo Season

NaNo handouts

NaNoWriMo starts in 31 days and 11 hours, from the time that I am posting this (for my time zone). First, a quick explanation for those who don’t know what I’m even talking about: NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It is an event that has been around since 1999, becoming more of what it is today in 2005. At its heart, it’s a personal challenge–write 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November. Signing up and participating simply gives you somewhere to track your progress, goodies if you win, and a huge community of like-minded people, cheering each other on.

Tomorrow begins the month known by many as Preptober. Normally at this time, I’m falling all over myself with excitement at the coming event. This year, though, I’ve been in a major slump with my writing. I’m just starting to pull myself out of it, though, and I anticipate NaNoWriMo helping me with that (it is part of my favorite time of the year, after all).

If you’re planning to participate, or even just thinking about it, and need some tips for getting ready, there is a lot out there. In the past, I’ve noticed that on October 1st, my reader here on WordPress explodes with posts about NaNo. The NaNo site itself has a prep page, though the schedule they write out covers two months, starting at the beginning of September. It could be condensed down to work for October, though, if needed.

I have written many posts about how to prepare for NaNo, as well as how to survive and thrive during November itself, in the past. There is even a sequence of posts with tips about how to plan a story from the ground up. Even if you’re not a planner, there are things you can do to prepare for writing 1667 words a day.

I wish my fellow Wrimos well, and hope to hear from some of you during the month! Please feel free to add me as a writing buddy!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? What are you doing to prepare?

Book Review: Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars
Book #4
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic, coming of age

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

This book felt like a way station on the way to the rest of Anne’s life. Maybe that was intentional, but I didn’t feel very present with the story or the characters. And much of the book felt very repetitive, both to itself and to the rest of the series so far, like a rinse and repeat with only the names and locations changed.

I really liked Anne’s home for these three years–Windy Poplars, and the three women that came with it. Rebecca Dew was so much fun, especially in regards to poor Dusty Miller. And the situation with the poor, neglected Elizabeth was just about the sweetest, most heart-warming conclusion to a terrible story arc ever.

However, we get a lot of the same two basic storylines: A) Someone(s) is/are grumpy, unhappy, crabby, etc., whether in general or to Anne specifically. In some due course of time (either quickly or longer-term), Anne basically turns them happier or nicer, simply by being herself. B) Anne meets a woman who is a busybody or simply very chatty, who dominates all conversation for several pages, and something may or may not actually come of the entire situation. Any of these things on their own would not have been bad, and a few of these situations I liked more than the rest. But I feel like there could have been a lot more variety in the overall book and the three years Anne spent at Windy Poplars.

Most of the book is written in epistolary form, letters from Anne to Gilbert as they spend these 3 years apart. I’m not sure there was much reason for that, though, and even though some was written in normal 3rd-person narration, we barely got to see much of Anne’s time back at home. This meant missing out on seeing much of the characters we got to know earlier in the series. But we did see enough to see poor Dora slighted even further. Seriously, Montgomery seems to only have created Dora to give young Davy a target for his mischievousness, and she’s just this after-thought even now, 2 books later.

The series has lost a little of its charm for me, but I think this book was a bit of a departure from the rest of the series. I know it was written after books #5 & 6, so perhaps Montgomery was boxed-in, knowing she couldn’t change the later books, so not much could happen? But it just felt dry compared to the rest of the series so far. Here’s hoping that the next book regains the lovely Anne charm.

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Book Review: Time and Again

Time and Again
History Mystery #1
by Deborah Heal

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian sci-fi

Abby takes a volunteer job as a live-in summer tutor for an eleven-year-old named Meredith and moves into their large, old house in a once-thriving railroad town. After spending some time trying to bring the unhappy, spoiled Meredith around to the idea of studying, and exploring the neighborhood a bit, Abby and Meredith discover a strange secret on the brand new computer Abby’s estranged dad bought her–they can follow their house back in time and watch the lives of people who lived there in the past.

The first thing I want to say is don’t get too hung up on the categorization of this book as “time travel.” It’s not what almost anyone would really consider time travel. Abby and Meredith can watch the past, and even in some nebulous way “hear thoughts” from at least one person they’re watching, but there is no traveling in time. They call it time surfing. And while I did have some issues with this book, by the end, I realized I had mostly enjoyed it, and plan to continue with the series.

It takes a long time for anything to really happen. We get to know Abby and Meredith as the former gets settled in and the latter balks against all forms of learning. I found Abby to be not a terribly nice person, kind of even haughty sometimes. And Meredith is just a spoiled brat, plain and simple. She acts older than her age at first too, especially when she’s acting out. I also had to wonder if college-student Abby had ever interacted with a boy before when she meets John Roberts and acts like a middle-schooler.

When the time surfing really got going, I found myself a lot more wrapped up in both of the storylines. Meredith began to be less bratty, probably as much because she’s got someone spending time with her and showing real interest (make no mistake–divorce and single parent-ship can be really hard on a child). And the story of Charlotte, the young woman who lived in the house in and around the Civil War, was interesting.

There are a few things that really took me out of the story, which are likely a result of the book being self-published. A jarring lack of scene transitions, for example. And, for a book so focused on history, I was seriously shocked to see Abby say that in pre-Civil War times, Illinois (the state they’re in) bordered the slave state of Ohio. Not only has Illinois never bordered Ohio (Indiana is in between), but Ohio was not a slave state.

The book is novella-length and not a difficult read by any means. I’m definitely curious to see where the series goes from here. I would recommend this book for readers of Christian fiction, especially those who like history.

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Book Review: The Shepherd’s Wife

The Shepherd’s Wife
Jerusalem Road #2
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

In the Bible, Jesus is said to have at least two sisters, neither of which are named. In The Shepherd’s Wife, author Angela Hunt gives these women names, families, and lives. Pheodora lives in Bethlehem with her shepherd husband, and Damaris is married to a wealthy merchant’s son in Nazareth. While Damaris’s husband takes steps toward becoming a well-respected Pharisee, Pheodora’s husband, Chiram, is thrown in debtor’s prison. It is up to Pheodora to follow through on Chiram’s plan to breed and raise two pure white goat kids for the Yom Kippur sacrifice, which is their only hope to pay Chiram’s debt.

I enjoyed the first book in this series, but absolutely loved this one. By the last third or so, I had a hard time putting it down. All of the brothers and sisters of Jesus (called by his Hebrew name Yeshua in the story) are involved, and I appreciated seeing the family dynamics as they interacted with each other, worked together, and even talked about what their eldest brother was up to. Pheodora, whom the plot revolves around, was determined, loyal, and hard-working, but also had plenty of flaws. The book is probably more character-driven than plot-driven, which is really my cup of tea.

The book is written from the sisters’ alternating perspectives, with Pheodora’s being the one shown most often. I wasn’t sure what the point of showing Damaris’s POV was at first, but it really did add to the story. Especially at a point somewhere in the middle when the suspense ramped up because of something we only knew happened due to seeing Damaris’s home life.

It started to get really difficult to read as the injustice against Chiram was more fully revealed, and though I assumed all would be made right by the end of the book, it was all just too real. And in real life, things usually aren’t made right, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel by the end. However, the last quarter of the book brought such surprises, emotions, and lessons learned, that I was not thinking about whether or not the incredible injustice was made right.

I have a difficult time giving books 5 stars unless I can see it being a book I’ll re-read at least once in the future. This is a book I definitely will read again someday, at least once. I highly recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction, and I’m really excited about what the author has planned for the next book in this series!

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

Find out more about The Shepherd’s Wife
Publication date: October 6, 2020

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Book Review: Sadie

Sadie
by Courtney Summers

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA suspense, drama

Sadie’s life was already an unhappy one, her main bright spot being her little sister Mattie, whom she practically raised. But then Mattie dies, and some time later, Sadie decides to do what the police can’t–track down Mattie’s killer. This leads Sadie on a road trip to find the man she knows is responsible. Three months later, a radio personality is asked by Sadie’s surrogate grandmother to find the missing Sadie. He follows her trail and turns the investigation into a podcast.

It was really difficult to rate this book in the end, because it was dark and disturbing, but also unique and interesting. Sadie’s perspective is shown in first-person, present tense as she travels from town to town looking for her sister’s killer. The podcast is shown in a script format–West McCray (the radio personality) explaining to us what he finds, and also interviewing people along the way.

Before I get any further with my review, I feel a content warning is in order. There are certain things that are treated very carefully–pedophilia, drug abuse, and murder. There is also a lot of language. I started out listening to the audiobook, because it was highly recommended, given that the podcast sections are presented like a real podcast. However, I had to switch to a format where I read Sadie’s portions myself and listened to the “podcast” parts, because Sadie’s portions are so heavy with language, I couldn’t stand listening to it. I can handle it in text better, because apparently I tend to mentally bleep out those words. But I also didn’t care for the person who read Sadie’s part, because she sounded angry all the time, no matter what she said. Simply describing a room, she was angry. It was a bit much. So the joint format worked well for me.

One of my favorite things about the book, which I started out thinking would make it boring or repetitive, was McCray’s follow-up on things we’d already seen Sadie do. Because he trailed her 3 months later, we were able to see the aftermath of some of her actions. And the way McCray got caught up in her story added a comforting human element the rest of the story seemed to be lacking–not because other characters were heartless or didn’t care, but because the circumstances just didn’t lend to them being very kind, compassionate, etc.

The book being YA leads me to warn that if you’re thinking of allowing your teenager to read it, read it first. The language alone may put off a lot of people. However, I do think the book is worth reading–I just know I wouldn’t let my daughter read it as a teenager.

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