April in Review

I read 10 books last month, about an average month for me, though probably a little lower than average in page count, due to a few very short books in there. I stopped listening to audiobooks as regularly part way through the month, mostly because I couldn’t decide on the next book to listen to, so I may have to push past that problem this month.

Here are the books I read in April:

The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
An Elegant Façade by Kristi Ann Hunter (3 / 5)
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (5 / 5)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (5 / 5)
The Purple Nightgown by A.D. Lawrence (4 / 5)
Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg (4 / 5)
The Spice King by Elizabeth Camden (4.5 / 5)
A Woman of Words by Angela Hunt (3.5 / 5)
The Silver Shadow by Liz Tolsma (2 / 5)
Crocodile Meatloaf by Nancy S. Levene (review pending)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from April was The Spice King. I finished 1 series*, continued 2 series, and started 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 1 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: A Woman of Words

A Woman of Words
Jerusalem Road #3
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Matthew, one of the twelve apostles and former tax collector for the Romans, has been living in Capernaum in the years since Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) death and resurrection when he is summoned to Jerusalem by Peter and John to help them with the growing church there. He anticipates preaching and performing great miracles like his brothers have been doing over the years, but is disappointed to discover that they are more interested in the skills he honed while collecting taxes. Then Mary, Yeshua’s mother, approaches him with a request that he help her write down all of the teachings of Yeshua and accounts of his miracles before they’re forgotten by those who witnessed them. Matthew does not want to sit and write, either words or numbers, when there are souls to be reached. As he comes to terms with what God wants of him, the Roman emperor prepares to set himself up as a god to be worshiped, which would force the entire Jewish community–Yeshua-follower or not–to make a choice between their life or their obedience to God.

I have really liked this series so far and was excited to read the 3rd installment. It wasn’t quite as good as the first two, to me, but I still really liked reading more in the fictional Biblical world Hunt has set up in the series. I’m not completely sure what it is that I liked less about this one. It seems to have less of the charm the other two had, and I think that might be partly because one of the things I liked the most about the other two was that Yeshua was still on Earth. Even though he was in the background, he was there, and I was really drawn to that. I liked hearing both Mary and Matthew talk about his teachings and how special his friendship and love was, how he made them feel when he talked to them, etc. But despite Hunt’s attempts to infuse emotion into these accounts, somehow it didn’t work as well for me.

I do appreciate that Matthew was led to go back to the Old Testament and discover more about who Yeshua was before he became a man, the connections to the prophesies and such. And to be clear, because I didn’t get this until near the end of the book and also from the author’s note–this is not a fictionalized story of the book of Matthew as we know it being written. Matthew and Mary are writing more of a history of Yeshua’s life on earth, in Hebrew (the book of Matthew was written in Greek), that is not meant to be that which later became scripture. But the idea is that this book essentially became a launching point for the Gospels. I wonder if I would have read it differently with that in mind, but it’s hard to say now.

Another thing I really liked is that both Matthew and Mary are presented as real humans with flaws and issues that they have to deal with as they work together on this story. But I also think it’s important that Mary can tell that people are treating her differently because of her son and that she does her best to remain humble and steer people away from treating her like she’s deity herself. She repeats often throughout the story that she’s always been simply a servant of God. While many of us might fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to be set on a pedestal, God chose her because He knew her heart and that she would willingly serve Him, so I like seeing this woman continuing steadfastly in her role as a servant. I think that the reasons I didn’t like this book as much as I did the first 2 are my own fault, not a fault with the book. And even saying that, I did still like it, would recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction, and am looking forward to seeing what else Hunt has in store for this series (she says in the author’s note that she does have another in mind).

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

Find out more about A Woman of Words
Publication date: May 4, 2021

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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!

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?

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: 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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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

May in Review

I read 9 books last month, which is pretty good considering that I all but stopped reading right about the middle of the month. For Mother’s Day and my birthday, as a joint gift, since my birthday is always near Mother’s Day, my son bought me the latest expansion and a month of game time for a particular online game that used to eat WAY too much of my time…and clearly that has not changed. I’ve managed to just stay away from it for quite a while, but had recently been a bit jealously watching my son and husband play together. Not a bad move on my son’s part, but I clearly need to learn to find a balance with my free time.

Here are the books I read in 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 (review pending) (4 / 5)
Daughter of Cana by Angela Hunt (4 / 5)
The Green Dress by Liz Tolsma (4 / 5)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read*. My favorite book from May was 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace. I finished 1 series, continued 0 series, and started 2 series…sort of. One is a series of novellas/novelettes that I’m not sure I’ll continue. The other was a short story that precedes a series of novels, but I’m not diving into the rest of the series yet. 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.

*One of the re-reads involved listening to the author read a few chapters of his book every night live on Facebook/YouTube to beat the quarantine blues. I count it the same as listening to an audio book.

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: Daughter of Cana

Daughter of Cana
Jerusalem Road #1
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Daughter

At a wedding in Cana, Tasmin oversees the week-long feast, with the help of her twin brother Thomas. But Thomas becomes more interested in what a guest from Nazareth has to say than helping his sister. Then that guest appears to turn water into wine, though Tasmin isn’t convinced. And neither is the guest’s brother Jude. After the wedding, Thomas goes with the Nazarene to Capernaum, and both Tasmin and Jude follow, each determined to retrieve their wayward brothers. But it turns out the task is not so easy, and Tasmin’s and Jude’s lives are upset as they try to balance their own lives with still making their brothers see sense–and hope to prove that the Nazarene is not who he claims to be.

This was an interesting take on the ministry of Jesus (referred to by his Hebrew name, Yeshua, in this book) from the perspective of one of his half-brothers, who did not believe he was the Christ during his ministry on earth, and the perspective of a sister to one of the apostles. As Jesus himself put it, no man is a prophet in his own hometown, and that principle applies in some way to both of the main characters (in their view of Yeshua). Most of Jesus’s works are seen from a distance, and I expected that to become tedious, but I appreciated the way the miracles were told by those benefited by the miracles or even bystanders.

I was a little concerned early on, as it seemed Yeshua was being portrayed as lazy and even slightly belligerent to his parents, slacking off while his brothers did all the work, even before his ministry started. I came to see that as the perspective of a frustrated, even jealous, brother, though. There was also one point where Jude talked to his brother in private, and I mentally winced in anticipation of the words the author might choose to put in Jesus’s mouth. Fiction or not, that strikes me as an unwise thing to do. However, his dialog was still right out of scripture. Granted, he obviously said those things to a larger crowd in the Bible, but there is evidence Jesus repeated some parts of his sermons anyway. It was a good decision on the author’s part, I feel.

While Tasmin and Jude spent most of the book with little in the way of their own story, and even of their own personalities, they grew enough later in the book that I still felt some connection to them. The best thing about the book, for me, was that it gave me the ability to feel like I was there, back in Jesus’s day, hearing him speak, seeing him myself, even if from a distance much of the time. There were Hebrew words and phrases sprinkled here and there, and the meaning wasn’t always clear to me. I didn’t quite see the reason for most of that, but that’s a small down-side to an otherwise lovely book. I would recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction.

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

Find out more about Daughter of Cana

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!