Book Review: A Castaway in Cornwall

A Castaway in Cornwall
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

Laura Callaway feels like a castaway as she searches flotsam and jetsam from nearby shipwrecks on the coast in Cornwall for anything that might be of value, either monetarily or sentimentally. She’s not completely alone, but she does feel abandoned by her parents. Then she discovers a real castaway on the beach–Alexander Lucas, who managed to survive a shipwreck. As Laura helps nurse him back to health, clues begin to surface about his identity, and before she knows it, Laura is caught up in a game of spies, smugglers, and prisoners.

This book had my attention from chapter one and kept it all the way through. I was surprised to realize how many pages it had once I was done, and the only reason it even took me more than two days to read is because I was too busy to get back to it like I wanted to. Laura and Alexander were both really interesting characters, and the description of shipwrecks, smugglers, and treasure kept me firmly in early 1800s England.

Even side characters and small side plots were interesting, and what I really liked about the story is that the romance wasn’t so in-your-face, as if it was the only thing that mattered in the book. The half-point detraction was for a few minor quibbles that mostly came about near the end of the book. Some things were resolved a bit too easily, in my opinion, including a relationship that ended up feeling like it was only strained to give the MC a stronger reason to feel “castaway.” Also the villain’s arc ended with a trope that I find tired.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am already looking for more from this author. I highly recommend it to fans of Christian books in the historical and/or romantic genres.

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

Find out more about A Castaway in Cornwall
Publication date: December 1, 2020

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Book Review: To Steal a Heart

To Steal a Heart
The Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency #1
by Jen Turano

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

When a resident at the Holbrooke boardinghouse is falsely accused of theft, the other ladies of the boardinghouse band together, using their diverse talents and abilities, to clear her name. From this comes the idea to form the Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency, which appeals to the ladies of New York City in 1886. For Gabriella Goodhue, who puts her childhood as a thief to use for the agency, this leads to a reunion with her once-best friend from her childhood, who has also turned from a life of crime. Nicholas Quinn is as surprised to see Gabriella as she is to see him and even more surprised by the fact that she seems to hate him now.

This book, unfortunately, was not really for me. It hit a lot of wrong chords with me, and I really don’t care for the author’s writing style. The characters are okay, though most of the larger characters seem too similar to each other, with only a few stand-outs. The villain is incredibly over-the-top and cliched. The plot is disjointed and doesn’t really follow one thread all the way through, except maybe for the connection between Gabriella and Nicholas.

The premise is interesting and the story that comes out of it is decent. The given synopsis (clearing the friend’s name) comes to a conclusion before the 50% mark, which led me to wonder what the book was really about. In the end, the story goal seems to really have been about giving both of these street urchins (Gabriella and Nicholas, who were both orphans and part of a gang of thieves in their childhood) answers to their past. This came out of nowhere, as it wasn’t really established in the first part of the book, other than the simple fact that they had been orphans.

I also thought the history between Gabriella and Nicholas was not nearly strong or deep enough for how they acted and talked. Gabriella was 12 when she was taken away from the gang. Nicholas was (I think) 14. Yet they act and talk as if they were much older and more mature when they knew each other in the past. When they meet again, they’ve been apart longer than they’ve been together, and they certainly don’t act like they were super close as kids. We only know they were because they say they were.

All of the above things, however, would probably still have left me with a book I could enjoy, had it not been for the writing style itself. It was very wordy and felt really shallow. I’m not a stickler at all for the “show, don’t tell” adage, but if I am noticing an abundance of adverbs, it’s probably too much. Take for example the following: “That he looked incredibly furious was not in question, nor was it in question that he also looked rather dangerous.” Not only is this pure telling, it’s telling with way more words than necessary (and this happened often). Various expressions were overused throughout the book, too, like “resuming the friendship” and “lady love.”

I like the idea of the premise of the series, and the fact that the next book is about one of the most interesting characters from this book makes me a little sad. Because from reviews I’ve read of other Jen Turano books, I have a feeling this one is not a stand-out in regards to writing style. I don’t have any plans at this time to read any more of her books. However, she has many great reviews on a lot of books, including this one. So if you don’t think the issues I’ve mentioned in my review would bother you, please do give this book a try. It’s just a miss for me.

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

Find out more about To Steal a Heart
Publication date: November 17, 2020

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October in Review

I read 14 books last month, which did break my previous record for books in one month by 1, but the page per book average was lower than normal for me (a lot of short books). Still, considering the reading slump I went through over the summer, I’d say I’m back in full swing. (Though NaNoWriMo being this month, I’m sure I’ll read a lot less this month, but at least it’ll be for a good reason.)

Here are the books I read in October:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (4 / 5)
The Sky Above Us by Sarah Sundin (5 / 5)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (5 / 5)
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (2.5 / 5)
The Lost Lieutenant by
(2 / 5)
(2 / 5)

(3.5 / 5)

Redshirts by John Scalzi
Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery (5 / 5)
The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from October was Anne’s House of Dreams. 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: This Little Dark Place

This Little Dark Place
by A.S. Hatch

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Psychological thriller

In the wake of the death of his mother, while his long-term relationship seems to be going nowhere good, Daniel writes a short, drunken letter to an unknown convict through a prison pen-pal organization. This is the beginning of his deep connection with Ruby, the inmate who he’s paired with. But when Ruby comes to find Daniel, things become too real…or maybe unreal.

If you’re looking for a dark, psychological read that will leave you feeling a little unsettled, this is it. If you’re looking for a thriller with twisty goodness…maybe not so much.

The book is fully in epistolary format, with the main character Daniel writing letters to someone named Lucy. From early in the book, I had some theories about how the story might unfold. Though things happened along the way that led me to other theories and the anticipation of one or more surprise twists near the end, it turned out that only my first ideas were correct. And there were no real twists. As I read the final pages, I felt let down.

The writing style is easy to follow, and I did at times feel invested in the story. Overall, though, there is no happiness in this book. Nothing uplifting whatsoever, not that I necessarily expect that from a psychological thriller. But it just all felt so hollow and empty. I was depressed for everyone in the book. And Daniel made such stupid decisions all throughout the book, it made it hard for me to care what happened to him in the end.

What this book really made me feel is happy to be a Christian. Grateful to have the hope that comes from knowing that God is real and that He loves me. That He is in control. It’s not that Christians are all perfect, always-happy people–far from it. But there is something nice in knowing that tragedy doesn’t have to destroy me and that I don’t have to try to fill the void in my life by myself.

A note about the story format–it’s broken into 3 long chapters, which did not bother me as it did others. There are scene breaks if you need a more definite spot to step away for a while. And at times, Daniel’s re-telling of events from years past are broken up by observations of what’s going on around him as he’s writing. This also bothered other readers, due to not being formatted well enough to be able to follow the jumping back and forth. I fear this was an issue with the ARC digital copy, which is a shame, because that shouldn’t come into play in a review. But it can, if it makes the book hard to read (I’ve been there). I read a physical release copy, and I had no issues with scene breaks or the jumping around.

Thank you to Netgalley and Serpent’s Tail for providing me a copy of this book to review.  

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Book Review: Imagine… The Tower Rising

Imagine… The Tower Rising
Imagine series book #6
by Matt Koceich

My rating: ? / 5
Genre: Children’s Biblical fantasy-ish?

While on the observation deck of the Willis Tower in Chicago with her family, Bella is suddenly transported to Shinar in 2300 B.C. There she sees the Tower of Babel mid-construction and becomes caught up in a dark plot to lead the people astray.

I am not completely sure what I just read. I expected an adventure similar to Superbook or Adventures in Odyssey, but there is definitely something else going on here. The tower being built, the reasons behind it, and Bella’s attempt to stop the people and explain why what they’re doing is wrong is a small part of the book (which is quite short anyway). But then there are some strange and unexpected fantasy elements going on, with a boy and a woman who are sort of like her guides through this experience, while also at times seeming to not know anything outside of what they should know if they were just regular people from that time period.

Then there are a couple of chapters that are “outside” of the adventure, involving people who are never properly introduced, and it’s never explained who they are or why they’re involved. One of them can communicate with the “bad guy” involved in the tower building, and gives him instructions. It’s clear from this that there is a whole over-arcing plot going on throughout this series, and I jumped in at book 6. My mistake, but there was nothing in the synopsis at all that would give any indication that these stories are so very connected. Out of curiosity, I have now read the first book in the series, and it was nothing like this book; no over-arcing plot line was set up either, so I can only guess it came up later in the series.

So…I don’t know how to rate this book. It was like reading someone’s account of a dream. I don’t want to down-rate it due to being so completely lost about the series-long story, but it would have been a lot better if I’d known I was being thrust into this ongoing, apparently supernatural battle between good and evil (for as much as I could tell from those sections).

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Imagine… The Tower Rising
Publication date: November 1, 2020

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Book Review: The Lost Lieutenant

The Lost Lieutenant
Serendipity & Secrets #1
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

As Evan Eldridge recovers from an injury sustained in the war against Napoleon, he wants nothing more than to get back to the fighting. Instead, the Prince Regent (who later became King George IV) makes him an earl, due to Evan saving the life of the prince’s godson in the same event where Evan was injured, not that Evan can remember much of anything about that day. The Prince Regent then insists that Evan marry his goddaughter Diana, whose father is looking forward to marrying her off to someone of his choosing, for his own gain. Diana and Evan both bring secrets into this marriage, and real lives are at stake.

This book hit so many right buttons with me. The characters are well-crafted, historical details are immersive, and the stakes are high in so many ways. I really liked the story that unfolded regarding Evan’s trauma and forgotten memory–his PTSD was real, and the mystery and intrigue culminated in an exciting climax.

Evan and Diana were both characters that I really connected with in some way, and together, they had a beautiful romance that was one of my favorite kinds in fiction. I wouldn’t classify it as actual “marriage of convenience,” but it’s similar, and I love that trope, especially in Christian fiction. Diana has some trauma of her own, in the form of an abusive father and brother. Together, they have a lot to overcome as husband and wife. I loved several of the supporting characters in this book as well and am especially excited to read the second book in this series, which focuses on one of those side characters.

There was one thing that happened, which I won’t explain in detail, that I felt was more of an obvious contrivance–something to keep the couple from being too happy too soon in the book. It bothered me, especially, when there was a clear opportunity for this thing to be addressed later, but it wasn’t, and I think that was a further contrivance for the plot. I only wish the author had chosen something less important, something the climax wouldn’t have hinged upon, if she wanted to throw a new wedge between the married couple.

One other thing, and this isn’t a fault with the book, is that the synopsis, in my opinion, gives away too much. I won’t say more, though, because it might be subtle enough if I don’t point out details. Small gripes aside, I loved this book and definitely recommend it to fans of Christian romance, historical or otherwise, and fans of Regency romance.

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

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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: 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: The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow

The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow
by Kim Vogel Sawyer

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical fiction

While the nation struggles to recover during the Great Depression, Addie must leave college just before the end of her junior year and find a job. At the same time, Emmett has just received a degree, but is learning that not many positions are open for a man with his education. Both end up in the small village of Boone’s Hollow–Emmett to look for any work he can get in or near the village where he grew up, and Addie to start a job as a packhorse librarian for a program that aims both to give people jobs during this difficult time and to get books into the hands of poor families in the hills. Though they both have grand plans for their future, both must take whatever work they can find. The people who live in the area, though, hold a lot of prejudices that turn into trouble for both Addie and Emmett. Will bigotry and sabotage ruin both of their chances at making their own way?

There’s a lot to try to put into the synopsis for this book, and I always prefer to keep it to one paragraph, so my blurb above doesn’t do the book justice. And while for some books, having so much going on can lead to a convoluted story, it all worked together so well in this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the plots that threaded together, the characters, and the ending to all of those different storylines.

One of the the things that I loved most about this book was that every victory was hard-fought. Nothing just happened because the author said so, characters and their reactions were real, and the outcomes were believable. I also liked that, though there was a romance sub-plot, everything didn’t hinge around it, and obvious, over-done cliches weren’t forced into the plot in order to make the romance “interesting.” It was the exact kind of subtle, sweet, clean romance that I love.

When I first realized that the story was going to be told from so many perspectives (4 total, if I’m remembering correctly), I thought it would start to bother me. But it never did, and the author did a great job of making each character’s narration feel like that person. Yes, some were similar to each other, but I was never confused, and really, it was interesting to get the little extra perspective from a few of the smaller characters (comparatively).

By the end of this book, I was really caught up in the stories. The themes presented throughout culminated in one really touching scene that made my eyes a little misty. The faith portrayed was the perfect balance of being woven throughout the story without being so in-your-face. It’s shown most in both of the main characters’ mothers, as witnessed by their children, and I loved that. “Look for the blessings,” “kill them with kindness,” using love and kindness to drive away hatred, all of these things were infused in the words, and it’s a lesson I learned right along with the characters. In case it’s not obvious, I highly recommend this book to any fans of Christian and/or historical fiction.

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

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August in Review

I read 7 books last month, and considering that 3 of them were very short children’s books, apparently I read quite a bit less last month than the previous months. I may or may not have read those 3 kids books to boost my number for the Goodreads challenge.

Here are the books I read in August:

Forsaking All Others by Kari Trumbo (2 / 5)
Don’t Keep Silent by Elizabeth Goddard (2.5 / 5)
The Maze Runner by James Dashner (4 / 5)
The Black Midnight by Kathleen Y’Barbo (3 / 5)
A Gathering Place by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (3.5 / 5)
Shoelaces and Brussels Sprouts by Nancy S. Levene (5 / 5)
Peanut Butter and Jelly Secrets by Nancy S. Levene (5 / 5)
Grapefruit Basket Upset by Nancy S. Levene (5 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 2 re-reads. My favorite book from August was The Maze Runner. I finished 0 series, continued 1 series, and started 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.

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.