Book Review: Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse

Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse
Mr. Monk #1
by Lee Goldberg
read by Laura Hicks

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When a firehouse dog is murdered, the defective detective Adrian Monk’s help is enlisted by his assistant’s daugher Julie. During the course of the investigation, Monk discovers that the dog’s death might be connected to a fatal house fire. His work is hampered, though, by the fact that he’s been displaced, due to his apartment building being fumigated. Though she knows it will be difficult, his assistant Natalie offers to take Monk into her home while they solve the murders.

Fans of the television show Monk will likely find this a good read. All of the characters we love are involved, the story seeming to take place not too long after Natalie becomes his assistant. It’s not directly tied to any episodes of the show, though, and is a brand new plot. It’s narrated by Natalie, and I enjoyed it as essentially a longer episode of the show. In a way, it seemed like a mash-up of 2 different episodes (“Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing” and “Mr. Monk Stays in Bed”), but it’s unique enough to not just feel like a rip-off of one of those episodes.

The author does a pretty good job of capturing the feel of each of the characters with one execption–Monk himself. As someone who has seen the show in its entirety several times, I kept noticing things that just seemed very un-Monk-like. The most glaring was him holding a glass of milk, milk being high up on his list of fears. But he was also frankly a little too warm and tender toward Natalie and especially Julie. Though Monk can be kind, he is also often quite selfish, or at the very least, so wrapped up in his own issues that he doesn’t easily take others’ thoughts or feelings into consideration. He also called Julie “honey” at least once in the book, which just felt so wrong.

Overall, as a way to get more Monk in my life, the book was fun to listen to. The narrator was pretty good with the voices–I especially liked her Stottlemeyer. However, her depiction of Monk left a lot to be desired. I just kept putting it into Tony Shaloub’s voice as I listened. I’ll definitely keep reading this series.

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Book Review: The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey

The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #6
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure

Dr. Cooper is asked to solve the mystery of some treasure hunters who disappeared in the jungles of Central America, and if he happens to find the treasure himself, all the better for those who brought him in. The stories of a curse on the treasure may seem ridiculous at first, but there’s no denying the fact that the treasure hunters who disappeared all have either died or gone crazy. Soon enough, Dr. Cooper and his two kids are in danger themselves and have precious little time to solve the mystery and save lives.

This book had a lot of excitement and even some moments that could be a little scary for kids (not in a bad way). All 3 of the members of the Cooper family are on their own at some point, and all 3 are in peril at some point, upping stakes from previous books. I like the pure reliance on God, turning so quickly to him for help in desperate situations. The curse and other aspects that went along with it were, in the end, an interesting concoction and pretty scary menace.

Though I didn’t quite enjoy this story as much as I did others in the series that I gave 4 stars, I still think it was a solid addition. I listened again to the audiobook, and I’ve decided that I love hearing Peretti read his own books. There are 2 books left in this series, and I’m looking forward to listening to both of them.

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Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs

The Curse of the Pharaohs
Amelia Peabody #2
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

When Amelia’s husband is invited by the effervescent Lady Baskerville to finish an excavation that her late husband was unable to, Amelia goes with him to Egypt. She’s certain Lord Baskerville was murdered, so while she helps Emerson with the work, she also formulates theories about the various people around her. Before Amelia can point to a culprit, though, there is another death and more than one accident that threatens Emerson’s safety. Can she solve the crime before her husband is the next victim?

I liked this book a little more than the first one. That’s mostly because Amelia’s haughtiness and disdain were toned down a little, or at least focused on Emerson, which made for some fairly amusing interactions between the married couple. However, there was such a rehashing of elements from the first book that it made it a little dull. There’s the curse angle, which all of the local workers believe in, making the work more difficult. There are sightings of some sort of supernatural being that scares people. There’s the one woman that most of the male characters are falling over themselves to win the hand of. Overall, a lot of it felt like it had been done before.

I liked the introduction of the cat Bastet and the revelation of the true identity of one of the characters. I disliked the way Amelia kept feeling the need to allude to her and Emerson’s private moments. Overall, I don’t think I was invested in the story as I would like to be when reading a mystery. Whether or not I continue the series remains to be seen, but keep in mind that there are many positive reviews, so if you are a mystery reader and/or like the setting of this series, the book might be a good read for you.

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Book Review: Wives and Daughters

Wives and Daughters
by Elizabeth Gaskell
read by Nadia May

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic Victorian literature

When 17-year-old Molly Gibson’s long-widowed father remarries, she gains a step-mother and step-sister, the latter of which is near her age. However, she now has to share her father and defer to her new mother, both things that are completely foreign to her. There are some clashes beyond that, though, as step-sister Cynthia, who becomes Molly’s dear friend, is keeping secrets that will shock the entire town of Hollingford. As Molly matures into a woman, she befriends the Hamley family with their two young, eligible sons, and Lady Harriet, much to the chagrin of Molly’s new mother.

This book is long, originally written as a serial of shorter parts for publication in a magazine, and it does tend to meander a bit, without seeming like there’s much of a central plot at first. However, once things pick up a few chapters in, I found almost every bit of it interesting, even if it didn’t seem to add to a main plot. There are so many things happening, probably because the story was meant to be more of a snapshot of everyday life at the time, rather than a single, solid novel. Yet with all of that, I was never bored (well, maybe when someone’s style of dress was described or when Molly’s step-mother Hyacinth’s thoughts about someone or something was explained). I think that is mostly because the characters were so well written, I enjoyed following them through this life they were living. I really liked Molly, but also loved her father, the town doctor who was an incredibly wise and caring man. And Squire Hamley, for all his blustering and cultural prejudices, found his way into my heart.

Cynthia is probably the most complex character–I’m not sure she knew her own mind for more than a moment at a time. The exploration of what a child who was raised by a single mother who showed no love or affection would grow into was fascinating, even as she drove me crazy. But I felt for her. While she did make her own choices, and as she grows older will be held more and more accountable for them, she didn’t enter into womanhood with a very good example. Hyacinth was a selfish, uncaring individual, bordering on sociopathy, really. Her utter lack of empathy and penchant for manipulation were very well written, though, and are a large part of the reason it seems, in a way, that Cynthia never had a chance to be normal.

I know that if I had been reading the text, rather than listening the audiobook, it would have taken me a lot longer to finish this book. However, of all of the audiobooks I’ve listened to in the last several months that I’ve started opening myself up to them more, this was the first one that I felt a strong desire to come back to whenever I could, rather than simply putting it on when doing the activities that allow me the chance to listen. This is mostly because of the story itself, of course, but I also want to be clear that Nadia May did a superb job with the narration. The way she differentiated all of the larger characters was astounding, and I especially loved her voice for Mr. Gibson (Molly’s dad). There were times that I’d get so caught up in it that I’d completely forget this was one person doing all of the voices. This is my second read by Elizabeth Gaskell, and I think I liked it a little more than North and South, which really surprised me. Though I do still prefer the North and South mini-series to the one based on this novel, but I’m probably biased there for reasons I won’t get in to right now.

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Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Book #1
by Douglas Adams
read by Stephen Fry

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Science fiction

This will probably be my shortest review ever, because I just don’t have a lot to say. I really wanted to like this book, to find it humorous and enjoyable like so many people I know. But I didn’t. I could see where the humor was supposed to be, but most of the time I didn’t find it particularly funny. Maybe a little clever, and I do remember laughing out loud once. I think part of this is that the humor was a bit too British for me, though I’ve enjoyed plenty of British comedy in the past, and part of it is because it just felt forced a lot of the time.

There was barely a plot, until maybe the last third or so, but not nearly soon enough to hook me. And from early in the book, I got the distinct impression that Douglas Adams does not hold much regard at all for humankind. It left me feeling a bit sad, really. I listened to the audiobook read by Stephen Fry and at times would just zone out when descriptions of insignificant things went on at length. As strange as it might sound after I gave it 2 stars, I might (might) read it again in the future, but this time read the actual book, and going into it knowing what kind of book it is, maybe I’ll be able to appreciate it more. But in the end, it’s probably just not the type of book for me.

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Book Review: The Secret of The Desert Stone

The Secret of The Desert Stone
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #5
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure

Dr. Cooper is summoned to a country in Africa to investigate a giant stone that appeared overnight, separating the country’s new dictator and his army from other parts of the population. The stone is miles high and wide, so the big question is, who put it there? When Dr. Cooper and his teenage kids, Jay and Lila, end up stranded on the other side of the stone, will the locals be welcoming or try to harm them? Will they discover the secret of the stone before the dictator loses his patience with them?

This installment of the series didn’t have quite the excitement of previous books, but it still had its moments. I think the best thing about the story is that it sort of brings Romans 1:20 to life. (“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”) I may have already said too much, in regards to avoiding spoilers, but I really appreciated the simple faith and thirst for more understanding about God exhibited by “primitive” people in the story.

I think one of the things that bothers readers most about these books is the unrealistic nature of things that happen. I like that Peretti isn’t afraid to explore what could happen, even while we know things like this don’t really happen much in modern times. Still, he paints an interesting and entertaining picture.

One final note–I listened to the audiobook specifically so that I could hear it read by the author. I love how he did roles like Mr. Henry and even his small role in the movie Hangman’s Curse, and I figured the book would be that much better in his own voice. It did not disappoint! I will most likely listen to the rest of the series this way too.

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Book Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank
Amelia Peabody #1
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

As a female during the Victorian era in England, Amelia Peabody is ahead of her time. Unmarried and independently wealthy, she has no need for a man or most of societal conventions. With a passion for Egyptology and a thirst for adventure, she decides to travel to Cairo, taking into her company along the way a young woman whose reputation has been tarnished. Amelia gets the adventure she’s looking for, and more, when a missing mummy begins to terrorize the women.

I was not a huge fan of this book for the most part. Amelia’s attitude, which is the main thing that most other readers seem to love, just irritated me most of the time. Her haughtiness and aggressiveness was just too much. I listened to the audiobook, and the reader did such a good job infusing the 1st-person narration with arrogance and disdain that it only added to my dislike for Amelia. Add to that the mystery being a bit light–took a long time to get going and was mostly easy to solve–and Amelia’s disdain for Christianity, and it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read for me.

There were parts of the book that I found interesting–the descriptions of excavation and archaeology in those days, as well as travel by the dahabiyas (luxury boats) on the Nile. However, by the time I was halfway through, I’d decided I wouldn’t continue the series after the first book. Now that it’s been a few days since I finished it, I think I may give it another try. The next book is set somewhere around 6 years after the first one, and it looks like many things will be different. As for this first book, though, I do think others might appreciate it more than I did, so if it sounds interesting, be sure to check out other reviews and consider giving this book a try.

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Book Review: Little Women

Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
read by Barbara Caruso

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s/YA coming of age

This is another classic that I had never read before, but have seen a movie or other adaptation of more than once in the past. In this case, I’ve only seen the 1994 movie with Winona Ryder as Jo, though I have seen it more than once over the years. I also did read the Great Illustrated Classic adaptation with my daughter just over a year ago, but this was my first time reading the full, unabridged version, technically listening to the audiobook. Be aware, there will be spoilers in this review, so read on at your own risk.

One of the things that struck me the most about the full story is how much these sisters thrive in their environment. This is a time period where women are oppressed and kept in their place, and while at some times this makes tomboy Jo unhappy, she doesn’t have to completely rebel in order to make some inroads and even do what she wants to do. In fact, most of what gets in her way as a writer is her own ideas, plans, hopes, dreams, failings, and attempts to be a better person. In modern times, we if we want to write historical fiction where women aren’t just stuck in a box, they are often wild and outrageous (but at least they manage to meet that one man who’s okay with the woman who refuses to wear a dress or attend any formal functions). I think that’s one of the biggest things I love about Jo.

I also really like the fact that most of the way through the story, the March sisters are striving to better themselves. They are quite poor, but vow to be happy with what they have and avoid grumbling, even as they allow themselves hopes for the future in which they find wealth in one way or the other (different for each girl). And though I speak generally, Beth is usually perfectly content with what she has. Speaking of Beth, how well did I relate to that quiet, shy girl. Even too scared to go to the neighbor’s house who’d extended an open invitation so she could exercise her talent on his piano…that would definitely be me.

I loved the references made to Pilgrim’s Progress in the first half of the book, which plays a lot into what I mentioned above, about the sisters trying to be happy with what they have and be good “pilgrims.” I’ve never read Pilgrim’s Progress, though I’ve always thought I should (tried once, but I’m really not good at sticking with books that are hard to read), and now I wish I had. The reference back to the pilgrims and the game the sisters played when they were younger, shortly before Beth’s death, made the tragedy of her death all the more emotional to me.

On probably the most disputed point of this book, though I never lamented over the fact that Jo rebuffed Laurie, it did always seem strange to me that he ended up marrying little Amy. However, after reading this book, I think Louisa May Alcott did a fine job setting up the ways the various romances went. I could certainly see that Jo had no romantic feelings for Laurie and had good reason to think that they wouldn’t have a very pleasant marriage. And when Amy was still young, a connection grew between her and Laurie that paved the way for their love later. Jo’s feelings for Professor Bhaer came very naturally, and it was easy to see why she fell in love with this mature man of integrity and morals.

Before I wrap up, I want to say a few words about Barbara Caruso, the narrator of the audiobook I listened to. I haven’t listened to many audiobooks and can really only listen to certain types of books that way, since my mind tends to miss details if I’m not careful. Also, like many others I’m sure, the narrator can really make or break my enjoyment, and I’ve discovered that I’m really picky about it. Which is why I’m really glad that this is the narrator I listened to for this book, because she did a fantastic job! I really liked how she brought the characters to life and even managed to have slight differences between the sisters. Her reading of foreign words or sentences (French and German) and accents for characters like the German Bhaer are incredible. I will definitely look for her when I listen to other books that she has narrated.

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Book Review: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line
Veronica Mars #1
by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham
read by Kristen Bell

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Mystery

Picking up soon after the Veronica Mars movie, which in turn is set about 10 years after the same-name television show, we have a brand new, stand-alone mystery. During Spring Break in Neptune, two young women go missing from the same house, on different nights. Veronica is hired to look for them, but she doesn’t expect to be confronted with a face from the past. With the help of some old friends, Veronica is determined to find the missing women. But will she be too late?

As one who has seen the show several times, this is just about everything I’d want from a book continuation. The only real downside is that a book can’t span as long of a time as an episodic show does, and so the mystery, characters involved, and side plots can’t be developed like they were in the show, which is what made each larger mystery (i.e. each season) have such a big punch at the end. However, the rest of what I love about the show is here–Veronica’s wit and sass, Keith’s very existence, a twisty plot with a dangerous conclusion, and a whole cast of friends and frenemies to help or hinder Veronica.

For Veronica Mars fans, I would say this is definitely worth a read. And I highly recommend the audiobook, as it is narrated by Kristen Bell herself, which notches the whole thing up to as close to a life-action show/movie as you can get, especially considering that the show is narrated by Veronica along the way too (though this is in 3rd-person, a minor detail). And Kristen Bell does a spectacular job with the voices of her once-co-workers. For one who has seen the show a lot, it’s so easy to hear Wallace, Keith, Mac, even Cliff coming out of the “pages.”

If you haven’t watched any Veronica Mars but are interested in this book, I would first ask why you’re not just starting with the show. But as for whether or not you’d enjoy this book or if you’d be lost, it’s hard to say from my perspective. Things that happened in the movie months before that affect the book are explained well enough, I think, but that also means the movie is spoiled in some parts. I do think that some of the larger characters are represented well enough for a newbie to get a feel for them, but smaller ones, like Weevil, definitely shine more if you already know them. That’s not a fault with the book, though, because he’s simply a smaller character in this story. So if you’re interested at all, I’d recommend the show first (the first 3 seasons), then the movie, then this book and its follow-up, which I haven’t read yet but will. And then maybe the 4th season…maybe.

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Book Review: The Old Lace Shop

The Old Lace Shop
Once Upon a Dickens Christmas #3
by Michelle Griep
read by Nan McNamara

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance, Christmas fiction

Recently widowed Bella White spent almost a decade with a man who frightened and abused her. Now that he’s gone, she’s free to make her own path. Keeping one of the businesses her husband owned, Bella decides to help run the lace factory. Her business partner, though, who owns 49% of the business and is used to running it alone, is not so pleased. And since that partner is Edmund Archer, who was once Bella’s beau, things are quite awkward when Bella arrives to help run the factory. And the lace manufacturing business is a lot more cut-throat than Bella expected.

After the disappointment of book #2 in this series, I was glad to be able to enjoy this one more. I applauded Bella’s desire to earn her own money, rather than just live on what her husband left her. And her heart for local women who’d gone blind working in the lace factories was a really nice side plot. The overall story was decent, if not a little too cluttered for a short novel.

Right off the bat, it was strange going into this book after reading the first two in the series, because they were both told in 3rd person past tense, while this one is in 1st person present tense. This is an odd choice for a book with alternating POVs, and I’ll admit to being a little confused a few times when I’d forget whose perspective we were in at the time. Also, there’s more pressure to make sure both characters’ voices are unique, since they’re obviously not the exact same person, and that wasn’t necessarily done well enough here. It didn’t help that I listened to the audiobook though, which I’ve now decided to avoid for romances if at all possible. And that may have been why the romance in this story felt a little weak, or it may have been the story itself, but I don’t think I can say for sure.

The epilogue of this story was about the 2nd-chance coin that shows up in all 3 books. This is a shame, because I wasn’t as connected to that coin as I could have been, and so the epilogue mostly fell flat for me. Be that as it may, I still liked the story in general, and I do recommend this book for anyone looking for a quick Christmas read, or for a historical and/or Christian romance.

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**As far as I can tell, this story is not available in any format by itself. It is only available as the third story in the collection titled Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, which contains all three stories in this series.

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