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 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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Book Review: Alex book series (3 books)

Shoelaces and Brussels Sprouts
Peanut Butter and Jelly Secrets
Grapefruit Basket Upset
Alex series books #1, 4, & 10
by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Lucia Monfried

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children, Christian

Alex is a young girl (starts at around 8 years old and ages a bit through the series) who just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Seemingly innocuous decisions have a tendency to snowball out of her control, despite her best intentions to get things back on track. Her patient parents help her to see what she could have done differently and what she should learn from her mistakes.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Secrets survived my childhood with me, and I read it so many times. I remember having such a sense of camaraderie with Alex back then. The dark places and heart-pounding situations that she got into felt very real. I could easily imagine myself having the same struggles trying to correct my bad choices on my own. There are scenes during which she snuck around and hid in dark places that have really stuck with me over the years.

My mom owned Shoelaces and Brussels Sprouts when I was younger, and while I don’t remember reading it as many times as my book, I still remember identifying with Alex. As an adult, I can see where it would have made her whole life easier by simply telling her mom about the incident that prompted her to tell the First Lie, which then snowballed into more lies. But as a kid, I know I made plenty of my own similar bad choices to try to save myself.

This was my first time reading Grapefruit Basket Upset, so I don’t know whether my view of it would have been different if I’d read it back then as I did the other two. However, the circumstance in which Alex finds herself in this book is also not one that I think I would have connected as much with back then. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so competitive as she is, and I definitely would not have made the one final, terrible choice she made (at least, I can certainly hope not). However, the story itself, and the lesson learned, is on par with the other two books.

This book series is pretty old, and I don’t think they’re in print anymore (first one came out in 1987). At some point, they came out with different cover versions, too, though I’m a fan of the originals. If you have an opportunity to pick up any of the Alex series books, I recommend them. They’re short, quick reads that children will be able to connect to.

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Book Review: A Gathering Place

A Gathering Place
Cape Light
#3
by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, Cape Light & Home Song.

Leading up to and going through the Christmas season, mother and daughter Emily and Sara have to figure out how they fit into each others’ lives, while both also trying to work out a burgeoning relationship. Meanwhile, Reverend Ben and his family deal with some family crises, and local diner owner Charlie and his wife struggle to keep their marriage happy.

Continuing shortly after the previous book ended, book 3 continues the saga of the residents of Cape Light. The drama ramps up, and multiple characters attempt to define their romantic relationships. I found this third book to be somewhere in between the first and second, in terms of how much I enjoyed it. I was still interested in seeing where story threads that were set up in the first book would go, but less interested in some of the storylines that were focused on in this book.

One of my biggest issues is that the official blurb for this book focuses on Mayor Emily Warwick and her relationships with her newly found daughter and with newspaperman Dan Forbes. However, the book really focused a lot more on her daughter Sara and her new job at the newspaper, as well as her own romance. I found that storyline less interesting, which understandably detracted from the overall book for me. And there were 2 romantic culminations at the end of the book, which left me feeling less caught up in the one that came second.

The religion that many of the residents of Cape Light follow is more highlighted in this book, but frankly, it made me sad. It was very shallow and consisted more of passionate pleas that God would spare loved ones lives than any kind of understanding that as Christians, we shouldn’t cling so tightly to this life, because we have the hope of eternity. Don’t get me wrong–I am not against praying for healing in this life, not at all. However, if we let the idea that our Christian loved ones might die cripple us, we are not trusting God at all. And this is not a very good testimony to present to readers.

I did, however, like the way the reverend himself was presented in his personal life. He was shown in his humanness, not as some kind of saint, as he dealt with his family issues and regretted his actions and attitude after certain interactions.

From the very first book, unraveling the lives of the different people in this town was what made me want to continue the series. Some of those arcs have played out, but there are some others that are still ongoing, which is enough to make me want to read the next one. After that, the series becomes all specifically Christmas novels, but at this point, I don’t think I’ll want to stick with it if the 4th book is a less than 4-star read for me.

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Book Review: Forsaking All Others

Forsaking All Others
Western Vows #1
by Kari Trumbo

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Escaping the Santee Sioux Reservation in Nebraska in 1881, Rose and Pete travel to Kansas to start a new life. Life outside of the reservation is different, and as Rose quickly learns, so is Pete. Unable to agree about who to trust and how to move forward, their friendship is put to the test. Pete has always been there for Rose in the past, and she doesn’t understand what has changed. All she knows is that she can’t go back to the reservation.

Sadly, I had a very difficult time finding much of value in this short story. As a male romantic lead, Pete has some serious issues. And while that alone isn’t a problem, for me to care about the relationship between these two, he really needs to have some kind of redeeming qualities. He doesn’t–at least, not in my opinion. He’s stubborn and hot-headed, treats Rose like dirt, and essentially feels that the simple fact that he loves her and has helped her a lot in the past should be all that matters. Even when he has a change in attitude, all Rose has seen from him since they left the reservation is his sulky, jealous attitude, so frankly…the romantic climax just fell flat for me.

Morgan is probably the character with the most depth, but he’s treated badly–both by the characters and by the author. I feel like a decent attempt was made with Rose, but the relationship stuff she had to deal with just made her seem weak and cliche. Overall, I think the story suffered a lot from being so short. The heart and attitude changes that Pete went through, had they been fleshed out far more, and had he really been given the chance to show Rose that he’d changed, would have made the story so much better.

The writing style was easy to follow, but the dialog was way too modern at times. And in the second half of the novel, the editing seemed to just fall apart. I noticed a lot of grammatical errors, and that really detracted from the story.

The story is the beginning of a series, the books of which (all stand-alones, from the looks of it) get longer as the series goes. This one is Kindle-only, and looks like it came out after the rest of the series. The title doesn’t really fit the book, in my opinion, which may have just been an attempt to keep it in the theme of “wedding vows” that the series has going for it. And this is yet another time where I feel like I read a different book from everyone else, because most of the other reviews are 4-5 stars. Please be sure to check some of them out if the book interests you. As for me, I don’t plan to continue this series.

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Book Review: Don’t Keep Silent

Don’t Keep Silent
Uncommon Justice
#3
by Elizabeth Goddard

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Romance, suspense, Christian

Don't

Investigative reporter Rae Burke’s sister-in-law has a secretive and troubled past, so when she disappears, Rae knows it won’t be easy to track her down. However, with the help of former DEA agent Liam McKade, with whom Rae once had a relationship, Rae refuses to give up. Though they are both professionals, it still won’t be easy to put their past behind them, especially since Rae once ruined Liam’s career and almost got him killed. Can they battle bad guys, nature, and their own issues to find Zoey?

This was yet another time when I can’t help but wonder if I read a different book than everyone else. Maybe I’m just far more particular. But while I liked the setting and appreciated some of the characters, overall I had a lot of trouble with this story, especially in the plot and writing style.

I don’t know how to explain it, exactly, but many times, it felt like the author had an outline of things she wanted to have happen in a scene and just sort of threw them together. One paragraph would have 2-3 different, unrelated topics in it, lacking any kind of transition. Conversations didn’t make sense half the time, either because the characters sometimes seemed like they were not having the same conversation as each other, or because the dialog was stilted in general.

As the mystery unfolded, I tried to get involved. The plot itself was decent for most of the story, but the revelations at the end were convoluted and nothing you wouldn’t expect from the set-up. There were some incredible coincidences that I think the author tried to give good reason for, but they fell flat for me, most likely due to how complicated things got. It didn’t help that I felt like I was missing half the story. I know this is book 3 in a series, and I do wish I’d read the first 2 before diving into this one, but I’m pretty sure that the parts related to Rae & Liam’s history weren’t in a previous book. I would have liked more explanation there.

The author’s attempts at suspense fell flat, usually because information seemed to be given sorely out of order. Rae convinces Zoey’s mom that she’s able to help, so Zoey’s mom opens up to her…but then only after being pressed for more info does she mention that the primary suspect has recently been announced dead?! This is just one example of strange or contradictory situations I noted throughout the book.

The book is billed as Christian, but it’s barely that. The main characters give silent, single-sentence prayers every once in a while, pleading with God for other characters to be all right, but that’s about the extent of it. I have no idea what either of them believe, or if they actually trust the God they’re seeking help from.

I really don’t like writing reviews like this, and I certainly wish I’d enjoyed the book more. Based on other reviews, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re interested in this type of book, you should still check it out. Though I’d strongly recommend starting with book 1, as there are things about Liam’s family that are mentioned in this book with no context, and the other two books are about his brothers.

Thank you to NetGalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Loving a Rebel

Loving a Rebel: The Preacher’s Daughters
Glory, Montana #1
by Linda Ford

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Rebel

To avoid succumbing to a winter storm, Flora Kinsley and Kade Thomas are forced to spend two whole days alone together in Kade’s small dwelling. The year is 1884, and Flora’s dad is a strict preacher, who she knows will not take kindly to the circumstances. With her honor and reputation at stake, will Flora’s rebel heart be forced into a marriage she does not want, or will Kade be able to convince either of the two stubborn Kinsleys into an amicable arrangement?

This is a short, clean romance that hits the nail on the head in regards to a person of Flora’s personality–simply that forcing her to do something will only lead to rebellion and hardship. I’ve always appreciated a well-done story about two characters who are thrust into a relationship or marriage and have to learn how to make it work. That isn’t quite how this story plays out, but it was still a good read.

From early in the book, as Flora and Kade spend their two days together, it is clear that they are both completely different in the taking-risks department. Yet, they begin to learn from each other and minds and hearts are eventually changed. I really appreciated the depth we delve into the reasons behind why both of these characters are how they are, which I wouldn’t have expected in such a short space. One thing that bothered me, though, is just how stubborn everyone in this book is. No one is willing to bend when it seems like they have no reason to be so firm. The preacher annoyed me in particular, given the way he acted toward Kade even way past the point when he had any reason to treat him that way.

There is one particular character who seemed a bit over-the-top, which I think is because I sensed his inclusion as a simple plot-driver more than I normally would. In the end, though, I was a little amused by him, which is pretty strange, given how he acted in the book. There’s a large part of me that would like to hear more about him in the future–perhaps a change in perspective, maybe even a conversion.

There are points in the book that felt way too modern to me, given the time period. Overall, though, I enjoyed the story. It is the beginning of a series, which I do intend to continue at this point. I recommend this book to fans of Christian historical romances, and have high hopes for the rest of the series.

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Book Review: The Warden and the Wolf King

The Warden and the Wolf King
The Wingfeather Saga
#4
by Andrew Peterson

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

wing 4

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

War has come to the Green Hollows and surrounding lands. King Kalmar knows that fighting the overwhelming forces of Fangs won’t be enough, though, and is determined to confront Gnag the Nameless himself. The Wingfeathers hope for a better future and a return to their homeland, but what will it cost to get there?

Again I find myself wishing I could say more, but not wanting to have to post behind a spoiler tag. The conclusion to the saga was at least as amazing, if not more so, as the run to get here. For a series that started a bit slow (not boring, but slow), the ensuing adventure, peril, emotion, and character development was worth every bit of the build up.

The character development throughout the series, and especially this last book, was realistic and even made me examine my own heart more closely. Though I have to admit that I don’t think Leeli had much development overall. The ending was incredible, and I never saw it coming. It left me in shock, and with the biggest book hangover I’ve ever experienced. I am already looking forward to when I re-read this series (which will probably be in September when the second half of the re-released books come out, which my husband already pre-ordered for me).

Keeping in mind that that this series is middle grade fiction, I’m going to share a bit of a story:

I read the first 2 books earlier this year, as ARCs for the re-release that will include all new illustrations and footnotes (the books originally came out 10 years ago). I remember thinking that my then 9-year-old daughter might enjoy them, but she likes reading in theory more than in practice, tending to start books and not finish them.

When Andrew Peterson started reading the first book live online during the quarantine back in March, she started listening with me part way through (she was usually outside playing when he read, and she didn’t have enough interest initially to stay inside to listen). By the time he finished reading book 2, she was hooked. She sped on ahead of me and listened to the audio books for 3 & 4. She loved them so much, she was desperate for me to read the rest so she could talk about them with me. She then proceeded to go back and read the first 2 books and re-listen to the last 2 books a few times. All in the space of a few months, by a girl who only halfheartedly read before this.

So to sum up, while the series itself is incredible–inventive, adventurous, emotional, even beautiful–the best thing about these books is that it gave my daughter and me something to enjoy together and discuss. Though we have to do it in whispers, because our enjoyment has gotten my husband’s interest piqued, and we don’t want to spoil anything for him.

Though I’ve been saying all through the reviews for this that the book is not overtly Christian–and it’s not–there was a message in this book that I really appreciated. And I just have to say that I think it’s okay to be jealous about someone else being allowed to literally directly encounter God, and you’re not invited. I can’t recommend this book enough to readers of all ages, and particularly suggest that reading it along with your kids, or even out loud to your kids, might just provide hours, days, weeks of great bonding time.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2014, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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Book Review: The Monster in the Hollows

The Monster in the Hollows
The Wingfeather Saga
#3
by Andrew Peterson

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

monster

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness & North! or Be Eaten.

The joyful ending of the previous book only carries so far into the Green Hollows, where the residents are wary, to say the least, about having a Grey Fang in their midst. Even as his family defends him, Janner can’t seem to help but be afraid of his brother as well. The Igibys begin to try to make their home in the Green Hollows, but there is more danger nearby than just the little Grey Fang.

Though there were some slower parts for me in this book, as I wasn’t as interested in the school system in the Green Hollows, it was not nearly enough to detract from the rest of the book as an exciting, heart-filled addition to this series.

Looking back on it, most of what I’d want to expand on would be a spoiler, so I don’t feel like I can say much in this review. However, as the danger ramps up, the heroes learn more and more who they are and who they should be. And though there were some dark and gut-wrenching moments, I have so much anticipation for the finale of this great series. More importantly, my 10-year-old daughter has gotten into this series since I started it, and she LOVES it! In fact, she’s kind of obsessed with it. She’s not an avid reader, so I’d say that’s a huge endorsement.

I highly recommend this book, and the series so far, for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. And to restate from my previous reviews–you might see it labeled as Christian, and there are some references to a deity that many of the people believe in, but it is not overtly Christian.

On a technical note, I initially listened to this as an audiobook, which isn’t normally my thing. It’s narrated by the author, though, and he does such great voices and really makes the characters come alive. When I got a copy of the ARC, I flipped through to find all of the illustrations and extras that the re-release will have, and they are great too! Definitely worth having the physical copy when it comes out someday.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2011, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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Book Review: A Bride of Convenience

A Bride of Convenience
The Bride Ships
#3
by Jody Hedlund

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Bride

In the 1860s, women were shipped from England to Victoria, in what is now Canada, to become wives for the bachelors who lived and worked in the British colonies. Author Jody Hedlund imagines what might have happened to some of the women on those ships in her series The Bride Ships. This is book #3 of that series, though can be read as a standalone. Only a day off the ship, Zoe becomes the guardian of an abandoned infant. While a local pastor named Abe attempts to find the baby’s father, Zoe resolves to care for the baby herself. But single-motherhood is not only difficult, but nearly impossible in this untamed land. Through a misunderstanding, Zoe and Abe marry and then are faced with the difficult decisions that come from a hasty marriage of convenience.

Marriages of convenience have always been something that draw my attention, especially in a Christian setting. The story of Zoe and Abe and how they get to know each other, become friends, and hope for more, was sweet and captivating. If my rating were based only on that, it would have been at least 4 stars, maybe more. However, my lower rating is because of the physical lust that I had to wade through.

I’ll start with the positives, though, because outside of the physical stuff, or if I’d been able to skip over it, I really enjoyed the overall story. I liked both of the main characters as individuals, which seems fairly uncommon in romances I read these days. Abe had some issues being assertive (which I can relate to), but found a backbone when it was needed. Zoe was uncertain about her ability to be a “proper” pastor’s wife, but had a lot more actionable compassion than she realized. I was able to predict what happened near the end, but would have been pretty surprised about the way the rest of the story had gone if my prediction had not come true. I would actually like to see more of these two, as long as they can keep their physical desires about each other out of the narrative.

So obviously, the fact that Abe and Zoe are married through most of the book is going to involve some physical desires. And because they’re married, even though they’re still basically strangers, it’s okay, right? Sure, I don’t have a problem with a husband and wife lusting after each other, even if they’ve only just met, or if their marriage was not borne of love for each other. And I really appreciate the fact that they were completely respectful of each other, because, as Zoe herself observes, in the confines of being married, Abe may have felt he had the right to take whatever he wanted. But what did bother me was the near-constant leering. More specifically, it’s the fairly detailed descriptions of the leering that made me uncomfortable as I read. Just because two people are married doesn’t mean I want to hear the details of their love lives, lusts, or desires. Even Abe himself, in the story, finds himself uncomfortable in the presence of his friend and friend’s new bride, as they apparently made out in front of him a lot. Just because they’re married doesn’t mean we all want to watch them enjoying each other.

I’m sure it might seem to some like there’s no way around it, given the story presented, but I think that it could have been toned way down. And because this is a Christian book, which will be expected to be clean and okay for younger people, I wanted to make sure to mention this possible issue for others. To be fair, there’s nothing I would call explicit, but it’s about the closest I can remember reading in a Christian book. From the other reviews, it’s clear that I’m in the minority here, but as another reviewer stated, I would not allow my daughter to read this when she’s a teenager, and would be very uncomfortable listening to an audiobook of this with any members of my family around.

I hate to say this, because I do think the story was well-written. I have a feeling the other books in this series, maybe others by the author too, likely don’t have the same problem (I certainly hope not, at least). But I would have a difficult time recommending this book too widely. If you aren’t bothered by this kind of thing and enjoy Christian romance, certainly give it a try. But be careful where you’re reading it or listening to it, and please make sure to read it before allowing your teenager to read it.

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

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Book Review: A Soldier’s Promise

A Soldier’s Promise
Crystal Lake #2
by Laura Scott

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

Soldier

Derek wants nothing more than to be a father to his recently motherless daughter Lexi, but there are some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to that dream. As he tries to outrun some of those obstacles, he’s in a car accident that forces him to stop his flight in Crystal Lake. There, he and his daughter are helped by ER nurse Julie, who has her own burdens to shake off. Will these three find what they’re looking for in each other?

This story is about a novella-length, about twice the length of the previous one. And it did have more substance than the previous book, even allowing for a fairly serious storyline to be tied up. Unfortunately, even with the shorter format, there’s a good deal of repetitiveness in the narration, especially involving the main characters’ inner turmoil about their individual situations (as well as their joint situation). I appreciated Derek’s characterization, but felt Julie left a lot to be desired in, regarding having much of a personality.

Most likely because the story is so short, it has the unfortunate common situation where two characters who have only just met develop feelings for each other very quickly. This particular relationship moved to kissing more quickly than I prefer, especially for a Christian read. And so much of the romance we see them develop revolves around them admiring each others’ looks.

I appreciated that Julie wanted to share her faith with Derek, and by extension, with Lexi. I don’t recall it being wrapped up in the story, but it certainly wouldn’t have to be, realistically speaking. I think there was a good foundation there for the future, though (their fictitious future that won’t likely be in any future books, of course). There was one theology point I didn’t agree with, but I won’t mention it here.

As the second book in a series of similar stories, and both being decent, but not stand-out reads, I don’t plan to move on in this series. However, if you are interested in a short, sweet, clean romance, this book can easily be read as a standalone in the series. I thought we might get a bit more of a glimpse of the characters (as a pair) from the first book than we did, since they all work in the same hospital. Please be sure to check out other reviews, as there are plenty who liked it more than I did.

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