Book Review: The Captured Bride

The Captured Bride
The Daughters of the Mayflower
#3

by Michelle Griep

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Mercy Lytton’s keen eyesight makes her a great scout for the British during the French and Indian War. When she’s tasked with pretending to be the wife of a Frenchman who has been condemned by the British as a traitor on a perilous journey to deliver a load of stolen gold to a British stronghold, the nearby, antagonistic Wyandot warriors may threaten Mercy’s life, but the condemned Elias Dubois will threaten her heart.

I’m finding it difficult to rate and review this book. It’s been a few weeks since I finished it, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long to review it, because now I’m struggling to remember much of it. That is probably an accurate enough reflection of the book. Overall, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. I spent the first few chapters really confused about a lot of things, like whose loyalties lay where and how certain people were related or connected to each other. Some of it gets answered by the end of the book, but I think certain aspects would have been much better off explained earlier on, so that I didn’t spend the first third of the story so confused. I re-read the first few pages after getting into it a little, thinking I might just have missed something, but it didn’t help.

I think this is yet another book in this series that suffers from having too much going on, and not all of it ends up being explained in the end. There was a lot of action, and it was done pretty well. A lot of side characters popped in and out, not necessarily adding enough to the story to make them worth taking the space they did. And something that really detracted from the story, for me, were the physical aspects of the building romance. Though there is clearly mutual respect between the two leads, and the relationship does build in a somewhat organic way, the author still puts more of an emphasis on physical attraction and nearness than I like to see in this type of story (though I have read worse in Christian fiction). Again, the book isn’t terrible, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have preferred. I think this will be the last book in the series that I read.

Find out more about The Captured Bride

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!

Book Review: Quest for the King’s Crown

Quest for the King’s Crown
Last Chance Detectives #6/7*
by Robert Vernon

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

Mysterious strangers and very old skeletons launch the Last Chance Detectives into another case, this time searching for treasure!

This series takes place in the mid-90s, though I sometimes think the author takes some liberty with the technology available at the time. Still, this story was fun, with some twists and turns that kept it interesting. There are some things that happen that I felt were unlikely enough to lower the rating by a star, because while kids may not pick up on those issues, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a story with a tighter plot. I also think the kids themselves and their personalities take a bit of a backseat to the grander plot, but overall, it was a good addition to the series. I was leery of new books being written after so long, but now I’m glad to be able to read more about these young detectives from the 90s and really hope the author is planning more, especially considering the tiny crumb we’re given about Mike’s missing dad in this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Quest for the King’s Crown
Publication date: November 8, 2022
*There were 3 books in the series originally, back in the 90s, and then a prequel came out in 2004. For some reason, when the first more recent book was published in 2021, the first one was labeled as book #5 in the series, I guess making the prequel the new #1 and pushing the rest a book later. But the early ones are still labeled as 1-3 in many places, so now it’s just kind of a mess…

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!

Book Review: Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod

Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod
Last Chance Detectives #5/6*
by Robert Vernon

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

When a car from the past with a ghostly driver begins to terrorize motorists near Ambrosia, the Last Chance Detectives are on the case.

Though this series started in the 90s, this book was written and published this year (2022). It still takes place in the mid-90s, which does tend to limit what the reader might suspect is happening, especially given the genre of the series. However, the target audience (8-12 year olds) would probably not try to solve the mystery while reading and instead simply enjoy the excitement and suspense. And even though I found myself unable to stop speculating on the technique used by the “bad guy,” I did still really enjoy the story. The descriptions of the driver were sufficiently mysterious and even a little creepy, and the way the Last Chance Detectives worked to solve it was smart and interesting.

I like that this series doesn’t generally follow the modern trend for kids books to have the kids breaking rules, ignoring adults, and generally being disrespectful as they protagonize their way through a story (no, that’s not a word, but I like it). Mike, Ben, Spence, and Winnie are just as curious and determined as I remember them being in the LCD movie I grew up watching (The Mystery Lights of Navajo Mesa). And even better, Winnie gets a little more depth to her character in this book (was she shown to be artistic before? If so, I don’t recall). The feud between her and Ben was amusing, and even realistic in the way it began to be less amusing to their friends as it went on and got in the way of the investigation. The culmination of that was a serious heart-stopper for me, and I’m still not sure how I feel about the way the author went with that in the end. Maybe it wouldn’t have affected me so much if the overall series wasn’t so ingrained in my childhood—though I never read any of the books back then and only watched the one movie, I watched it so many times that when I read the respective book for the first time recently, I read many of the lines in the same inflection as the actors said them in the movie.

Overall, this was a great addition to the series. I was leery of new books being written after so long, but now I’m glad to be able to read more about these young detectives from the 90s and am looking forward to the next one.

Find out more about Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod
*There were 3 books in the series originally, back in the 90s, and then a prequel came out in 2004. For some reason, when the first more recent book was published in 2021, the first one was labeled as book #5 in the series, I guess making the prequel the new #1 and pushing the rest a book later. But the early ones are still labeled as 1-3 in many places, so now it’s just kind of a mess…

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!

Book Review: Millstone of Doubt

Millstone of Doubt
Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries #2
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

Both fledgling agents for the crown, Lady Juliette Thorndike and Bow Street runner Daniel Swann individually need to figure out their roles and places in the spy network as well as their “normal” lives. When Juliette’s best friend’s father is killed, Juliette is told to stay out of the investigation, but Daniel plunges headlong into it. Meanwhile, Juliette is still in the middle of her debut season, and Daniel’s lifelong patronage by a mysterious benefactor will soon be coming to an end, leaving him in an unknown position. How will they navigate these difficult situations and deal with their growing feelings for each other?

I may have rated this book a star less than the previous book in the series, but I still really enjoyed it. The overall world that Vetsch has set up in this series and the one it’s connected to, Serendipity & Secrets, is one I really hope I don’t have to leave any time soon. Juliette learning to become a spy, using her training in real-world settings while trying to get over her weaknesses, but still having to act the role of a debutante, is a fun mixture. Daniel’s combining of his police work with spycraft isn’t as much of a stretch, but it still allows for some panic moments as he tries to keep his secret. There was also a great moment when Daniel’s friend and co-worker Ed gives him a little speech about the goodness of God, even when we don’t see it in our lives, that I really liked.

The mystery was overall good. I liked the different paths they went down trying to solve it; mystery is a favorite genre of mine, and this one was enjoyable. I did guess who the killer was pretty early on, but wasn’t 100% sure I was right until a while later (but before it was revealed). There was another mysterious aspect unrelated to the murder that I also figured out early on, but I still liked the way it played out. The story slowed down enough in the middle that I detracted a star, but overall, I really liked this book. I highly recommend it for fans of this genre and time period, whether you like romance or not, though that aspect is more in focus in this book than the previous.

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

Find out more about Millstone of Doubt

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!

Book Review: The Debutante’s Code

The Debutante’s Code
Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries #1
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

Returning to London after years away for school and just in time for her debut season, the last thing Lady Juliette Thorndike expected was to learn that her parents had been called away and that she’d have to face her debutante ball alone. On second thought, the absolute last thing she expected was to discover that her parents are spies for the British government, as is her uncle, and all of her family before them. But as she’s thrust right into the middle of a dangerous game of espionage, Bow Street runner Daniel Swann is put on the case of a stolen painting that soon becomes a murder investigation. And the supposedly untouchable aristocracy of England, especially Juliette and her family, are right at the center of it.

Oh, goodness. Coming off a month of mediocre reads, this book really had my heart soaring, and not just because of the connection to Vetsch’s previous series (more on that later). There’s so much I loved about it, like the relationship Juliette had with parents she hadn’t seen in 7 years. Through their letters, she still felt connected to them, and was receiving early spycraft instruction unawares. The way Juliette discovered the big family secret was perfect, especially since I was expecting a simple eavesdrop for her to hear the truth (it’s so much better than that!). The more she gets into the family business, the more she questions the ethics and morals of lying for a “good cause,” echoing my own thoughts exactly. And I appreciate that there are no easy answers, either for her or for the male MC, Daniel Swann.

He doesn’t get much of a mention in the synopsis, but he’s an equal part in this story, and I really enjoyed his character and backstory, his drive to figure out the truth and tenacity despite some fairly crappy odds. His personal life is a bit too much to into in the synopsis and is clearly going to stretch on to the next book in the series, and I’m really glad for that. While most books of this type, even those in a series, tend to be more stand-alone, I’m looking forward to a continuing series with the same characters, diving into the spy world of Regency England, and seeing what develops between Thorndike and Swann.

Now let me talk about how excited I was to realize that this series is taking place in the same world as Vetsch’s previous series, Serendipity & Secrets. I loved that series, and one character in particular was my favorite. Now to find him in this book as well? I can’t even express my joy! I don’t want to say too much, though if you know the other series, you can probably guess what the connection here would be. To be honest, I do believe I should have anticipated this, given the similarity of a certain aspect of both series. But I didn’t, and that made it all the more exciting when he appeared here.

Though the mystery in this book was not super hard to crack (for the reader), that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t completely off in some of my theories. I did guess some things right, but also had a few surprises near the end, one of which actually made me a little giddy (and I’m not normally a particularly emotional reader; me using that word is a testament to how much I loved this book). I confess I was pretty confused about the actual events that led to the spy work Juliette and her uncle were doing, I think due to the way certain terms were used during the explanation, but I had it (mostly) all sorted by the end. And I find myself frustrated by the official synopsis for this book (not the first time this has happened with one of this author’s works), considering that Swann’s suspicion of Juliette doesn’t actually come until more than 3/4 of the way through the book. Still, I highly recommend this book for fans of this genre and time period, whether you like romance or not, because there is some, but it’s not the focus of the book. But I would also really recommend checking out Serendipity & Secrets, and maybe even consider reading that trilogy first. You won’t be sorry.

Find out more about The Debutante’s Code

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!

Book Review: Freedom’s Song

Freedom’s Song
by Kim Vogel Sawyer

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

When an escaped indentured riverboat singer and a widowed homesteader with a young child to care for meet, they seem to have just what each other needs—she a place to stay and earn some money for a trip to her family in New York and he someone to care for his toddler so he can work. But will it be that simple, especially when a sinister force are lurking out there somewhere?

That synopsis doesn’t cover everything going on in this book, but it is the bulk of it. There are also the escaped slaves that Fanny travels with for a time, but since they are gone by around 30% of the way through the story and don’t have much of a conclusion, their part in the story feels a bit like it’s disconnected from the rest. In the end, I can’t help but wonder exactly why Sawyer chose to include them. I guess to add to the theme of “freedom” throughout the story, but it seems a bit heavy-handed at that point. None of that is bad, necessarily, and it does give the reader some early insight into Fanny’s character, so at least there’s that.

As for the main characters, Fanny and Walter, both of them seemed a little too “good.” Neither of them really had any faults that were brought out in the story, aside from the faux faults perceived only by themselves, that anyone with a more objective view would easily tell them they were silly for considering a fault. Walter was a little less confident than he’d once been, and I suppose Fanny doesn’t know how to be a homesteader, but it’s more endearing than anything. Both of them drove me nuts with the periodic mental berating over mistakes and bad choices that they thought must mean that God wouldn’t want to hear from them anymore.

There was also a 3rd perspective in this story, that of the riverboat owner who had indentured Fanny, as he tries to track down a singer to replace her. I don’t think his story really added to the book, and it culminated in a climax that was far too easily resolved. And speaking of Fanny’s indentured state, I think maybe the author should have spent some time going over some of the less-known and less-quoted parts of the Bible, like the book of Philemon.

Kim Vogel Sawyer does write very well, and I really enjoyed the glimpses at different parts of life and parts of the country in 1860 that were presented in this book. However, various parts of this book just didn’t sit right with me, though I’m sure that many other readers of Christian historical romance will be less bothered by what stuck out to me and will enjoy this book.

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

Find out more about Freedom’s Song

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!

Book Review: The Pirate Bride

The Pirate Bride
The Daughters of the Mayflower
#2

by Kathleen Y’Barbo

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Twelve-year-old Maribel Cordova, daughter of a Spaniard with a questionable background, is brought by her father on a voyage across the ocean. When their ship is accosted by a privateer ship helmed by the infamous captain Jean Beaumont, Maribel decides she wants to be a privateer too. But Beaumont’s ship is not destined to remain unhindered, and Maribel is left with only her memories of her time on the ship until years later, when a series of events lead to a chance encounter between Maribel and the captain.

There was a lot going on in this book, which proved to be its downfall. I was really into the first part. Maribel reminded me of Anne from Anne of Green Gables, and I appreciated the friendships she so quickly cultivated. Several of the smaller side characters I really liked all the way through the story. However, it was difficult to see the captain in a sort of fatherly capacity to her, knowing that this is a romance story, and that based on the (just utterly terrible and confusing) synopsis of the book, this 12-year-old girl and the 20-something captain are going to end up falling in love by the end of the book.

Still, the captain was interesting, and I was curious to see how it would all play out. But then in part 2, we have developments in the captain’s life and developments in Maribel’s life that sort of coincide, but not really, and that end up bloating the story far too much. I think the book would have been better overall if the captain’s side of things was the focus. Add to that the lackluster development of romantic feelings between the two main characters, and the feeling I was left with at the end of this book was…”meh.” I did like it more than the previous one in the series, but I’m still hoping for better in the books to come.

Find out more about The Pirate Bride

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!

Book Review: Distant Stars

Distant Stars
by Kassandra Garrison

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

After aging out of the foster system, a time during which brothers Will and Kane Rutledge ran away as often as they could, they decide to continue to stick together. And they decide that they need a fresh start, and that the best way to get it is to kidnap Hannah Cole, daughter of a wealthy man, and get a nice payday. But things start to go wrong from the first moment of this kidnapping, and the worst flaw in the plan is that Will didn’t expect himself to be so drawn to their victim.

The premise of this story is what drew me to it—a romance that begins as a kidnapping is intriguing to me, even while being a bit of a stretch in believably. But I knew it could be done and be a romance I would enjoy, especially under the banner of Christian fiction. The Christianity, though, is quite light and mostly involved with Hannah being angry at God for a fairly recent loss. Will has some early religious roots too, but I would have liked to see all of that drawn out a lot more, especially given the plot. Add to that the romance being mostly about physical looks (and smells…what does sunshine smell like, anyway?) for a while, and I didn’t really get into the romance aspect of the story much at all. Plus, I didn’t really buy Will’s softy act, for various reasons.

When I read a self-published book, it is my intention not to let things that a professional editor would help with affect my view too much. I’m not saying that there is no burden of responsibility here, but it’s harder for self-published authors. So while it did not affect my rating, I will at least mention that there were punctuation errors throughout this book, as well as other issues or confusions an editor would/should have caught. It can detract from the book for some, so let that be a warning.

On the positive side, the descriptions of the setting(s) made me feel like I was there, probably helped a bit by my own memory of a recent trip to a beach in the Dominican Republic, and I really like the depth to backstories the author came up with for the main characters. The story has a lot going for it, and I think that with some polishing and less tropes in the plot, it could be a sweet, enjoyable read. Given the way that others have responded to this book, it’s possible I’m simply not the right audience for it, so please check out other reviews at the link below if the book sounds interesting to you.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Find out more about Distant Stars

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!

Book Review: The Apostle’s Sister

The Apostle’s Sister
Jerusalem Road #4
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Though Aya, daughter of Zebulon of Tarsus, is only marrying the man chosen by her parents out of duty, she enjoys being a wife, and later, a mother, more than she expected. Though she’d like to use the talent for singing given to her by God in some way, she’s contented herself with following His will, however he chooses to use her. But when her brother, a Pharisee and member of the powerful Sanhedrin, surprises everyone by converting to following the Nazarene who was crucified a few years past, Aya and her family face some persecution from their fellow Jews in Jerusalem, and Aya is not sure how to reconcile her love for her brilliant brother with her family’s long-time religious traditions.

I think I’ll be in the minority with this book, like I was with the previous in the series. Not that I didn’t like it, but I didn’t like it as much as most seem to. Aya frustrated me early on, as I think she lets her desire to sing for people define her too much. I also don’t think there needed to be such a focus on the newlywed activities. It felt like the story didn’t really get going until both siblings were married, like it was something we had to get through first, but I didn’t really understand why it was all so important.

I think the other reason that the story didn’t work as well for me is that I couldn’t really connect very well to one of the two main characters. The perspective alternates between Aya and her older brother, Sha’ul (the apostle Paul). But once Sha’ul had converted to Christianity, his perspective is barely shown. When it is, it’s mostly just to tell us about events that we can read about in the book of Acts. Overall, it seemed shallow to me. Not much happened that I couldn’t have predicted, and I didn’t connect to the characters much as we sped through months and years of time.

The idea of what the family of the man who wrote many books of the Bible went through when he went against the tradition of the day to follow Jesus is an interesting premise. I felt it could have been explored more deeply, but I do think that many other fans of Biblical fiction will enjoy it more than I did.

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

Find out more about The Apostle’s Sister

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!

Book Review: Legend of the Desert Bigfoot

Legend of the Desert Bigfoot
Last Chance Detectives #2
by Jake Thoene & Luke Thoene

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

Is there a legendary monster wreaking havoc in the desert of Ambrosia? Mike, Spence, Winnie, and Ben, who call themselves the Last Chance Detectives, are on the case!

This was another solid addition to the short-lived series from the 90s. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the ones before and after it in the series, but that may have been as much due to the fact that the mystery seemed pretty obvious to me the whole time. I blame the book cover, which has a huge spoiler on it. There was an element I didn’t see coming, and the fast-paced excitement of the climax was classic Last Chance Detectives. I’d recommend this book, along with the rest of the series, for kids around 10-14.

For whatever reason, they’ve started putting out new books in this series, over 20 years after the series was first created, and while my childhood memories of the franchise are from one of the movies from the 90s, I like that there will be new stories added to it. I have now read all of the books from the original print series (out of order, but it doesn’t really make a difference), as well as 1 new one that came out last year, and look forward to seeing how the series continues and if Mike ever gets any answers about his dad.

Find out more about Legend of the Desert Bigfoot

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!