Book Review: Terror from Outer Space

Terror from Outer Space
Last Chance Detectives #4
by Robert Vernon

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

Have aliens landed in the desert? Though the report may be unbelievable, Sheriff Smitty can’t deny that something strange is going on, especially when he has his own frightening encounter. It’s up to Mike, Winnie, Spence, and Ben, the Last Chance Detectives, to investigate, but they won’t like what they find.

Overall, this was another solid addition to the series, with some exciting scenes and a hard, but important, lesson of faith learned by Mike. The mystery was predictable to me, but younger readers will be much less likely to guess what’s going on. If I’d been in Winnie’s shoes in this story, I probably would have passed out, or at least been found curled up on the floor crying.

Speaking of Winnie, it’s much more obvious in this book that she’s not as well developed as her three friends. The other three have a line or two explaining what they bring to the group at the beginning of the story. Mike’s confidence makes him a natural leader, Spence is clever and inventive, even Ben is said to provide fun and out-of-the-box thinking. There’s literally nothing, not even a minor attempt, made to show Winnie’s contribution to the group, and thinking about the 3 books in this series I’ve read in the last few days, I couldn’t tell you what it was either. She’s just…there.

This is the first new story to come out in a series from the 90s, and while I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the 2 originals that I recently read, I do still recommend this book for those around age 10-14.

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

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Publication date: October 5, 2021

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Book Review: Escape from Fire Lake

Escape from Fire Lake
Last Chance Detectives #3
by Robert Vernon

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

When Mike Fowler stumbles across bank robbers making a getaway, he becomes an accidental hostage. Unwilling to let him point the finger at them, the thieves leave him for dead in the middle of the desert. Can Mike make it to civilization before succumbing to the sun in Fire Lake?

Wow! For a short book meant for kids, this was quite an intense ride! Unlike the first book in the series, this one was completely new to me, and it really sucked me in. Mike’s trek through the desert, trying not to give in to the sun or his own worries, was really suspenseful and kept me hooked all throughout. At the same time, the other Last Chance Detectives are looking for him, and that part is interesting too. Whereas children’s books can sometimes venture away from reality, in that the kids in the story do things that kids wouldn’t really be able to do in real life, I felt like all of it was quite plausible in this case.

Though there wasn’t any kind of mystery in this story, at least not to the reader, it was still full of adventure and great lessons about relying on God and letting Him give you peace in scary situations. Again the danger is very real, but it doesn’t get to be what I’d consider too scary for kids, and I highly recommend this book for those around 10-14.

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

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**Note: This book has been out since 1996, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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Book Review: Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa

Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa
Last Chance Detectives #1
by Jake & Luke Thoene

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

It started with a cryptic radio transmission that led to Ben seeing some green lights in the desert. But his friends, the other Last Chance Detectives, Mike, Winnie, and Spence, aren’t sure his story of UFOs in the desert is believable. Still, there’s obviously something going on out there, so it’s time to investigate!

This was a fast-paced adventure with a realistic feel to it. The kids are friends but still have arguments, one of which led to the adventure in the first place. I liked the small-town setting that goes even further into a feeling of remoteness due to being surrounded by vast desert. Though I wasn’t as baffled as Ben was when the sheriff didn’t corroborate what he saw, readers of the age group for which the book is intended will likely get swept up into the adventure and intrigue. The stakes are high and the danger is real, but nothing too intense for kids around 10-14, for whom I highly recommend this book.

I watched the movie many times in my teenage years (we only owned this one, though, so I’ve never seen/read any others in the series). I didn’t expect to remember as much as I did when I read the book. A few lines I could even hear the characters saying in my head. It was a really fun way to re-visit my childhood, and I’m looking forward to watching the movie again too (and reading/watching the rest of the series)!

Clarification: I didn’t read the version shown in the picture above, which is the original based on the movie that came out in 1994. I own the older book and had intended to read it soon, but hadn’t yet when I saw that it was being re-released, along with at least 1 other in the series and 2 new ones that I can see. For this review, I read the new release version, which does have some differences from the original.

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

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**Note: This book has been out since 1994, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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Book Review: All That Is Secret

All That Is Secret
by Patricia Raybon

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

One year after her somewhat-estranged father’s maybe-not-accidental death, Annalee Spain leaves her home and job in Chicago to travel back to Denver and seek answers. But the truth won’t be easy to find, even for an admirer of Sherlock Holmes, and even the trip to Denver provides danger and intrigue, as well as a new companion in the form of a young orphan searching for his father.

I’m a fan of mysteries and really liked the idea of a Christian mystery story set in the 1920s. And the prologue was great, ending with such a bang, I was excited to keep going! Sadly, the rest of the book didn’t really hold up to the thrilling start. One of the biggest issues I had was with the protagonist herself. A young, black woman in a nation dominated by white men, Annalee had all the makings of a smart, compassionate, innovative sleuth. Except she told herself, while trying to solve the crime, to stop trying to solve it and let it solve itself…which is exactly what you want from the main character in a murder mystery.

There’s a romance sub-plot in this book, too, which fell pretty flat for me. For one thing, there was mention about falling in love after Annalee and Jack only knew each other for a day or two. There was also a cliched contrivance to push the romance forward, which seemed unnecessary. And I think they weren’t nearly as concerned about perceived propriety as they should have been for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he’s a pastor, living in the church’s parsonage.

What tipped the scale to the rating I gave is that some things happened in the story that didn’t really make a lot of sense and weren’t explained. One character shows up somewhere in a fairly bizarre scene, and for a while, I suspected she might simply be a figment of Annalee’s imagination. It’s partially explained, but not nearly enough, in my opinion. This looks to be the beginning of a series of books with this MC, and I really wanted to be right there at the start of it. However, while I’m sure many who enjoy mysteries and Christian fiction will like this book, it definitely isn’t for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: October 5, 2021

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Book Review: The Face of the Earth

The Face of the Earth
by Deborah Raney

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

When Mitch Brannon’s wife doesn’t return home after a conference, he does everything he can to find her. Hours turn to days, and many theories are given about why she has yet to return home. Mitch knows she wouldn’t have left him voluntarily, though, so he he can’t give up trying to find out what happened to her, with the help of their next-door-neighbor and his wife’s best friend, Shelley. But how can she handle her growing attraction for her missing friend’s husband as she begins to spend more time with him?

When I first heard about this book, I had some concerns about how it might go, based on the synopsis, regarding the developing relationship between Mitch and Shelley. But after reading some reviews, I decided to give it a try. While my concerns were not entirely unfounded, the author did handle the situation as well as I think could be possible in this type of book, especially on Mitch’s side of things. I did not like Shelley, however, who had been attracted to her best friend’s husband long before any of this happened, and whose actions I didn’t care for throughout the book.

The book is written well, but the story was not as engaging as I would have hoped for. It’s said to be suspense, but to me, there wasn’t much of that. The mystery involving Mitch’s wife made me curious, but curiosity is not suspense. In the end, it went on a little long and included a few romance cliches that made me cringe, since I couldn’t buy into any kind of romance between the two main characters. It’s an interesting perspective regarding a Christian man or woman whose spouse goes missing (not dead, not moved out/divorced, but just disappeared) and the question of how or when, if at all, the one left behind should move on with their life, especially relationship-wise.

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Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
Tales from Ivy Hill #1
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

It’s been a year since Jane Bell’s husband died and left her his coaching inn, but Jane isn’t any more prepared to end her mourning period than she was a year ago. The inn has gone on without her direct involvement during that year, but she’s finding out that it hasn’t necessarily gone on well. A large loan from the bank is about to come due, but the inn isn’t nearly as prosperous as it used to be, and now it’s in danger of being taken away. Jane’s mother-in-law, Thora, will do anything she can to help save her family’s inn, even while feeling displaced by the new mistress of The Bell. There are others who might be able to help as well, but Jane isn’t completely sure how to proceed…or who to trust.

This is the type of book where the story may focus on one main character for now, but this first book also introduces several other characters who will have more of a spotlight in future books, and gives us a decent set-up to those future stories. So a good amount of characters overall were introduced, but it didn’t take me long to get invested in their lives. I thought the set-up was giving us more of a mystery than there turned out to be, and I seriously anticipated the revelation of a conspiracy that never happened. But that was my own fault, not necessarily the book’s. I think I read more into certain people’s behavior than was intended (or maybe the author did want us to suspect that person).

Jane was a very dynamic character, in that she changed fairly drastically from the beginning of the book, where she spent her days languishing in her small home and ignoring the inn, to the end of the book, by which point she’d at least attempted to take the reigns of the inn firmly in hand. I liked the way the story and characters come together by the end, and that there is no sudden, miraculous save. Hard work and diligence are required, and a perfect ending is not guaranteed.

In some places this book is billed as a romance, and there is some romance involved. However, it is nowhere near a focal point, and (spoiler alert) the main character doesn’t end up with a beau by the end of the book. I believe that is another storyline that will continue on throughout the trilogy, and I’m quite okay with that. If you’re a fan of historical Christian fiction, keep that in mind when considering this book. I do recommend it, and am looking forward to continuing the series.

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Book Review: The Eagle and the Lamb

The Eagle and the Lamb
by Darlene Mindrup

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Sarah, a young Jewish woman, is made the slave/companion to a young, ailing woman named Diana by Diana’s brother, Antonius, a tribune of Rome. Diana wonders about the peace that Sara has, even as a slave, and Sara can’t help but talk about her faith in Jesus Christ. Antonius, however, doesn’t wants Christianity poisoning his sister, even while he has to admit to being unable to stop thinking about Sara and how different she is from Roman women. What began as a terrible situation for Sara and her family when they became indebted to the Roman might just turn out to be part of God’s will for the lives of everyone involved.

I am so glad I found this book and read it again! When I was in high school, my family went to visit my grandparents in Arizona (I live in the midwest), and I remember them having a library full of paperback romance novels (probably mostly Christian, if not wholly, since they lived at a church). I read several of those books during our stay there, but this is the only one I remembered well enough to track it down again, which took me a long time and a lot of digging. It’s a sweet romance, but also a tale of early Christians during the time of Roman persecution around 62 A.D. and the difficulties they had to face just to be able to practice their faith. Sara is a great example of a Christ-follower spreading His love and message to everyone she spends time with. Secondary characters add to the enjoyment of this book, especially a fellow slave and Christian who some readers likely see as a serious contender for Sara’s heart.

Antonius may be harsh through much of the book, but he’s a well-written, realistic character. He’s a Roman soldier, taught to believe that Rome is the center of the universe and that the rest of the world should fall at his feet. Even with his culture and training, he’s actually set apart from others of his type, which is clearly shown in the story. And let’s not forget that he actually saved Sara and her parents from being sold into much harsher slavery near the beginning of the book. When he treats her badly, she stands her ground. When he insists she not speak to Diana about God, she weighs the obedience of her slave master against the obedience of her one true master, God.

The book’s title is an apt description of the contrast between these two characters, and I think that contrast is why I love the story so much. I read the book to reminisce about the first time I read it, and didn’t expect to find much of substance, but it’s really quite a lovely story. It’s pretty short, but I didn’t feel that detracted at all—in fact, that kept the story from dragging out like some romance books can do. I also didn’t think I’d care about the series this book is the beginning of, but now that I know the next book is about Decimus, the fellow slave I mentioned above, I’d love to see his story.

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Book Review: Trace of Doubt

Trace of Doubt
by DiAnn Mills

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

After fifteen years in prison, Shelby Pearce is ready to start her life over. But as a convicted murderer, allies are hard to come by, especially since there’s still the question of $500,000 that she’s suspected of stealing at the same time as the murder. Denton McClure, who’d worked the embezzlement case as a rookie agent, is sure she’s guilty and is determined to prove her guilt and uncover the cash. As he gets to know her, though, he begins to doubt what he’s known as fact for 15 years. And it looks like he’s not the only one who’s out to find the money.

This is the second DiAnn Mills book I’ve read, and though I quite liked the other one, this one was a miss for me. I think that mostly boils down to the author’s writing style, which I don’t remember being quite so distracting for me during the other book I read. In this book, though, I often found myself confused by what thought or emotion was being portrayed in a scene, unable to quite grasp the meaning in the author’s choice of words. In many scenes, dialog felt unnatural or stilted, or even felt as though the characters were not having the same conversation as each other.

I did like some of the characters, though mostly secondary ones. Shelby was written well for the bulk of the book, but I didn’t connect with her as much due to my own very different personality as anything. By the end, though, I realized she was actually pretty terrible at making good decisions. Denton was confusing and a little unbelievable in his drive to prove her guilt, letting the search for $500k control/ruin his life. As the mystery of who is targeting Shelby since she’s been released from prison is revealed, as well as why, the premise of her confessing to murder and going to jail becomes less and less believable to me. I won’t give any spoilers, but it mostly goes back to what I said above about Shelby making terrible decisions.

I struggled with consistency issues in various places and with a couple of antagonists that were fairly one-dimensional. I did, however, like the theme about redemption that was brought out more by the secondary characters that were willing to look past Shelby’s history and give her a chance to start over as much as anything. I really dislike giving this low of a rating to any book, and I can already tell that this is going to be one of those books that makes me wonder if I got a different version than everyone else. Please check out other reviews for different opinions, as most of them are positive so far, if you’re interested in the synopsis and/or genre.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: September 7, 2021

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Book Review: A Gilded Lady

A Gilded Lady
Hope & Glory #2
by Elizabeth Camden

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, The Spice King.

Caroline Delacroix’s job isn’t an easy one, as secretary to a difficult first lady, but it’s an important one. Being at Ida McKinley’s beck and call is the least Caroline can do if it means she might be able to secure a presidential pardon for her twin brother. Luke is in prison in Cuba, charged with treason, and Caroline will do anything she can to help him. Unfortunately, this puts her at odds with the newly appointed head of security for the president, Nathaniel Trask. Though he’s taken by Caroline’s wit and beauty, he can’t trust the sister of a traitor to the country.

I liked both of the main characters in this book, and I really liked reading the fictionalized history of President and Mrs. McKinley at this time of his presidency. It was interesting to go along on their cross-country train tour. I also enjoyed the continuation of the story of Luke in prison in Cuba that began in the first book in this series. The story overall was good, but I didn’t find it as engaging as the first book in the series. I also had some issues along the way that brought the rating down for me.

The first thing that bothered me was that certain events in this story didn’t seem to match up well with the previous book. There’s some overlap in time, though it’s a bit difficult to follow, because time passes in jumps now and then in this book. Still, there’s a scene in the previous book that involves both MCs in this book, and the timing of how things are discovered in this book just don’t mesh with that scene. I kept trying to figure out how the two stories lined up, timing-wise, and it was distracting. I also noticed some inconsistencies in Luke’s behavior later in the book that I can’t explain without spoiling things.

The dialog continues to be fairly modern in this series, but I’m not personally bothered by it. After reading the first book, I thought the story of Luke that began there would encompass the entire series, the third then focusing on him, but just from the synopsis of the third book, one can see that’s not the case. My initial desire to read this entire trilogy is a little diminished by the way his story arc played out in this book, but I still want to read his story. This book may have been a little bit of a let-down to me after how much I loved the first one, but I have a feeling most of it is personal preference and that other fans of Christian or historical romance will still enjoy it.

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Book Review: The Glory of Love

The Glory of Love
Cassie Perkins
#9

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with No More Broken Promises.

Cassie returns home near the end of a long summer to find her family has become enthralled with her step-brother Nick’s new friend, a giant of a man named Dustin. Cassie doesn’t appreciate being thrown together with him just because Nick and Andrea, Cassie’s best friend, happen to be dating. Even as Cassie finds herself liking him more and more, he’s about to ship off to be in the army for 2 years, so she does everything she can to guard her heart.

Here at the final book in the series, I find that my reaction to it is related at least as much to how it calls back to the rest of the series as it is to this story itself. For example, Cassie immediately dislikes Dustin, mostly just because everyone else likes him. That’s been a rather tired recurring theme for her throughout the series, as she dislikes almost everyone new, and not always for the same reason. Overall, though, she’s clearly just not very accepting of change. She also has shown this amazing ability to turn the head of a lot of guys in the series, often just by being “different” from everyone else around. And finally, despite the lesson she should have learned from the previous book where she “fell in love,” she again convinces herself that she can date a non-believer and change him.

Also like some of the other books in the series, I had a feeling I knew where this story was going to go. Fortunately, it didn’t quite follow my predictions completely (which also happened with some of the other books too), and the story came out interesting in the end. I think I would have liked something a little more final for the last book in the series, but Cassie is still a teenager at this point, so a satisfactory wrap-up to this particular story would be difficult to swallow anyway. And since these were written in the early 90s, I don’t have much reason to hope for a follow-up. The series overall averaged about 4.5 stars for me, and I’m so glad I read through the whole thing again recently. I will be recommending the series to my daughter (currently 11) and do think it’s worth looking into for other Christian girls in the middle school to early high school range.

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