Book Review: Sadie

Sadie
by Courtney Summers

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA suspense, drama

Sadie’s life was already an unhappy one, her main bright spot being her little sister Mattie, whom she practically raised. But then Mattie dies, and some time later, Sadie decides to do what the police can’t–track down Mattie’s killer. This leads Sadie on a road trip to find the man she knows is responsible. Three months later, a radio personality is asked by Sadie’s surrogate grandmother to find the missing Sadie. He follows her trail and turns the investigation into a podcast.

It was really difficult to rate this book in the end, because it was dark and disturbing, but also unique and interesting. Sadie’s perspective is shown in first-person, present tense as she travels from town to town looking for her sister’s killer. The podcast is shown in a script format–West McCray (the radio personality) explaining to us what he finds, and also interviewing people along the way.

Before I get any further with my review, I feel a content warning is in order. There are certain things that are treated very carefully–pedophilia, drug abuse, and murder. There is also a lot of language. I started out listening to the audiobook, because it was highly recommended, given that the podcast sections are presented like a real podcast. However, I had to switch to a format where I read Sadie’s portions myself and listened to the “podcast” parts, because Sadie’s portions are so heavy with language, I couldn’t stand listening to it. I can handle it in text better, because apparently I tend to mentally bleep out those words. But I also didn’t care for the person who read Sadie’s part, because she sounded angry all the time, no matter what she said. Simply describing a room, she was angry. It was a bit much. So the joint format worked well for me.

One of my favorite things about the book, which I started out thinking would make it boring or repetitive, was McCray’s follow-up on things we’d already seen Sadie do. Because he trailed her 3 months later, we were able to see the aftermath of some of her actions. And the way McCray got caught up in her story added a comforting human element the rest of the story seemed to be lacking–not because other characters were heartless or didn’t care, but because the circumstances just didn’t lend to them being very kind, compassionate, etc.

The book being YA leads me to warn that if you’re thinking of allowing your teenager to read it, read it first. The language alone may put off a lot of people. However, I do think the book is worth reading–I just know I wouldn’t let my daughter read it as a teenager.

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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: Final Chance

Finished Reading: Final Chance
by E.B. Roshan

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Suspense, drama

Final

Preen has just fully accepted that her husband, Rama, died at the hands of a rival militia, in the tumultuous city of Dor. But a late-night phone call with her husband’s voice on the other end prompts her to travel to the war-torn city, where she used to live with her husband and daughter. What follows is a dangerous journey that will force Preen to relive unpleasant memories and test old loyalties.

This is a difficult book to rate, and a difficult review to write. I didn’t really know what I thought of it as I was reading it, and I’m not sure how I feel about it now, over a week after finishing it. This is not to say that the story is bad, nor the writing. More that I didn’t feel much draw to the characters and had no real understanding of the theme or purpose of the story.

The biggest thing that I took away from it was a sadness for the Tur people who were being evacuated from Dor and forced to live in a refugee camp. The fact that they didn’t even seem to have a complaint about their living conditions seems to say that either they have already been living in terrible conditions so long that they’re used to it, or that their lives in Dor was so terrible that the camp was an upgrade. I’m not entirely sure which, but it still made me sad, considering that, though the setting was fictional, the situation is entirely too real.

The book is novella-length, so there is not a lot of depth in the world-building or characterization. On the former point, I wasn’t bothered at all. Once I got used to the melding of modern and primitive, I appreciated the way the author used it in the story. There were some allusions to culture and customs that made the setting feel real. For various reasons, I imagined the story to be taking place somewhere around the Middle East, but again, that is not specified. Regarding the characters, the history between Preen and Rama is basically empty. If I was meant to feel much at all about their relationship and whether or not Rama is alive, it’s very difficult when I know almost nothing about them.

I think the story is worthy of a good rating, but in the end, I think I am not quite the right audience for it. I’m not sorry I read it, however, and because my review may not be entirely helpful, I definitely suggest checking out what others have to say.

I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Home Song

Finished Reading: Home Song
Cape Light
#2
by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

Home Song

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Cape Light.

Fall comes on strong in the quaint New England village, and relationships and dramas from the previous book are continued. The focus in this story is on 2 key people–Mayor Emily Warwick, who is busy with her re-election campaign, and Sara Franklin…the mayor’s long-lost daughter, who hasn’t actually told her birth mother that she’s the daughter she gave up 20+ years ago.

I gave Cape Light 3 stars, and was really happy to find this second book a huge improvement on the first. I liked the main characters so much more this time around, and the storylines were much more compelling. By the second half of the book, I was really caught up and highly anticipated seeing what would happen.

In the first book, the closest things to main characters were Jessica Warwick and Sam Morgan. Though many characters were introduced, and many story arcs were established, they were the driving force. Their romance was the story goal–the only thing that was tied up in that book. Their personalities suffered greatly because of the daunting task of setting out an entire town’s worth of characters and stories, so there wasn’t much time left to develop them or their relationship to my preference. Unfortunately, that made it all the worse that their relationship drama continued in this book. The fruition of it was good, but frankly, they both made me angry in this book. Fortunately, their parts were small.

In a similar vein, another romance that developed in this book was in some ways like a rehashing of the Jessica/Sam storyline of the previous book, wherein the woman didn’t want a relationship because she didn’t know how long she’d be in town. The big difference is that the two characters in this case had more depth. They had actual lives and their own stories to tell. I liked them so much more, and their story definitely took a different turn.

Other arcs that were set up in the first book were continued in this one in some way, or even came to fruition. Since unraveling the lives of the different people in this town was what made me care enough about the first book to want to continue the series, I was glad to see this happen. And there is still plenty more to carry my interest into the next book. I’m looking forward to the next much more than I was after finishing the first one, and now I feel safe recommending this book, and the one before it, to fans of Christian fiction, especially involving romance.

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Book Review: Cape Light

Finished Reading: Cape Light
Book #1
by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian romance, drama

Cape Light

Cape Light is a small, very connected, and generally religious New England village. In this first book of 20 (so far), we are introduced to some of the inhabitants of the village–the mayor and her family, who are still somewhat reeling from a scandal in the past; the local diner owner who is very set in his ways and has designs on unseating the mayor in the next election; the reverend and his wife, whose joyful news is overshadowed by a wayward family member. Characters are established and at least one romance blooms, in this book that covers a summer in Cape Light.

Though there are a lot of characters to keep straight, I found that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I had a few moments that needed clarity, but I followed it well enough. And for the first half of the book, I was interested in the lives and backstories of these people. In fact, I never stopped being interested in that. But what seriously detracted from it was the plight of the main character and her romantic entanglement.

Jessica Warwick, the mayor’s sister, has recently moved back from not-too-far-away Boston, and she intends to return as soon as she can. She’s only in town to help her ailing mother, who is starting to recover well. She has a life back in Boston, and a sort-of boyfriend. Enter Sam Morgan, whom she is immediately taken by, though she refuses to acknowledge it for a long time. But when her boyfriend conveniently gets really busy, she starts dating Sam, even while making it clear that she’s moving back to Boston at the end of the summer. What follows is a ridiculously drama-filled mess that could have easily been solved in multiple ways. I don’t know which of these two irritated me more–the woman who dated a guy in town while knowing that she wasn’t done with the previous boyfriend yet and continued a relationship with a man who was clearly falling hard for her, despite her warning about there being no future, or the man who ignored her warning about there being no future because he held out hope that he could change her mind. Actually, I can safely say it was Jessica who irritated me more, because she was a pretty terrible person in general, and it was clear that her attraction to Sam was mostly physical for a while.

While romance novels are always pretty obvious, in that the two leads are going to end up together, I prefer those that are more in the backdrop to an interesting plot. There was little in the way of plot involving Jessica and Sam that wasn’t directly related to their relationship. The situations that occurred just to make them fall in love and/or add drama to their relationship were so much more obviously contrived than I prefer. By the end, I just wanted the book to be done already, which makes me sad, because I did enjoy unraveling the lives of the others in town.

The Christianity in the book was weirdly both shallow and heavily permeating. Apparently a large amount of the village’s inhabitants go to the same church, and many of them have a strong faith. Several others are seeking, and a lot of the same advice is given by different people. The series starts with 4 not-specifically-holiday books, but apparently by book 5, it continued as a Christmas series, which is what brought it to my attention at this time of year in the first place.

The writing was a bit pedestrian, but it only bothered me at times. I am going to give the series another chance, because just about every plot arc that was started in this book was left hanging, and I really do want to see what happens. Since the main thing that bothered me about this book should take a back seat in the future, I am hopeful about continuing. With proper planning, I can be ready for the first of the Christmas books by November or December.

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Book Review: The Christmas Box

Finished Reading: The Christmas Box
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christmas drama

Christmas Box.png

A young family of 3 move into a mansion to be companion and helper to an elderly widow named MaryAnne. As the Christmas season progresses, the narrator–husband & father Richard–uncovers MaryAnne’s painful secret, and in turn, is reminded of what is truly important in life, and what Christmas is really about.

I read this in about an hour and a half, and it was a decent read. The writing was clear and simple. The characters weren’t very fleshed-out, but for a story of this length, I wouldn’t expect them to be, so it didn’t bother me. The plot developed in a way that made it seem like I was meant to be surprised by some reveals near the end, but it all seemed pretty obvious to me.

The message about why it’s important to spend time with your loved one while you can was portrayed clearly, if not a little heavy-handedly. I must admit, though, that the Christmas box itself seemed like a much smaller element than I would have expected. There are also some pseudo-supernatural elements that weren’t explained.

The thing that confused me the most is that apparently the book is set in the late 1940s, but it’s almost like it was a secret. The only way I realized it is by doing some math from some passing comments and a date shown on a letter.

I think this book would be enjoyed by those who are looking for a poignant book about love, loss, and the importance of family. The book is the first in a trilogy, which are all included in the collection copy that I have. The later 2 books are apparently both prequels to the first one. And each installment basically doubles the size of the previous. I don’t think I’ll likely end up reading any more of this trilogy this season, but I will make sure to keep it on my list to remember to read at least book #2 next Christmas season.

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Book Review: The Martian

Finished Reading: The Martian
by Andy Weir

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi drama, suspense

Martian

Following a dust storm that forced an evacuation from the surface of Mars, astronaut Mark Whatney is left behind, presumed dead. But he’s very much alive, and must now figure out how to survive alone on Mars while back on Earth, they work on how to bring him home.

I watched this movie a few years ago (as research for a mini escape room I helped build), and I really liked it. The book is even better! Whatney is resourceful and determined. The repertoire between him and the rest of his team is fun and touching. The determination of those back on Earth to do whatever they can to help him survive is really interesting too.

The book has a lot of explanation about the different sides of what Whatney needs to survive. Ideas are thrown out and dismissed for better ones. It has such a real feel to it, as if it were any other modern space mission that went wrong. The genre is sci-fi, and it’s obviously a bit in the future, but the science isn’t far out there. It’s just a bit past what we have now.

The format of the book was interesting. Much of the narration comes from journal entries by Whatney, so it basically reads like 1st person. Then there is the 3rd person narration of what happens back on Earth. There are other formats, but explaining that would be a bit spoilery. I enjoyed feeling like Whatney was sharing his experience directly with us.

I watched the movie again a few days after finishing the book. I still think the movie is good, but like with many adaptations, they weren’t able to reach the depth of characterization that the book did. Plus, some harrowing moments and difficulties that Whatney faced were completely written out for the movie. Still, a good movie, and a great book!

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Book Review: Mother Knows Best

Finished Reading: Mother Knows Best
by Kira Peikoff

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Drama, suspense

ARC12

Eleven-year-old Abigail has a semi-normal life, except that her parents (especially her mom) are reclusive, she has absolutely no extended family, and she’s not allowed to have a smartphone or social media like her friends. She discovers through a DNA mapping site that she actually has a lot of distant relatives and even tries connecting with one, which she thinks will make her parents happy. It has the opposite effect. This sends her mom into an emotional tailspin, and before long, her life begins to unravel. Then she finds out that her parents are not who they claim to be, everything they’ve been hiding from is revealed, and it turns out that the danger is very real.

I had my ups and downs with this book, and wasn’t sure what to rate it, even while writing this review. The writing was clear and concise, and even the science presented in the book wasn’t difficult to follow. There were some specific moments in the last third of the book that I anticipated and enjoyed when they came to fruition. And there were a few small twists that I wasn’t fully expecting. Outside of that, though, the book was a bit of a miss for me.

I think a lot of what didn’t work for me about this book was personal preference, so keep that in mind as I continue. For starters, the book is told in 1st person, present-tense, which I thought was a strange choice, considering the POV changes, and that during the first half of the book, more than half of the story was showing what led up to the present time where the books starts. We see the story from 3 perspectives: Abigail, her mom Claire, and the antagonist Jillian, the threat from the past. The two time periods shown in the book are “present” time–Abigail is 11 and living with her mom and dad– and the past–the year or so before Abigail was born, right up until the point that she was born. It would have made a lot more sense to me if the book was at least past-tense during the past parts. And I don’t understand the reasoning behind 1st person if you want to head-hop as much as this book does. The only good thing I can say about it is that at least each time the perspective changes, it’s clearly labeled. But there were still times that, even with this, I would forget who the current “I” was and get confused.

My biggest disappointment was that I was unable to connect with any of the characters. I’m definitely a character reader and writer. An interesting, well-executed plot is important, but I am character-driven. I think the main character was meant to be Claire, but the story was told from Abigail’s perspective about as often, and I just couldn’t get into the right frame of mind to see things even a little bit from Claire’s perspective. Her single biggest driving point is the loss of her first son, due to a terrible genetic disorder, and her strong desire to have another child that is healthy, but her inability to do so, because of her genes. I have never experienced loss to this degree, and I’m not a terribly sentimental person, so I don’t think I would react remotely the same way as her if I did. Don’t get me wrong–I have 2 kids and I love them and would be devastated if either of them died! And perhaps I’d then discover that I would be the same as her. But in my current life, it’s difficult for me to connect with her reaction to her loss, and the fact that it drives literally everything she does. Also, she’s pretty terrible to her husband (Ethan), even calling him corrupt because of his ethical ideas about the genetic manipulation discussed in the story.

Abigail’s parts were generally my least favorite. For one thing, she didn’t come across as 11, but closer to 13 or more. Especially for someone who has been as sheltered as she has, she seems to understand and question a lot more than I’d expect. I get why she was written to be as curious and deceptive as she was, and without it, there would basically be no story, but again, my personal preference here, I didn’t like how she acted.

The antagonist is basically a big loon. I mean, Claire has some mental issues, but hers are understandable and addressed. Jillian is just delusional and psychotic, and I don’t know if that was on purpose, or if that was just how she had to come across in order to give the story suspense. Whichever the case, by the end, I just rolled my eyes at how stupid she had been.

For those who want to know about how clean a book is before reading–there are some sexual situations that are more detailed than I prefer, and a bit heavy on the language side (the f-word is used more than anything else, I’m pretty sure).

I don’t regret having read this book. It wasn’t terrible, it just didn’t hook me. Also, it is meant to be suspenseful, but I think that element is terribly done. The synopsis on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. gives away too much and I think the plot should have been structured differently to create more suspense. Too much of the backstory is told too soon, and the entire thing is just too predictable. I would recommend this book for those who enjoy drama and obsessive characters, but not for lovers of suspense novels.

Extra notes: If you prefer to read the book with a little more mystery going in, I suggest not looking for more information on this book before reading it. It really might have changed my opinion. Also, I thought this book was a bit sci-fi at first, then I did a little research. I found it interesting that the topic of this book has really happened, or at least is being seriously experimented with.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. 

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Book Review: Tilly

Tilly
by Frank E. Peretti

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

Tilly

Tilly is a touching novella about a woman coming to terms with something from her past that she regrets. It begins when a husband and wife, Kathy and Dan, are in a cemetery, and she spots a gravestone with the name Tilly one it, and only one date. From that point on, she can’t get that gravestone out of her mind, to the detriment of her family.

I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading, but it was short, and Peretti is my favorite writer. According to the back of the book, it was originally a radio drama, and it took me somewhere between 1-1.5 hours to read it.

Maybe because of my experience with Peretti’s other works, I expected more of a mystery than this book contained. In fact, if you read the synopsis on Goodreads, half of the book is almost unnecessary (thankfully I didn’t look the book up on Goodreads at all before reading it, though I normally do).

A good amount of the book is spent in a dream, with beautiful imagery and tender moments, as Kathy comes to grips with a mistake she made in the past, which has affected her family for 9 years. The reason for the past choice is not expounded on, which was probably one of the things I most wished was different about the story.

No matter what the past decision was that Kathy and Dan regret, the important message in this story is of the forgiveness we can have in Christ, though I’ll admit it’s only lightly presented. Maybe the greater message is that, even when we know Christ has forgiven us, sometimes we are unable to let go of that mistake, and that until we do, we will never truly feel we can accept God’s forgiveness.

I would recommend this light read to anyone who struggles with past mistakes, especially those they might consider unforgivable, but also for anyone interested in dramatic Christian stories.

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Book Review: Light from Distant Stars

Light from Distant Stars
by Shawn Smucker

My rating: 1.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

ARC2

The book opens on the main character, Cohen, finding his father dead in the basement of the funeral home where Cohen works with his father. In the ensuing difficulties that come from such an event, Cohen finds himself beset with memories of his childhood and adolescent, split definitively by an event that basically destroyed his family. The story highlights multiple father-son relationships.

As you can see by my rating, I did not care for this book. For one thing, I was expecting more of an investigation into how the father died than was presented, especially considering that most  summaries I read ended with, “Did he kill his father?” As it turns out, it was more introspection and reminiscing.

Even as I started to realize that this book was more drama than mystery, it still presented me with little of interest. There are two threads followed–Cohen in present time dealing with what happened to his father (Spoiler: he wasn’t even dead at the very beginning of the book; he was near death, but was in the hospital for a week before dying, and the reason that Cohen thought his father was dead when he wasn’t is never explained, even though he questions it himself. This leads me to feel like this was just sensationalism for the blurb.) and his memories of significant events of his past. The present-time storyline is fairly uneventful, filled with light conversations with his pregnant sister, confessions to a retired priest, and then sudden action near the end of the book that I didn’t really understand the point of. The past-time storyline has a lot more going on, though it drags a bit here and there too.

There are 2 more significant events in his past, one of which led to the split that broke up his family, and the other of which comes across as a supernatural element, which is maybe a bit confusing in this book. After some time, I came to suspect what was really going on, and turned out to be correct. However, it is severely lacking in explanation–not about how this supernatural memory came to be, but about how it actually made sense even in context. The extra half a point in my rating is because this story arc was at least a little interesting to me as I went through it, even though I figured out what was going on more quickly than I think I was meant to.

Building from that, because of the supernatural element, as well as a particular scene in the present-day storyline, I had a very difficult time knowing what was real later in the book, and I am not sure that was meant to be the case. It led me to be fairly unimpressed by the sort-of twisty action scene that happened near the end. Also, there was one huge plot thread just left hanging…something that happened during Cohen’s adolescence that came to light near the end that should have had repercussions, and instead, somehow just became a catalyst for Cohen’s realization (or reminder) that his father was not quite how he’d always seen him.

I wanted to like this book (which I suppose is a silly statement, because we don’t often start reading a book that we’re not wanting to like). I read a couple of reviews by others that were glowing, and the premise sounded interesting. However, by the time I was 75% through, I felt like nothing had happened, and I just wasn’t getting the point of it. There is also quite a bit of description and figurative language, which bogged down the story for me. By the last half of the book, I had started to skim the descriptions, especially every time the narrator, whether a child, teenager, or adult, stared at the sky or the city. This happened often. It let me to wonder if there was some sort of symbolism I was simply missing.

Final thoughts: The book is labeled as Christian, though if I’d not seen that label on it, I never would have guessed it was meant to be Christian. The main character does visit a church and confess several times through the book, and there is a bit of a heart change near the end, but to me, it was fairly shallow. This book is simply not my taste, but for those who enjoy descriptive and figurative writing styles and drama and introspection, it may be a great read for you.

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

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