March in Review

I read 11 books last month, which is a tie for the most books I’ve read in a month since I started reading regularly back in July. The other time I read that many was August, so before homeschool started back up. I honestly don’t know how I did it this month. Well, maybe I do. I’ve been staying up way too late a lot lately. Thanks to Goodreads tracking my books per month & pages per month, I can see that I read over 400 pages more this last month than I did back in August. That has a lot to do with reading the longest Harry Potter book in March…stupid bulky book… Overall, I’m pretty impressed by my reading volume last month.

Here are the books I read in March:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (5 / 5)
Home Song by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (4 / 5)
Stealth Retribution by Vikki Kestell (3.5 / 5)
North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (3 / 5)
Hope Is a Dangerous Place by Jim Baton (3.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun (4 / 5)
The House at the End of the Moor by Michelle Griep (3 / 5)
The Dandelion Killer by Wanda Luttrell (4 / 5)
The Treasure Map by Tyler Scott Hess (4 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from March was North! or Be Eaten (by a slim margin). I finished 0 series, continued 4 series, and started 2 series. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: The House at the End of the Moor

Finished Reading: The House at the End of the Moor
by Michelle Griep

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

House Moor

An opera singer in hiding and a wrongly convicted jewel thief collide on the moors when she finds him half-dead and nurses him back to health. When the necklace Oliver is meant to have stolen are found in Maggie’s possession, together they embark on a journey to clear his name and fix some wrongs in her life too. All the while they must stay just one step ahead of the brutish officer who is intent on returning Oliver to prison.

I was right there in this book for the first half or so. There were some narrow escapes and Oliver in a dress was pretty funny. I had my ups and downs with the characters. And then by the second half, things began to get a bit repetitive. It felt like it took longer than it should have for things and relationships to move forward. The plan to catch the real bad guys always felt flimsy at best. And the ending was a little strange.

I liked Maggie well enough, but I didn’t really care for Oliver. He was violent and usually seemed to chalk it up to the victim deserving it. I didn’t agree with him most of the time. I really liked Cassius, though, though I won’t say who he was exactly, so I don’t spoil anything. I even liked Nora, for all she was in the story. And then there was Barrow, the officer trying to return Oliver to prison. And I’m sure we’re supposed to dislike him, but violence and wholly inappropriate behavior, alongside a self-righteous attitude was a bit too much for me. Even the pay-off for him, which I began to suspect and frankly would have been really disappointed if the build-up led to nothing, didn’t satisfy me.

This book is rife with coincidences. Besides the fact that Oliver happens to end up in the house of the woman who ended up with the necklace he was accused of stealing, he was at her last performance before she went into hiding. They both want to bring down the same man. And then near the end of the book, there’s this huge, out of nowhere coincidence that I do not understand why it was even written into the story.

I also don’t understand the perspective and tense choices the author made for this book. From Maggie’s POV, it’s 1st-person and present tense. For the other POVs (Oliver’s & Barrow’s are the only ones I can remember), it’s 3rd-person and past tense. At times, changing from one to the other left me feeling a bit disoriented. I have never understood the decision to do something like this.

There was an interesting focus on father-child relationships that I liked. I appreciated the atmosphere presented especially while on the moor. Once the story moved to the city, I missed the moor. The Christianity in this book was a bit muddled. Besides Barrow and his warped sense of God, I’m not sure where Oliver ended up at the end. It almost seemed like his redemption came from the love of the woman, the fact that she was willing to marry him, not from God.

Overall, I did enjoy the book to a degree, but was kinda glad when it was over. I was excited to read this book, because I’d read a Christmas novella by the author last December and really liked it. I’m not giving up on Michelle Griep yet and have my eye on a few of her other books. I would recommend this book for fans of Christian romance, especially the historical variety, and judging from other reviews, I’m in the minority again anyway. So if you like this kind of book, please read those other reviews too!

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about The House at the End of the Moor
Publication date: April 1, 2020

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Finished Reading: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Book #5
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP5

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve just finished #5. As a reminder, my reviews will likely contain spoilers, as I’m not too worried about avoiding that, with as long as these have been out, and as well known as they are.

There was so much to love about this book, and yet, a few things that really detracted for me. I’ll start with what I liked.

First of all, George and Fred are my heroes! Their roles in the story has grown throughout the books, starting out as just some background troublemakers. But in this book, their mischief found a target, and it was brilliant. After so long of Umbridge being one of the most despised characters I’ve ever read/seen, the culmination of George and Fred sticking it to her was almost worth it (but not really). Not to mention Peeves taking up the call.

I liked seeing Lupin again and loved seeing so much of Sirius. In my review of the previous book, I mentioned how much I liked him being around so much in that one, and his role was even bigger in this one. He’s become my favorite character, which I think may be as much because of what he’s able to be to Harry as anything. Of course, that just made it all the worse at the end. I am frustrated about the fact that Hermione actually did question if it could be a trap, only for them to take the word of the house elf and walk into the trap anyway. But I’m not sure if my frustration about his death is just because I liked him or if I’m legitimately bugged by what seems like a spot of weak plotting/characterization.

I also really liked the progression of the D.A. and Harry trying to explain that a lot of what he’d done in the past was luck. Yet they were aware that, luck or not, he still had more practice with these spells than anyone else. I was glad to see Neville have some good moments in this book, while still having plenty of struggles, poor kid.

There were some other smaller things that happened that I found particularly interesting, like Ron being made prefect and the reminder that Petunia would have at least a little knowledge of magic. Hermione’s drive for house elf freedom can die any time, in my opinion. But who knows, maybe it’ll have a purpose at some point in the last couple of books.

The biggest downside to this book is Umbridge herself, and how much power she was given by the end of the book, only to not really have a great resolution to it. And really, it’s not Umbridge, at least not solely, but the Ministry, and how much power they were able to wield with apparently no one to keep them in check. Because of how long the book was, this whole thing just seemed to drag on and on.

As for the book length…I have never been one for long books. Never read anything longer than 550 pages, and that length is not common for me. But of course, I didn’t come this far to not finish the series. After reading it, though, I can see a few side plots that could have been cut out. Of course, I don’t know that these side plots won’t be more important in the later books, so maybe I’m wrong.

Things are getting real now, and there are only 2 books left. I’m so nervous about what other bad things will happen as this series finishes up (not to mention about spoilers I’ve heard out of context).

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Book Review: Stealth Retribution

Finished Reading: Stealth Retribution
Nanostealth
#3
by Vikki Kestell

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian sci-fi thriller

Stealth Ret

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first 2 books in the series, Stealthy Steps and Stealth Power.

Again picking up where the previous book left off, right there in the cave where the nanomites and Gemma became Super-Gemma, she and her friends hatch a plan to start thwarting the evil military general who has been after the nanomites’ creator and, due to the mites infesting Gemma, after her too. Gemma is about to have more on her hands than escaping General Cushing, though, as a young friend of hers is in danger, and her own twin sister is in town to much things up as well.

I enjoyed this book through most of it. I really liked the way the storyline with Cushing played out, taking Super-Gemma from Albuquerque to the White House and back. By the end of this book, I could easily compare it to a comic book super hero origin story. If my review and rating were based just on the resolution regarding Dr. Bickel and Cushing, I would have given it 4 stars, maybe more. However, things got really weird on the theology side of the story, and I felt very strange about the whole thing by the end.

I thought it a little odd at the end of Stealth Power, when Gemma became a Christian, and then the nanomites felt the presence of Jesus inside her. But I let it go, accepted it as the fiction that it is, and moved on. But by the 2nd half or so of this book, the nanomites are receiving instructions from Jesus. Surrendering their will to Jesus. And…being forgiven by Jesus? It took a lot more suspension of disbelief than I prefer to swallow all of that. Add to that the fact that the associate pastor who was once my favorite character had become simply a vehicle for faith-professing in the book, and even as a Christian, I felt very Bible-thumped (I don’t know if that works in this context, but I’m sure it’s clear what I mean). And in the end, I have no idea what the real purpose of Gemma’s twin, Genie, was in this book, other than to be another convert for Zander’s cause.

The first book was mostly in 1st-person from Gemma’s point of view, with a little 3rd-person if the author wanted to show things happening with other characters. This was explained in the fact that Gemma was keeping a journal of everything happened after she became invisible. However, the journal aspect was sort of abandoned in book 2, and by this point, it’s more like half-1st person, half-3rd person. Which is strange and confusing. The writing style as a whole still put me off a bit, especially in the 1st-person parts. It’s incredibly casual and conversational. In the end, I think the author’s style isn’t really for me, but the story about the nanomites, the invisibility, and Gemma escaping the bad guy is unique and interesting! I only wish there hadn’t been so much else to bog it down.

The series continues on for one more book (at this time), which from the synopsis is clear is a divergent from the main story arc in the first three. I plan to read it soon, because I did come this far. At this point, I would still recommend the series to fans of Christian mysteries & thrillers and lovers of this type of sci-fi, especially since I think many others wouldn’t be so bothered by the things that bothered me. Some other reviews do mention being put off by the nanomites’ seeming religious experience, but also express that the story outside of that is good.

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Book Review: North! or Be Eaten

Finished Reading: North! or Be Eaten
The Wingfeather Saga
#2
by Andrew Peterson

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

North

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the first book in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

The danger is real as the Igibys escape the clutches of the Fangs of Dang and head north toward the Ice Prairies. The Lost Jewels of Anniera begin to realize their full potential along the way, but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Surviving Fangs, the Stranders, and even the wilds of Skree itself, the Igiby family gets separated, and that’s when things really get bad for young Janner, the Throne Warden of Anneira. Worse yet is when he loses his little brother, the High King of Anneira, whom he is meant to protect. Surprises await around every corner in this action-packed, heart-filled fantasy!

I don’t know if I can adequately express how much I enjoyed this book. The imagination that went into the characters, the creatures, and the plot itself is vast and enviable. I was swept up in the horrors, the betrayal, and the victories right along with the characters. I was annoyed every time I had to put it down and plunged back in with voracity every chance I got.

As in the first book, the main character really is Janner, the oldest of the Igiby children, and in this book it was even more clear why that was the best choice. He grew up so much in this book, even though only a short time passed (I don’t know how much for sure…months, maybe?). Leeli really blossomed in this book as well, even though we didn’t get to see her as much. She’s courageous and has a beautiful spirit, and I love her! Tink, who is know more and more as Kalmar, has a rough time of it in this book, but boy was that ending incredible.

At times, I felt like the action didn’t slow down enough for me to catch my own breath, but looking back at it, I don’t think it was a bad thing. There were some pretty dark moments, so I wonder about the age range it’s meant for, considering that my daughter falls into the middle grade range. I don’t think it would scare her, necessarily, but I wonder if she would still be bothered by some of it, though she is on the low end of that range.

I highly recommend this book, and the series so far, for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. Also, 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. I have a feeling I’m going to love the rest of this series and want to re-read many times. There’s no way I’m waiting for the new versions of the last 2 books to come out before I read them.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2009, but a new hardcover edition will be released tomorrow, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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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: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Finished Reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction

GLPPPS

In the aftermath of WWII, a writer in London named Juliet receives a letter from a stranger living on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. This begins a correspondence that expands to other members of the islander’s literary society, as Juliet wants to hear more about their society. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was formed during the German occupation of the island, and became so much more.

The book started out a little slow, but when it took off, it really took off. It’s written entirely in epistolary style, with letters and telegrams between various characters telling the story. The characters are endearing, and as the trials they went through during the war are revealed, the lasting effects are shown alongside them. The emotions are real, and I found myself swept up in them.

Early in the book, I was mostly annoyed with Juliet and her tendency to complain. It was establishing her background and life, I know, but maybe specifically because of the book’s format, since we saw everything directly from her perspective, she just seemed whiny. Around the time she got the first letter from Dawsey on the island, her character deepened enough that I didn’t dislike her so much. And then her sincere interest in the literary society and what the people on the island went through endeared her to me a lot more.

The format of the book is done well–each letter has a header stating who it was written to and from, so before you even start reading the letter, you are fully aware of that. It helps a lot, as eventually there are quite a few characters to keep straight. Some become more familiar, and others fall away, but overall, I only had a little struggle sorting through them.

Unsurprisingly, the characters are what make this book so great. I loved the way that the heart of the literary society was never even physically present in the book, once characters came together in the physical space, yet she was still a big part of the story. On the other hand, Juliet has this suitor that is pretty terrible. I don’t get why she doesn’t see how incredibly misogynistic he is, even in that somewhat different time.

This book is split into 2 parts, and by the time I got to part 2, I was completely hooked. It’s a fairly short book, and I think the epistolary format makes it particularly easy to read, because there’s not a lot of description. I read the bulk of it in a day. This is one book I am definitely going to re-read in the future. I recommend it for all fans of historical fiction, but even others, especially those who like character-driven stories.

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February in Review

I read 9 books last month. I’m really surprised by that amount, especially considering that it’s a slightly shorter month. It’s only 2 books less than how many I read last August before school started and I started working a lot more. What a fun and productive month!

Here are the books I read in February:


Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope (3 / 5)
Seconds to Live by Susan Sleeman (2.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (4.5 / 5)
Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen (5 / 5)
This Light Between Us by Andrew Fukuda (3.5 / 5)
Heaven’s Open Book by Sheldon Peart (2.5 / 5)
Sneak by Evan Angler (4 / 5)
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (4 / 5)
The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear (3.5 / 5)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from February was Blessed Are the Misfits. I finished 0 series, continued 3 series, and started 0 series. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: Anne of Avonlea

Finished Reading: Anne of Avonlea
Book #2
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

AoA

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

No longer a child, Anne Shirley starts a new adventure as the schoolteacher in Avonlea. Fortunately (for us, not for her), she still gets into scrapes, has adventures, and meets interesting people. We follow Anne through 2 years as teacher, starting with her first terrifying day. During this time, Green Gables becomes the home for 2 young orphans, who present a whole new challenge to Marilla.

I had anticipated this book being not as wonderful as the first, considering that plenty of the charm of the first was wrapped up in Anne’s childish nature. Not only has she grown and matured, she’s also been “raised” to be more proper. Still, her spirit and imagination were there, and she met other kindred spirits to provide some of that as well.

I did not care for the twins that Marilla took in, not just because Davy was such a handful, but also because Dora was…nothing. It seemed as if the author only gave Davy a twin so that he would have a target for his shenanigans, but she forgot to develop the sister, and thus, she became boring to the author, and likewise to the other characters. They liked Davy more because he needed them more (because he was a terror), and Dora was so good she had no imagination. So basically, if she’d acted up a little more, or made more mistakes, she’d be more interesting. Just…no.

The storyline with Miss Lavender is cute and sweet. I loved the way Paul Irving keeps saying, “You know, Teacher,” to Anne (and a few times, he said the same basic thing to someone else) to show that they were so similar in spirit. J.A. Harrison’s storyline was a little bizarre, yet came out nicely.

These books meander so, with time sprawling across the pages, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the plot of a single book. But the overall plot seems to be the life of this orphan girl as she learns who she is, how to navigate life, and what she might want to do someday. I’m looking forward to reading about the next chapter of Anne’s life.

Side note: I have now purchased 5 out of 6 of the “main storyline” of this series. I didn’t really intend to, especially as I haven’t read enough yet to know if anything past the first one will be worth owning. But I have taken a lot of trips to Half Price Books over the last 3 months, and so often find one or two of these in the clearance section. It’s hard to pass it up for $1…

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Blue Cloak

Finished Reading: The Blue Cloak
by Shannon McNear

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Blue Cloak

In the wilds of Tennessee and Kentucky in the late 1700s, Rachel’s newly married close friend gets caught up in a nightmare. Sally’s groom and his cousin, Big and Little Harpe, become outlaws and leave a trail of destruction, dragging their family along with them. Rachel is worried for her friend, as well as for her new acquaintance Ben Langford. Ben came to the frontier to keep his cousin out of danger, but sadly discovered that Thomas was one of the Harpes’ first known victims. Now he only wants justice for his cousin, and Rachel wants to see her friend freed from her murderous husband’s grasp.

This is the third book in the True Colors series that I have read. For the first half of this book, I felt that it was a bit better than the other two (The Yellow Lantern & The Gray Chamber). The main characters were relatable, my heart broke along with Sally’s as things went from bad to worse, and the romance was sweet, if not a little weird given the backdrop.

The book was well-researched. An author’s note at the beginning even made it clear that McNear knew this was a difficult subject, and there is a real question of “how dark is too dark for Christian fiction?” I think the answer is…this. This story of the Harpes and what they did to potentially 50 men, women, and children in their time might just have proven too dark to use as a setting for a Christian romance. I’m not one who was all that put off by what was in the book, though a bit of it was definitely more disturbing than the rest, however, because the author understandably couldn’t go too in-depth in these matters, the story just came off very shallow. I think that is an indication that this bit of history just should have been passed on for this series.

However, I was planning to give this book 4 stars until just after the halfway point, when a really confusing scene happened that made me feel like an entire other scene had been deleted from the book, and the author forgot to re-write a callback to it. And then, by the end of the book, I became weary by the repetitiveness of the characters’ thoughts and prayers (that feels so bad to say, but honestly, at times it just felt like it was copied & pasted from earlier). Overall, though, the book was well-written, with just a few gripes.

So this is the part where I normally sum up my thoughts and then make recommendations for who should read the book. As I said above, the book has some more graphic spots, but overall tends to gloss over the details of the crime and depravity of the Harpes. Still, it’s not for the faint of heart, and many Christians would likewise find it too much. But if it sounds like something you’re interested in, especially if you’re a fan of Christian romance, I’d definitely say give it a try.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!