Book Review: Old Yeller

Old Yeller
by Fred Gipson

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic historical fiction

Old Yeller is yet another children’s classic I’ve never read. I don’t think I’ve watched the movie either, but of course I knew how it ends. However, I didn’t expect the entire book to basically be just about getting to that ending. It’s even stated on the first page that the narrator, Travis, would end up having to kill this stray. For me, that definitely dampened the enjoyment of the story of Travis and Old Yeller becoming good friends. What bothered me the most, though, was Travis’s little brother Arliss. Oh my goodness, that kid is annoying! Every time he gets upset about something, he gets violent, even with his own mother. And it basically goes unchecked. It just all seems extreme and unnecessary. And in the end, I was left wondering what the author’s intention was in writing this book. And would it have been such a classic if it weren’t for the tragic ending? Take that away, and you just have the story of a boy and his dog, which has been done.

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Book Review: Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie
Little House #3
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s historical classic

What a change of scenery from the previous book with the Ingalls family, from the woods of Wisconsin to the wide-open prairie. I don’t recall reading the reason for the move, and while I can imagine that Laura never knew the reason as a child, I wonder if she learned it later in life. I suppose it might be due to the woods becoming overcrowded, since, as they’re building their house, Pa says that he’d be content to stay there the rest of his life, even as the area gets more settled, because the area is so wide open, it could never feel crowded. Considering what happens here, it seems a shame that he wasn’t content where he was, but I suppose that’s a mindset most of us these days can’t fully understand (though I know some people who would).

The story continues to be charming, and while there are some unfortunate mindsets that I wish would not have been so common in that day, I appreciate that Pa mostly has a different attitude. My daughter has recently started reading the first book in the series, and I don’t know if she’ll continue to this one, but if she does, I’ll be intrigued to hear her thoughts on the matter.

As before, my enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator, Cherry Jones, who does a fantastic job, and being able to hear Pa’s fiddle, thanks to Paul Woodiel. If you’ve ever considered reading this series, or have already read it and have occasion to listen to the audiobooks, I say do it!

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Book Review: Ruth

Ruth
by Ellen Gunderson Traylor

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

I’m going to skip the synopsis in my own words this time, because if you don’t have at least a basic understanding of the story of Ruth from the Bible, you probably won’t be paying much attention to this review anyway. Ruth is my favorite book in the Bible, and the account of Ruth and Boaz has long held a kind of romance for me, so I have been picky about fictionalized versions of it. This is my favorite of any I’ve read or watched so far. I think the author did a good job remaining true to the biblical account and to the spirit of it.

Traylor had to attach real motivations to some of the actions and dialog in the account, and both Ruth and Boaz came across just right, in my opinion. Naomi was decent overall, too, though I might have preferred a little more build-up to her comments about being bitter when she first returns to Bethlehem. Orpah, on the other hand, had no love for her mother-in-law, yet wept when she turned back. Even with those notes, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will most likely read it again more than once in the future. In the end, it’s clear to me that this is a love story not only about the romance between a man and woman but between God and man. I can’t recommend this book enough for those who enjoy biblical fiction, and especially those who appreciate the book of Ruth as much as I do.

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Book Review: Farmer Boy

Little House in the Big Woods
Little House #2
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s historical classic

Continuing my first ever read-through of this series, I enjoyed this book even more than the first one in the series. Almanzo is an endearing, hard-working boy, and I love how badly he wants to be just like his dad. I find Laura Ingalls Wilder’s focus on how much food the Wilders had, as well as the variety of food, to be interesting, considering that her family in the previous book had just enough. The Wilders still worked hard for their food but this was clearly a comparatively wealthy family. And the ending, involving Almanzo deciding what to do with his sudden windfall, made me tear up. That thread of story culminating in such a great moment at the end is what elevated this book to be a new favorite for me!

My enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator. I’m still really loving Cherry Jones’s performance in this series, as well as the fiddle music now and then, though it’s not as prevalent was it was in the previous book. I highly recommend this book and series so far, for adults and kids alike.

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Book Review: The Sisters of Sea View

The Sisters of Sea View
On Devonshire Shores #1
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

Sisters Sarah, Emily, Viola, and Georgiana Summers agree (some more reluctantly than others) to turn their seaside home into a guest house to provide income for the family. They originally came to Devonshire in the hopes of curing their ailing mother, and then their father died. Now it is up to them to care for their mother and keep the family together.

I have mixed feelings about this book. After reading and enjoying the Tales from Ivy Hill trilogy by the same author, I was looking forward to another series of books with a sort of ensemble set of main characters. I did expect some romance, but there was a lot more in this book than I thought there would be. Then again, there are four women that need to find love, so it makes sense that one would find it in this book. However, I would have preferred a little more time spent developing the relationship. I also felt a little uncomfortable at the amount of skin shown in this book. Various male characters were without some or possibly all clothes multiple times when the women (or at least the one that would have any interest in that man) were there to see it. There’s a lot of blushing and thinking about broad shoulders and bare chests. That is not needed for romance, and for me, at least, it’s not welcome.

While the main characters were decently interesting, I think the side characters were the real gems in this book. The guests staying at Sea View, mainly, but also the elderly woman that Viola reads to, Major Hutton’s friend and brother—all of these people I hope to be able to see more of in the future books. Viola is the most dynamic character in this book, and I appreciated seeing the development to her own personality as well as her relationship with her family. Major Hutton, I felt, was weakly drawn. His friend and family members talk a lot about how gruff and ill-tempered he is, but I found him to be just a little unhappy (which is understandable, given his current circumstances) until suddenly he’s randomly an outright jerk for weird reasons. I get what the author was trying to show us about him, but it felt inconsistent.

Overall, I felt this was a rocky start to the series, but I have enjoyed the other books I’ve read by this author. And I definitely have interest in the world Klassen has set up in this book, so I’m looking forward to continuing the series in the future. Based on past experience, I have good reason to believe that most fans of Regency-era Christian romance will enjoy this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: December 6, 2022

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Book Review: Little House in the Big Woods

Little House in the Big Woods
Little House #1
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s historical classic

I have never read this series, though I did watch the show when I was younger. I think I always assumed it would be boring to read, though. I can’t say for sure it wouldn’t have been when I was younger, but I completely enjoyed it now. This in-depth look at life for an American pioneer family through the eyes of a little girl is full of heart, teaching the reader about how pioneers had to work almost constantly in order to have enough to eat throughout the year, a place to live, and warmth in the winter, forget toys and luxuries. I appreciate how, even when the kids are punished, their parents clearly still love them and make sure they know it. Despite the hardships and all of the work they had to do, it was a simpler time that, in some ways, we’re all the worse for losing.

My enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator. Cherry Jones did a fantastic job, and I am so happy to know that I can stay with her through the whole series. On top of that, whenever Pa played the fiddle in the book, we get to hear it! And Cherry Jones sings along when the lyrics are in the book, making for a beautiful listening experience! If you’ve ever considered reading this book, or have already read it and have occasion to listen to the audiobook, I say do it!

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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.

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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.

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Book Review: The Mummy Case

The Mummy Case
Amelia Peabody #3
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

After some time away, the Emersons are returning to Egypt for a dig, this time taking their young son Ramses along. When Amelia suspects that a suicide might actually be foul play, her husband doesn’t agree. Then strange things begin to happen in the area around their not-so-exciting dig site, and Amelia sees connections where Emerson just sees random misfortune. First Amelia has to convince him that something is afoot, and then they have to solve the mystery before anyone else gets hurt.

My synopsis probably doesn’t do the story justice, but I found myself equal parts lost and bored while listening to this installment in the series. And I think the reason I got lost at times was due to my mind wandering, because the story simply didn’t capture my attention as the books before it did. I’m not completely sure why, either; maybe I’ve already grown tired of the formula of this series? But I also think it’s partly because the mystery was super slow in getting going. After the death that Amelia suspects is a murder, it’s mostly just them getting on with their dig and meeting lots of new people for quite a while. Little things that keep the mystery in mind happen, but nothing all that exciting.

I think part of my issue is with Ramses, though. He’s an amusing character, but only to a point. I don’t honestly know how old he’s supposed to be in this book, but I’m guessing around 7. And he’s super smart, can translate ancient languages, solves much of the mystery alongside (or ahead of) his parents, and speaks with a speech impediment. And he always obeys his parents, but finds loopholes in what they tell him to do (or, more accurately, in what they neglect to say he can’t do). I also grew quite weary of Emerson’s (and Amelia’s, to a lesser degree) disdain for Christianity and Christian missionaries. There were a few humorous moments in the book, but not as many as I remember in the first two. Since much of my dislike of this book was personal preference, and it’s clear that many others enjoyed it, if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries or Egyptology, you might want to check this book out. If you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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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.

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