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: 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: Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu

Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu
Mr. Monk #3
by Lee Goldberg
read by Angela Brazil

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When much of the police force calls in sick as part of a contract dispute, Monk is asked to take on the role of a captain in the department. Though this means he’ll be betraying his friends in the department, Monk can’t resist the allure of getting his badge back. Unfortunately, San Francisco suddenly seems to be in the midst of a crime spree, and the squad Monk is given command of make him look almost normal by comparison. Almost.

Well, 3 books into this series, and I’m calling it quits. For now. Maybe I’ll try again later when I’m looking for something else to listen to. I love the show and have watched it several times through. Unfortunately, that means that I’ve also seen this story done before. At least part of it. The main part. There are two mysteries that happen in this book, one being the serial killings that kick the story off. And the way it played out was the same as an episode in which Monk has his badge back for a little while (the episode came after the book was published, so it’s not a rip-off…maybe the other way around though). So that does tend to bring the enjoyment down some, considering that I easily guessed at what was going on.

The three detectives Monk is saddled with as captain, though, brought the enjoyment down even more. I guess they’re supposed to provide humor, them all being so outlandish, but seriously…it just smacks of ineptitude on the part of whoever hired them. One of them has a radio taped to her head when we first see her, for goodness sake, a full-blown paranoid conspiracy theorist. One is so old he can’t even remember his own name half the time (and that’s not hyperbole), and the other is trigger-happy. Each of them comes with their own assistant, à la Monk’s Natalie, and frankly, I can’t find the humor in any of it. It’s just too over-the-top ridiculous, the kind of thing I might cringe at but live with when watching the show, but when hearing it described by pseudo-Natalie, I just can’t.

It’s too bad, too, because there were some really funny moments early in the story. Things that remind me of why I love Monk so much. But they didn’t occur much after that, definitely not enough to elevate the rest of the book. If you’re a fan of the show and think you’ll enjoy the book, though, don’t let me stop you from giving the series a try. I don’t think you even need to start at the beginning, since I haven’t seen any real correlation between the books so far.

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Book Review: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers

Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers
A Woman of WWII Mystery #2
by Tessa Arlen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Poppy Redfern’s writing has gotten noticed, and she’s been made a scriptwriter for the London Crown Film Unit to help showcase British civilians who are heroes in some way to the war effort. Through this job she meets women pilots from the Air Transport Auxiliary, whose job it is to fly new and repaired planes to military airfields throughout the country. While working on the script for the film about these ladies, one of them dies in a spectacular crash that is attributed to pilot error. But Poppy is not so sure it was an accident and starts asking questions that don’t exactly relate to the script she’s writing.

I really liked this book, though not quite as much as the first one in the series. The world-building and atmosphere were just as good, but the characters were just a little weaker. And the mystery plot was mostly done well, but I was left scratching my head a little at the end. There was a clue given near the beginning of the story that was never actually used in any way, unless I simply missed it. Still, the story played out well.

I love the history that this series brings to life, and learning about the ATA and Attagirls was the best part of the book. The American fighter pilot Poppy grows close to in the previous book, Griff, is in this one as well. Readers hoping to see their relationship ramp up may be disappointed, but I personally don’t mind the struggles they’re going through, only partly related to the differences between their cultures. Poppy comes to realize during this book that she may be offering Griff more than just “British reserve” due to her own past, but Griff shows that he can handle it. I wonder if we’re seeing shades of the author’s relationship with her husband, she being British and he being American. Either way, it’s a much more realistic-feeling “romance” than most you find in books, and I like it.

Poppy’s continued inner voice of the main character of the novels she’s still writing is a quirk that doesn’t detract from the novel at all, in my opinion. Like the previous book, I enjoyed the experience this book provided and would recommend you give it a try if either of the genres interest you. I may have to wait half a year for the next book to come out, but I’ll definitely be watching for it.

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Book Review: Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii

Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii
Mr. Monk #2
by Lee Goldberg
read by Laura Hicks

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Mystery

Unable to handle his assistant Natalie going to Hawaii and leaving him alone, the defective detective Adrian Monk takes a pill to combat his many phobias and OCD tendencies and tags along. Once the dose wears off, he’s back to being his normal self, which includes ruining a wedding and Natalie’s vacation. But more importantly, it means classifying an accidental death as a murder and getting himself involved in the investigation.

Let me just say right off that I hate “the Monk.” I hated him in the television episode he appeared in (“Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine”, the last episode with Sharona…and you know, I always suspected that was the real reason she left) and I disliked that he made an appearance in this book. Fortunately, this drugged state of the main character didn’t last long, but I certainly hope the author of this book series doesn’t plan to resurrect him every time he needs to put Monk in a situation he would normally avoid. For goodness sake, there’s a very good, touching reason Monk stopped taking the pills the first time, and for him to completely disregard that cheapens the great respect he still has for his late wife.

Now that that rant is out of the way, the book was another nice re-visit with a television show that has long-since ended (this series came out while the show was still on, but they’re all new stories to me). I felt pretty immersed in the island setting, often going away from the heavy tourist areas to see everyday life on the island. The accent of the detective that they worked with was done very well by the narrator, and I’m not sure it would have come across nearly as well if I read the book myself, so that’s a major check in the audiobook column. I still don’t love her depiction of Monk himself, but I’m sure trying to imitate the voice of an actual person (the actor who played the role) is more difficult than narrating other books.

My biggest gripe, and the reason that I may eventually have to stop reading this series, is again that the author just seems to not have the best handle on Monk. Monk using pop culture references, like a reference to Michael Jackson, is just not true to his character. And he was far more concerned about Natalie’s injuries and sunburn at one point in the book than I feel like he would be–not even a mention about the mess her blood was probably making, for example, and he was…well, “tender” is the best word I can come up with, and Monk really isn’t tender. And Monk at his most normal self isn’t really about going out and having fun, yet we’re to believe that he plays miniature golf? And well? When, exactly, is he going out and hitting balls at windmills without his assistant knowing about it?

The book is more good than bad, despite what it may sound like above. There are some funny moments that remind me of why I like the show and characters so much. But there’s a reason that the character in the TV show has the problems he has–he’s brilliant and can solve basically anything. Without some major handicaps, he’d be too good, and that would be boring. He needs something to hold him back, to be the main conflict for the show, and that is his OCD and phobias that do tend to distract him and make him self-absorbed quite often. If this series continues to grind those edges down, I probably won’t be able to keep reading it. For now, though, I’ll see what the next one holds, and for those who might be interested, it does look like many others aren’t as bothered by these things as I am, so if you’re a fan of the show, don’t let me stop you from giving the series a try!

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Book Review: The Legend of Annie Murphy

The Legend of Annie Murphy
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #7
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure, mystery (with some sci-fi)

When investigating tales of a ghost sighting, the Cooper family–dad Jacob and teens Jay and Lila–find themselves caught up in a mystery 100 years in the making. A woman who’d been accused of killing her husband out of greed 100 years in the past was killed while escaping her punishment, and now her ghost is being seen around the ruins of the long-abandoned town.

I spent the first third or so of this book completely flabbergasted. The beginning of the story was such a departure from the previous books in the series, I was certain it was going to turn out that something else was going on. But when it became clear that Jacob’s friend Mac’s theory about a gravity vortex causing time and space to go wonky was actually what was going on, I struggled to accept it and move on. Eventually, I reminded myself that it’s not necessarily against the theme of this series of books. Sometimes there’s not much suspension of disbelief to swallow, while other times, God-attributed supernatural events occur.

With that understanding in mind, I can view this book a little differently than I did while listening to a lot of it. The story, then, with the vehicle of time travel in place, becomes about solving the mystery of the legend, finding out what really happened 100 years ago. And that itself is a good story. The kids follow along as the story is told in the past, while their dad and his friend try to sort it out in the present time, and it’s interesting how it all plays out. I won’t say there isn’t some predictability to it, at least to an adult reader, but I think the age group its meant for won’t have read as many mysteries or seen as many TV shows or movies as adults have, making it more fresh for them. I again enjoyed listening to the audiobook and would say that, though it may seem outlandish at first, it’s a good story overall and worth reading if you’re interested.

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Book Review: Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse

Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse
Mr. Monk #1
by Lee Goldberg
read by Laura Hicks

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When a firehouse dog is murdered, the defective detective Adrian Monk’s help is enlisted by his assistant’s daugher Julie. During the course of the investigation, Monk discovers that the dog’s death might be connected to a fatal house fire. His work is hampered, though, by the fact that he’s been displaced, due to his apartment building being fumigated. Though she knows it will be difficult, his assistant Natalie offers to take Monk into her home while they solve the murders.

Fans of the television show Monk will likely find this a good read. All of the characters we love are involved, the story seeming to take place not too long after Natalie becomes his assistant. It’s not directly tied to any episodes of the show, though, and is a brand new plot. It’s narrated by Natalie, and I enjoyed it as essentially a longer episode of the show. In a way, it seemed like a mash-up of 2 different episodes (“Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing” and “Mr. Monk Stays in Bed”), but it’s unique enough to not just feel like a rip-off of one of those episodes.

The author does a pretty good job of capturing the feel of each of the characters with one execption–Monk himself. As someone who has seen the show in its entirety several times, I kept noticing things that just seemed very un-Monk-like. The most glaring was him holding a glass of milk, milk being high up on his list of fears. But he was also frankly a little too warm and tender toward Natalie and especially Julie. Though Monk can be kind, he is also often quite selfish, or at the very least, so wrapped up in his own issues that he doesn’t easily take others’ thoughts or feelings into consideration. He also called Julie “honey” at least once in the book, which just felt so wrong.

Overall, as a way to get more Monk in my life, the book was fun to listen to. The narrator was pretty good with the voices–I especially liked her Stottlemeyer. However, her depiction of Monk left a lot to be desired. I just kept putting it into Tony Shaloub’s voice as I listened. I’ll definitely keep reading this series.

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Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs

The Curse of the Pharaohs
Amelia Peabody #2
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

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

When Amelia’s husband is invited by the effervescent Lady Baskerville to finish an excavation that her late husband was unable to, Amelia goes with him to Egypt. She’s certain Lord Baskerville was murdered, so while she helps Emerson with the work, she also formulates theories about the various people around her. Before Amelia can point to a culprit, though, there is another death and more than one accident that threatens Emerson’s safety. Can she solve the crime before her husband is the next victim?

I liked this book a little more than the first one. That’s mostly because Amelia’s haughtiness and disdain were toned down a little, or at least focused on Emerson, which made for some fairly amusing interactions between the married couple. However, there was such a rehashing of elements from the first book that it made it a little dull. There’s the curse angle, which all of the local workers believe in, making the work more difficult. There are sightings of some sort of supernatural being that scares people. There’s the one woman that most of the male characters are falling over themselves to win the hand of. Overall, a lot of it felt like it had been done before.

I liked the introduction of the cat Bastet and the revelation of the true identity of one of the characters. I disliked the way Amelia kept feeling the need to allude to her and Emerson’s private moments. Overall, I don’t think I was invested in the story as I would like to be when reading a mystery. Whether or not I continue the series remains to be seen, but keep in mind that there are many positive reviews, so if you are a mystery reader and/or like the setting of this series, the book might be a good read for you.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race

Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #3
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

After a grand escape game and a library-fied version of the Olympics, Mr. Lemoncello brings his favorite 12-year-olds (though I’d guess some are probably 13 by now) a game that sends teams on a much grander adventure–across town in bookmobiles and across states in his banana jet. But trouble is afoot when Kyle’s team uncovers evidence that Mr. Lemoncello plagiarized his very first game. Will his newly honed research skills be enough to clear his hero’s name?

After loving the first book in the series and enjoying the second one as well, this one didn’t seem quite as good in the end. The required suspension of disbelief is much higher in this one, both because these kids are allowed to take private jets to other states and even NYC without any real adult supervision, and because my past observation of most of the kids just being over-the-top knowledgeable was ramped up in this one. Not only do some of these kids know just about every juvenile book ever written, plus have an extensive knowledge of the Dewey decimal system that they can mentally search whenever needed, but now some of those same kids know vast amounts of information about historical events and figures like the Wright brothers’ first flight. It’s all just a bit too much to swallow.

I did still like the puzzles and riddles along the way, though. I enjoy being able to solve some of the clues along with the kids, though that was certainly lighter in this one. The more of these grand-scale games Mr. Lemoncello dreams up, the bigger they seem to have to be, which is somewhat understandable from a fiction stand-point, but seems like it’ll be difficult to sustain. And strangely, while the game itself is grander, the prize is…considerably less so, though that might just be from an adult’s perspective.

The mystery that came up in the latter half of the book and stalled the great game was interesting, as it was quite the reflection of the way the general public will believe nearly anything if they’re given a convincing enough presentation, no matter if the facts back it up or not. Parts of the mystery were predictable, parts not so much, and in the end, while I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did the first two, I know that the things that brought it down the most for me are going to be more noticeable to an adult than the age group the book is meant for. My 10-year-old daughter loved this book as much as the previous two, and I think it’s safe to recommend it for kids around 8-12.

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