Book Review: The Widows of Champagne

The Widows of Champagne
by Renee Ryan

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian drama

With the German army on France’s doorstep, the 3 widows who live at Chateau Fouche-Leblanc, a premier champagne house, are not prepared for what the Nazis will bring to their home. Gabrielle, who does most of the running of the vineyard these days, hides some of the most valuable champagne in the hopes of rebuilding the family’s wealth after the war. Her mother Hélène is more interested in fashion than wine, but she will have her own part to play in the coming days. And finally Josephine, Gabrielle’s grandmother, though she struggles to keep her thoughts focused on the present, manages her own quiet resistance to the invading forces.

I’m sad to say that I didn’t love this book like I’d hoped. It was only okay. The characters are all very…not shallow, necessarily, but I’m not sure how to explain it. They are just so separate. So alone. It made the story slow and depressing, which may very well have been the point. But the way these women related to each other, and the way each of their late husbands hung over them like a dark cloud, despite each of them having died no less than 5 years in the past, made me sad, and the story became boring. I also didn’t connect with any of the characters at all.

As far as the plot goes, it was interesting to see the way each of these women, again, individually, did what they could or what they had to in order to keep the rest of the family safe. But I often felt like I was missing something, because so much seemed to happen “off screen” and was hinted at in the narration. Josephine, in particular, seemed to be involved in various things, but we only hear about her writing these things down. On the other hand, I could have been misunderstanding a lot of that, because every section from her POV was a little confusing. This was definitely intentional, because she was suffering from early dementia. I think the author did well in showing that, but maybe she should have gone back to Josephine less often.

The book is listed as Christian, and it does have some Christian tones to it. However, I would have liked to see more resolution for the two women who didn’t really believe God cared about them at the beginning of the story. It seems like mentions of God and faith were just thrown in to be able to publish it as Christian. It is a basically clean read, though, with only allusions to a physical relationship with two of the characters that was more out of necessity than desire (at least for one of them). I can already tell from other reviews I’m seeing about this book that I’ll likely be in the minority of thinking the book is only okay. It’s more pure drama than I generally prefer, but I will say I was really interested in the details about champagne and wine making and, though less involved, the information about France’s capitulation and later liberation. I do think fans of historical drama and complex family dynamics will like this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and HARLEQUIN – Romance (U.S. & Canada) for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: July 27, 2021

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Book Review: Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi suspense

When Ryland Grace wakes up and finds himself on a spaceship with 2 dead roommates and no memory of who he is, why he’s there, or how he got there, he certainly never expected to find out he’s on a mission to save the earth. As his memory falteringly returns and he discovers he may not be as alone as he thought, he will tax his abilities—both physical and mental—and his ship to give humanity a fighting chance.

I haven’t been as captivated by a book as I was by this one in a long time. I read it in 2 days, which is at least half the time I’d normally read a book of this length, because I was so enthralled and just kept wanting to come back to it. The story was creative, the characters were engaging, and the math and science were…well, they were math and science. I zoned out a few times when it got a little over my head and scanned the text for the spot where the point would be made. Those moments didn’t bother me, thoughI just nodded and moved on.

The story tends to go back and forth between the present time on the ship and the recent past back on Earth. The past scenes serve to show both us and Grace why he’s way out in space. Even when the reader thinks they know everything necessary from that time (or at least thinks they can infer it), there’s a little more to know. Personally, I liked the past scenes as much as the present. It was interesting to see Weir’s take on what could happen if catastrophe were looming and humanity was forced to work together or be wiped out.

Understandably, there are not a whole lot of characters in this book, especially those that are given much “screen” time. There’s Grace, of course, who may know more than seems reasonable for his past, but I enjoyed the book enough to not be bothered by it. He’s got a cheesy sense of humor and a determination that doesn’t preclude him from having moments of doubt. Fortunately, he has a counterpart through much of the book who spurs him on when he’s ready to give up, and vice versa. Rocky, along with the friendship that develops between Rocky and Grace, is certainly a highlight of the book. There’s not a whole lot more I can say without giving at least minor spoilers (though odds are pretty good if you read other reviews you’ll be spoiled anyway, as many people don’t see the explanation of Rocky as a spoiler…and maybe it’s not, but I’d rather be cautious). There are so many times when the interactions between Grace and Rocky made me laugh out loud. It’s so great! Also, the endingnever saw it coming!

The question that seems to be on most people’s minds is whether or not this book is too similar to Weir’s first book, The Martian. There are certainly some similarities, but the plot is very different. Whatney’s main conflict is simply survival, then if possible a return to Earth. Grace’s main conflict is to do the science to figure out how to save Earth, and…well, for a while, at least, that’s pretty much it. They’re really only similar in that they’re both one man working alone in space. Some will say that Grace is a copy of Whatney. I have read The Martian once and seen the movie twice, so I don’t think I know it enough to speak to that. They approach problems and science the same way, so I guess there’s that. I also want to mention, for those who are curious, that there is way less language in this book than there was in The Martian. Grace himself only uses “fake” swear words, so the only real language comes from the past scenes, and it’s considerably light. Some might be interested to know, however, that this book takes an evolution-as-fact approach to the universe, evolution being a very heavy topic in the latter half or so of the book. It’s very common for sci-fi to be written with that worldview, but it is pushed pretty heavily. Overall, though, I highly recommend this book to anyone who even remotely enjoys sci-fi books.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Rabbits

Rabbits
by Terry Miles

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi/fantasy, suspense

There’s a game that may not really be a game. Players aren’t supposed to talk about it, at least not in specific terms. They call it Rabbits, and playing involves finding patterns in the world around you, coincidences or even discrepancies. Follow the clues and try to win, because winning means unimaginable rewards that no one knows for sure exist, just like no one knows for sure who the winners of the first 10 iterations of the game were. A man named K has been obsessed with the game for years, so when he’s approached by a man rumored to have won in the past and told that something is wrong with the game, and it’s up to K to fix it before the next iteration begins or the entire world is in danger, of course he has to try to help. But will he be too late?

The synopsis of this book (which is better written than mine above) really intrigued me. I loved the idea of a mysterious game with the entire world—universe, even—as the playing field. Unfortunately, the book was mostly just bizarre and repetitive and lacked the real punch and follow-through I was looking for. I read the book pretty quickly, not because I was excited and caught up in it, but because I was confused and a little frustrated and wanted to push to get to that place where everything is explained and suddenly makes sense. Sadly, that moment never happened.

After the possible former winner approaches K and tells him that he has to fix the game, the story mostly consists of the same format repeated over and over–K (and sometimes his friend Chloe too) researches/digs/looks for clues, hits a dead end and gives up, suddenly has a revelation that generally comes one of two ways—either someone randomly gives him a clue or he just happens to see a random item in the room he’s in that makes him think in a new way—then is off digging again before hitting that next dead end. During this repetitive meat of the book, K is remarkably knowledgeable about almost everything he needs to know to solve these things. He has to look up one or two things, but for the most part, he’s versed in movies, music, & books (foreign and domestic), art, architecture, and constellations. No real reason is given for him having all of this knowledge (he has an eidetic memory, but he’d still have to have been exposed to a lot), and to make it worse, the fellow-sort-of-player that is helping him through all of this, Chloe, never really has the surprising and sudden knowledge at just the right time.

K has a lot of strange things happen to him throughout the course of this book, and Chloe often asks him if he’s okay. Even after he’s admitted to her some of the mind-bending things that he’s seen, he still inevitably lies to her when she checks on him and tells her he’s okay. Literally every time, it’s, “I’m fine,” with almost no variation. And then there’s the heavy language throughout the book. Even when I was in high school, I knew that people who liked to drop the f-word into every other sentence didn’t have much in the way of a vocabulary. Apparently that is the case with every single character in this book, without even the allowance for the possibility that anyone they meet along the way may not talk the same way that everyone else does. I don’t read a lot of books with heavy language like this, but never before have I gotten to the point where it felt like the author was an 11-year-old who was out of hearing of his parents and cussing just because he can. That’s what this made me feel like.

(Warning, this paragraph contains some minor spoilers.) Even with everything I’ve said above, I probably would have given the book a little higher of a rating if it weren’t for the utter lack of a payoff in the end. There’s this science presented in the 2nd half of the book that was pretty baffling to me, but I was hanging in there, doing my best to understand just enough to see how the plot paid off. I’m not sure how much of what didn’t make sense to me was due to my lack of understanding of this kind of thing and how much was due to the author sort of hand-waving some of it, but I was hanging in there. Then we get to the end and…all of that, all of the science and urgency, is just…brushed off. We’re presented with 2 new theories about what’s been happening, and then the book ends with no real answers and with everything I was doing my best to understand is just thrown out the window. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a book wasted the time it took me to read it more than this one did, and the only reason it’s 2 stars is because I really do think the idea is good, the beginning was good, and I’m sure a lot of work was put into writing and editing this book.

As for whether or not you might like it…if you’re a major gamer, into fringe culture, or know anything at all about the darknet, you really might like this book. It reminded me of Ready Player One, in that there were quite a few references to movies, music, and games, a lot of it vintage. And like RPO, a lot of it was completely unnecessary. A major setting in the book is an arcade, and when a character just happens to be leaning on a game cabinet, I don’t need to know what the name of the game is unless it’s going to matter to the story. On the other hand, my husband would probably love to know because he spent a lot of time in arcades as a kid (he also liked all of the references in RPO more than I did). So definitely make the decision for yourself, if this book sounds interesting. You can also check out other reviews at the link below.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: June 8, 2021

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Book Review: Tidewater Bride

Tidewater Bride
by Laura Frantz

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

1634 Virginia is a dangerous place, but the colonists in James Towne are determined to make a life in the New World. Selah Hopewell and her family work as merchants, providing goods for those in and around the town. Though she is well past the marrying age, she has preferred to help her father, rather than take a husband. Alexander Renick is a widow who has strong ties to the nearby Powhatan people, his late wife being a Powhatan princess. He is also the wealthiest tobacco baron in the colony and quite married to his work. As Selah and Xander, separately and together, deal with the treachery of both man and nature, they begin to feel a pull toward each other.

There are some books that are billed as romance and that’s clearly all the story is meant to be about. And then there are some books that are billed as romance, but have so much more depth to the story than just how the two main characters end up together. I much prefer the latter, and fortunately, this is just that type of story. Yes, the romance is there, and it’s sweet and innocent, just how I like it. But it’s not the main focus of the book, and even the main climax of the book doesn’t revolve around it. There’s so much more going on–the tenuous peace between the colonists and the Powhatans, the duplicity of some of the less-than-moral colonists, and the turmoil that both Selah’s and Xander’s families are in at different times during the story. And during all of that, a blooming relationship.

The other side to this, though, is that I’m not sure there was a very solid, clear main plot throughout the book. Even now that I’ve finished the story, the only real main thread I can identify is the question of what, if anything, is the shady Helion Laurent up to? It’s not that the story is lacking in conflict–far from it. But no main conflict rises to the surface until at least halfway through the story (unless I just missed it). This doesn’t mean the story was bad by any means, but it does lend to the narrative feeling a bit slow for a while, I think. Fortunately, the characters and the different things that are going on are interesting enough that “slow” never became “plodding” or “boring.” I really appreciated the way that Selah recognized her shortcomings, not because someone pointed them out to her, but because a timely Bible verse shed light on her inner being, and she repented of those things, providing inspirational character growth.

This was a departure from me, a time and location in history I’ve not read much about, and the description of life in the early Virginia colony was fascinating. In the author’s note, Frantz admitted to a few things she bent timelines on, but I’m definitely ignorant enough that I would never have known the difference. I looked up a few words that I wasn’t certain I was understanding from context, but for the most part, the story was easy to read and really took me back in time. I recommend this book for all fans of Christian historical fiction, whether or not you would specifically seek out the addition of romance.

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

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Book Review: Refugees on the Run

Refugees on the Run
The Imagination Station #27
by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical children’s fiction, Christian

In this final of a 3-part story arc, cousins Beth and Patrick find themselves in Lithuania sometime in the mid 1940s. A crowd of Jewish families are trying to get into the Japanese consulate building, in the hopes that they can find the means of escaping from the approaching Nazis. Beth and Patrick find themselves in the middle of the battle, as Beth tries to help a Lithuanian Jewish family and Patrick does his best to assist the Japanese consul.

I really enjoyed this story and the way it presents a difficult time in history to kids in a way that doesn’t completely gloss over the danger, but doesn’t go into detail either. I really appreciated that it introduced me, and thus will introduce kids, to a man who helped rescue many Jews, but isn’t nearly as well-known as others. It’s incredibly coincidental that I read this directly after reading Schindler’s List (seriously, it was not on purpose) and really liked seeing the parallels there.

I didn’t know much about this book or the series it’s part of when I started reading. I also hadn’t read the previous 2 books in the in-series arc, but the beginning of the story did a good job of telling me what I needed to know (which wasn’t much). The slight mystery/puzzle angle to the story, that the kids were trying to find some kind of liquid needed by the Imagination Station, allowed another layer to be added to the story. And though a couple of times throughout the story I thought about how unrealistic certain things would have been, especially the inclusion of children in consulate matters, it’s not too hard to remind myself that Imagination Station adventures are meant to put kids right into the middle of things, and these are programmed virtual adventures, not a real trip back in time. (I have enough experience with Adventures in Odyssey overall to be familiar with the Imagination Station.)

I do recommend this book for kids up to 12 years old, but AiO overall is fairly timeless, so the age limit is a soft one. I already have recommended it to my 11-year-old daughter, who has decided to start at the beginning of the series. As for me, I was left with a strong desire to read the earlier 2 books in this 3-story arc and then eventually will probably go back to the beginning of the series too.

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: June 8, 2021

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Book Review: The Silver Shadow

The Silver Shadow
True Colors #11
by Liz Tolsma

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

When a series of attacks on women begin to seem connected, Denver newspaper reporter Polly Blythe and police detective Edwin Price work together to catch the criminal responsible. Both are hindered by bosses whose priorities are skewed, but when Polly catches the madman’s attention, they will have to work extra hard to apprehend the perpetrator while also keeping Polly safe.

At its core, this is the story of 3 individuals who are all haunted by something terrible from their past. Each of them is trying to find a way to deal with that past, none of them is going about it the right way, and not all of them will learn that lesson by the end of the book. Whether this connection between the characters was intentional or not, I couldn’t tell you, because I don’t think the author capitalized on it much at all. It did lead to a lot of repetition, though. I struggled all the way through this book with not feeling connected to the two main characters or to the relationship they were building along the way. The writing seemed kind of shallow and the dialog was often strange, confusing, or stilted.

There was one thing Edwin did part way through the book that appalled me and was just waved away, leaving me feeling very unsettled. Polly is said to be smart and careful, yet constantly goes out alone after dark for one reason or another. Guessing at the identity of the murderer, not even knowing if it would be someone we’d met in the story or not, was something that kept me interested, but that’s probably all that kept me moving through the book quickly. The overall plot and many of the specific events that happened were interesting and could have made for an exciting story, but it just all felt so rushed and shallow. Maybe that’s due to the length of the book, I don’t know.

I’ve had my ups and downs with this series of stand-alone true crime books, but this one is a miss for me. It’s a completely clean romance, though doesn’t have a particularly strong Christian message throughout, if  you’re looking for that. I’ve not read all of the other True Colors books, nor even all of Liz Tolsma’s contributions, but I did really like one of her others, The Green Dress. As for this one, please be sure to check out other reviews for the book if you’re interested, because many others liked it more than I did.

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

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Publication date: May 1, 2021

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Book Review: A Woman of Words

A Woman of Words
Jerusalem Road #3
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Matthew, one of the twelve apostles and former tax collector for the Romans, has been living in Capernaum in the years since Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) death and resurrection when he is summoned to Jerusalem by Peter and John to help them with the growing church there. He anticipates preaching and performing great miracles like his brothers have been doing over the years, but is disappointed to discover that they are more interested in the skills he honed while collecting taxes. Then Mary, Yeshua’s mother, approaches him with a request that he help her write down all of the teachings of Yeshua and accounts of his miracles before they’re forgotten by those who witnessed them. Matthew does not want to sit and write, either words or numbers, when there are souls to be reached. As he comes to terms with what God wants of him, the Roman emperor prepares to set himself up as a god to be worshiped, which would force the entire Jewish community–Yeshua-follower or not–to make a choice between their life or their obedience to God.

I have really liked this series so far and was excited to read the 3rd installment. It wasn’t quite as good as the first two, to me, but I still really liked reading more in the fictional Biblical world Hunt has set up in the series. I’m not completely sure what it is that I liked less about this one. It seems to have less of the charm the other two had, and I think that might be partly because one of the things I liked the most about the other two was that Yeshua was still on Earth. Even though he was in the background, he was there, and I was really drawn to that. I liked hearing both Mary and Matthew talk about his teachings and how special his friendship and love was, how he made them feel when he talked to them, etc. But despite Hunt’s attempts to infuse emotion into these accounts, somehow it didn’t work as well for me.

I do appreciate that Matthew was led to go back to the Old Testament and discover more about who Yeshua was before he became a man, the connections to the prophesies and such. And to be clear, because I didn’t get this until near the end of the book and also from the author’s note–this is not a fictionalized story of the book of Matthew as we know it being written. Matthew and Mary are writing more of a history of Yeshua’s life on earth, in Hebrew (the book of Matthew was written in Greek), that is not meant to be that which later became scripture. But the idea is that this book essentially became a launching point for the Gospels. I wonder if I would have read it differently with that in mind, but it’s hard to say now.

Another thing I really liked is that both Matthew and Mary are presented as real humans with flaws and issues that they have to deal with as they work together on this story. But I also think it’s important that Mary can tell that people are treating her differently because of her son and that she does her best to remain humble and steer people away from treating her like she’s deity herself. She repeats often throughout the story that she’s always been simply a servant of God. While many of us might fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to be set on a pedestal, God chose her because He knew her heart and that she would willingly serve Him, so I like seeing this woman continuing steadfastly in her role as a servant. I think that the reasons I didn’t like this book as much as I did the first 2 are my own fault, not a fault with the book. And even saying that, I did still like it, would recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction, and am looking forward to seeing what else Hunt has in store for this series (she says in the author’s note that she does have another in mind).

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

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Publication date: May 4, 2021

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Book Review: The Purple Nightgown

The Purple Nightgown
by A.D. Lawrence

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Stella Burke, heir to a clothing company and accompanying fortune left when her father died, suffers from near-daily debilitating migraines. When the latest suggested treatment doesn’t work, she comes across a book called Fasting for the Cure of Disease by Linda Burfield Hazzard and then discovers that the doctor has a health spa not too far away. Desperate for anything to ease her pain, she insists that her family chauffeur take her to the spa. Henry is more than just her chauffeur, a close friend and confidante who has been part of her life since they were both kids. He doesn’t trust the doctor’s methods and definitely doesn’t easily agree to take Stella to the spa. When the spa turns into a prison and Hazzard’s methods prove even worse than Henry imagined, can Stella find a way to escape, or will she die alone as one of Hazzard’s walking skeletons?

A solid entry to the True Colors series, which focuses on different true crimes from history, with real historical facts melded with fictional characters and situations. I liked it more than most of the others I’ve read in the series, mostly due to the fact that the crime part of the story was more a focal point than the romance. Though the two main characters’ thoughts about how they feel about each other was brought up at a couple of random or wildly irrelevant times, it was not overly pervasive. Stella’s struggles at the spa, with the treatment, with her uncertainty about whether or not she should stay, and then with her futile attempts to escape, were a well-written driving force.

Adding to that is a sub-plot with Henry and his dream to start a children’s home, which gave the story somewhere to go to avoid a slow, plodding narrative of Stella wasting away. It also allowed a light in the darkness of Stella’s story. I really liked the culmination of all of that at the end of the story. I also appreciated that we weren’t expected to just accept that these two people liked each other simply because we were told they did. They fit together well, had a history, and even had flaws that the other had to be willing to accept.

If I hadn’t known that this woman and her spa were historical fact, I would have had a difficult time believing anyone would go to her for treatments. But I think the author did a good job trying to imagine a scenario in which someone of sound mind would be desperate enough to place themselves in such danger for the hope of relief–not that the victims expected such danger when they checked into the spa. It had a few dark moments as Stella saw things she wasn’t meant to see, the truth about what was going on at the spa; they didn’t bother me, but it seems good to mention it for those who prefer to avoid dead bodies and other things related to that in their reading (it’s a small amount, really).

There was a particular Chekov’s gun-style “prop” that I really expected to come into play more near the end of the book. I’m not sure that’s a fault of the author’s, as the prop definitely had its uses, but I still expected something in the way of even a minor twist involving it. However, overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s not too pushy in its inclusion of Christianity. Stella has to realize that she’s not very good at being still and letting God be in control, but she really doesn’t even come to the place where she “sits still” and turns to him until she’s literally forced to not move for a while. It’s a shallow theme of God’s will being best, but it’s there. I think anyone who enjoys clean romance, especially historical romance, and especially those who like crime or darker content in novels, will like this book.

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

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Book Review: Wingfeather Tales

Wingfeather Tales
by multiple authors (see details below)

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy short stories

For me, last year will forever be known as the year of the Wingfeathers. I read the entire Wingfeather Saga for the 1st time…and the 2nd time, in a way, as the author, Andrew Peterson, read his books live, a few chapters a day, throughout the year. This book is a collection of 7 stories set in that same world, written by 6 different authors. First, let me get some basic info out of the way: Yes, you really should read this only if you’ve read the Wingfeather Saga in its entirety, which I fully recommend that you do either way. No, none of these stories is a continuation of that series in any way. Well, one sort of is, to a very small degree, but more on that in the details below. Let’s just say that it will not answer the burningest questions you’ve most likely been left with after finishing the series. Andrew Peterson has stated on more than one occasion that he would prefer to leave any answers up to the imagination of his readers, which is fair.

My overall book rating is a reflection of the average of individual ratings for each story. I did not love the stories overall as I might have hoped. However, I did go into this uncertain about how I’d enjoy them. I’m not really huge on short stories in general, but I couldn’t help but give this book a go, considering how much I loved the original series. What follows is a list of each story with its author and illustrator, my rating, and a brief (as much as possible) review for each.

“The Prince of Yorsha Doon” by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5) – This was my favorite short story in the collection, with a ragged, loner street urchin getting the chance to be something more, to do something more. It’s charming and contains a wonderful appearance by one of the bigger characters in the original series. (illustrated by Cory Godbey, Nicholas Kole, & Hein Zaayman)

“The Wooing of Sophelia Stupe” by Jennifer Trafton (3 / 5) – The story of the author of the Creaturepedia books on its own was decent, if open-ended. However, I was slowed down and tripped up by the character’s vocabulary. He had a penchant for using very large, at times ridiculous words, both real and made-up (though a lot more made-up than real, I’m pretty sure). I’m sure it’s meant to be whimsical, and that plenty of people will find the fun in it, but it’s not really my preference. (illustrated by John Hendrix)

“Willow Worlds” by N.D. Wilson (4 / 5) – I really liked seeing young Podo, and perhaps the genesis of what made him who he is in the Wingfeather books. The plot to this story, especially coupled with the story before it, paints such a vastly different fabric for this fantasy world than what was in the original books, leaving me a little surprised and confused. The story is particularly short and abrupt, but I liked the general idea of it and wish there was more on this subject. (illustrated by Joe Sutphin)

“ShadowBlade and the Florid Sword” by Andrew Peterson & Jay Myers (4 / 5) – As alluded to in the first paragraph of my review, this is the one tale in the book that is a continuation of the original series. The title tells it all, and it’s actually in comic-book format. I did like having the chance to see the two together, and wish it had been longer. Though several of the stories in this collection end abruptly and with more that could be told, I think this is the one I most want to see more of.

“From the Deeps of the Dragon King” by A.S. Peterson (2 / 5) – This story was tragic and disturbing, and while it was clearly meant to be so, my rating is not due to the theme or mood. Considering how Podo’s story and character arc went in the original series, especially at the end of North! or Be Eaten, I really think I would have preferred not seeing him at this time of his life. It almost felt like undoing everything related to this that happened in the series. Plenty of others, I’m sure, will be happy to read about Podo’s past, but it just made me sad. (illustrated by Doug TenNapel)

“The Ballad of Lanric and Rube” by Jonathan Rogers (4 / 5) – This story was short and silly, maybe a little predictable to me, but overall just fun. (illustrated by Justin Gerard)

“The Places Beyond the Maps” by Douglas Kaine McKelvey (2 / 5) – This is the kind of story that I wish I could rate higher and feel like a rube rating so low, because I’m sure it’s meant to be beautiful and poignant, but it’s just not for me. It’s the story of a man whose daughter was taken away by the Black Carriage, and all that he goes through as he tries first to get her back, then to get justice, and finally just to find some meaning and purpose after the tragedy. It is long (literally as long as all of the other stories put together, since it started at 50% in the e-book) and moves slowly most of the time. There is a lot of introspection, depression, even self-hatred–all things you might expect in the situation, but I felt like it plodded along most of the time. It didn’t help that the author has a tendency toward long, run-on sentences. Entire paragraphs, long in their own right, can be made up of just one or two sentences. It’s a style choice, I’m sure, but not one I care for.

This story is also one that actually caused squeamish me to wince as injuries and the attempt at mending such were described in fairly vivid detail at least once. The man contemplates killing himself or at least giving up on life multiple times. It’s dark, much darker than even the most serious parts of the original series. There were a few bright points for me, like the inclusion of a wonderful character from the original series and the epilogue that added a little hope after the disturbing (and just plain weird) ending. (illustrated by Aedan Peterson)

Final thoughts: I didn’t mention illustrations in the individual reviews, but I enjoyed every one of them. Andrew Peterson has a way of collecting talented people around him (not to mention his own talented children), and I can imagine the honor of having other authors and artists take part in a project like this for his books. I think, though, that some of this collection lost the charm and feel of the original series, and I especially don’t think I’d say this is as great for the age group that the first series was so well suited for. What’s most telling to me is that my daughter (10 years old), who has read/listened to the Wingfeather Saga in some format probably half a dozen times, only read about a story and a half from this collection and walked away. She’ll go back to it eventually, but clearly it didn’t draw her in like the original books. I do think that fans of the original series should read this collection, or at least some of it. I know I’ll re-read some of these stories again in the future, but I was not quite the right audience for some of 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 2016, but a new hardcover edition is being released tomorrow, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations, and the inclusion of one new tale (the comic one).

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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: From This Moment

From This Moment
by Kim Vogel Sawyer

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian fiction

Jase is a new youth minister at a small church in an even smaller town in Kansas. Recently moved from San Antonio after his fiancee died, he’s struggling with anger and doubt in his Christian walk. Kenzie is ten years removed from her Amish heritage, leaving the community when she learned how the grace of Christ could free her from the rules and regulations of her family’s religion. She’s been thinking more and more about her family, though, and the darkness they’re still lost in. Lori is a young woman who was emotionally and verbally abused by her father as a teenager. She uses food as a coping mechanism when she feels lonely or inadequate, despite knowing that it’s pointless and wishing she could stop. Jase, Kenzie, and Lori are each searching for answers from God, and when Jase moves to Kansas, he’s welcomed into the friendship that Kenzi and Lori already have. With each other’s help, the three just might find their answers.

Through the first half of this book, I didn’t really understand what it was meant to be about. Part of that is because the official synopsis is atrociously inaccurate and misleading. But it’s also because it really took a while for things to get going. And actually, in the end, it turns out the book really was about what I saw in that first half– these characters each struggling with their doubts, uncertainties, and questions about God and their faith. There were parts of the story that I liked, that I thought came together well in the end, and parts that fell flat for me, or that I questioned why they were included. Overall, it was a decent read, but not a stand-out for me.

The storyline I related to the most was Lori’s over-indulging in times of extreme emotion, good or bad. I haven’t had an abusive past like hers, but over-indulgence is an issue I have struggled with in the past, though not to the degree that she does it. I really liked the way Kenzie’s story shaped up too, after wondering what it had to do with anything for a while near the beginning. Jase’s storyline is the one that I was least connected to, partly because I’ve not experienced loss like that, but also partly because the decisions he made really bugged me. There is a 4th perspective in this story too, which I felt was wholly unnecessary. I couldn’t help but compare it to the previous book I read by this author, which also included 4 perspectives. But where it worked in that one, it just seemed pointless in this one. I’m not sure what the pastor’s perspective added, nor did I feel like it was particularly resolved.

If there was one cohesive lesson this story seemed to bring out, it was the benefit of allowing others to share your burdens. Each of these four people was originally struggling alone and seemed to only see a turning point when they opened up to a fellow Christian about their trouble. Actually, that’s not really true for one of them (I won’t say who), but perhaps it’s just that I wished he/she had let others help him/her along the way. And on a related note, Kenzie really drove me crazy at some points. How can you say “God will provide” and then refuse all of God’s ways of providing? If a really specific incident hadn’t happened, she absolutely would have stayed in the same place, spinning her wheels, still waiting and hoping for God’s providence. (You ever heard the one about the guy sitting on the roof of his flooded house, refusing to get in the boat or helicopter because he knew God would save him? Yeah, she’s kind of like that.)

So in the end, this is not a book I would choose to read again. However, I think that my issues with it will likely not be shared by most others. If you are looking for a Christian book where romance isn’t the main plot and where the author ties multiple storylines together into one story where God’s hand can be seen, this might be a good book for you.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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