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!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to Escape Into

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is listed as “Genre Freebie,” which means we give our own spin to the list, with the broad theme of “genre.” I haven’t been reading seriously for long enough to be able to make 1 entire list with only 1 genre present, so I decided to let the current state of affairs inspire my list.

With dominoes continuing to fall as schools, businesses, and entire states close down in the US, it seems like a great time to escape into books. So my list today contains my recommendations for the best books (or series) to escape into. Simply put, I chose my single-favorite book from 10 different genres, so maybe there will be something for everyone, except for those who don’t read any of these 10 genres.

Some of these books can fit into more than 1 genre, of course, so I’ll mention that as well. I’m not going to say much about each book, though, because just the fact that they’re on this list says that I loved (or at least really liked) them, and I don’t want to go on at length today.

Sci-fi: Lock In by John Scalzi
Also a mystery, kind of a police-procedural. There is also a sequel, Head On, which I still liked, but not quite as much. See my review for the first book here.

wingfeather

Fantasy: The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
I have only read the first 2 of this 4-book series so far, but I highly recommend it.
See my review for book #1 here and my review for book #2 here.
The author, Andrew Peterson, has been reading the series on Facebook Live for the last 4 nights, and will continue to do so, I’m guessing at least through the first book, as a way to help people combat listlessness and to raise spirits during all of this virus business. He does voices and laughs at his own funny parts. It’s so much fun to listen to! If you want to check it out, the first day’s reading is still on his site, but due to licensing reasons, he said he can’t keep it up much longer.

Romance: The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin
Also historical fiction (WWII time period) & Christian fiction. It’s the third in a series, but they’re disconnected enough that you don’t have to have read the first 2 before you read this one. Though if you’re in the position to binge read, you might as well read them all in order. See my review here.

Historical: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
WWII time period, a stand-alone story. It’s been made into a Netflix movie, though I’m afraid to watch it. See my review here.

Mystery: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Also could be classified as a thriller, and has a touch of fantasy. See my review for this book here.

Classic: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
It may be written for kids, but adults will love it too. This is a series of 9 books. See my review for this book here.

Non-fiction: Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
I couldn’t decide between this and I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn. Both are funny and insightful. I only chose the one I did because, even though I firmly believe men should read Sherri Lynn’s book too, Brant’s book is a little less exclusive. See my review for this book here.

Thriller: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
Also could fit the mystery genre and is labeled as horror, though I didn’t find it all that frightening. See my review for this book here.

Christian: Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
Could also be classified as a mystery or thriller with a touch of fantasy/sci-fi. See my review for this book here.

Comic: West of Bathurst and It Never Rains by Kari Maaren
This one will take a bit more of an explanation. West of Bathurst is a book only in the technical sense. It’s actually a webcomic, and when the 7-year-long storyline and comic came to an end, Kari compiled it into a book. A big, heavy book. I do own this book, but I’m sure she does not have any more to sell (it was crowdsourced and not an easy endeavor for her). But the comic in its entirety can be read online, and it’s good for many hours of binge-reading. Though it’s a web comic, and some of what happens in it is specific to the setting (a residence hall at University of Toronto), even someone like me who is completely lost in that setting can get caught up in the story and find the jokes along the way funny.

It Never Rains is Kari’s currently on-going comic, with 6 years of story. This one has more of an actual story feel, and it’s really gotten good recently.

The links in the bold above for both of these lead to the first comic in each series.

What are your favorite books to escape into? Link your TTT post so I can see what you did with today’s freebie!

Top Ten Tuesday: My Spring TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is my spring TBR. I don’t choose books based on the season (except at Christmas time), but I do keep a short list of the next 5-10 books I want to read out of the longer TBR. In the 3 months since posting my winter TBR, the way that I choose my next few books has become more structured. I didn’t want to leave any books on the list too long, or leave a series sitting too long before going on to the next book. And I’m not a mood reader. So I decided that whenever my short list gets down to 5 books, I’d add 5 more to it based on specific criteria. Each addition of 5 will include:

1 book recommended to me by family/close friends OR a book that was self-published
1 book I own
1 book to continue a series
1 book that’s oldest on my full TBR list
1 book that’s an ARC, if needed (and it always is)

Based on past experience, the below list of my next 10 planned books should be approximately half of what I read during spring. (I don’t think the social distancing will affect how much I read by a lot, since I tend to stay home a lot anyway, and I already work from home, so don’t see a lot of extra time to read in my future. Note: I’m not complaining.) The actual order in which I read these will probably change as I go (plus more will probably be added in amongst some of these):

1. The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
I read a bit of the Cat Who… series when I was a teenager and really liked them. Straight mystery was my favorite genre back then, but I’ve barely read any since coming back to reading. I’ve picked up 1/3 of the 29 books in the series over the years, from garage sales and bargain bins. It’s finally time to get back to my mystery roots, start at #1 (which I own), and go through the whole series.

2. The House at the End of the Moor by Michelle Griep
This is a Netgalley ARC. I read my first Michelle Griep book back at Christmas time and really liked it, so I’m looking forward to reading a non-holiday book of hers.

3. Landry Park by Bethany Hagen
When I first started to get back into reading seriously, before I built my TBR list up to even what it is now, I found this book at Half Price Books and decided to buy it, with no knowledge of it whatsoever. So this book is currently the oldest one on my TBR list.

4. The Outcast by Taran Matharu
This book qualifies as one that continues a series. It’s technically a prequel to a trilogy, but I’ve read the trilogy and don’t feel like it’s complete until I read this. So not only will this book continue a series, it will actually end a series for me, and let’s be honest–how often do we actually finish series we start?

5. The Treasure Map by Tyler Scott Hess
This self-published novelette is apparently a Christmas book, but I probably won’t have Kindle Unlimited for much longer, so I want to read it while I can do so with that service.

6. The Dandelion Killer by Wanda Luttrell
I’ve had this book since probably not long after it came out (2003) and read it a couple of times back then. Along with the criteria mentioned above, I also want to re-read at least 1 book a month, because I do have a lot of books I haven’t read in years that I want to read again and write reviews for and will ignore them if I’m not intentional about it.

7. Star of Persia by Jill Eileen Smith
This is also a Netgalley ARC, the story of Esther, who saved her people from extermination in Persia in around 486 BC. I’m pretty excited to read it.

8. Storm by Evan Angler
This is book #3 in the Swipe series. I wasn’t terribly excited with the series at first, but it really picked up with book #2, so I’m anxious to see what happens next.

9. The Wounded Spirit by Frank E. Peretti
I’ve had this book for a long time, but haven’t read it yet, even though it’s written by my favorite author. That’s probably just because it’s non-fiction, which I’m not usually very interested in. But I do plan to read it soon, checking off another book that’s been on my TBR for a while.

10. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
I’ve enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series so far, and I’m looking forward to continuing with book #3.

Have you read any of these? What do you plan to read over the next few months?

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.

Find out more about North! or Be Eaten

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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!

Book Review: This Light Between Us

Finished Reading: This Light Between Us
by Andrew Fukuda

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

This Light

As a Japanese American during WWII, teenage Alex Maki’s life begins to deteriorate until his family is sent to a detainment camp. Up to and during this time, he is pen pals with a Jewish girl in France, who is seeing the growing persecution of Jews around her. This friendship is his one bright spot in an otherwise scary, unpleasant time. They share their hopes, dreams, fears, and ideas about acceptance vs. revolt through their many letters back and forth. As the war rages on, both of their lives change in ways they can’t imagine, and their strong friendship might not be enough to keep hope alive.

This book was incredible in some ways, and problematic in others. I really liked the history that was presented in this book, as well as the relationships. However, I had a difficult time with the style of writing and with the pacing.

I’ll start with what I liked, which is plenty. I loved the juxtaposition of the two teenage pen pals, who most readers will understand going in are being set up for intensely difficult times ahead. While I have seen and read many books about the Jewish side of this, the Japanese American side was a fresh topic for me. It’s easy to see the Nazis as evil because of what they did, but it’s also easy to forget that America put their own citizens into camps (though not heinous as the Nazi camps, as is clearly recognized in this book).

There was a pivotal scene not far from the end that I was curious enough about to look up and found that it was historically accurate, which was really neat to me. And the author’s notes at the end said it was one of 2 sources of inspiration for this book! Overall, I appreciated the history in this book.

I think my favorite parts of the book were the letters between Alex and his pen pal Charley. I would have been okay if more of the story had been told through those letters. I also liked the way a few other relationships developed throughout the story, particularly those between Alex and his brother Frank, and Alex and Mutt. Thinking of these, though, make me realize how light the book is on deep characters. Overall, those 4 are the only characters with any real depth, and none of them are particularly deep, besides maybe Alex and his brother.

This might be largely related to one of my biggest dislikes with the book. The story, which is presented as a personal narrative, has some strange inconsistencies in writing style. It fluctuates often between 3rd person limited and 3rd person omniscient (especially in the last third), which can at times make me feel like I have mental whiplash. Some of these sections easily could have been shown from the limited POV of Alex, rather than the broad POV of everyone involved. The story is also written in present tense, which, to me, is a strange choice for the omniscient POV. This caused the book to not flow as well as it could have.

Similarly, during the omniscient sections, there’s a lot of telling, instead of showing. I’m really not a big stickler for the “show, don’t tell” adage, but even I have my limits. I also would have preferred some translation for the French in some parts. This is a small gripe, because it didn’t come up often, and most of the time I could guess what was being said from context. But during a pivotal scene near the end, I had to use Google to translate some phrases to make sure I knew what was being said, and I’d rather not have to leave the book in a moment like that. (There was also something said in German that the reader is led to believe was some kind of German curse, and it’s not translated or even hinted at otherwise. I know enough German to know it was not a German curse, and was really quite emotional.)

So, overall, I did enjoy the book. It wasn’t a favorite, but I also think that most of what bothered me was more personal preference than normal. I think most people will not be bothered by the writing style, especially. It is listed as YA, but I’m not sure how much it works for that crowd. Though I will say that the dialog at times is pretty immature, so that might work out well (it’s also a little too modern, in my opinion, but I’m no expert). If you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially related to WWII, you will probably like it.

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

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Book Review: Seconds to Live

Finished Reading: Seconds to Live
Homeland Heroes #1
by Susan Sleeman

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

Seconds

When the WITSEC database is hacked and the lives of federal witnesses are put in jeopardy, U.S. Marshal Taylor Mills works with FBI Agent Sean Nichols and his team to find the hacker, recover the witness information, and keep an already-exposed witness safe. Mills & Nichols have a tenuous online friendship, which is put in turmoil when they meet for the first time to work on this case together.

Right off the bat, this book introduced a character in a way that painted her in a terrible light, and it never really recovered from there for me. The police procedural-type story was all right, but the romance was strained and the characters and dialog were wooden.

I never really did like the female MC. After she ignored calls from a witness in danger because she was too put-upon, I just couldn’t understand why she is touted as an amazing U.S. Marshal the rest of the book. (Honestly, if she’s so overworked that she needs an hour in the tub that badly, which she got into after missing 2 calls from a witness, who she knows could be in danger…maybe it’s time to find another job.) The male MC wasn’t too bad. As far as side characters went, I think that if the other FBI team members had been given more time in the spotlight, it would have helped. Instead, we got the ridiculous Dustee (the federal witness) and her childish attitude.

The federal agents searching for the hacker before thousands of witnesses were compromised could have been a decent story. Unfortunately, their emotions got in the way. Every. Step. Of. The. Way. Every other thought the two MCs had was about each other and how they felt about the other, how they just wanted to stare at the other, how they didn’t know how to proceed when neither of them really wanted a relationship. And how they both had such hardships in their past that they couldn’t really trust anyone. It permeates so much that it drags down the action & suspense side of the book.

Besides what I already mentioned about the romance, it was far too much about the physical for my taste, especially in a Christian novel. Don’t get me wrong–there is no sex, and not exactly a lot of touching. But there is a lot of gazing, staring, even (in my opinion) leering. Too much narration about watching hips and legs…and it all became so repetitive. And there was so much discussion at inappropriate times, in the middle of important parts of the investigation.

There was an interesting twist near the end, which I suspected only shortly before it was revealed. I liked the explanation for that twist and the real-life science behind it. I also did find myself wanting to know who the hacker was along the way, and what it would take to catch him. When the MCs weren’t coming across as incompetent because they spent more time thinking and talking about their non-relationship than they did working on the case, I liked the way the case was presented and solved. I expected a little more in the way of twists, but it’s not billed as a thriller, so that’s probably my own issue.

I don’t think the book was bad, exactly, I just had some irredeemable issues with it. If you’re a fan of drama-filled procedural stories, you very well may enjoy this. It’s clean overall–no language and light on the violence–and though the Christianity in it is a little light, it’s probably worth checking out if you aren’t bothered by the things I mentioned above. There are plenty of reviews in favor of it, so be sure to read some of those too.

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

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Book Review: The Land Beneath Us

Finished Reading: The Land Beneath Us
Sunrise at Normandy #3
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Land Beneath

Clay Paxton is training to be a U.S. Army Ranger in advance of the Allied invasion of France in WWII. Leah Jones is a librarian on the military base where he’s training. He has no future, due to a recurring dream that he sees as a premonition of his death during the invasion. She has no past, orphaned at the age of 4 and torn away from her baby sisters, with no familial connections. A marriage as friends gives them both something they need, and shortly thereafter, Clay ships off for further training, expecting never to return. Neither can anticipate what will happen in the months leading up to D-Day.

This book is just so beautiful in so many ways. The main characters are both so kind and compassionate, so often willing to put others before themselves, and yet both have flaws to try to overcome. The events throughout the book meld together so well, and yet, not everything turns out perfectly. And the writing itself is clear, with a style that I found I particularly enjoyed.

I am not a history buff at all, so understand I have very little basis to say this, but I felt that the book was very well researched. With real events, real locations, and even some real people from history who were participants in this part of the invasion, it all felt very real for me.

As far as the romance goes, I know everyone has their preferences–what they like and don’t like in romance. This one hit all of the right buttons for me. I requested the ARC specifically because of 3 words in the synopsis: “marriage of convenience”. I have always loved stories where a romance develops between two people who married because they felt they had to. And it absolutely did not disappoint. There was something in the last quarter of the book that started to bug me a bit (being vague to avoid spoilers), but it paid off in the best scene ever!

I also love the fact that the romance isn’t right there in your face the whole time. It’s not the main plot, while a few other things happen as a vehicle for it. The rest of the story is full in its own right, and the romance is interweaved into that so wonderfully. I also love how both characters are so incredibly faith-driven and turn to God for help and strength constantly. Both of these characters are paralleled with Biblical characters–Leah with her namesake who was unloved by her husband. And Clay even more strongly with Joseph, who was cast into a pit by his brothers, which is how Clay feels about his own situation.

When I first requested this ARC to read & review, I saw that it was #3 in a series, but it looked to me (with a quick glance) that the novels were stand-alones. While reading, I quickly realized that they aren’t really. The three books in this series are about 3 brothers, and the other two appear in this book in some form too. This book ties up a storyline that I’m sure must thread through the first two books in some way. I’m a little sad that I read the last one first, but I loved this one so much, I’m going to have to read the others very soon! And then I’ll probably go on to try a different series by this author. This book will be the standard by which I measure all Christian romances in the future, and I don’t see it getting much better than this.

In case it’s not clear from my review, I absolutely recommend this book to all who enjoy Christian romance, Christian historical novels, and/or books with a strong focus on forgiveness and finding a place to belong.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review!

Find out more about The Land Beneath Us

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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: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Finished Reading: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
The Wingfeather Saga
#1
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy

Dark Sea.png

On the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness live the Igiby family–12-year-old Janner and his younger brother Tink, little sister Leeli, and their mom and grandfather, known mostly as Podo. Their land has been conquered by Gnag the Nameless, who hails from Dang, across the sea, and who has sent his Fangs to keep the people in line. Through a series of connected events that all starts with a mischievous dog, the Igibys find themselves on the wrong side of the Fangs of Dang. When the Fangs come to realize that the Igibys have knowledge of the location to the jewels of the late King Wingfeather and the Shining Isle of Anniera, which are said to be the key to restoring Anniera and defating Gnag, the Igibys realize they will always be in danger.

This book was a lot of fun, with characters that are lively and entertaining and a lot of lore and history. The quirky nature of the narrative and even the names of various people and locations had me chuckling more than once. Though it’s children’s fiction, it doesn’t pull any punches, and reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as Roald Dahl, to a degree.

Right off the bat, the explanation for the name of the world these characters inhabit gives you a sense of the author’s style. The first person to exist woke up on the first morning, looked at a rock, and said, “Well, here we are.” Thus, the world’s name came to be known as “Aerwiar.” Though none of the other names for people or places are really explained, and I did actually struggle a little muddling through so many when they came close together, this is a good example of the tone of this book.

Even with the whimsical nature, there is still some real peril. Fortunately, possibly because it’s meant for kids, for the most part, the good guys prevail and the bad guys are defeated, at least in some way. I’m not saying there aren’t some losses, but I won’t say more because of spoilers.

One of my favorite things about the book were the hints that the author dropped throughout the book, giving little nudges about a big secret revealed near the end. Two big secrets, really but they were tied together. While I suspected pretty early on, and then decided I was definitely right still a ways from the reveal, remember that this book is meant for kids. I could imagine kids near my daughter’s age, maybe a bit older, reading this and beginning to catch on, getting excited as they realized the truth.

It was fun and full of adventure, and I cannot wait to continue the series! I recommend this book 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. It may be a bit allegorical, again similar to the Narnia books.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2008, but a new hardcover edition will be released on March 10, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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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 Gray Chamber

Finished Reading: The Gray Chamber
by Grace Hitchcock

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

Gray Chamber

In a time period where women are expected to marry well in order to secure their future, Edyth Foster is fortunate enough to be self-sufficient, due to an inheritance that her late parents left her. Unfortunately, it is left in her uncle’s care until she turns 25. Not long before that happens, he realizes that he can steal her money if he gets her declared insane and sends her off to a lunatic asylum–which is just what he does. Edyth must figure out a way to escape or prove her sanity before the asylum takes her mind for real.

I enjoyed this book for the most part. The characters were mostly interesting, though this is the type of situation where I liked some of the side characters more than the main characters. The way the plot unfolded was fairly predictable, but there were enough surprises to keep it interesting.

This is the second book I have read in the True Colors series, and like the other one, despite being written by a different author, this one was far more focused on the romance than on the true crime plot line. Edyth’s plight to escape the asylum and her uncle’s grasp wasn’t just a vehicle for the romance, fortunately, but I still felt that the crime part of this book could have been stronger. I think this is further reflected in the fact that Edyth was not at the asylum long enough for her to be quite how she was later in the book (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers). This particular issue really may have just been my own opinion, and I am not saying that what she did suffer in the asylum would have been easy to handle. It just didn’t seem to be as severe as it was portrayed later.

I enjoy a good romance, especially if it’s clean and sweet. I prefer subtle, but with a romance-genre book, I rarely get that. This, however, is barely billed as a romance, yet was so far the opposite of a subtle romance plot, I got to a point where I didn’t care that much about the relationship between Edyth and Bane. It was so over-the-top sappy sweet, and just about all either of them seemed to ever think about was each other…it was just too much for me.

The official synopsis mentions a woman that Edyth meets in the asylum and her true identity, which frankly, I think was a mistake to explain in the synopsis. Her true identity is revealed so late in the story that it made little sense to me that I knew it the entire time, simply because of the synopsis. I realized by the end that she was based on a real person who reported on the state of this asylum, but I’m sure I won’t be the only person who has never heard of her, and thus it seems like a bad addition to the synopsis.

As I said at the beginning of the review, the book wasn’t bad. I ended up scanning through some of the repetitive declarations of feelings between the two lead characters and didn’t feel like I missed much. The ending did drag on a bit, but I enjoyed it enough to say that I can recommend it for fans of Christian romance (heavy on the romance), but I wouldn’t recommend it too strongly for fans of crime novels.

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

Find out more about The Gray Chamber

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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!