Book Review: The Ultimate Quest


Treasure Hunters Book #8
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with Treasure Hunters.

When the Kidd kids’ parents are kidnapped, it’s up to Bick, Beck, Tommy, and Storm to find the treasure that the kidnappers are after first, so they can save their parents.

I have hung in there for 8 books, but I think this is where I call it. I’ve grown weary of a family of treasure hunters that no longer keeps the treasure (and acts like that’s always been their m.o., even though it wasn’t that way in the early books of the series). Of the oldest son who treats every woman close to his age like an object. Of the sister who remembers everything she ever heard, smelled, or saw going back to when she was 4 years old. Of the twins that fight over stupid things at ridiculous times. Of every single person that the characters meet ultimately betraying them. It’s just…not fun anymore (it wasn’t fun by the third book, really).

In this book in particular, we also have Storm (the super-smart sibling with the “photographic” memory) flirting like Tommy does, and it made me roll my eyes. I also did not care for the “he/she/they” reference to God in a book meant for kids. I really don’t feel comfortable recommending this book or its predecessors to any age group, and I will not be continuing this series, which does appear to have another book being released at some point in the future. However, there are far more positive reviews for this book than negative, so I’m in the minority (I’m used to it). Please do check out other reviews for the book if you’re interested.

Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: A Treacherous Tale

A Treacherous Tale
The Cambridge Bookshop Series #2
by Elizabeth Penney

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

American Molly Kimball loves her life in Cambridge, running the family’s old book shop, dating the most eligible bachelor in the area, and meeting the author of one of her favorite books growing up. But when a man dies outside the author’s house, Molly finds herself thrust back into the darker side of the picturesque town, once again trying to prove the innocence of people she cares about.

I wasn’t completely sure how I felt about the first book in the series but felt it was worth pressing on when the second came out. But I think I can better express why I probably won’t continue on after this. To start with, the main character, Molly, is just so weak. Personally, I prefer my mystery detectives to be less papery-thin and more willing to push through disturbing situations. She all but falls apart every time she has a sudden flash of inspiration about the case. Her friends and family are always noticing the unhappy expression on her face and coddling her as she tells them the sudden realization.

And speaking of those realizations, half the time they are pretty obvious things for her to suddenly realize. Like Molly herself, the mystery was also weak, especially to me as the reader, because the narrator practically spoon-fed me every bit of information, even making detailed connections for me (some of them more than once), so I certainly couldn’t help but follow along (or, in some cases, get ahead of her). And including the entire text of the fictional book involved in the story was a good idea in theory, but in the end, I didn’t see how it really added to the story. I kept expecting it to provide some kind of major insight for both Molly and me. I also kept expecting some kind of surprise twist about what was REALLY going on, because it was pretty bland and simple overall. This makes it all the more unrealistic that the police can’t figure out who really did it and need Molly to lead them to the bad guys. Even the brilliant ex-MI-5 agent needs Molly to tell him that they should keep a discovery a secret, so as not to alert the bad guys to the discovery (after which Molly proceeds to tell everyone she knows about it).

In the end, what I did like about the first book didn’t give me as much enjoyment this time. Everyone that Molly likes is almost too perfect (especially her boyfriend), and the few people she doesn’t like are mostly alike in their flaws and are thrown under the bus. The descriptions of every meal or snack eaten and every outfit worn dragged the story down for me. I am confident in saying that there are a lot of people who will enjoy the setting, characters, and mystery in this book/series more than I do, but for me, it’s over.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: August 23, 2022

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Book Review: Freedom’s Song

Freedom’s Song
by Kim Vogel Sawyer

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

When an escaped indentured riverboat singer and a widowed homesteader with a young child to care for meet, they seem to have just what each other needs—she a place to stay and earn some money for a trip to her family in New York and he someone to care for his toddler so he can work. But will it be that simple, especially when a sinister force are lurking out there somewhere?

That synopsis doesn’t cover everything going on in this book, but it is the bulk of it. There are also the escaped slaves that Fanny travels with for a time, but since they are gone by around 30% of the way through the story and don’t have much of a conclusion, their part in the story feels a bit like it’s disconnected from the rest. In the end, I can’t help but wonder exactly why Sawyer chose to include them. I guess to add to the theme of “freedom” throughout the story, but it seems a bit heavy-handed at that point. None of that is bad, necessarily, and it does give the reader some early insight into Fanny’s character, so at least there’s that.

As for the main characters, Fanny and Walter, both of them seemed a little too “good.” Neither of them really had any faults that were brought out in the story, aside from the faux faults perceived only by themselves, that anyone with a more objective view would easily tell them they were silly for considering a fault. Walter was a little less confident than he’d once been, and I suppose Fanny doesn’t know how to be a homesteader, but it’s more endearing than anything. Both of them drove me nuts with the periodic mental berating over mistakes and bad choices that they thought must mean that God wouldn’t want to hear from them anymore.

There was also a 3rd perspective in this story, that of the riverboat owner who had indentured Fanny, as he tries to track down a singer to replace her. I don’t think his story really added to the book, and it culminated in a climax that was far too easily resolved. And speaking of Fanny’s indentured state, I think maybe the author should have spent some time going over some of the less-known and less-quoted parts of the Bible, like the book of Philemon.

Kim Vogel Sawyer does write very well, and I really enjoyed the glimpses at different parts of life and parts of the country in 1860 that were presented in this book. However, various parts of this book just didn’t sit right with me, though I’m sure that many other readers of Christian historical romance will be less bothered by what stuck out to me and will enjoy this book.

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

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game

Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library prequel
by Chris Grabenstein

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

Long before Kyle Keeley and his friends played their first Lemoncello game, Luigi Lemoncello was the 6th child in a family of 10 kids, struggling to stand out from the rest in some way. At thirteen, Luigi already loves games and puzzles (maybe a little too much, according to some people), and in this book, we get to read about his “origin story.” From his first and worst idea for a game to the one that started it all, Luigi gets inspiration from his family, his friends, and a unique carnival barker, whom Luigi emulates as he begins to let his own colorful personality shine through.

First of all, it’s strange to think of Mr. Lemoncello as “Luigi.” But that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying this book! It was a lot of fun and a fresh entry into a series that I overall enjoy but does tend to be formulaic. There are puzzles just like the other books in the series have—nothing groundbreaking, but it’s fun to solve them alongside the characters. I particularly enjoyed the puzzle box storyline, though, especially inspiration that the professor/uncle got from Luigi, which I picked up on way faster than the kids, but I think readers of the age group this book is meant for might see it as a twist.

I loved seeing elements of the older Mr. Lemoncello from the rest of the series getting their start in this book, and at least one other character from the series also appears in this book (though I didn’t connect it until I went back and scanned through Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race to remind myself of what was said there about how he got his start). One thing that bothers me a little is that there is a major character in this book who, by all appearances, seems to be connected to a major character in the main series, but I can’t see any hint of that connection in any of the books. But it’s too much of a coincidence for there to not be any connection, so I would have just liked to somehow know the relationship there. Overall, though, solid entry to the series. I wasn’t sold on it when I first saw it announced, but that’s mostly just because I would rather see a continuation of the main series, given how book #5 left off. Hopefully that’s still coming, but in the meantime, I very much recommend this book for kids and those who are kids at heart!

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Children’s Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Apostle’s Sister

The Apostle’s Sister
Jerusalem Road #4
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Though Aya, daughter of Zebulon of Tarsus, is only marrying the man chosen by her parents out of duty, she enjoys being a wife, and later, a mother, more than she expected. Though she’d like to use the talent for singing given to her by God in some way, she’s contented herself with following His will, however he chooses to use her. But when her brother, a Pharisee and member of the powerful Sanhedrin, surprises everyone by converting to following the Nazarene who was crucified a few years past, Aya and her family face some persecution from their fellow Jews in Jerusalem, and Aya is not sure how to reconcile her love for her brilliant brother with her family’s long-time religious traditions.

I think I’ll be in the minority with this book, like I was with the previous in the series. Not that I didn’t like it, but I didn’t like it as much as most seem to. Aya frustrated me early on, as I think she lets her desire to sing for people define her too much. I also don’t think there needed to be such a focus on the newlywed activities. It felt like the story didn’t really get going until both siblings were married, like it was something we had to get through first, but I didn’t really understand why it was all so important.

I think the other reason that the story didn’t work as well for me is that I couldn’t really connect very well to one of the two main characters. The perspective alternates between Aya and her older brother, Sha’ul (the apostle Paul). But once Sha’ul had converted to Christianity, his perspective is barely shown. When it is, it’s mostly just to tell us about events that we can read about in the book of Acts. Overall, it seemed shallow to me. Not much happened that I couldn’t have predicted, and I didn’t connect to the characters much as we sped through months and years of time.

The idea of what the family of the man who wrote many books of the Bible went through when he went against the tradition of the day to follow Jesus is an interesting premise. I felt it could have been explored more deeply, but I do think that many other fans of Biblical fiction will enjoy it more than I did.

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

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Book Review: Behind the Lights

Behind the Lights
by Helen Smallbone

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Helen Smallbone is the mother of seven children who are all adults now, three of which are well-known in Christian music—Rebecca St. James and brothers Joel and Luke of for KING & COUNTRY. In this book, she shares the story of her family, from moving from Australia to the US where everyone pitched in to keep them all afloat, to working together to put on Rebecca St. James’s shows once she got into the music industry, and to how for KING & COUNTRY got started.

One of the things I liked about this book was that way it was so conversational, like she’s telling her story in person. And she’s not afraid to talk about the mistakes made by her or anyone else in her family. I appreciate the way she ties every lesson learned into God and the Bible. Though very little of her incredible life is very relatable to me, I was still quite immersed in the book and was carried along with the ups and downs.

I’ve seen hints of at least Joel & Luke’s involvement in Rebecca St. James’s concerts, but the overall story of the entire family working at their oldest sister’s concerts and growing into their roles was the most interesting to me. It gives a lot of insight into what I’ve said since pretty much the first time I saw fK&C in concert—they put on some of the best live shows I’ve ever been to. And now I can see how their talent as performers had early roots. I’m really glad I read this book, and think that fans of Rebecca St. James and/or for KING & COUNTRY will enjoy it, as well as people interested in the behind the scenes of the Christian music industry (though I was fairly disappointed by some of what I read about that).

Thank you to Netgalley and K-LOVE Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Behind the Lights and for KING & COUNTRY
Publication date: April 12, 2022

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Book Review: In Search of a Prince

In Search of a Prince
by Toni Shiloh

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

Content as a 25-year-old middle school teacher in New York City, Brielle Bayo never planned to move to an island off the coast of Africa and rule a nation. But that’s just what she’s asked to do when her mother informs her that she’s heir to a throne, and that the king, her grandfather, doesn’t have long to live. Uncertain about whether she can be a queen, or even wants to, she is then also faced with a requirement to marry before her grandfather dies, in order to be legally allowed to reign. It’s too much to handle alone, but maybe it’s a chance for Bri to learn to let God be in control.

This story shows that finding out you’re a princess isn’t always the fairy tale little girls might dream it to be. But it can be a blessing, especially if you can see God’s hand at work throughout. Though it takes Brielle a while to fully trust that “God’s got this,” it’s one of the biggest themes in the book. I’ll admit, it was a little disheartening to see the main character be reminded of God’s sovereignty often, and continue to be stressed and question whether she’s made the right decision. I also feel that she puts way too much stock in the world’s definition and view of love, which is more about passion, attraction, and the feeling of “falling in love,” even when she’s reminded that that’s not what love really is, especially from a biblical standpoint. Fortunately, another character was a lot more grounded overall, but I’m not sure it ever fully rubs off on Brielle.

I think the title of the book does an injustice to the story, as it focuses on Bri’s requirement to marry, and the romance side of the story, when there’s really so much more to it than that. Or at least, it seemed like there was trying to be more to it than that. Bri’s desire to help the people of her ancestral home, the fictional island of Ọlọrọ Ilé, to bring them into modern times, and to be the ruler God designed her to be, is the primary plot, with the romance a large side plot. And I liked that part of the story overall. The love interest (only not mentioning his name in case it’s a spoiler to anyone) was almost too good to be true, with only perceived faults that the reader can see aren’t really true. However, he was still one of my favorite characters.

Contemporary romance books are often less enjoyable for me, due in part to me feeling fairly detached from the modern world, and this was no exception, as dialog was very modern and full of slang (even from some of the Olorans). My bigger frustration with the writing, though, was the tendency for the main character and one major side character to talk almost solely in murmurs to each other for a good chunk earlier in the book. For one thing, it was a gross overuse of a single verb in a small space (seems like it should have been caught by editors), but for another…well, how often do people really murmur in normal conversation? It made me feel like there was just a lot of mumbling going on for a while, and was peppered here and there later in the book too. This is more personal preference, though; overall, the story was good, and I think most fans of contemporary Christian romance will enjoy this book.

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

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Book Review: Until Leaves Fall in Paris

Until Leaves Fall in Paris
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

Lucie Girard, American ballerina living in Paris, decides to quit ballet and buy the English-language bookstore run by her Jewish friends, allowing them to escape to America before Hitler’s noose closes around them. While she struggles to keep the store running with so many English speakers fleeing France or being interned, she discovers that members of the local resistance are using her store to pass messages, and she wants to help. Meanwhile, Paul Aubrey, widower with a very creative 4-year-old daughter named Josie, runs a factory that produces trucks for civilian use. Because he sells those trucks to the Germans, he’s seen as a collaborator by all of his friends, who shun him and his daughter. He can’t tell them about the work he’s doing to help the US military, especially after it grows into other work for the local resistance. When the time comes for American’s to flee or be interned as well, Paul and Lucie will have to trust each other in order to get themselves and little Josie to safety.

This book was beautiful and touching, heartbreaking and uplifting, and I don’t think I can say enough about how much I loved it. The symbolism of leaves and the color green is woven throughout the entire book in a way I enjoyed—not always subtly, but I still appreciated how the author built a theme around it all. I adored Josie and the relationship between her and Lucie, as well as Paul’s attempts to understand his daughter better. Josie and Feenee are a major highlight of the book.

It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve given a fiction book 5 stars, but this one deserves it. The two main characters are both likeable and interesting. The ballet angle was a new one for me, and while it’s not something I know much about, I really enjoyed reading about it. Paul’s integrity, even in the face of undeserved hatred, and the way he relies on God to help him through it, is wonderful. The relationship between the two builds in a believable way, without much angst, and it’s not the only focus of the book, all of which I appreciate. The first meet between these two is one of the best I’ve ever read.

Tension builds as the war ramps up, and the last third or so of the book is filled with pulse-pounding, tear-jerking scenes. I loved everything about it, and know without a doubt I will re-read this book in the future. My only real complaint is that Lucie and Josie’s names are similar enough in style and appearance that a few times I was confused about what was going on in a scene or who was talking. But other than that, this book has cemented Sarah Sundin as one of my favorite authors (a distinction I don’t assign easily). And though it doesn’t appear to be part of any series, it is clearly connected to Sundin’s previous release, When Twilight Breaks, as the two MCs from that book appear briefly in this one. And it appears that her next book, which I’m excited to read, will be connected as well! In case it’s not clear, I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction from this time period in the Christian romance genre.

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

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Book Review: Chapter and Curse

Chapter and Curse
The Cambridge Bookshop Series #1
by Elizabeth Penney

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When American Molly Kimball and her recently widowed British mother move to Cambridge to take over the running of a bookstore that’s been in their family for generations, the last thing they expect is to get caught up in a murder investigation. But within days of their arrival, someone dies near the bookstore, and Molly’s great aunt, who invited them to England, is the prime suspect. Now, amidst trying to help the bookstore get back on its feet, learning about and meeting members of her previously estranged family, and getting to know the good-looking guy who works next door, Molly is determined to clear her aunt’s name.

Overall, the book was decent. The plot drags in some places, and the mystery seems a little watered-down to me, which is certainly not what you want in a book from this genre. I liked most of the characters, though Molly herself is sort of “meh,” in my opinion. The bookstore and the community around it were a lot of fun to read about. Aunt Violet’s friends are a little on the bizarre side, and I had a difficult time pinning down what age anyone was supposed to be. I can figure it out with some math, but a lot of the characters act similarly to each other, so it was difficult to imagine age differences between some who I assume should have been in different generations.

I don’t go into a cozy mystery expecting to figure out whodunit by the end, though that doesn’t stop me from speculating. I have a tendency to take things at face value and get too caught up in the red herrings. The resolution to this mystery wasn’t a total surprise to me, though, even while I didn’t expect it to go that way simply because it felt so bland. The resolution to the mystery and motivation behind it seemed weak, like much more effort went into setting up this location and cast of characters for future stories than into making the mystery interesting. That’s my opinion, however, and it’s not enough to keep me from being interested in the continuation of this new series, due to how much I liked the setting and characters.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Shadows of Swanford Abbey

Shadows of Swanford Abbey
by Julie Klassen

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

Tasked by her brother to present his manuscript to a well-known author, Rebecca Lane takes a room in the monastery-turned-hotel Swanford Abbey, where the author is also staying. And so is Frederick Wilford, an older man Rebecca once had a huge crush on. When the famous writer is murdered, Frederick, as local magistrate, is determined to find the guilty party, even if the investigation shines a light on secrets Rebecca is hiding.

As a Regency-era romance, the story here is pretty good. As a mystery, it’s only okay. My biggest issue is that it takes quite a while to really get going; so much of the first half is spent describing the abbey, hinting at things from the past that affect the present (which we won’t know more about until much later), and setting up the mystery around the murder, which doesn’t even occur until over halfway through the book. I don’t mind a mystery taking so long to get started if I spend that time trying to figure out who the victim might end up being, along with who the murderer will be, but in this case, the synopsis tells us who the victim will be. All of this led the book to feel slow for a while.

I mostly liked the characters. Rebecca had her issues in the story, mostly stemming from the task her brother insists she help him with, but this seems to lead her to not care at all about the societal conventions of her time or about her reputation. That leaves Frederick to be the most understanding man ever. He ends up having to help her in a lot of different ways, more times than I might normally prefer in a story like this, but it didn’t bother me this time, I think because it didn’t seem as contrived as it could have.

I raised my eyebrows during part of a scene that seemed to be straight out of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, and found out while reading the author’s note at the end of the book that I was correct. She also mentioned other classics that she took some direct inspiration from, though those others I either haven’t read or don’t know well enough to have recognized the way she used that inspiration. Overall, I enjoyed the book and the characters and recommend it to fans of historical romance. Fans of mystery books may like it, too, if they’re not bothered by what I described above.

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

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