Book Review: The Ferryman

The Ferryman
by Justin Cronin

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi

Proctor Bennett is a ferryman on the somewhat utopian island of Prospera; his job is to guide people through retirement when their digital monitor says it’s time. But when his own number starts to dip, he knows he’s not ready. Worse yet, he’s started to have some strange dreams, though dreaming shouldn’t be possible. Then he’s tasked with retiring his own father, who says some cryptic things on the way to and at the ferry. Meanwhile, some of the less privileged citizens of Prospera begin to express their dislike for their forced place in society. When all of this comes to a head, the island will never be the same.

I quite enjoyed this book overall. I’ll admit it developed slowly, but there was enough intrigue to keep me curious and coming back to it often. I had my theories, but since I tended to switch from one theory to another, I can’t really claim to have been completely correct in my guesses by the end. The conclusion was tied up pretty well, with a full explanation given, but at times along the way, I found myself seriously lost. The overall feel and style of the book reminded me a lot of Fahrenheit 451. Proctor was mostly a sympathetic hero, but I don’t think there was a whole lot of substance to him through most of the book. 

The book starts out in present tense, then switches between present and past throughout the book. I never did figure out if there was a pattern to that, so I really don’t understand the decision to write it that way. And by the end, though I said it was tied up pretty well, there were a few things, somewhat large but not glaring, that were left unexplained. I wasn’t left with the feeling other books of the type, where the reader isn’t meant to even understand what is going on with the world until part way through the book, have left me with, the feeling that I can’t wait to read it again knowing the truth, to see how things fit together. Maybe that means my guesses were actually close enough that I didn’t feel completely thrown when the truth was revealed. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the ride. If you enjoy cryptic sci-fi stories of vaguely dystopian futures with something of a twist, you’ll probably like this book.

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: Evil Genius

Evil Genius
The Smartest Kid in the Universe #3
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

12-year-old Jake and his scientifically enhanced, super-smart brain may have a rival when the latest batch of ingestible knowledge jelly beans are stolen. And if that isn’t bad enough, Jake has reason to believe that his artificial knowledge could wear off at any moment. Can Jake and his friends outsmart both new and old foes and recover a treasure that’s been lost for centuries?

Poor Jake is really put through it in this installment. He used to be a fun-loving kid who had no real worries. Now, not only does he have to deal with dark-side counterparts, but he’s devastated over the possibility of losing his intelligence. This book has a few more plot lines than previous ones do, so there’s kind of a lot going on for not a very long book. Because of that, I feel like Jake’s friends don’t get as much “screen time” in this book. On the other hand, at least that means I didn’t have to deal with as much of Kojo’s Kojak references. But the multiple plot lines also provide two different main villains (and several smaller ones), and there is a lot of anti-climax involved. Still, in the end, the book was fun. I’m getting to like Jake more and more with each book, and I hope there’s more to come. For the first time in this series, I cannot tell you what my daughter thought of the book, because she hasn’t read it yet. I’m very interested to hear what she thinks, but in the meantime, I’m confident recommending this book and series for kids around 8-12 years old.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Children’s Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: May 16, 2023

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Book Review: Code Name Edelweiss

Code Name Edelweiss
by Stephanie Landsem

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical fiction

Stephanie Landsem fictionalizes the true story of Jewish lawyer Leon Lewis who helped to foil Nazi plots in America in the 1930s. Liesl Weiss isn’t looking to be a spy—she really just needs money to take care of a family that depends on her. Though she doesn’t believe claims that the Friends of New Germany could be as bad as Lewis claims, she has no other options. She soon discovers that the anti-Semitism is real, and she must examine her own actions and motives as well.

Though my interest in this time period and overall subject is usually in the events in Europe, that may be because most books written about this time period are set in Europe. The premise of this book intrigued me, though, so I jumped at the chance to read it. Early on, I was uncertain how I would feel about the main characters—Liesl (code name Edelweiss) and her male counterpart, Agent Thirteen—due to the way they were both presented. Once I was certain of Agent Thirteen’s real identity, it became a little weird to read of Edelweiss and Thirteen completely distrusting each other for so long. For some reason I can’t explain, the big moment when they made the connection didn’t hit home like I wanted it to. And though the book is not billed as romance, and I don’t need romance in my books by any means, it does have some romance happening and in enough doses that the way it played out left me a little unsatisfied.

However, each of these characters individually were well developed and the story was interesting overall and at times thrilling. I was never concerned about the safety of the main characters, but some side characters’ plights did give me a few moments of uncertainty. From the little bit of research I did out of curiosity after finishing the book, the history seems well researched and well represented. My favorite story arcs were about Liesl’s husband and brother (separately). There was a sub-plot for Agent Thirteen that I don’t really understand the purpose of, but overall, I would have just liked to see a little more of an ending for him. I don’t think this is is a book I’m going to hurry to re-read, but I am very glad I read it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction of this time period. It is Christian, but not super heavy on it, so keep that in mind as you consider.

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

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Book Review: The Escape Game

The Escape Game
Heroines of WWII #9
by Marilyn Turk

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

Beryl Clarke is doing her part in England during WWII, working as an air raid warden and helping her mom get through the devastation of her husband’s recent death during a bombing. More bad news comes when they learn that Beryl’s brother James has been captured by the Germans. The women will do whatever they can to help, even if it’s just packing Red Cross boxes and their own care packages for James and his friend Kenneth, who is also in the camp. But then Beryl learns of an escape kit disguised as a Monopoly game that is headed to various POW camps and knows she has to try to give the prisoners a heads up about it.

This book promises intrigue, adventure, and romance, but I found very little of any of those things. Most of the story was just showing life in Leeds during WWII, as well as life in a POW camp. James’s friend Kenneth is actually the second MC and is captured and taken to a POW camp before James is. He attempts to escape several times, unsuccessfully, but more detail is given to his time in the camp than the actual escapes. Kenneth and Beryl knew each other before the war started, when the two of them and James all attended Oxford University, and Kenneth and Beryl both thought fondly of each other at that time. This is what we’re told. So when Kenneth starts writing letters for his crippled friend James, Kenneth and Beryl remember each other fondly and start to hope for more some day. This we’re also told. The romance doesn’t really develop as much as it is just there for us to be told about. Maybe some flashbacks to the time they knew each other before would have helped, but overall, it just felt forced and empty.

The story of the Monopoly game being sent to POWs with an escape kit hidden inside is such a tiny part of this book. I feel like the story would have been better to have been more focused on the camp and less on Beryl’s life, but then, the series is called “Heroines of WWII,” so clearly she needed to be a main character. I also think it would have been better if Kenneth had been a stranger that Beryl met and got to know through letters he wrote for her brother, and then maybe the romance could have been more of a budding one by the end of the book, rather than what it was. Also, the epilogue was completely unnecessary, and that reminds me of the incredible coincidences that happen throughout the book. After several of these moments, I still thought for sure that my suspicion about the identity of a certain character’s relative would turn out to be wrong, because there was no reason I could think of to have such a huge coincidence. But sure enough…well, I won’t give away any spoilers. And the truth is, most people probably won’t be bothered by most of this. If you’re a fan of WWII-related Christian romance and aren’t bothered by the things I mentioned in my review, please do give the book a try. It does have plenty of good reviews.

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

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Book Review: Olivia & the Gentleman from Outer Space

Olivia & the Gentleman from Outer Space
by Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s science fiction

12-year-old Olivia is surprised when a visitor from outer space lands in the wheat field near her house and even more surprised when she’s told he might be able to heal her father’s cancer. But first he needs Olivia’s help to find a black ruby that will give him the power he needs.

This book has an interesting premise (and a pretty cover), but I’m afraid it falls apart in execution. A lot of the story is kind of muddled, especially in the details. Olivia is called the Princess of Blue Earth, but I never did understand what makes her a princess exactly. Her dad doesn’t seem to be a king of anything, and maybe her rare ability to read the treasure map to the black ruby is what makes her a princess, but it wasn’t really explained. The gentleman from outer space, who might have been about Olivia’s age, but it’s hard to say, tends to glow in different ways depending on mood, physical status, etc. (like the alien in the movie Home), which was an interesting addition to the story. However, somehow his glowing didn’t attract the attention of the bad guys, though Olivia could often see his face, hands, and even chest glowing through/inside his space suit. And they’re in a hurry to bring the black ruby back before Olivia’s dad dies, but somehow they have time to stop on the moon for sightseeing, not once, but twice.

I didn’t realize until after I’d started reading it that it is self-published, though I’m not against self-published books by any means and am a self-published author myself. I think the book needed more editing, someone to ask important questions (like why does the author write as if Olivia would literally float away on the moon? There is some gravity) and notice some of the more nonsensical dialog and narration moments. The author seemed to put a lot more effort into the settings, and while his imagination does come through, and I appreciate the brilliant visuals in some of the locations, I would have preferred a more cohesive plot and more developed characters.

Thank you to the author and Netgalley for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: April 11, 2023

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Book Review: Saint Patrick the Forgiver

Saint Patrick the Forgiver
by Ned Bustard

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian historical picture book (biographical)

I’m not Catholic, but then St. Patrick was never officially canonized as a saint either. I didn’t know much about St. Patrick, and what I did know was probably false. I appreciate that this book not only sheds light on a legendary figure’s true history, but does it in a way that kids can relate to, with simple, rhyming verse. I’ve never read anything by this author, nor have I seen his art before, but I did like the illustrations in the boo; they’re engaging and detailed. With a focus on Patrick first becoming a slave in Ireland and then later returning to preach the truth of the Gospel to them, it’s a great lesson on forgiveness. Specifically, Bustard explains clearly that true forgiveness, especially of one’s enemies, is only possible with Christ. I will never think of St. Patrick’s Day the same way again.

Thank you to Netgalley and InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: February 21, 2023

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Book Review: The Sound of Light

The Sound of Light
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

American physicist Else Jensen is living in Denmark, working at a lab when the Germans invade the country. After several years of occupation, she is recruited by a local resistance group to help print an illegal newspaper. Inspired by the local legend of the Havmand—the merman—who is said to ferry news to and from neighboring, neutral Sweden, Else does what she can to help. Meanwhile, she has no idea that the Havmand himself lives at her boarding house and is the very man she has a crush on. Henrik is hiding many secrets and has never wanted to share them more than when he begins to fall for Else.

The third book in a sequence (not officially a series) about men and women in various parts of Europe who work to resist the Germans in their area, I’ve liked every book along the way, and this one is no exception. There were a few moments when I struggled to fully understand the main plot, times when an aspect of the plot seemed to be tied up, and I’d wonder what else was meant to happen in the time that was left in the book. I enjoyed the story enough that it didn’t bother me, maybe just confused me a little. I should have realized that the final goal was basically safety (and that’s as much as I’m saying).

I appreciated the development of the relationship between Else and Henrik and that it didn’t come across as the main point of the story. I prefer a subtle romance, not that this one was super subtle, but it was more to my liking. After reading several books in recent years written by people who were part of a resistance group in their country (the main ones being in Holland), I seriously questioned Henrik’s decisions about how he kept his secret, or rather when he revealed it. And for the same reason, I was bothered by how Else acted at one point when Henrik insisted on continuing his work, though that was more an intentional aspect of the character than a flaw in the characterization or plot. But that part of it didn’t quite have the same feel as the memoirs I’ve read, which caused a little dissonance in my mind. Still, it may not have made for the best fiction if it was too realistic. In the end, I enjoyed the overall story, and recommend it 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.
Publication date: February 7, 2023

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Book Review: The Sisters of Sea View

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

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: Quest for the King’s Crown

Quest for the King’s Crown
Last Chance Detectives #6/7*
by Robert Vernon

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

Mysterious strangers and very old skeletons launch the Last Chance Detectives into another case, this time searching for treasure!

This series takes place in the mid-90s, though I sometimes think the author takes some liberty with the technology available at the time. Still, this story is fun, with some twists and turns that keep it interesting. There are some things that happen that I feel are unlikely enough to lower the rating by a star, because while kids may not pick up on those issues, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a story with a tighter plot. I also think the kids themselves and their personalities take a bit of a backseat to the grander plot, but overall, it’s a good addition to the series. I was leery of new books being written after so long, but now I’m glad to be able to read more about these young detectives from the 90s and really hope the author is planning more, especially considering the tiny crumb we’re given about Mike’s missing dad in this book.

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: November 8, 2022
*There were 3 books in the series originally, back in the 90s, and then a prequel came out in 2004. For some reason, when the first more recent book was published in 2021, the first one was labeled as book #5 in the series, I guess making the prequel the new #1 and pushing the rest a book later. But the early ones are still labeled as 1-3 in many places, so now it’s just kind of a mess…

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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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