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.

Find out more about Quest for the King’s Crown
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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Book Review: Millstone of Doubt

Millstone of Doubt
Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries #2
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

Both fledgling agents for the crown, Lady Juliette Thorndike and Bow Street runner Daniel Swann individually need to figure out their roles and places in the spy network as well as their “normal” lives. When Juliette’s best friend’s father is killed, Juliette is told to stay out of the investigation, but Daniel plunges headlong into it. Meanwhile, Juliette is still in the middle of her debut season, and Daniel’s lifelong patronage by a mysterious benefactor will soon be coming to an end, leaving him in an unknown position. How will they navigate these difficult situations and deal with their growing feelings for each other?

I may have rated this book a star less than the previous book in the series, but I still really enjoyed it. The overall world that Vetsch has set up in this series and the one it’s connected to, Serendipity & Secrets, is one I really hope I don’t have to leave any time soon. Juliette learning to become a spy, using her training in real-world settings while trying to get over her weaknesses, but still having to act the role of a debutante, is a fun mixture. Daniel’s combining of his police work with spycraft isn’t as much of a stretch, but it still allows for some panic moments as he tries to keep his secret. There was also a great moment when Daniel’s friend and co-worker Ed gives him a little speech about the goodness of God, even when we don’t see it in our lives, that I really liked.

The mystery was overall good. I liked the different paths they went down trying to solve it; mystery is a favorite genre of mine, and this one was enjoyable. I did guess who the killer was pretty early on, but wasn’t 100% sure I was right until a while later (but before it was revealed). There was another mysterious aspect unrelated to the murder that I also figured out early on, but I still liked the way it played out. The story slowed down enough in the middle that I detracted a star, but overall, I really liked this book. I highly recommend it for fans of this genre and time period, whether you like romance or not, though that aspect is more in focus in this book than the previous.

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

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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.

Find out more about A Treacherous Tale
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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