Book Review: Distant Stars

Distant Stars
by Kassandra Garrison

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

After aging out of the foster system, a time during which brothers Will and Kane Rutledge ran away as often as they could, they decide to continue to stick together. And they decide that they need a fresh start, and that the best way to get it is to kidnap Hannah Cole, daughter of a wealthy man, and get a nice payday. But things start to go wrong from the first moment of this kidnapping, and the worst flaw in the plan is that Will didn’t expect himself to be so drawn to their victim.

The premise of this story is what drew me to it—a romance that begins as a kidnapping is intriguing to me, even while being a bit of a stretch in believably. But I knew it could be done and be a romance I would enjoy, especially under the banner of Christian fiction. The Christianity, though, is quite light and mostly involved with Hannah being angry at God for a fairly recent loss. Will has some early religious roots too, but I would have liked to see all of that drawn out a lot more, especially given the plot. Add to that the romance being mostly about physical looks (and smells…what does sunshine smell like, anyway?) for a while, and I didn’t really get into the romance aspect of the story much at all. Plus, I didn’t really buy Will’s softy act, for various reasons.

When I read a self-published book, it is my intention not to let things that a professional editor would help with affect my view too much. I’m not saying that there is no burden of responsibility here, but it’s harder for self-published authors. So while it did not affect my rating, I will at least mention that there were punctuation errors throughout this book, as well as other issues or confusions an editor would/should have caught. It can detract from the book for some, so let that be a warning.

On the positive side, the descriptions of the setting(s) made me feel like I was there, probably helped a bit by my own memory of a recent trip to a beach in the Dominican Republic, and I really like the depth to backstories the author came up with for the main characters. The story has a lot going for it, and I think that with some polishing and less tropes in the plot, it could be a sweet, enjoyable read. Given the way that others have responded to this book, it’s possible I’m simply not the right audience for it, so please check out other reviews at the link below if the book sounds interesting to you.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Book Review: Danger Down the Nile

Treasure Hunters: Danger Down the Nile
Book #2
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein
read by Brian Kennedy

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

The Kidd kids are still alone after the separate but equally mysterious disappearances of both of their parents. Then the family boat is taken away too, leaving the Kidds to search for treasure and hunt for their parents on dry land. With the help of some contacts of their parents, they embark on a journey that might see their mom safely returned.

Similar to the first book in the series, with this book, I enjoy the wide view, but struggle with the details. These kids are shown to be very smart, collectively, in a lot of areas, good at being on their own, yet continuously get themselves caught by people they’re trying to avoid—probably because they stop and talk or debate amongst themselves so much. Even when the rest of the kids seem to be on board with their parents being missing, rather than dead—and even when they have had numerous hints that their mom is being held captive, not dead—Storm, the book-smart older sister, is doggedly determined to believe their parents dead. I just do not get it. I’m still not a fan of the twin tirades, though they were toned down a little in this book compared to the first. Maybe they’ll just be phased out as the series continues.

I am not against things happening in a book like this that likely would not happen in real life, and this definitely requires a little more suspension of disbelief than normal, though overall, it doesn’t bother me much. However, having a shark be distracted from its prey by red liquid in the water, making it think there was blood, was a bit too much for me, since sharks smell blood; the color wouldn’t make a difference. I liked this book a little more than the first, but I’m starting to wonder if I should switch to reading the books, rather than listening to the audiobooks. The narrator does a good job sounding like the pre-teen Bick who tells the story and then sounding like an adult when needed, too, but I do think his tendency to sound too much like a petulant child is what makes the twin tirades all the more annoying to me. I know it’ll take me longer to get through the series if I read, rather than listen, though, and I want to get caught up quickly, since I have an ARC of the newest book and don’t want to jump ahead to it. For now, I’m reserving my recommendation for or against this book or series until I see where it goes.

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Book Review: Caleb’s Story

Caleb’s Story
Sarah, Plain and Tall

by Patricia MacLachlan

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s historical classic

Anna has grown up and passed the story on to her little brother Caleb. From his perspective, we watch a family drama play out when a mysterious stranger appears and upsets Caleb’s dad Jacob. For me, this book lost some of the charm of the originals. For one thing, Caleb sounds too much like his older sister for me to really feel like it’s someone else telling the story. But I was also very invested in watching this little family come together, and now we’re moving on to new things. That doesn’t make it bad, by any means, just not quite as enjoyable for me.

I originally hadn’t planned to continue this series past the 1st book, but discovering that the audiobooks were narrated by Glenn Close, who played Sarah in the movies, made me decide to continue. However, her narrating a story by a young boy isn’t quite as good as narrating a story by a pre-teen to teenage girl (Anna in the first 2 books). I don’t plan to continue the series, but I do highly recommend the first two.

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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: The Curse of the Pharaohs (take 2)

The Curse of the Pharaohs
Amelia Peabody #2
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

When Amelia’s husband is invited by the effervescent Lady Baskerville to finish an excavation that her late husband was unable to, Amelia goes with him to Egypt. She’s certain Lord Baskerville was murdered, so while she helps Emerson with the work, she also formulates theories about the various people around her. Before Amelia can point to a culprit, though, there is another death and more than one accident that threatens Emerson’s safety. Can she solve the crime before her husband is the next victim?

I listened to this book a year ago with a different narrator and did not care for it (see original review here, which I will refer to as I compare the two versions in this review). However, I went back to the first book in the series, read by a different narrator, and found that I liked the different voice a lot more. So I’m continuing on with a do-over on this 2nd book too, which was as far as I got in the series before. And like with the first book, I enjoyed this one more with the different narrator. I still felt that there were some elements that were too similar to the first one and wished it had been more of a departure. However, I was able to better appreciate the repartee between Amelia and Emerson, their gruff-but-obvious adoration of their far-too-brilliant son, and the contributions from the cat Bastet.

I’m looking forward to continuing on in the series for the first time, now that I’ve found a narrator I like. I do hope that every book won’t include a beautiful woman that all of the male characters (except Emerson) wants to marry and manifestations of a curse that scares the local work force. Still, people who like cozy mysteries or Egyptology might want to check this book out. But if you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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Book Review: Legend of the Desert Bigfoot

Legend of the Desert Bigfoot
Last Chance Detectives #2
by Jake Thoene & Luke Thoene

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

Is there a legendary monster wreaking havoc in the desert of Ambrosia? Mike, Spence, Winnie, and Ben, who call themselves the Last Chance Detectives, are on the case!

This was another solid addition to the short-lived series from the 90s. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the ones before and after it in the series, but that may have been as much due to the fact that the mystery seemed pretty obvious to me the whole time. I blame the book cover, which has a huge spoiler on it. There was an element I didn’t see coming, and the fast-paced excitement of the climax was classic Last Chance Detectives. I’d recommend this book, along with the rest of the series, for kids around 10-14.

For whatever reason, they’ve started putting out new books in this series, over 20 years after the series was first created, and while my childhood memories of the franchise are from one of the movies from the 90s, I like that there will be new stories added to it. I have now read all of the books from the original print series (out of order, but it doesn’t really make a difference), as well as 1 new one that came out last year, and look forward to seeing how the series continues and if Mike ever gets any answers about his dad.

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Book Review: The Desolations of Devil’s Acre

The Desolations of Devil’s Acre
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #6
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

With a larger-than-life villain creating larger-than-life henchmen and a prophecy to fulfill, Miss Peregrine’s wards will need to use every tool at their disposal to keep peculiardom from being enslaved.

What started as a unique, interesting idea has devolved into a repetitive, boring mess. There are characters and relationships I just couldn’t care less about (though that has been an issue for me from the beginning). There is more than one deliberate mislead that just made me feel lied to by the time I’d finished the book. Riggs basically mangles his own foundational lore in this book. And in the end, it all just felt like a watered-down rinse and repeat of the first trilogy’s end.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that Riggs should have stopped after the first trilogy, because he’d already created an interesting world that has a lot of possibilities. However, he definitely should have put more distance between the two trilogies, whether that meant evolving Jacob’s abilities in some way, having a different main character (because, let’s face it, with Jacob’s peculiarity, there’s only so much variety in what he can help fight against), or maybe even finding an entirely different group of peculiars to focus on. I now own every book in the series, buying them along the way, but wish I’d have read the last few before deciding to purchase them. I prefer to only own books that I plan to re-read someday, and while I may go back through the first trilogy, I would know to stop there in the future. For anyone else reading this series, certainly keep going if you’ve enjoyed it so far; plenty of others liked the this book more than I did anyway.

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May in Review

I read 9 books last month, a pretty average amount for me and a little higher than the last couple of months. I’m getting a little behind in my Goodreads challenge, I think because I had expected to read more really short books than I have been. I may need to stick more of those in now and then, if I want to keep up with that.

Here are the books I read in May:

The Bride of Ivy Green by Julie Klassen (4.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen (5 / 5)
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (5 / 5)
The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket (3 / 5)
The Cat Who Sniffed Glue by Lilian Jackson Braun (4 / 5)
I Can Only Imagine by Bart Millard (5 / 5)
Creation Museum Signs by Answers in Genesis (5 / 5)
The Desolations of Devil’s Acre by Ransom Riggs (review pending)

This list includes 0 ARCs and 2 re-reads. My favorite book from May was I Can Only Imagine. I started 0 series, continued 2 series, and finished 3 series (it was a great month for getting ahead on series!). My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: The Cat Who Sniffed Glue

The Cat Who Sniffed Glue
Book #8
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When the son and daughter-in-law of a prominent family in the far-north town of Pickax is murdered by what looks like a robbery gone wrong, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran can’t help but ask the probing questions the police aren’t. And is it possible that someone is using the recent rash of vandalism in the area to cover something more sinister?

Koko is at it again, though he seems to be licking glue at least as much as he’s smelling it. I always try to figure out how his antics connect to the crime, and I don’t know if my lack of being able to do so is because I’ve never been very good at making connections when reading or watching mystery stories or because Braun doesn’t give the readers enough clues.

I’ve been enjoying this series overall, though this one didn’t stand out to me as much as others have. Qwill made some wise decisions in this book regarding the women in his life, though I knew what the outcome would ultimately be, since I’ve read some of the later books in the series long ago. This is my first time going through from start to finish, though, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so.

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Book Review: The Bride of Ivy Green

The Bride of Ivy Green
Tales from Ivy Hill #3
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

In this culmination of the trilogy, the women who have been in focus so far are joined by another—a mysterious, new, possibly French dressmaker. More secrets will come to light as some old relationships are mended and others are just beginning.

In a way, this trilogy reminds me of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, in that it sometimes seems to meander through daily life, weaving a story of a small group of characters, rather than having a focused plot. However, by the time you get to this third book, it’s clear that all of that meandering was deliberately wending its way toward this final book. Even with the wrapping up that happened here, new plots were introduced. I’ll admit I didn’t care much about the dressmaker, probably because adding a brand new character, after so many pages of being engrossed in the lives of others already, made that new character’s life seem shallow by comparison.

I was quite happy with how things turned out, and the way they got there (though the “near misses” started to wear on me), for each of the main characters save one. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I really wish Mercy’s story had gone differently. I sometimes write down my thoughts as I read—when I want to make sure I remember something for the review or simply when I feel strongly about something. In this case, I wrote down a couple of predictions (or, rather, hopes and wishes) for Mercy, even though I had good reason to believe they would not happen. My reason for assuming that, though, was simply due to the nature of the romance (especially Christian romance) genre. And while I was correct in my assumption that what I hoped for Mercy would not happen, the conclusion of her story did include an offer that I did not predict and was pleased to see happen.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Ivy Hill—so much so that after I finished this book, I immediately re-read the follow-up Christmas novella, An Ivy Hill Christmas, in the hopes of “catching up” with the main characters in this trilogy, even though I knew the focus had moved on. I don’t think this is the kind of series I will decide to re-read some day, but I am all the more excited to read more books by Julie Klassen.

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