Book Review: Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List
by Thomas Keneally

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Nonfiction novel

Most people have at least heard of this book, or the movie that was made from it, about the war profiteer turned savior of over a thousand Jews during WWII. I watched the movie in high school and then tried to read the book, but gave up due to how long and dry it was. That’s probably the biggest mark against the book for most people–it’s slow and plodding for at least the first several chapters. And throughout the entire book, the narrative is bogged down by so many names of locations and people, all of which are foreign to at least some of us (mostly Polish names, some German) and difficult to pronounce. However, I’m not sure Keneally should have done it differently, and if that is the only downside to the whole book, I would say there’s a lot of reason to push through it and keep going. It does pick up a little after some of the early chapters, and in the end, I’m really glad I read it.

One thing that’s always struck me about Schindler, and did even more so while reading this, is that he’s not necessarily the type of person you would picture as a “savior.” He was gruff, prone to fits of anger, and frankly had absolutely no respect for women at all. And yet, when he saw injustice and brutality happening, he was spurred into action. And while his motives for helping are examined multiple times in the book, it’s clear that it’s not just a matter of profit that he fights to keep his workers, considering the lengths he goes to at times to not just keep them but also to keep the SS from brutalizing them in his factory.

Though Schindler’s actions are the focal point, the book also takes an up-close look at some of the people eventually saved by him. The book reads like a series of vignettes about Schindler himself and various of the different Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews). Keneally states that he did his best to include only facts, while filling in conversation here and there, but because he couldn’t possibly have every single detail, the story at times reads more like looking down on a scene, rather than being right there in it while it happens, as we’ve come to expect from novels. He makes it clear, though, when he couldn’t corroborate a story, that it might be more legend than fact, and even this only happens a few times. Overall, the book is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and clear picture of one man who was completely unextraordinary most of his life, yet did an incredibly extraordinary thing during a dark and terrifying time in human history. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, I recommend reading this book to pretty much everyone who’s remotely interested in the subject matter, even if it does take you some time to get through it. It’s worth it.

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Book Review: Refugees on the Run

Refugees on the Run
The Imagination Station #27
by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical children’s fiction, Christian

In this final of a 3-part story arc, cousins Beth and Patrick find themselves in Lithuania sometime in the mid 1940s. A crowd of Jewish families are trying to get into the Japanese consulate building, in the hopes that they can find the means of escaping from the approaching Nazis. Beth and Patrick find themselves in the middle of the battle, as Beth tries to help a Lithuanian Jewish family and Patrick does his best to assist the Japanese consul.

I really enjoyed this story and the way it presents a difficult time in history to kids in a way that doesn’t completely gloss over the danger, but doesn’t go into detail either. I really appreciated that it introduced me, and thus will introduce kids, to a man who helped rescue many Jews, but isn’t nearly as well-known as others. It’s incredibly coincidental that I read this directly after reading Schindler’s List (seriously, it was not on purpose) and really liked seeing the parallels there.

I didn’t know much about this book or the series it’s part of when I started reading. I also hadn’t read the previous 2 books in the in-series arc, but the beginning of the story did a good job of telling me what I needed to know (which wasn’t much). The slight mystery/puzzle angle to the story, that the kids were trying to find some kind of liquid needed by the Imagination Station, allowed another layer to be added to the story. And though a couple of times throughout the story I thought about how unrealistic certain things would have been, especially the inclusion of children in consulate matters, it’s not too hard to remind myself that Imagination Station adventures are meant to put kids right into the middle of things, and these are programmed virtual adventures, not a real trip back in time. (I have enough experience with Adventures in Odyssey overall to be familiar with the Imagination Station.)

I do recommend this book for kids up to 12 years old, but AiO overall is fairly timeless, so the age limit is a soft one. I already have recommended it to my 11-year-old daughter, who has decided to start at the beginning of the series. As for me, I was left with a strong desire to read the earlier 2 books in this 3-story arc and then eventually will probably go back to the beginning of the series too.

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: June 8, 2021

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Book Review: The Legend of Annie Murphy

The Legend of Annie Murphy
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #7
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure, mystery (with some sci-fi)

When investigating tales of a ghost sighting, the Cooper family–dad Jacob and teens Jay and Lila–find themselves caught up in a mystery 100 years in the making. A woman who’d been accused of killing her husband out of greed 100 years in the past was killed while escaping her punishment, and now her ghost is being seen around the ruins of the long-abandoned town.

I spent the first third or so of this book completely flabbergasted. The beginning of the story was such a departure from the previous books in the series, I was certain it was going to turn out that something else was going on. But when it became clear that Jacob’s friend Mac’s theory about a gravity vortex causing time and space to go wonky was actually what was going on, I struggled to accept it and move on. Eventually, I reminded myself that it’s not necessarily against the theme of this series of books. Sometimes there’s not much suspension of disbelief to swallow, while other times, God-attributed supernatural events occur.

With that understanding in mind, I can view this book a little differently than I did while listening to a lot of it. The story, then, with the vehicle of time travel in place, becomes about solving the mystery of the legend, finding out what really happened 100 years ago. And that itself is a good story. The kids follow along as the story is told in the past, while their dad and his friend try to sort it out in the present time, and it’s interesting how it all plays out. I won’t say there isn’t some predictability to it, at least to an adult reader, but I think the age group its meant for won’t have read as many mysteries or seen as many TV shows or movies as adults have, making it more fresh for them. I again enjoyed listening to the audiobook and would say that, though it may seem outlandish at first, it’s a good story overall and worth reading if you’re interested.

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Book Review: Mr. Kiss and Tell

Mr. Kiss and Tell
Veronica Mars #2
by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When a woman who was attacked at the ritzy Neptune Grand blames an employee of the hotel, Veronica is hired to prove that she is lying. Veronica, of course, prefers to take the case further and find out who really was behind the attack, if the woman was indeed lying. However, as she starts to peel back the layers to this case, she’s reminded that things aren’t always what they seem and that justice often takes a back seat to apathy.

I liked this book a little more than the previous, for various reasons. The main one is the inclusion of the side plot involving Weevil’s arrest from the end of the Veronica Mars movie. But I also feel like the main mystery plot held my attention a bit more. Maybe the set-up resembles mysteries Veronica has gone after before, which can make it feel a little overdone at first, but it didn’t bother me as much as it might others. It was interesting to see Veronica questioning certain choices when she looks around and sees what might have been–both in her personal life and in her career. The story spans several months, just like the over-arcing mysteries do in the show, but instead of being able to see the day-to-day cases she works on (because it’d be too much for one book), we just see gaps in time. What bothered me, though, is that Veronica let her obsession on this case, even after it was officially closed with the client, leads Veronica to ignore everything else, which isn’t really like her. Plus, her response to being caught in a few different compromising situations in her investigating also seems a bit off from what we know of her.

Regarding the Weevil plot, I loved it. Keith and Cliff working together to try to bring down Sheriff Dan Lamb felt like all the old show magic coming back. And even more so, in the end, there’s no easy victory, no sugary outcome, not even always a “good guy” or “bad guy” left standing in the end. I even liked the fact that Sheriff Don Lamb, for all his corrupt and just plain mean ways, was remembered for that one decent thing he did.

While the audiobook for the previous book in the series was narrated by Kristen Bell, that was not the case with this book, so I read it myself. I still liked it a lot, and because I’ve seen the show so much, had no trouble imagining the characters as they were portrayed in the show. Whether or not this book would hold up for people who’ve never seen the show, I can’t say for sure, though I’d guess probably not. I’m not sure it’s meant to, either. For fans of the show, though, I definitely recommend this book and the one preceding it.

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Book Review: Crocodile Meatloaf

Crocodile Meatloaf
Alex series books #12
by Nancy Simpson Levene

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children, Christian

Alex meets the new girl in class, Rachel, who is deaf, and feels protective of her when the obnoxious boys torment her. Alex learns that God has a plan for her life and wonders if that plan could start now, even though she’s a kid, and if it might just be related to Rachel.

Though Alex is a little older now than in the books I remember from my childhood, she’s still learning about all that God has to offer, even to a kid. What I miss, though, from her younger days are the situations she’d get herself into as she tried to correct some kind of mistake she made. This book is more about external problems than internal ones, which doesn’t make it bad. Just different. I still like the way Alex tries her best to help or to fix things (whether her own mistakes or someone else’s). I’m not sure how realistic the turn-around is near the end, but overall, it’s a good book with solid lessons. If you have an opportunity to pick up any of the Alex series books, I recommend them. They’re short, quick reads that children will be able to connect to.

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April in Review

I read 10 books last month, about an average month for me, though probably a little lower than average in page count, due to a few very short books in there. I stopped listening to audiobooks as regularly part way through the month, mostly because I couldn’t decide on the next book to listen to, so I may have to push past that problem this month.

Here are the books I read in April:

The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
An Elegant Façade by Kristi Ann Hunter (3 / 5)
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (5 / 5)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (5 / 5)
The Purple Nightgown by A.D. Lawrence (4 / 5)
Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg (4 / 5)
The Spice King by Elizabeth Camden (4.5 / 5)
A Woman of Words by Angela Hunt (3.5 / 5)
The Silver Shadow by Liz Tolsma (2 / 5)
Crocodile Meatloaf by Nancy S. Levene (review pending)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from April was The Spice King. I finished 1 series*, continued 2 series, and started 3 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.

*This includes 1 series that I did not reach the end of but decided not to continue reading, after being 2 books into the series.

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 Silver Shadow

The Silver Shadow
True Colors #11
by Liz Tolsma

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

When a series of attacks on women begin to seem connected, Denver newspaper reporter Polly Blythe and police detective Edwin Price work together to catch the criminal responsible. Both are hindered by bosses whose priorities are skewed, but when Polly catches the madman’s attention, they will have to work extra hard to apprehend the perpetrator while also keeping Polly safe.

At its core, this is the story of 3 individuals who are all haunted by something terrible from their past. Each of them is trying to find a way to deal with that past, none of them is going about it the right way, and not all of them will learn that lesson by the end of the book. Whether this connection between the characters was intentional or not, I couldn’t tell you, because I don’t think the author capitalized on it much at all. It did lead to a lot of repetition, though. I struggled all the way through this book with not feeling connected to the two main characters or to the relationship they were building along the way. The writing seemed kind of shallow and the dialog was often strange, confusing, or stilted.

There was one thing Edwin did part way through the book that appalled me and was just waved away, leaving me feeling very unsettled. Polly is said to be smart and careful, yet constantly goes out alone after dark for one reason or another. Guessing at the identity of the murderer, not even knowing if it would be someone we’d met in the story or not, was something that kept me interested, but that’s probably all that kept me moving through the book quickly. The overall plot and many of the specific events that happened were interesting and could have made for an exciting story, but it just all felt so rushed and shallow. Maybe that’s due to the length of the book, I don’t know.

I’ve had my ups and downs with this series of stand-alone true crime books, but this one is a miss for me. It’s a completely clean romance, though doesn’t have a particularly strong Christian message throughout, if  you’re looking for that. I’ve not read all of the other True Colors books, nor even all of Liz Tolsma’s contributions, but I did really like one of her others, The Green Dress. As for this one, please be sure to check out other reviews for the book if you’re interested, because many others liked it more than I did.

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

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Publication date: May 1, 2021

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Book Review: A Woman of Words

A Woman of Words
Jerusalem Road #3
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Matthew, one of the twelve apostles and former tax collector for the Romans, has been living in Capernaum in the years since Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) death and resurrection when he is summoned to Jerusalem by Peter and John to help them with the growing church there. He anticipates preaching and performing great miracles like his brothers have been doing over the years, but is disappointed to discover that they are more interested in the skills he honed while collecting taxes. Then Mary, Yeshua’s mother, approaches him with a request that he help her write down all of the teachings of Yeshua and accounts of his miracles before they’re forgotten by those who witnessed them. Matthew does not want to sit and write, either words or numbers, when there are souls to be reached. As he comes to terms with what God wants of him, the Roman emperor prepares to set himself up as a god to be worshiped, which would force the entire Jewish community–Yeshua-follower or not–to make a choice between their life or their obedience to God.

I have really liked this series so far and was excited to read the 3rd installment. It wasn’t quite as good as the first two, to me, but I still really liked reading more in the fictional Biblical world Hunt has set up in the series. I’m not completely sure what it is that I liked less about this one. It seems to have less of the charm the other two had, and I think that might be partly because one of the things I liked the most about the other two was that Yeshua was still on Earth. Even though he was in the background, he was there, and I was really drawn to that. I liked hearing both Mary and Matthew talk about his teachings and how special his friendship and love was, how he made them feel when he talked to them, etc. But despite Hunt’s attempts to infuse emotion into these accounts, somehow it didn’t work as well for me.

I do appreciate that Matthew was led to go back to the Old Testament and discover more about who Yeshua was before he became a man, the connections to the prophesies and such. And to be clear, because I didn’t get this until near the end of the book and also from the author’s note–this is not a fictionalized story of the book of Matthew as we know it being written. Matthew and Mary are writing more of a history of Yeshua’s life on earth, in Hebrew (the book of Matthew was written in Greek), that is not meant to be that which later became scripture. But the idea is that this book essentially became a launching point for the Gospels. I wonder if I would have read it differently with that in mind, but it’s hard to say now.

Another thing I really liked is that both Matthew and Mary are presented as real humans with flaws and issues that they have to deal with as they work together on this story. But I also think it’s important that Mary can tell that people are treating her differently because of her son and that she does her best to remain humble and steer people away from treating her like she’s deity herself. She repeats often throughout the story that she’s always been simply a servant of God. While many of us might fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to be set on a pedestal, God chose her because He knew her heart and that she would willingly serve Him, so I like seeing this woman continuing steadfastly in her role as a servant. I think that the reasons I didn’t like this book as much as I did the first 2 are my own fault, not a fault with the book. And even saying that, I did still like it, would recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction, and am looking forward to seeing what else Hunt has in store for this series (she says in the author’s note that she does have another in mind).

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

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Publication date: May 4, 2021

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Book Review: The Spice King

The Spice King
Hope & Glory #1
by Elizabeth Camden

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

When Annabelle Larking is tasked with getting access to the plant collection of the Delacroix spice company, she is rebuffed by the man in charge, Gray Delacroix. Success in this endeavor is the only way that Annabelle can assure a long-term position at the Smithsonian, though, which is crucial to her own future, as well as the future of her family back in Kansas. She won’t give up easily. But neither will Gray, who is determined to keep his secrets under lock and key. He has his own family to worry about–a brother who seems to only want to float through life doing nothing productive and a sister who knows how to spend money. Enemies are everywhere, but Gray is ready to trust someone. He’s just not sure if Annabelle is that person.

This is my favorite kind of romance book–one that’s not just about the romance. There’s so much more going on than the synopsis shows. It seemed at first that Annabelle would be more of the focal point of the story, but really it was Gray. His family, his empire, his desire to stop traveling and settle down, and the way that so much of that gets thwarted, I really got caught up in his story. But that doesn’t leave Annabelle on the sidelines. She’s in Washington with her blind sister, helping her navigate the streets and life, and I loved how that side of the story went too.

This is the first book of 3 in the series, and it sets up what appears to be a plot running through all three when a scandal in Gray’s family is exposed. While that could have been a downfall for the story, this grand plot that isn’t very connected to or even resolved in this book, that’s not the case at all. It works, and rather than leaving me disappointed at the lack of resolution, it made me look forward to seeing it all play out.

While at times, the dialog was a bit too modern, it didn’t bother me much. My biggest issue is with a small spot of theology that could imply that one must work to earn salvation. However, I couldn’t quite tell if that was the message there, or if it was more that the person in question was working toward the surrender needed in order to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus, but hadn’t taken the final step yet. It was brief and vaguely expressed. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that as I continue this series, because I do not endorse a works-based salvation. With that in mind, I do recommend this book for all fans of Christian or historical romance.

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Book Review: Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse

Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse
Mr. Monk #1
by Lee Goldberg
read by Laura Hicks

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When a firehouse dog is murdered, the defective detective Adrian Monk’s help is enlisted by his assistant’s daugher Julie. During the course of the investigation, Monk discovers that the dog’s death might be connected to a fatal house fire. His work is hampered, though, by the fact that he’s been displaced, due to his apartment building being fumigated. Though she knows it will be difficult, his assistant Natalie offers to take Monk into her home while they solve the murders.

Fans of the television show Monk will likely find this a good read. All of the characters we love are involved, the story seeming to take place not too long after Natalie becomes his assistant. It’s not directly tied to any episodes of the show, though, and is a brand new plot. It’s narrated by Natalie, and I enjoyed it as essentially a longer episode of the show. In a way, it seemed like a mash-up of 2 different episodes (“Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing” and “Mr. Monk Stays in Bed”), but it’s unique enough to not just feel like a rip-off of one of those episodes.

The author does a pretty good job of capturing the feel of each of the characters with one execption–Monk himself. As someone who has seen the show in its entirety several times, I kept noticing things that just seemed very un-Monk-like. The most glaring was him holding a glass of milk, milk being high up on his list of fears. But he was also frankly a little too warm and tender toward Natalie and especially Julie. Though Monk can be kind, he is also often quite selfish, or at the very least, so wrapped up in his own issues that he doesn’t easily take others’ thoughts or feelings into consideration. He also called Julie “honey” at least once in the book, which just felt so wrong.

Overall, as a way to get more Monk in my life, the book was fun to listen to. The narrator was pretty good with the voices–I especially liked her Stottlemeyer. However, her depiction of Monk left a lot to be desired. I just kept putting it into Tony Shaloub’s voice as I listened. I’ll definitely keep reading this series.

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