Book Review: Lead Me

Lead Me
by Matt Hammitt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living, memoir

Former Sanctus Real lead singer Matt Hammitt talks about the difficulties he faced for many years trying to balance life on the road with life at home. With a wife and eventually 4 kids, he wanted to be the husband and father they needed while also following God’s calling on his life and providing for his family. In this book, he lays bare the doubts, anxieties, even depression he went through while his wife was at home simply wanting him to lead the family the way he was meant to.

This book really hit home to me in so many ways. My husband and I are at a good point in our 21-year marriage right now, but it hasn’t always been so, and I know it won’t always be so. When Sanctus Real’s song “Lead Me” came out, it spoke to me every time I heard it, and I used the lyrics to explain to my husband where I felt our relationship was lacking at the time. I’m sure the song spoke to countless others as well, just as I’m sure this book will speak to many hearts. Hammitt’s insights into what it means to be present in a marriage, even if you can’t be physically present (though that certainly helps) come from a place of experience, all of which he shares in this book. That his marriage survived some of what he describes is a testament to what can happen if two people refuse to take the easy way out and instead determine to do life together, even when it gets rough (really rough, from the sound of it).

I also found some insight into an issue my extended family is dealing with right now, and highlighted some quotes that apply to that situation. Though we all have our own stories that we’re writing as we go through life, we can certainly learn from each other along the way, even if circumstances don’t match up perfectly. And though I can’t fully connect with what Hammitt and his wife went through during and after the birth of their first son, my heart broke to read about the pain and uncertainty they went through.

My favorite thing about the book is that he points back to the Bible with every uncertainty he has, with every lesson he learns. It’s all right there for us to discover, and Hammitt lays some of it out in a way that could be beneficial to so many people who are struggling with their own families, marriages, or other relationships, whether their issue is trying to balance work and home or a plethora of other possible things that can cause a divide. Also, fans of Matt Hammitt and/or Sanctus Real might appreciate this peek into his life and why he left the band in 2015. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has interest for any reason. (Plus, any book that mentions Psalty the Singing Songbook, not once but twice, is a winner in my book!)

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

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November in Review

I read 7 books last month, which wasn’t bad considering that it was the month of NaNoWriMo, so a lot of my free time was spent writing. One book in particular dragged on for a week, due as much to not being interesting enough for me to make it a priority.

Here are the books I read in November:

Lost in Darkness by Michelle Griep (3.5 / 5)
Return to the Hiding Place by Hans Poley (5 / 5)
Princess in Love by Meg Cabot (4 / 5)
The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (2 / 5)
The White House by Roland Smith (4 / 5)
Elinor by Shannon McNear (3 / 5)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs. My favorite book from November was Return to the Hiding Place. I started 0 series (yay, self control!), continued 2 series, and finished 1 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 is a series I didn’t reach the end of, but decided not to continue reading, after being at least 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 White House

The White House
I, Q #2
by Roland Smith

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s spy thriller

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Independence Hall.

New step-siblings Q (short for Quest) and Angela delve deeper into the world of espionage as they try to help Angela’s mother, who was until recently believed dead, work against the terrorist cell she has infiltrated. Q and Angela are staying at the White House while their newly married rock-star parents prepare for a show for the president. Can they help flush out the bad guys in the White House and keep the first family safe?

This book really hits the ground running, with not much in the way of reminders from the first book, either about plot or about who’s who. I’m glad I made some notes and also didn’t wait too long to continue the series. It was a fast-paced story, building on what the first book set up, and even giving us Angela’s mom’s perspective throughout. Angela and Q were a little less involved this time, more watching, listening, reacting, even lucking into things, but on the other hand, it’s a little more realistic. Still, I like seeing Q’s and Angela’s smarts and abilities come into play.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here, and I would recommend this for younger readers who want something exciting or thrilling, or even adults who don’t necessarily care for adult spy thrillers but enjoy a good adventure story. This series is the type where the whole thing tells one long story (from what I’ve seen so far, at least), so keep that in mind if you consider reading it—start with #1.

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Book Review: The Wide Window

The Wide Window
A Series of Unfortunate Events #3
by Lemony Snicket
read by the author

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

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian, Aunt Josephine. She’s afraid of everything, including cooking food, and thus only serves cold food, insists on correcting everyone’s grammar, and lives in a house that’s nearly falling into a lake, of which she’s also afraid. Count Olaf trying to get the kids out of her guardianship seems like a blessing this time, except that he’s happy to commit murder to do so.

I do not get what people have seen in this series that it went as far as 11 books and spawned 2 adaptations. I’m not necessarily against formulaic series—sometimes the formula is what makes something work well, but not when the formula is held to this strictly. Not nearly enough changes, and the “dark” tone is just unpleasant, in my opinion. After the first book, I thought surely it would get more interesting or creative, but it’s really just a rinse and repeat of the book before it. Except that while the guardian in the previous book was a nice, somewhat normal-seeming guy, Aunt Josephine was an over-the-top, ridiculous loony.

What made it all worse for me was that I started into this series primarily because the books were narrated by Tim Curry, but the places I have access to audiobooks for free only have a version narrated by the author for this one and the next 2. I almost ended the series right there, and maybe I should have. But they’re short, quick listens, so I figured I’d stick it out. For now. We’ll see how it goes from here on.

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Book Review: Elinor

Elinor
by Shannon McNear

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

Elinor Dare arrived in the New World pregnant and full of hope for the future. She, along with her husband, her father, and the other settlers who’d made the voyage, are ready for a new start, even with the difficulties that come from being dropped off in the wrong location. The island of Roanoke will be their home, at least for a time, but as history tell us, that colony did not fare well in that location. Though its true fate is still a mystery, in this book, Shannon McNear offers a possible glimpse into the colonists’ fate.

The idea of exploring what might have happened to the lost colony of Roanoke was really intriguing to me. And it’s clear, both from the book itself and from authors’ notes before and after the book, that McNear did her research. The atmosphere she painted really took me back to that time. However, the plot moved very slowly for the first half of the book, and I really struggled to get through it. I was confused about the title focusing on Elinor, when it seemed to be about so much more than her—her father’s and husband’s points of view were shown about as often as hers, and then sometimes a Native American from an opposing tribe. I was really uncertain about what the true plot was for a while.

Then just after the halfway point, a major event happened, and the story hurtled forward. It was a plot point I fully expected, but it came much later than I expected or would have preferred, considering the synopsis and that one of the genres the book is listed as is romance. I almost put the book down then, because I knew where the book was going, and I really didn’t want to go through it. But I kept going, and the 2nd half of the book came through for me better than I expected.

One of the things that I liked most about the book was the spiritual journey that Sees Far, the Native American I mentioned earlier, went through. I would have liked to see that fleshed out more in the second half, and the first half pared down. I like McNear’s writing in the couple of books of hers I’ve read so far, but this time, for me, the story just got bogged down by the history. However, I do think a lot of fans of history and Christian fiction will like this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: December 1, 2021

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Book Review: Princess in Love

Princess in Love
The Princess Diaries #3
by Meg Cabot
read by Anne Hathaway

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA contemporary fiction

Still preparing for her impending trip to the country for which she has recently discovered she’s a princess, Mia Thermopolis finally has a boyfriend. The only problem is, she doesn’t really like him that way. When he claims to love her, all she can do is thank him. And she doesn’t really enjoy kissing him. In fact, she’s in love with someone else…who has a girlfriend of his own.

Mia’s dire, the-world-is-ending proclamations are less common in this book, compared to the previous ones, which is nice. She still complains a lot though. Overall, it seems like a fairly simple high school (overly)dramatic story, but where the MC is also adjusting to being princess of a small European country. I really don’t think I would have liked it nearly as well if I hadn’t listened to the audiobook that was narrated, or really more like acted out, by Anne Hathaway. I did enjoy it, though, but I don’t think I’ll read any more of this series, since this is the end of Anne Hathaway’s narration.

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Book Review: Return to the Hiding Place

Return to the Hiding Place
by Hans Poley

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

During the time of Nazi persecution, a Christian Dutch family called the ten Booms welcome into their home various people who were hiding from the Nazis, both Jewish and not. 18-year-old Hans Poley was the first guest, hiding to avoid being sent to Germany to do hard labor in replacement of Germans who’d been sent to fight. Here he tells the story of his time at the ten Booms’ house and his own arrest that took him to a prison, then a concentration camp.

Having read The Hiding Place earlier this year, it was really interesting to see the Beje and the ten Boom family from the perspective of one of their “guests.” Not only does Hans Poley echo Corrie ten Boom’s assertions about the incredible faith of her father and sister, he shows Corrie herself as more open and giving than she portrayed herself in some areas. For example, when her room was chosen as the location for the secret room in her book, she tried to protest it. According to Poley, however, she “readily agreed.” I think we’d all be surprised to find out how others view us, compared to how we view ourselves, and in this case, Corrie ten Boom may have been a little hard on herself. Another small thing I noticed that didn’t match up between the books is that both authors claim to be the one who gave Eusi, one of the most prominent long-term Jewish guests, his fake name, and I wonder if this, and any other possible discrepancy, is simply due to faulty memories.

Yet again I was struck by how incredibly selfless this family was, giving up their own comfort and safety to help so many others. And Casper ten Boom, Corrie’s father, is even more inspirational to me after reading this. He repeatedly expressed a desire to help the Jewish people as if it weren’t even a choice to make. If you’ve read The Hiding Place, you should consider reading this too. Overall, though, I recommend it to anyone interested in true Holocaust accounts, especially those from a Christian worldview.

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Book Review: Poison at the Pump

Poison at the Pump
The Imagination Station #25
by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical children’s fiction, Christian

In this first of a 3-part story arc, cousins Beth and Patrick are tasked with finding a mystery liquid in London during the cholera epidemic of 1854. They are separated at first and meet historical figures like Dr. John Snow and Curate Henry Whitehead who played important roles in history. But when Patrick learns that he drank water from the contaminated pump, he’s not certain he’ll be able to make it back from 1854 alive.

I actually read part 3 of this story arc (which, in turn, is part of a much larger series) first, then decided to go back and read the preceding stories. I did not like this one quite as much as the third in the arc, which might have been due to the respective subject matters as much as anything. I did still like it, though, and appreciate the way these stories bring somewhat lesser-known pockets of history to life for children. The doctor who first posited that cholera was spread by contaminated water, rather than through the air, for example, is certainly not one that kids this age are likely to have heard about. For that matter, I didn’t know about him either, though I can’t guarantee I didn’t read about him in passing during a history class in school and simply forgot about him. But that’s all the more reason this story is a nice way of making historical events and figures more memorable.

I’m a little confused about the premise for the series, the Imagination Station, and how it works. That’s likely due to not having read the rest of the series, but I did think I knew enough about the Imagination Station from Adventures in Odyssey as a whole to know that it’s…well…all in the imagination. And yet, this story made it seem like the kids were actually sent back in time. So I’m not sure if I misread the book/it was just confusing in that area, or if they’ve changed the way the Imagination Station works (though then the name wouldn’t really make sense either). That confusion aside, I think the book is a great read for kids up to age 12.

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Book Review: Lost in Darkness

Lost in Darkness
by Michelle Griep

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

When Amelia Balfour’s father dies, it puts a halt to her plans to travel to Cairo for her travel-writing career. She was never close to her father, but his death means that she is responsible to help her estranged brother through a surgery meant to cure a disorder that has caused him to grow to giant proportions. The surgery is experimental and risky, and even the surgeon’s new partner, Graham Lambert, has doubts about whether or not it is worth the danger to the patient.

If I could break this story down into parts, the plot would get at least 4 stars, but characters would get maybe 2-3. The writing would get 4-5 stars, but relationship development would get maybe 3. As you can imagine, it was difficult for me to put a single rating on this book, with which I had my ups and down. In the end, I did like the plot, which was mostly dark with a light of hope shining through. It was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and not subtly, considering that the author herself has a small role in the book. There is a bit of a mystery in the book that I didn’t see the purpose of, but all in all, the story was good.

My biggest issues were with the characters and the relationships that developed between them. Graham is inconsistent in a way that frustrated me, at times attributing hope and sovereignty to God, but at other times saying he’s not a religious man and that God likely wants nothing to do with him. He’s also so often shown to be a man with a short temper and violent tendencies, though Amelia describes him as normally cool and calm. The relationship between the male and female MCs developed about like one would expect from a romance, but the one that bothered me was the friendship between Graham and Amelia’s brother, Colin. We really don’t see much development there, and then suddenly Graham thinks of him like a brother. I would have loved to see that progression.

I wished Amelia would have come to see how idolatrous her superstitions were a lot sooner, but overall I liked the Christian message presented in the book, especially Mrs. Bap and her total reliance on God and her comment that death for a believer is the ultimate healing. In the end, I’m glad I read it, and think most fans of Christian romances of the Regency era will enjoy this book, especially if they’re okay with a little darkness in the story.

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

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October in Review

I read 8 books last month, which is more than I expected it to be by halfway through when I’d only finished a couple of books. I was a bit busier with work last month. This month is NaNoWriMo, and I’ve already slowed down even more on reading, so we’ll see how next month turns out.

Here are the books I read in October:

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (4 / 5)
Night Song by Tricia Goyer (4 / 5)
Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner (3 / 5)
Nightmare Academy by Frank Peretti (5 / 5)
The Cat Who Played Post Office by Lilian Jackson Braun (5 / 5)
Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan (5 / 5)
Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan (3 / 5)
Poison at the Pump by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from October (that wasn’t a re-read) was The Cat Who Played Post Office. I started 0 series (for once), continued 4 series, and finished 1 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.