Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
Tales from Ivy Hill #1
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

It’s been a year since Jane Bell’s husband died and left her his coaching inn, but Jane isn’t any more prepared to end her mourning period than she was a year ago. The inn has gone on without her direct involvement during that year, but she’s finding out that it hasn’t necessarily gone on well. A large loan from the bank is about to come due, but the inn isn’t nearly as prosperous as it used to be, and now it’s in danger of being taken away. Jane’s mother-in-law, Thora, will do anything she can to help save her family’s inn, even while feeling displaced by the new mistress of The Bell. There are others who might be able to help as well, but Jane isn’t completely sure how to proceed…or who to trust.

This is the type of book where the story may focus on one main character for now, but this first book also introduces several other characters who will have more of a spotlight in future books, and gives us a decent set-up to those future stories. So a good amount of characters overall were introduced, but it didn’t take me long to get invested in their lives. I thought the set-up was giving us more of a mystery than there turned out to be, and I seriously anticipated the revelation of a conspiracy that never happened. But that was my own fault, not necessarily the book’s. I think I read more into certain people’s behavior than was intended (or maybe the author did want us to suspect that person).

Jane was a very dynamic character, in that she changed fairly drastically from the beginning of the book, where she spent her days languishing in her small home and ignoring the inn, to the end of the book, by which point she’d at least attempted to take the reigns of the inn firmly in hand. I liked the way the story and characters come together by the end, and that there is no sudden, miraculous save. Hard work and diligence are required, and a perfect ending is not guaranteed.

In some places this book is billed as a romance, and there is some romance involved. However, it is nowhere near a focal point, and (spoiler alert) the main character doesn’t end up with a beau by the end of the book. I believe that is another storyline that will continue on throughout the trilogy, and I’m quite okay with that. If you’re a fan of historical Christian fiction, keep that in mind when considering this book. I do recommend it, and am looking forward to continuing the series.

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August in Review

I read 9 books last month, a fairly standard month for me with an interesting variety of books.

Here are the books I read in August:

The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
Hangman’s Curse by Frank Peretti (5 / 5)
The Glory of Love by Angela Hunt (3.5 / 5)
A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden (3.5 / 5)
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (4 / 5)
The Eagle and the Lamb by Darlene Mindrup (5 / 5)
Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman (5 / 5)
Trace of Doubt by DiAnn Mills (2 / 5)
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis (4 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC and 4 re-reads. My favorite book (that wasn’t a re-read) from August was Hollow City. I started 2 series, continued 3 series, and finished (or caught up on) 2 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: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian
The Chronicles of Narnia #2 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

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

This is my first foray into The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve seen the movies (or at least some of them), but only once when they first came out, and don’t remember much about the movie based on this book. This is yet another series I wish I’d read when I was younger; I have a feeling I would have liked it more as a kid. Overall, I enjoyed it a little more than the previous book. Maybe that’s because the Pevensies aren’t newcomers to Narnia anymore, but I think it’s more due to the Narnians that they encounter this time. Reepicheep made my heart melt!

The story involving Caspian, as well as Peter and Edmund’s additions to the conflict, I enjoyed. I’ve never been one for reading battle sequences, so I appreciated that most of the fighting was summarized. Even the one full fight that was shown had a lot of interjection by other characters, so it was more fun than it probably should have been. I was not a fan of the sequence of events that followed Susan, Lucy, and Aslan as they gathered up the rest of the Old Narnians. It all felt a little strange to me and made me wonder what the purpose of it was. Most of what was shown didn’t really affect the rest of the story much.

It is possible I misinterpreted parts of this book, though it is meant for readers more like my daughter’s age, and I doubt she will get bigger meaning out of it than I did when she reads the book. However, aside from those areas, I enjoyed the book overall and think she will too.

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Book Review: Night of the Twisters

Night of the Twisters
by Ivy Ruckman

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s suspense

Inspired by an actual event in Nebraska in 1980, when multiple twisters ravaged one town in a meteorological anomaly, 12-year-old Dan Hatch must protect his baby brother and tornado-newbie best friend Arthur, as both of his parents are gone when the tornado comes.

I read this book when I was younger, but only remembered a few details. I really enjoyed it even as an adult. It’s realistic to how kids were back in those days, off riding their bikes or swimming in the local water hole during the summer, especially in a smaller town like this. No cell phones, no video games, and then they went home in the evening to watch Happy Days, which is a little before my time, but I still appreciate the overall feel the author paints of life in the early 80s, when this book was written and set. I also thought that, while the descriptions of the devastation caused by the storm aren’t necessarily vast and detailed, they felt realistic to someone like me who’s never been in a tornado but has seen the aftermath in pictures or videos. And most likely toned down due to being a book for kids.

There were not a whole lot of characters, but I liked the ones that were around much. Dan’s feelings about his little brother throughout were pretty real for a kid his age who had been an only child until the age of 12. Arthur provided an interesting foil in multiple ways. The elderly neighbor Mrs. Smiley and her part in the story made me smile (no pun intended). My only complaint is that I would have liked to know how Officer Kelly ended up. But overall, the book was an exciting, suspenseful read that I think would be great for kids around age 10-12.

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Book Review: The Eagle and the Lamb

The Eagle and the Lamb
by Darlene Mindrup

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Sarah, a young Jewish woman, is made the slave/companion to a young, ailing woman named Diana by Diana’s brother, Antonius, a tribune of Rome. Diana wonders about the peace that Sara has, even as a slave, and Sara can’t help but talk about her faith in Jesus Christ. Antonius, however, doesn’t wants Christianity poisoning his sister, even while he has to admit to being unable to stop thinking about Sara and how different she is from Roman women. What began as a terrible situation for Sara and her family when they became indebted to the Roman might just turn out to be part of God’s will for the lives of everyone involved.

I am so glad I found this book and read it again! When I was in high school, my family went to visit my grandparents in Arizona (I live in the midwest), and I remember them having a library full of paperback romance novels (probably mostly Christian, if not wholly, since they lived at a church). I read several of those books during our stay there, but this is the only one I remembered well enough to track it down again, which took me a long time and a lot of digging. It’s a sweet romance, but also a tale of early Christians during the time of Roman persecution around 62 A.D. and the difficulties they had to face just to be able to practice their faith. Sara is a great example of a Christ-follower spreading His love and message to everyone she spends time with. Secondary characters add to the enjoyment of this book, especially a fellow slave and Christian who some readers likely see as a serious contender for Sara’s heart.

Antonius may be harsh through much of the book, but he’s a well-written, realistic character. He’s a Roman soldier, taught to believe that Rome is the center of the universe and that the rest of the world should fall at his feet. Even with his culture and training, he’s actually set apart from others of his type, which is clearly shown in the story. And let’s not forget that he actually saved Sara and her parents from being sold into much harsher slavery near the beginning of the book. When he treats her badly, she stands her ground. When he insists she not speak to Diana about God, she weighs the obedience of her slave master against the obedience of her one true master, God.

The book’s title is an apt description of the contrast between these two characters, and I think that contrast is why I love the story so much. I read the book to reminisce about the first time I read it, and didn’t expect to find much of substance, but it’s really quite a lovely story. It’s pretty short, but I didn’t feel that detracted at all—in fact, that kept the story from dragging out like some romance books can do. I also didn’t think I’d care about the series this book is the beginning of, but now that I know the next book is about Decimus, the fellow slave I mentioned above, I’d love to see his story.

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Book Review: Trace of Doubt

Trace of Doubt
by DiAnn Mills

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

After fifteen years in prison, Shelby Pearce is ready to start her life over. But as a convicted murderer, allies are hard to come by, especially since there’s still the question of $500,000 that she’s suspected of stealing at the same time as the murder. Denton McClure, who’d worked the embezzlement case as a rookie agent, is sure she’s guilty and is determined to prove her guilt and uncover the cash. As he gets to know her, though, he begins to doubt what he’s known as fact for 15 years. And it looks like he’s not the only one who’s out to find the money.

This is the second DiAnn Mills book I’ve read, and though I quite liked the other one, this one was a miss for me. I think that mostly boils down to the author’s writing style, which I don’t remember being quite so distracting for me during the other book I read. In this book, though, I often found myself confused by what thought or emotion was being portrayed in a scene, unable to quite grasp the meaning in the author’s choice of words. In many scenes, dialog felt unnatural or stilted, or even felt as though the characters were not having the same conversation as each other.

I did like some of the characters, though mostly secondary ones. Shelby was written well for the bulk of the book, but I didn’t connect with her as much due to my own very different personality as anything. By the end, though, I realized she was actually pretty terrible at making good decisions. Denton was confusing and a little unbelievable in his drive to prove her guilt, letting the search for $500k control/ruin his life. As the mystery of who is targeting Shelby since she’s been released from prison is revealed, as well as why, the premise of her confessing to murder and going to jail becomes less and less believable to me. I won’t give any spoilers, but it mostly goes back to what I said above about Shelby making terrible decisions.

I struggled with consistency issues in various places and with a couple of antagonists that were fairly one-dimensional. I did, however, like the theme about redemption that was brought out more by the secondary characters that were willing to look past Shelby’s history and give her a chance to start over as much as anything. I really dislike giving this low of a rating to any book, and I can already tell that this is going to be one of those books that makes me wonder if I got a different version than everyone else. Please check out other reviews for different opinions, as most of them are positive so far, if you’re interested in the synopsis and/or genre.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: September 7, 2021

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Book Review: Hollow City

Hollow City
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fantasy

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

On the run from monsters bent on killing them, or worse, Jacob and the other 9 peculiar children who escaped Miss Peregrine’s loop head for London in 1940, hoping to find safety and a way to help Miss Peregrine, who’s stuck in bird shape. They know the danger will only be higher in London, but they don’t have a lot of options. In a world where everything is already not as it seems, these (not exactly) children will have to decide who to trust while avoiding the further threat posed by the ongoing war.

I have been enjoying this series so much more than I expected. I find the overall story of the peculiar world inventive and fascinating. And in this book, what was set up in the first one really came alive. Rather than being completely lost and trying to understand, Jacob is…well, he’s still a bit confused, but there’s a lot to learn about, after all. As he begins to use his peculiarity with purpose, though, he gets to more involved in the mission. The other children have more of a chance to shine as well, both in personality and in ability. Though none of them is explored particularly deeply, with 10 characters going through most of the book together, I’m not very surprised or bothered.

I am fascinated by this story that is the ultimate example of using visual prompts to come up with ideas for a story. It’s a common exercise for aspiring writers, especially when they’re trying to come up with something to write about, and Ransom Riggs shows how well it can turn out. I still think he might over-describe the pictures sometimes, which makes those moments in the story feel a little forced, but I liked that he got away from every picture being an actual photo the characters looked at in the story, and many were just used to show us an illustration of a scene or a character.

The plot was definitely the highlight for me, as well as the world-building. I still think the actual writing could be better. I also don’t understand why just about every adult they run into immediately treats them with anger and hatred. There’s a scene at a train station that just seemed ridiculously unlikely to me. And I really could not care less about the relationship between Jacob and Emma—partly because she’s actually a lot older than him, even if she does look like a teenager, and partly because she was in love with Jacob’s grandfather. Both of these things just make it weird, in my opinion.

This book is full of “one step forward, two steps back,” to the point where it feels like the characters (and, by extension, we the readers) will never be able to stop and catch their breath or have good news that doesn’t turn bad. But then I got to the end, and wow! Though I’m usually not a fan of cliffhangers at the ends of books, I’m totally okay with this one! (Granted, it helps that I don’t have to wait for the next book to come out.) For now, though, I’ll stick with the recommendation I made for the first book: If you’re thinking of reading this series because you’re looking for a creepy story to go along with the creepy pictures, you may be disappointed. If you’re looking for an interesting speculative fiction world with kids with super-hero-type powers that first have to save themselves, and then quite possibly the world, this might be worth reading.

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Book Review: A Gilded Lady

A Gilded Lady
Hope & Glory #2
by Elizabeth Camden

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, The Spice King.

Caroline Delacroix’s job isn’t an easy one, as secretary to a difficult first lady, but it’s an important one. Being at Ida McKinley’s beck and call is the least Caroline can do if it means she might be able to secure a presidential pardon for her twin brother. Luke is in prison in Cuba, charged with treason, and Caroline will do anything she can to help him. Unfortunately, this puts her at odds with the newly appointed head of security for the president, Nathaniel Trask. Though he’s taken by Caroline’s wit and beauty, he can’t trust the sister of a traitor to the country.

I liked both of the main characters in this book, and I really liked reading the fictionalized history of President and Mrs. McKinley at this time of his presidency. It was interesting to go along on their cross-country train tour. I also enjoyed the continuation of the story of Luke in prison in Cuba that began in the first book in this series. The story overall was good, but I didn’t find it as engaging as the first book in the series. I also had some issues along the way that brought the rating down for me.

The first thing that bothered me was that certain events in this story didn’t seem to match up well with the previous book. There’s some overlap in time, though it’s a bit difficult to follow, because time passes in jumps now and then in this book. Still, there’s a scene in the previous book that involves both MCs in this book, and the timing of how things are discovered in this book just don’t mesh with that scene. I kept trying to figure out how the two stories lined up, timing-wise, and it was distracting. I also noticed some inconsistencies in Luke’s behavior later in the book that I can’t explain without spoiling things.

The dialog continues to be fairly modern in this series, but I’m not personally bothered by it. After reading the first book, I thought the story of Luke that began there would encompass the entire series, the third then focusing on him, but just from the synopsis of the third book, one can see that’s not the case. My initial desire to read this entire trilogy is a little diminished by the way his story arc played out in this book, but I still want to read his story. This book may have been a little bit of a let-down to me after how much I loved the first one, but I have a feeling most of it is personal preference and that other fans of Christian or historical romance will still enjoy it.

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Book Review: The Glory of Love

The Glory of Love
Cassie Perkins
#9

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with No More Broken Promises.

Cassie returns home near the end of a long summer to find her family has become enthralled with her step-brother Nick’s new friend, a giant of a man named Dustin. Cassie doesn’t appreciate being thrown together with him just because Nick and Andrea, Cassie’s best friend, happen to be dating. Even as Cassie finds herself liking him more and more, he’s about to ship off to be in the army for 2 years, so she does everything she can to guard her heart.

Here at the final book in the series, I find that my reaction to it is related at least as much to how it calls back to the rest of the series as it is to this story itself. For example, Cassie immediately dislikes Dustin, mostly just because everyone else likes him. That’s been a rather tired recurring theme for her throughout the series, as she dislikes almost everyone new, and not always for the same reason. Overall, though, she’s clearly just not very accepting of change. She also has shown this amazing ability to turn the head of a lot of guys in the series, often just by being “different” from everyone else around. And finally, despite the lesson she should have learned from the previous book where she “fell in love,” she again convinces herself that she can date a non-believer and change him.

Also like some of the other books in the series, I had a feeling I knew where this story was going to go. Fortunately, it didn’t quite follow my predictions completely (which also happened with some of the other books too), and the story came out interesting in the end. I think I would have liked something a little more final for the last book in the series, but Cassie is still a teenager at this point, so a satisfactory wrap-up to this particular story would be difficult to swallow anyway. And since these were written in the early 90s, I don’t have much reason to hope for a follow-up. The series overall averaged about 4.5 stars for me, and I’m so glad I read through the whole thing again recently. I will be recommending the series to my daughter (currently 11) and do think it’s worth looking into for other Christian girls in the middle school to early high school range.

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Book Review: Hangman’s Curse

Hangman’s Curse
Veritas Project
#1

by Frank Peretti

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian thriller

The Springfields are a family of investigators—Dad, Mom, and twin siblings Elijah and Elisha—for the Veritas Project, which seeks to find the truth behind strange mysteries and crimes when others are unable or unwilling to see past the surface. They’re sent to a high school in Washington where kids are falling mysteriously ill with symptoms of fear and paranoia. As the family begins to assimilate into the school, they’re shocked to discover how certain students are treated, both by other students and by the faculty. Can they discover who—or what—has the school’s most popular kids seeing a ghost?

This book and its sequel, both of which I read several times back when they were new, are a large part of why Peretti has been my favorite author since high school. This is the first time in at least 10 years that I’ve read it, and it did not disappoint. The core issue in this book hit me a lot harder this time, maybe partly because I’m older now, but also because I read Peretti’s semi-autobiographical book The Wounded Spirit last year for the first time, which describes heavy bullying in his adolescence, and that really put this book into a new perspective for me. While it certainly does not excuse the kids who have been bullied and then retaliated, it sheds a light on the incredible injustice that can be prevalent in schools.

One thing that I think could trip some people up about this book is that the very premise of the series isn’t realistic. The fact that it’s the president of the United States who establishes this investigative group specifically with a Judeo-Christian perspective, as well as the teenagers of the family being investigators themselves, it’s not believable in this day and age. However, like with others of Peretti’s books, I think it’s perfectly okay to not think of it as meant to be completely realistic, and think of it more as a “what if” scenario. And in that way, it’s very insightful. I also question the likelihood of a high school teacher at that time actually teaching kids that there is no right or wrong…seems pretty foolish, since at a school, they’d most likely want kids to believe that the rules are right and that breaking the rules is wrong. Otherwise, they’re inviting anarchy. In today’s society (only 20 years later), though, I would buy this a lot more.

One last thing I should mention is definitely a spoiler, so highlight the black text at your own risk. If you have an issue with spiders, you may need to be careful reading this book. My own phobia is pretty bad, but I was able to push through. I don’t know if that’s an indication of how much I like the book or how un-intrusive the issue was, but it’s there. I do love this book, though I don’t know how well I’ll be able to watch the movie. I own it and have definitely watched it more than once in the past. I’m not sure if that means my phobia has grown over time or if the movie just isn’t too bad. There is one sequel to this book (man, do I wish Peretti had written more of these), and I remember liking it even more than this one, so I’m pretty excited about it. I highly recommend this book to all fans of Christian thrillers, whether you’re a teenager or adult.

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