Blog Tour & Book Review: Paris Never Leaves You

Paris Never Leaves You
by Ellen Feldman

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction

Feldman - Cover Art

A story of survival at all costs and the aftermath of war and trauma, Paris Never Leaves You is told in alternating timelines. Charlotte survived occupied Paris and moved to America to start a new life, but the past is never quite in the past. One letter is all it takes to bring back a flood of memories and unravel Charlotte’s life.

There’s plenty to appreciate about this book, from the descriptions of life in occupied Paris to the very real trauma involved in later years. Charlotte’s daughter deals with prejudice and strives to learn more about the heritage that has people hating her for no reason. I had no issues with the dual time periods, and appreciated seeing a different part of WWII than I’ve most often read about in books.

You may read some reviews where it mentions the romances in this book–one in each time period. Let’s not kid ourselves–none of this is “romance.” Charlotte’s decisions in Paris are the kind where you can’t really say what you’d do unless you’re in the situation yourself. Her decisions in New York nearly ruined the book for me. There was no need for the relationship to happen the way it did (or at all, really), and I’m just not a fan of infidelity romance. Her reason for not getting off his lap when he gave her the wheelchair ride was a cop-out, plain and simple, and it went downhill from there, for me.

All that said, I am glad I read the book. It brings up a lot of moral quandaries, from start to finish. It can really make you think, questioning how you would act in that situation, both in Charlotte’s shoes, but also in many other characters’. I do think that fans of historical fiction, especially WWII/Holocaust related fiction, will like this book. But steer clear if you don’t like your heroines getting involved with married men. Also be aware, there is at least one slightly graphic physical encounter in the book, though fortunately not very much of it.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Don’t Keep Silent

Don’t Keep Silent
Uncommon Justice
#3
by Elizabeth Goddard

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Romance, suspense, Christian

Don't

Investigative reporter Rae Burke’s sister-in-law has a secretive and troubled past, so when she disappears, Rae knows it won’t be easy to track her down. However, with the help of former DEA agent Liam McKade, with whom Rae once had a relationship, Rae refuses to give up. Though they are both professionals, it still won’t be easy to put their past behind them, especially since Rae once ruined Liam’s career and almost got him killed. Can they battle bad guys, nature, and their own issues to find Zoey?

This was yet another time when I can’t help but wonder if I read a different book than everyone else. Maybe I’m just far more particular. But while I liked the setting and appreciated some of the characters, overall I had a lot of trouble with this story, especially in the plot and writing style.

I don’t know how to explain it, exactly, but many times, it felt like the author had an outline of things she wanted to have happen in a scene and just sort of threw them together. One paragraph would have 2-3 different, unrelated topics in it, lacking any kind of transition. Conversations didn’t make sense half the time, either because the characters sometimes seemed like they were not having the same conversation as each other, or because the dialog was stilted in general.

As the mystery unfolded, I tried to get involved. The plot itself was decent for most of the story, but the revelations at the end were convoluted and nothing you wouldn’t expect from the set-up. There were some incredible coincidences that I think the author tried to give good reason for, but they fell flat for me, most likely due to how complicated things got. It didn’t help that I felt like I was missing half the story. I know this is book 3 in a series, and I do wish I’d read the first 2 before diving into this one, but I’m pretty sure that the parts related to Rae & Liam’s history weren’t in a previous book. I would have liked more explanation there.

The author’s attempts at suspense fell flat, usually because information seemed to be given sorely out of order. Rae convinces Zoey’s mom that she’s able to help, so Zoey’s mom opens up to her…but then only after being pressed for more info does she mention that the primary suspect has recently been announced dead?! This is just one example of strange or contradictory situations I noted throughout the book.

The book is billed as Christian, but it’s barely that. The main characters give silent, single-sentence prayers every once in a while, pleading with God for other characters to be all right, but that’s about the extent of it. I have no idea what either of them believe, or if they actually trust the God they’re seeking help from.

I really don’t like writing reviews like this, and I certainly wish I’d enjoyed the book more. Based on other reviews, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re interested in this type of book, you should still check it out. Though I’d strongly recommend starting with book 1, as there are things about Liam’s family that are mentioned in this book with no context, and the other two books are about his brothers.

Thank you to NetGalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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July in Review

I read 7 books last month, coming back a bit more from my unexpected reading slump. I’m still staying a little ahead of my reading challenge goal on Goodreads, and isn’t that really all that matters?

Here are the books I read in July:

A Bride of Convenience by Jody Hedlund (3.5 / 5)
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman (posting review on Aug. 7th as part of blog tour) (3.5 / 5)
What You Wish For by Katherine Center (4 / 5)
Loving a Rebel by Linda Ford (4 / 5)
Final Chance by E.B. Roshan (3.5 / 5)
The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart (4 / 5)

This list includes 5 ARCs. My favorite book from July was The Warden and the Wolf King. I finished 1 series, continued 0 series, and started 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.

Book Review: The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne
by Elsa Hart

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Cabinets

London, 1703–Cecily enters the house of famous collector Barnaby Mayne. In a circle of men who store and display wonders of the natural world, Mayne has the largest collection around. Cecily simply wants to use his cabinets to put identifications to her own small collection of pressed plants. Instead, she gets embroiled in a murder mystery when Sir Barnaby is slain. Though one man admits to the crime at the discovery of the body, Cecily uncovers too many inconsistencies to believe his hasty confession. Finding the truth will prove even more difficult than finding any particular item in the cabinets of Barnaby Mayne.

I was initially drawn to this book because of the cover, but I wondered if it might turn out to be a slow, dusty read. While there were a few small spots that dragged when cabinet contents were focused on now and then, overall, I didn’t have a problem with the pacing. The main characters were the highlight of the book, and the mystery itself was engaging.

Cecily is a strong, independent woman who has endured much in this world where women are not expected to participate in the affairs of men. There is also Meacan, who was a childhood friend of Cecily’s, though the two lost touch over the years. Meacan has been employed at Sir Barnaby’s house, and the two make quite the pair as the investigation picks up. For as much as I liked Cecily, Meacan was an even more interesting character. I certainly hope we get to see a lot more of her in the future, compared to the smaller role she had overall in this book.

I had a few theories about who the real murderer was and why, and even about why the confessor would admit to a crime he didn’t commit. While my initial guess on the latter turned out to be true, I had no clue about the murderer, even up to the reveal. Overall, it seemed to me like no one really had much of a motive for the murder, even though just about everyone seemed to have the opportunity. Looking back, the clues were mostly there, but meager enough, and stretched far enough apart, that I wasn’t exactly kicking myself for not solving it.

The writing and descriptions, as well as the dialog, gave the book just the right historical feel without bogging down the story. There is plenty of intrigue in the lives of both Cecily and Meacan to make them characters you want to follow into a series, and the ending definitely hints at more to come, though I see no specific indication that this is the first in a series. I certainly hope it is. My only real gripe is that the entire first chapter seemed completely unnecessary to me. I don’t really understand why it was needed. If it was simply to give us a glimpse at a character that would come into play more later, the scene could have gone a whole different way that would play into the story in this book a lot more. Otherwise, though, I think mystery lovers, especially those who like historical fiction, will enjoy this book.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review!

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Publication date: August 4, 2020

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Book Review: Final Chance

Finished Reading: Final Chance
by E.B. Roshan

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Suspense, drama

Final

Preen has just fully accepted that her husband, Rama, died at the hands of a rival militia, in the tumultuous city of Dor. But a late-night phone call with her husband’s voice on the other end prompts her to travel to the war-torn city, where she used to live with her husband and daughter. What follows is a dangerous journey that will force Preen to relive unpleasant memories and test old loyalties.

This is a difficult book to rate, and a difficult review to write. I didn’t really know what I thought of it as I was reading it, and I’m not sure how I feel about it now, over a week after finishing it. This is not to say that the story is bad, nor the writing. More that I didn’t feel much draw to the characters and had no real understanding of the theme or purpose of the story.

The biggest thing that I took away from it was a sadness for the Tur people who were being evacuated from Dor and forced to live in a refugee camp. The fact that they didn’t even seem to have a complaint about their living conditions seems to say that either they have already been living in terrible conditions so long that they’re used to it, or that their lives in Dor was so terrible that the camp was an upgrade. I’m not entirely sure which, but it still made me sad, considering that, though the setting was fictional, the situation is entirely too real.

The book is novella-length, so there is not a lot of depth in the world-building or characterization. On the former point, I wasn’t bothered at all. Once I got used to the melding of modern and primitive, I appreciated the way the author used it in the story. There were some allusions to culture and customs that made the setting feel real. For various reasons, I imagined the story to be taking place somewhere around the Middle East, but again, that is not specified. Regarding the characters, the history between Preen and Rama is basically empty. If I was meant to feel much at all about their relationship and whether or not Rama is alive, it’s very difficult when I know almost nothing about them.

I think the story is worthy of a good rating, but in the end, I think I am not quite the right audience for it. I’m not sorry I read it, however, and because my review may not be entirely helpful, I definitely suggest checking out what others have to say.

I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Loving a Rebel

Loving a Rebel: The Preacher’s Daughters
Glory, Montana #1
by Linda Ford

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Rebel

To avoid succumbing to a winter storm, Flora Kinsley and Kade Thomas are forced to spend two whole days alone together in Kade’s small dwelling. The year is 1884, and Flora’s dad is a strict preacher, who she knows will not take kindly to the circumstances. With her honor and reputation at stake, will Flora’s rebel heart be forced into a marriage she does not want, or will Kade be able to convince either of the two stubborn Kinsleys into an amicable arrangement?

This is a short, clean romance that hits the nail on the head in regards to a person of Flora’s personality–simply that forcing her to do something will only lead to rebellion and hardship. I’ve always appreciated a well-done story about two characters who are thrust into a relationship or marriage and have to learn how to make it work. That isn’t quite how this story plays out, but it was still a good read.

From early in the book, as Flora and Kade spend their two days together, it is clear that they are both completely different in the taking-risks department. Yet, they begin to learn from each other and minds and hearts are eventually changed. I really appreciated the depth we delve into the reasons behind why both of these characters are how they are, which I wouldn’t have expected in such a short space. One thing that bothered me, though, is just how stubborn everyone in this book is. No one is willing to bend when it seems like they have no reason to be so firm. The preacher annoyed me in particular, given the way he acted toward Kade even way past the point when he had any reason to treat him that way.

There is one particular character who seemed a bit over-the-top, which I think is because I sensed his inclusion as a simple plot-driver more than I normally would. In the end, though, I was a little amused by him, which is pretty strange, given how he acted in the book. There’s a large part of me that would like to hear more about him in the future–perhaps a change in perspective, maybe even a conversion.

There are points in the book that felt way too modern to me, given the time period. Overall, though, I enjoyed the story. It is the beginning of a series, which I do intend to continue at this point. I recommend this book to fans of Christian historical romances, and have high hopes for the rest of the series.

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Book Review: North and South

North and South
by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Classic, romance

I’ve seen the BBC mini-series of this book several times in the past. I even watched it once with my husband, who appreciated the way that both sides of the labor dispute are presented–both the good and the bad of unions. While I’ve had moderate success in enjoyment of classics in my recent reading, I decided it was time to read the book that inspired a mini-series I love. I’m so glad I did.

One of the things that was great about reading the book is that, as is usually the case with books that are made into movies, mini-series, TV shows, etc., the characters were able to have more depth. We get to read about their thought processes, the reasons behind their actions, which are more difficult to put across on screen. In the case of Thornton, it gave me a lot more insight into his feelings for Margaret. I really appreciated the way he treated her on her dad’s behalf, considering that he saw her as far too good for him and his dirty northern town. And sadly, she didn’t do anything to dispel that feeling.

That is the crux of this story, though, as both sides–the northerners and the southerners–tend to make assumptions about the other, sometimes only due to a cultural difference. Other times due to a shortcoming on someone’s behalf, or simply a bad day.

Unfortunately, I disliked Margaret more by the end of the book than I expected to. While some of the misconceptions are unfounded, she really was quite haughty and seemed even heartless at times, at least in regard to Thornton. As has been the case in the past when I read a book that I have already watched a screen version of, I can’t really say for sure if Higgins would have become such a favorite character of mine as he did, if I hadn’t first seen the mini-series, but I still really liked him in the book. One of my biggest frustrations was that Mr. Hale’s reason for leaving the church is never really expounded upon. I found myself wanting to be able to have my own opinion about how good or bad of a decision it was to uproot his family, but I suppose Gaskell didn’t think it was an important aspect to the story.

I do get why some don’t care for the story. Some compare it to Pride and Prejudice in both positive and negative ways, though I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. While I do sometimes want to sit both Thornton and Margaret down and tell them to stop being stupid and proud, I still quite enjoyed the book and recommend it for any who enjoys romance from this period, and for fans of the mini-series.

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Book Review: What You Wish For

What You Wish For
by Katherine Center

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Women’s fiction, romance

Wish

Sam Casey, librarian at a private elementary school, is one of many left to pick up the pieces when the school’s beloved principal and founder dies unexpectedly over the summer. But when she hears that Max’s replacement will be none other than an old crush that she remembers being an awful lot like Max, she’s partially excited for him to come, but mostly terrified that her old crush, which is really more like a full-blown obsession, for Duncan Carpenter will rear its ugly head and destroy the nice life she’s made in Galveston. So it’s kind of a blessing when Duncan turns out to have drastically changed since she saw him. A blessing that becomes a curse when he starts changing everything she loves about the school–everything Max built and stood for.

There was a lot about this book that I wasn’t able to connect with, like the hidden pasts of both of the MCs and Sam’s life-altering obsession with Duncan. However, I think it’s saying something that, even still, I enjoyed the overall story. The burdens and joys the characters went through felt real. Things didn’t fall into place easily–they were really worked for.

I strongly suspected Duncan’s secret based on the way he was acting; in fact, I’d imagine most would. But that didn’t make it any less heart-breaking when it was revealed. Sam’s secret seemed to pale in comparison to his, but I don’t think that’s really fair to her. However, considering the way she spoke and acted throughout the book, she greatly annoyed me near the end. I think that part may have been a bit overdone, but at the same time, I can’t say a real person wouldn’t have acted just like that. Trauma can affect people in a lot of ways.

Like with the previous book of this author’s that I read, Things You Save in a Fire, I liked the slow burn to the romance and the fact that it wasn’t so in-your-face as it so often is in these types of books. It was maybe a little bit anticlimactic at the end, but it didn’t leave me disappointed. For those who want to know about how clean a book is before reading–it’s light on language (but with a couple of f-words), and there is more physical interaction and description than I prefer, but not enough to make me too uncomfortable. (Not even to the detail of what I remember from Things You Save in a Fire.)

The overall theme in this book, as many others have mentioned, is the idea of choosing joy. While that theme didn’t really come up until the second half or so of the book, it is heavily focused on in that latter half (not in a bad way). Of course that is always easier said than done, as Sam herself makes clear. I have found that following and trusting God, the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), is the only way I’ve ever had true and lasting peace and joy. I appreciated the message here, though as a Christian, I found it a bit empty. This did not factor into my rating, though, and I do recommend this book for anyone looking for a sweet, goofy, mostly uplifting romance (I only say “mostly” because there is definitely some darkness along the way).

Thank you so much to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review!

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Book Review: The Warden and the Wolf King

The Warden and the Wolf King
The Wingfeather Saga
#4
by Andrew Peterson

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

wing 4

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

War has come to the Green Hollows and surrounding lands. King Kalmar knows that fighting the overwhelming forces of Fangs won’t be enough, though, and is determined to confront Gnag the Nameless himself. The Wingfeathers hope for a better future and a return to their homeland, but what will it cost to get there?

Again I find myself wishing I could say more, but not wanting to have to post behind a spoiler tag. The conclusion to the saga was at least as amazing, if not more so, as the run to get here. For a series that started a bit slow (not boring, but slow), the ensuing adventure, peril, emotion, and character development was worth every bit of the build up.

The character development throughout the series, and especially this last book, was realistic and even made me examine my own heart more closely. Though I have to admit that I don’t think Leeli had much development overall. The ending was incredible, and I never saw it coming. It left me in shock, and with the biggest book hangover I’ve ever experienced. I am already looking forward to when I re-read this series (which will probably be in September when the second half of the re-released books come out, which my husband already pre-ordered for me).

Keeping in mind that that this series is middle grade fiction, I’m going to share a bit of a story:

I read the first 2 books earlier this year, as ARCs for the re-release that will include all new illustrations and footnotes (the books originally came out 10 years ago). I remember thinking that my then 9-year-old daughter might enjoy them, but she likes reading in theory more than in practice, tending to start books and not finish them.

When Andrew Peterson started reading the first book live online during the quarantine back in March, she started listening with me part way through (she was usually outside playing when he read, and she didn’t have enough interest initially to stay inside to listen). By the time he finished reading book 2, she was hooked. She sped on ahead of me and listened to the audio books for 3 & 4. She loved them so much, she was desperate for me to read the rest so she could talk about them with me. She then proceeded to go back and read the first 2 books and re-listen to the last 2 books a few times. All in the space of a few months, by a girl who only halfheartedly read before this.

So to sum up, while the series itself is incredible–inventive, adventurous, emotional, even beautiful–the best thing about these books is that it gave my daughter and me something to enjoy together and discuss. Though we have to do it in whispers, because our enjoyment has gotten my husband’s interest piqued, and we don’t want to spoil anything for him.

Though I’ve been saying all through the reviews for this that the book is not overtly Christian–and it’s not–there was a message in this book that I really appreciated. And I just have to say that I think it’s okay to be jealous about someone else being allowed to literally directly encounter God, and you’re not invited. I can’t recommend this book enough to readers of all ages, and particularly suggest that reading it along with your kids, or even out loud to your kids, might just provide hours, days, weeks of great bonding time.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2014, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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Book Review: The Monster in the Hollows

The Monster in the Hollows
The Wingfeather Saga
#3
by Andrew Peterson

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

monster

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness & North! or Be Eaten.

The joyful ending of the previous book only carries so far into the Green Hollows, where the residents are wary, to say the least, about having a Grey Fang in their midst. Even as his family defends him, Janner can’t seem to help but be afraid of his brother as well. The Igibys begin to try to make their home in the Green Hollows, but there is more danger nearby than just the little Grey Fang.

Though there were some slower parts for me in this book, as I wasn’t as interested in the school system in the Green Hollows, it was not nearly enough to detract from the rest of the book as an exciting, heart-filled addition to this series.

Looking back on it, most of what I’d want to expand on would be a spoiler, so I don’t feel like I can say much in this review. However, as the danger ramps up, the heroes learn more and more who they are and who they should be. And though there were some dark and gut-wrenching moments, I have so much anticipation for the finale of this great series. More importantly, my 10-year-old daughter has gotten into this series since I started it, and she LOVES it! In fact, she’s kind of obsessed with it. She’s not an avid reader, so I’d say that’s a huge endorsement.

I highly recommend this book, and the series so far, for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. And to restate from my previous reviews–you might see it labeled as Christian, and there are some references to a deity that many of the people believe in, but it is not overtly Christian.

On a technical note, I initially listened to this as an audiobook, which isn’t normally my thing. It’s narrated by the author, though, and he does such great voices and really makes the characters come alive. When I got a copy of the ARC, I flipped through to find all of the illustrations and extras that the re-release will have, and they are great too! Definitely worth having the physical copy when it comes out someday.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2011, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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