Book Review: No More Broken Promises

No More Broken Promises
Cassie Perkins
#1

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

When Cassie wins the lead role in her school’s musical showcase, she keeps it a secret from her parents so she can surprise them when they see how well she sings. Unfortunately, they’re a bit distracted by the rift that seems to have formed between them that Cassie sees as starting with a tragedy that affected her dad’s job. While she’s stepping out of her comfort zone and trying new things at school, her family is falling apart at home.

I read this book, and at least some of the series following it, some time around middle school. Some of the plots and characters had stuck with me enough that I took great pains to track down the series recently so I could read through it again. And so far, I’m really glad I did. The book was simple enough, but had a lot of heart and emotion. It starts with a bang, with the tragedy that had Cassie’s dad working a whole lot extra, and already I was hooked. That tragedy, and the way the kids and teachers reacted to it, all felt very realistic. And I felt the same way with the family drama that ensues and the way it affected Cassie and her younger brother.

Speaking of Cassie’s younger brother, he’s incredibly endearing. His and Cassie’s relationship, her feeling protective of him and trying to explain what she doesn’t fully understand herself, was the heart of the story, in my opinion. Meanwhile, their parents really annoyed me. I am not saying whatsoever that their situation was unrealistic or uncommon, but really that just makes me sad for so many real kids in the world. There was one character that I felt was a bit too wise beyond his years; that part was a little unrealistic, but that didn’t detract much from the book as a whole. There were some incredibly insightful and poignant points made by a few of the characters, and honestly, I think the book could be quite instructive for teens or young adults who are considering marriage (soon or someday). Overall, I really enjoyed reading it and have high hopes for continuing the series.

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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic romance

My first exposure to Pride and Prejudice was from an episode of Wishbone when I was a teenager, but since then, I’ve not seen or read anything related to it. So overall, I went into the story not knowing a whole lot. Overall, I enjoyed the story, though the language certainly did slow me down at times. While there are some things about life back in those days I almost wish we still did today, I’m really glad that some things are different. Not that a family’s reputation can’t be soured at all by one person in the family, but it’s definitely not nearly as big of a deal these days.

The characters are what stand out to me the most about the story. The plot is a bit slow, especially in the first half, but I really liked getting to know the characters. Mr. Bennett hits the ground running with his snarky jokes in the first chapter. I don’t really understand why so many people love Mr. Darcy from the moment he first appears, but by the end, I certainly saw the strength of his character. Both of the Darcy siblings are so shy and introverted, I really connected with them. And Elizabeth may jump to some unfair conclusions about Mr. Darcy, but I don’t know that I can say I wouldn’t have done the same.

In the end, I think I would have been better off listening to an audiobook, and may do so in the future. I didn’t think it was bad, by any means (I gave it 4 stars, after all), but I wonder if I’d enjoy it more if I wasn’t slowing down so often to stumble over the old-fashioned language.

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Book Review: Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi suspense

When Ryland Grace wakes up and finds himself on a spaceship with 2 dead roommates and no memory of who he is, why he’s there, or how he got there, he certainly never expected to find out he’s on a mission to save the earth. As his memory falteringly returns and he discovers he may not be as alone as he thought, he will tax his abilities—both physical and mental—and his ship to give humanity a fighting chance.

I haven’t been as captivated by a book as I was by this one in a long time. I read it in 2 days, which is at least half the time I’d normally read a book of this length, because I was so enthralled and just kept wanting to come back to it. The story was creative, the characters were engaging, and the math and science were…well, they were math and science. I zoned out a few times when it got a little over my head and scanned the text for the spot where the point would be made. Those moments didn’t bother me, thoughI just nodded and moved on.

The story tends to go back and forth between the present time on the ship and the recent past back on Earth. The past scenes serve to show both us and Grace why he’s way out in space. Even when the reader thinks they know everything necessary from that time (or at least thinks they can infer it), there’s a little more to know. Personally, I liked the past scenes as much as the present. It was interesting to see Weir’s take on what could happen if catastrophe were looming and humanity was forced to work together or be wiped out.

Understandably, there are not a whole lot of characters in this book, especially those that are given much “screen” time. There’s Grace, of course, who may know more than seems reasonable for his past, but I enjoyed the book enough to not be bothered by it. He’s got a cheesy sense of humor and a determination that doesn’t preclude him from having moments of doubt. Fortunately, he has a counterpart through much of the book who spurs him on when he’s ready to give up, and vice versa. Rocky, along with the friendship that develops between Rocky and Grace, is certainly a highlight of the book. There’s not a whole lot more I can say without giving at least minor spoilers (though odds are pretty good if you read other reviews you’ll be spoiled anyway, as many people don’t see the explanation of Rocky as a spoiler…and maybe it’s not, but I’d rather be cautious). There are so many times when the interactions between Grace and Rocky made me laugh out loud. It’s so great! Also, the endingnever saw it coming!

The question that seems to be on most people’s minds is whether or not this book is too similar to Weir’s first book, The Martian. There are certainly some similarities, but the plot is very different. Whatney’s main conflict is simply survival, then if possible a return to Earth. Grace’s main conflict is to do the science to figure out how to save Earth, and…well, for a while, at least, that’s pretty much it. They’re really only similar in that they’re both one man working alone in space. Some will say that Grace is a copy of Whatney. I have read The Martian once and seen the movie twice, so I don’t think I know it enough to speak to that. They approach problems and science the same way, so I guess there’s that. I also want to mention, for those who are curious, that there is way less language in this book than there was in The Martian. Grace himself only uses “fake” swear words, so the only real language comes from the past scenes, and it’s considerably light. Some might be interested to know, however, that this book takes an evolution-as-fact approach to the universe, evolution being a very heavy topic in the latter half or so of the book. It’s very common for sci-fi to be written with that worldview, but it is pushed pretty heavily. Overall, though, I highly recommend this book to anyone who even remotely enjoys sci-fi books.

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

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Book Review: Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred

Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #8
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian suspense

While enjoying a ride in his Uncle Rex’s small aircraft, a near-miss in the air leads to injury for both Jay Cooper and his uncle. Uncle Rex is knocked unconscious, and a head injury leaves Jay without sight. The plane is still flying, but with no pilot and a dwindling supply of fuel, how long will it stay aloft? And will they be able to land safely?

Like book #4 in the series (Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea), this book involved no archaeology or supernatural elements—this one didn’t even have any kind of mystery—and was simply a race against time to save one of the Cooper kids from catastrophe. This book was also quite suspenseful, as Jay had to learn not to rely on what he felt and instead rely on what he was being told by those who were more knowledgeable than he, and more importantly, had more information. While typing that last sentence, I literally just realized the parallel to our lives in that situation. Sometimes sensations Jay felt made him think the plane was turning a lot more than it was, and he couldn’t see to verify those feelings. Various other people at different times were outside of the aircraft, could see more clearly what it was doing, and relayed that information to Jay. He had to trust them to be correct, in order to help save his own life, rather than rely on instincts and feelings. What a parallel to how we live our lives paying attention to our own instincts and feelings, when we are much better off relying on God, who knows infinitely more than we do and knows what’s best for our lives (and the lives of those around us)! And indeed, the biblical theme of trusting God, even to the point of submitting to Him if He chooses not to save one’s life, is strong in the story.

I really liked how immersive the story is, in regards to those flying the planes, the air traffic controllers, and other related things. In a way, it seems like Jay does very little, other than follow instructions from others, but I think his mental struggle and what he does from inside the plane while unable to see were still a good part of the story. I might have liked something a little more closely related to the overall theme of the series as the final book, but it was a good book on its own. I’m really glad I listened to the audiobooks read by Peretti himself for the 2nd half of the series—he certainly adds drama and excitement in his reading. This book, and the overall series, are good for the age group (pre-teen through teens).

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Book Review: Rabbits

Rabbits
by Terry Miles

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi/fantasy, suspense

There’s a game that may not really be a game. Players aren’t supposed to talk about it, at least not in specific terms. They call it Rabbits, and playing involves finding patterns in the world around you, coincidences or even discrepancies. Follow the clues and try to win, because winning means unimaginable rewards that no one knows for sure exist, just like no one knows for sure who the winners of the first 10 iterations of the game were. A man named K has been obsessed with the game for years, so when he’s approached by a man rumored to have won in the past and told that something is wrong with the game, and it’s up to K to fix it before the next iteration begins or the entire world is in danger, of course he has to try to help. But will he be too late?

The synopsis of this book (which is better written than mine above) really intrigued me. I loved the idea of a mysterious game with the entire world—universe, even—as the playing field. Unfortunately, the book was mostly just bizarre and repetitive and lacked the real punch and follow-through I was looking for. I read the book pretty quickly, not because I was excited and caught up in it, but because I was confused and a little frustrated and wanted to push to get to that place where everything is explained and suddenly makes sense. Sadly, that moment never happened.

After the possible former winner approaches K and tells him that he has to fix the game, the story mostly consists of the same format repeated over and over–K (and sometimes his friend Chloe too) researches/digs/looks for clues, hits a dead end and gives up, suddenly has a revelation that generally comes one of two ways—either someone randomly gives him a clue or he just happens to see a random item in the room he’s in that makes him think in a new way—then is off digging again before hitting that next dead end. During this repetitive meat of the book, K is remarkably knowledgeable about almost everything he needs to know to solve these things. He has to look up one or two things, but for the most part, he’s versed in movies, music, & books (foreign and domestic), art, architecture, and constellations. No real reason is given for him having all of this knowledge (he has an eidetic memory, but he’d still have to have been exposed to a lot), and to make it worse, the fellow-sort-of-player that is helping him through all of this, Chloe, never really has the surprising and sudden knowledge at just the right time.

K has a lot of strange things happen to him throughout the course of this book, and Chloe often asks him if he’s okay. Even after he’s admitted to her some of the mind-bending things that he’s seen, he still inevitably lies to her when she checks on him and tells her he’s okay. Literally every time, it’s, “I’m fine,” with almost no variation. And then there’s the heavy language throughout the book. Even when I was in high school, I knew that people who liked to drop the f-word into every other sentence didn’t have much in the way of a vocabulary. Apparently that is the case with every single character in this book, without even the allowance for the possibility that anyone they meet along the way may not talk the same way that everyone else does. I don’t read a lot of books with heavy language like this, but never before have I gotten to the point where it felt like the author was an 11-year-old who was out of hearing of his parents and cussing just because he can. That’s what this made me feel like.

(Warning, this paragraph contains some minor spoilers.) Even with everything I’ve said above, I probably would have given the book a little higher of a rating if it weren’t for the utter lack of a payoff in the end. There’s this science presented in the 2nd half of the book that was pretty baffling to me, but I was hanging in there, doing my best to understand just enough to see how the plot paid off. I’m not sure how much of what didn’t make sense to me was due to my lack of understanding of this kind of thing and how much was due to the author sort of hand-waving some of it, but I was hanging in there. Then we get to the end and…all of that, all of the science and urgency, is just…brushed off. We’re presented with 2 new theories about what’s been happening, and then the book ends with no real answers and with everything I was doing my best to understand is just thrown out the window. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a book wasted the time it took me to read it more than this one did, and the only reason it’s 2 stars is because I really do think the idea is good, the beginning was good, and I’m sure a lot of work was put into writing and editing this book.

As for whether or not you might like it…if you’re a major gamer, into fringe culture, or know anything at all about the darknet, you really might like this book. It reminded me of Ready Player One, in that there were quite a few references to movies, music, and games, a lot of it vintage. And like RPO, a lot of it was completely unnecessary. A major setting in the book is an arcade, and when a character just happens to be leaning on a game cabinet, I don’t need to know what the name of the game is unless it’s going to matter to the story. On the other hand, my husband would probably love to know because he spent a lot of time in arcades as a kid (he also liked all of the references in RPO more than I did). So definitely make the decision for yourself, if this book sounds interesting. You can also check out other reviews at the link below.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: June 8, 2021

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Book Review: As You Wish

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes & Joe Layden
Read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Twenty-five years after the release of The Princess Bride, a movie that was not much of a success in its time but later became a cult classic, Cary Elwes, who played the iconic Westley in the movie, writes about his time working on the set. With additions by many of Elwes’s co-stars, along with the director, the producer, and the screenplay writer (who also wrote the book the movie is based on), Elwes gives us a peek at the making of a movie in general, and this family favorite in particular.

As soon as I knew this book existed, I knew I’d be reading it, and I knew I’d enjoy it. I’ve seen the movie several times, but even more importantly, it is my husband’s all-time favorite movie. So I suggested we both listen to the audiobook, which is narrated by Elwes himself, an actor we have both really liked for a long time, which is exactly what we did. And we both loved it! We also loved that the bits added by other people who worked on the movie were mostly read by those people as well. I think the fact that they were willing to take the time to first write, and then narrate their own thoughts on the making of this movie illustrates exactly what Elwes says throughout the book, that this cast and crew became a lot like a family. Others who read this book seem to be looking for the seedy underbelly, assuming that Elwes left out anything negative in his rush to extol the virtues of his co-workers. And I can’t say that’s not the case, of course, but perhaps the reason this memoir is so friendly and upbeat is because that’s how it really was. It’s not like poor Wallace Shawn was brow-beaten into saying his time working on the movie was all sunshine and rainbows (he had some issues, but I won’t say more than that).

I loved hearing some of the accounts of things that happened throughout the months working on this film, and even in the time after. Some of them were described by multiple people, which added a nice depth to them. I had re-watched the movie in anticipation of reading this book, but still felt compelled to look up certain scenes to see something Elwes described, whether a specific way he moved during the scene due to an injury or a line that was improvised. For fans of The Princess Bride, this book may make you see the movie in a whole new light and, hopefully, a good one. If you’ve never seen the movie, I recommend it.

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May in Review

I read 12 books last month, which is about a book higher than my average has been this year. And my overall page count was higher than it’s been for the last several months, which I guess means I didn’t read as high a ratio of short books this time.

Here are the books I read in May:

Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham (4 / 5)
The Legend of Annie Murphy by Frank E. Peretti (3.5 / 5)
Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (5 / 5)
Refugees on the Run by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert (5 / 5)
Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii by Lee Goldberg (3.5 / 5)
Tidewater Bride by Laura Frantz (4 / 5)
Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers by Tessa Arlen (4 / 5)
The Cat Who Played Brahms by Lilian Jackson Braun (5 / 5)
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery (3.5 / 5)
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (4.5 / 5)
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (5 / 5)
Redeeming Grace: Ruth’s Story by Jill Eileen Smith (3 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from May was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I finished (or caught up on) 2 series, continued 3 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.

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: Redeeming Grace

Redeeming Grace: Ruth’s Story
by Jill Eileen Smith

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

I’m going to skip the synopsis in my own words this time, because if you don’t have at least a basic understanding of the story of Ruth from the Bible, you probably won’t be paying much attention to this review anyway. Overall, I didn’t like this book nearly as much as I’d hoped. Some of that I’m sure is personal preference, since Ruth is my favorite book in the Bible and the account of Ruth and Boaz has long held a kind of romance for me. Even outside of that, though, I think there were some issues with how the author handled this retelling.

The author spent so much time on some things and not enough time on others, in my opinion. For example, not to be too flippant about it, but the story doesn’t really get going until Naomi’s husband and sons have all died. This is covered in 5 verses of the 4 total chapters of Ruth in the Bible, but by 130 of the 350 pages of the book. Some of that time was spent introducing Ruth’s character, but a lot of her personality and loyalty can easily be seen in her actions later in the story. Some of those pages were given to Boaz, too, during which he had a wife of more than 10 years. If you’re like me and would have thrown the book across the room if this account had made Ruth a 2nd wife to Boaz (while the 1st wife was alive, a common practice in those days), don’t worry. I still don’t care for how it all worked out, romance-wise, but at least it wasn’t that.

What I wish the author had spent more time on was showing and explaining some of the customs that might seem strange to us modern folks, like why Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet on the threshing floor. And this leads to my other main issue with the story, the blending of the fictional with what is directly out of the Bible. Though Smith does do a decent job of making the dialog seem like something from back then most of the time, when the characters say words that are taken directly from Scripture, the difference is a bit jolting to me. And I believe that Boaz’s first marriage in this story is likely a way of explaining why he is an older man, yet unmarried, but Boaz in the Bible speaks about God as if he fully trusts in Him and believes in His goodness. Yet here we have a Boaz who is broken and questioning God, even for a while feeling a bit numb to Him, yet still speaks those same trustful words to Ruth at the necessary time from the biblical account…it just doesn’t mesh.

What I did love, however, is Ruth herself and how she’s portrayed in this book. I think the author did right by the biblical account in that respect, and I really liked Ruth’s conversion and how she always wanted to know more about Naomi’s God and the Israelite customs. I also appreciated the completely fictional side-story of Hamul, Elimelech’s brother’s son, both in its own respect and in how it showed Boaz following not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of it.

I do wonder if I should cease attempts to find a fictionalized version of this account, because it may be impossible to find one to my liking. I think, though, that what bothers me most is when the author feels the need to come up with modern-mindset reasons for things from the historical account, even though we all know how different cultures were back then. Also, this is another Christian book where a newly married couple’s first night together is described a bit further than I would prefer. Not graphic by any means, but enough to make me start to feel uncomfortable before we moved on. If you’re interested in reading this book, however, don’t let me dissuade you. Many other people thought it was great, and you can check out their reviews at the link below.

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Book Review: The Princess Diaries

The Princess Diaries
Book #1
by Meg Cabot
read by Anne Hathaway

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA contemporary fiction

Mia Thermopolis is just trying to survive high school, as a freshman at a private school in New York who is not popular, not pretty, and not good at algebra. Then her dad drops the bombshell that he’s the crown prince of a small country in Europe, and that because he can’t have any more kids, Mia is the next in line for the throne. She resists this news heavily, especially when told that he’ll have to move to Genovia, but her struggles are only beginning.

I have seen the movie based on this book a few times since it came out, including once recently with my daughter, and I’ve always enjoyed the movie. I had thought about reading the books, but it was learning that the audiobook was narrated by Anne Hathaway that clinched it. And though the movie is different from the book in a lot of ways, the character of Mia Thermopolis in the movie is very true to the book. The book is written entirely as diary entries from Mia as she finds out she’s a princess and deals with the fallout from that, so hearing it all in the voice of the one who brought the character to life added a wonderful dimension to it.

This book struck me as so real, the way the MC’s thoughts are laid so open and bare to her diary that she has no reason to believe anyone will ever read. When I was in high school, I made various attempts to keep a diary, a mostly blank book that I still have, and when I look back at it, I realize that I was unable to be completely honest even with only myself as the audience. I wonder how many teenagers and even pre-teens have read, or will read, this book and will be inspired to keep a diary. The book was published right around the time I was graduating high school, so while I lived in a vastly different place than NYC, I could still feel the connection to my younger days.

I can’t truly say whether I’d have rated the book 5 stars if I’d read it for myself, but as far as the audiobook goes, I loved listening to it. The first 3 in the series of 11 are narrated by Anne Hathaway, which should give me time to decide if I like the series enough for itself to continue reading after that. I initially read this with a mind toward whether or not to suggest it to my daughter, who is 11, but I think there are a few mentions to things that she’s too young for, even if they might go over her head, that I’ll hold off on recommending it to her. If you haven’t read any of this series, though, and like the movie, I suggest giving the audiobook a try.

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Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Throughout all of Jacob Portman’s 15 years, his grandfather has told him stories about his past. Incredible, unbelievable stories about monsters and kids with special abilities and an island where he and the other kids hid from the monsters. As he grows up, Jacob realizes that the stories are fictional, or at least an exaggeration of a childhood shaped by fear of persecution and annihilation, for Jacob’s grandfather’s family was Jewish in Poland during WWII. Then tragedy strikes, and Jacob begins to feel he’s losing his mind, haunted by his grandfather’s monsters. The only solution he can think of is to go to the island where his grandfather once lived, where he hopes someone who knew his grandfather might still be. But he could never have prepared himself for what he would find there.

I really did not know what I was getting into when I started reading this book. Apparently some people expect it to be horror, but it really isn’t–more creepy at worst. It’s more mystery and suspense with some adventure, definitely sci-fi/fantasy elements, and even some historical fiction thrown in. I really liked the mystery and intrigue as Jacob tried to decipher his grandfather’s cryptic message. I also think the world-building around the safe house and the way it’s kept safe are incredibly interesting and well-done. The main character starts out as a self-important, bratty kid, and…well, he may still be that at the end of the book. But a self-important, bratty kid with a mission is better than one with no aim whatsoever, so there’s that.

I was really caught up in the book almost the whole way through, but when I slowed down to think about it, I realized the writing could have been better. And the inclusion of the photos sometimes flowed well, but other times the explanation for why there was a photo of a particular person or event just felt too forced. However, I think I approached this book the opposite of most people–rather than being excited about these creepy, vintage photos that the story is written around, I didn’t really care about the photos in advance, read the book for itself, and looked at the pictures as they came up. If you’re thinking of reading this book 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. Be warned, though: it ties up most of the story from the book, but the ending is a jumping-off point for the next book, which I’m looking forward to continuing.

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