July in Review

I read 10 books last month, most of which were shorter than average for me. Most of my reading was pushing to finish a couple of older series I started during a gifted Kindle Unlimited subscription (I didn’t quite make it, but only have 1 book left in both of those series). Then after a month of pushing to read a lot of shorter books, and subsequently reviewing a lot of books quickly, I think I got a little burned out and took off an entire week off near the end of the month. I’m back to it now, though, and excited about books I’ve got coming up!

Here are the books I read in July:

A Love to Cherish by Linda Ford (2 / 5)
The Much-Adored Sandy Shore by Angela Hunt (4 / 5)
‘Tis the Season by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
Love Burning Bright by Angela Hunt (5 / 5)
The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket (4 / 5)
Stand Down by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
The Chance of a Lifetime by Angela Hunt (5 / 5)
Murder at the Manor by Catherine Coles (3 / 5)
The Cryptographer’s Dilemma by Johnnie Alexander (4 / 5)
Star Light, Star Bright by Angela Hunt (4 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC and 4 re-reads. My favorite book from July was less one book and more the overall enjoyment I had reading through the Cassie Perkins series by Angela Hunt, which I originally read as a teenager. I continued 3 series and finished (or caught up on) 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 includes 1 series that I did not reach the end of but decided not to continue reading, after being 2 books into the series.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: The Chance of a Lifetime

The Chance of a Lifetime
Cassie Perkins
#8

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 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 auditions for and wins a spot on a national singing tour for the election campaign of a man running for president of the United States. At first, it doesn’t matter to her what his position is on any policies because of the amazing opportunity and the exposure she’ll get as a singer. Besides, she’s too young to vote, so it doesn’t really matter whether or not she agrees with him…does it?

Very shortly after going with Andrea to New York City for Andrea’s chance as a fashion model, Cassie is off on another adventure, this time by herself. And for a while, it’s nothing but lights and music and fun. Not that it’s not hard work to memorize the songs and routines in the small time frame she and the other 7 singers are given, and I really liked the descriptions we’re given about how the rehearsals and shows go. I’m sure it could have gotten repetitive, since a lot of what happened was the same from day to day, or it could have just been skipped over and left a really short book. But Hunt made it interesting and focused more on things that did change from day to day, mostly things that happened with the singers, or meager encounters with the man they were promoting.

Then a medical situation forces Cassie to stop singing, and even to stop talking, and all that’s left to do is to listen. And she doesn’t like what she hears. As a teenager whose parents aren’t really Christians, Cassie has to wrestle mostly alone with the moral implications of endorsing a man whose stance on certain political issues go against the faith she’s still somewhat new to. I really like the way it all plays out, and I think it can give anyone who reads it encouragement to make the right choice when faced with a difficult decision like this ourselves. This book is a solid addition to the series in which I’m sad to only have one book left to read.

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Book Review: Star Light, Star Bright

Star Light, Star Bright
Cassie Perkins
#7

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 / 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.

When Cassie’s best friend Andrea wins a modeling contest and gets to go to New York City for a week, she invites Cassie to go with her. But fame and fortune affects Andrea in ways Cassie never expected. Will their friendship survive Andrea’s overnight success?

Cassie finally gets to show that she can be responsible in this story, as she’s expected to keep Andrea out of trouble when the two teenagers go to New York. Of course, there wouldn’t be a story if things didn’t go wrong in some way, so while what happens is unexpected to Cassie, it’s a bit expected by at least adult readers. Readers of the demographic this story is meant for may not expect it as much, but it’s hard to say in this day and age. I think what I question the most, though, is how on earth Andrea and Cassie are even best friends. Andrea has always been a less-than-faithful friend, ignoring Cassie for long periods of time if she’s interested in a guy or just annoyed with Cassie in some way. Suddenly at the beginning of this book, though, the two are thick as thieves again. Well, okay.

When I think about this series from when I read it as a teenager, this story was the one I remembered most. Though it was maybe a little less enthralling as an overall story than some of the others, I still liked it and am looking forward to the rest of the series.

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Book Review: Murder at the Manor

Murder at the Manor
Tommy & Evelyn Christie #1
by Catherine Coles

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Tommy and Evelyn Christie are spending the weekend at Tommy’s family home, a large estate belonging to his uncle, the Earl of Northmoor. Evelyn, who is not initially from such high-society, is mostly expecting to just grin and bear it. But when the Earl dies and murder is suspected, it’s clear the weekend will be anything but boring. Tommy and Evelyn, who both worked for the police in some capacity in the past, can’t help but perform their own investigation into the plethora of family, acquaintances, and staff who were at the estate for the weekend.

The first in a series of cozy mysteries, I had some ups and downs with this book. The mystery was a little light, not that I knew for sure who had done it, but more that the motive behind it was mundane and easily suspected. The setting was interesting, though the dialog didn’t always feel true to the time period. I didn’t care for the way that pretty much every character except for the 2 MCs and most of the staff is hiding some kind of deplorable secret. Just about every married person is having an affair or had one in the past. Maybe this is completely normal for the setting, I don’t know, but I didn’t care for it.

The weirdest thing, to me, is that the investigating, in particular the interviews the MCs would perform with suspects, felt like something right out of a mystery video game. I’ve played a lot of Nancy Drew games in the past, and it seemed a lot like that. It just didn’t feel natural.

Overall, it was mostly an okay book, nothing to stand out in either direction. It’s fairly short, which I’m sure contributes to it feeling somewhat shallow, but it’s really not bad either. Just not my overall preference for a story. I thought it might be a new series for me to get into, with the 4th book being released a few months ago, but I will most likely pass on this series. However, I think plenty of fans of cozy mysteries and fiction from this time in history (1920s England) are likely to enjoy the book, so if that describes you, consider looking it up.

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Book Review: The Cryptographer’s Dilemma

The Cryptographer’s Dilemma
Heroines of WWII series
by Johnnie Alexander

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Eloise Marshall has a head for numbers, so when the navy recruits her as a cryptographer, she shines in her new role. So much so that the FBI enlists her to help with two potentially coded messages that appear to be innocuous letters about doll collecting. Her reluctant partner is Phillip Clayton, who was recently rejected by the Air Force due to being color blind. As the pair travel across the country trying to find the identity of a potential traitor, can they keep their relationship professional for the sake of their country?

I liked this story a lot while I was reading it, even though a lot of it is pretty unlikely. Then Eloise starts making some pretty reckless decisions for reasons that weren’t too bright, always either to avoid being left behind when she could see her part in the investigation being over or simply because she didn’t trust the FBI to help Phillip. These things aren’t necessarily against her character, but then again, her character is a bit contradictory in itself. On the one hand, she proves herself to be a risk taker (and to have quite a bit of gall in an early interaction between Phillip and his uncle, which I really liked), but at the same time quickly regrets leaving her world of numbers to enter into one of danger. This is not meant to be a complaint about the book, though, as it never left me feeling like it was bad characterization; it shows that she has some depth to her, really. But she still made me smack my head a few times.

As for Phillip…well, he’s a bit contradictory too. He’s shaken up by his part as an FBI agent in some German saboteurs being executed, while counting the minutes until he can join a military branch that won’t mind his color-blindedness, so he can go overseas and essentially execute people personally. However, even with him, I can imagine that he just hasn’t thought of it that way, because he’s too busy feeling guilty that he hasn’t joined his fellow countrymen in the fight, especially when so many people who see a healthy young man not in uniform treat him like a coward. I would fully expect the weight of what he’s joined up to do to not hit him full force until he gets over there.

Overall, the story moved at a good pace. Don’t expect much of a mystery, though, in regards to them finding the identity of the traitor. I would call it pretty light on the suspense, too. The romance isn’t too in-your-face, which I was glad for, though for some, it may be too subtle. And there was one whole element, a sort of side-villain, that wasn’t fleshed out at all and felt incredibly contrived as a way to add some danger for the main characters near the end. These are a few small gripes, though, in an overall good story, which I would recommend for fans of historical Christian romance, especially in the WWII era.

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

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Book Review: Stand Down

Stand Down
Echo Company
#4

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, ‘Tis the Season.

Michael and his squad are mostly going about business as usual, with the exception that Michael’s a little distracted thinking about the female lieutenant that they’d found wandering injured in the jungle. They also have a few new people in their squad, including a new squad commander. But Michael really liked the old squad commander. Then they get the word. Stand down. That means heading to the rear and out of combat. For Michael, that means the hoped-for chance to see the lieutenant again.

I was glad to go back to Michael and his squad, and for the first half of the book, I was really enjoying it. The most stoic character in the books became my new favorite in an amazing scene between him and Michael. We finally learn something about Michael’s ex, and boy is she a piece of work. And we get a glimpse of who Michael really is when he joins in with some hazing of a new guy in their squad. But even there, he recognizes that he’s acting that way because he’s upset and feels at least a little bad about it.

Then they get out of the jungle and onto a much safer base for their stand down, and things changed for me a little bit. It’s not like I can only enjoy the story when the characters are in peril—I did like reading about Rebecca’s time in the hospital during the previous book, despite being thrown because she was unexpectedly the MC of the book. My issue comes with the way Michael acts during this time. He gets pushy in a way that makes me feel really bad for Rebecca, and even worse, we find out that apparently happy, relaxed Michael is kind of a jerk and bully. I think if I’d read about him before he was drafted, I might not have liked the books as much. Still, I did like the way the author showed that after 2 months (or so) of combat, Michael already had the beginnings of some serious PTSD. It’s so real and so heart-wrenching to know that going home some day won’t necessarily be all safe and happy for him.

Overall, the story had some really good moments and was a good read. I’m not as sad as I thought I’d be that the main part of the series has come to an end, though, because I don’t know that I could have handled Michael after this. There is one book left that is about Rebecca and seems to have originally been published as a stand-alone. It’ll definitely be the first time I’ve ever read that (I read at least the first couple of books in this series when I was a teenager), so I’m looking forward to seeing if it stands up to the incredible hype.

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Book Review: The Reptile Room

The Reptile Room
A Series of Unfortunate Events #2
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian, Uncle Monty. He’s interesting, fun, and kind, and the kids are looking forward to going to Peru with him to study reptiles. But oh, this is a Lemony Snicket book, so we’re informed up front that their happiness won’t last. And indeed, it doesn’t.

I suppose I liked this book a little more than the previous. Even though I knew from early on that Uncle Monty wouldn’t signal the beginning of a happy life, I was still glad for the kids that they got a little bit of time with him. I think Count Olaf’s attempt at getting at their money was a lot more half-baked this time, but on the other hand, the way the kids got out of his snare was a little more clever this time. I did enjoy the “friendship” between Sunny and the Incredibly Deadly Viper, and even thought it was pretty great that she…oh, I guess that would be a spoiler.

But just like with the previous book, the highlight of the whole thing, for me, was that it was read by Tim Curry. One whole star of my rating is based on that, because that’s how much I love listening to his voice. We’ll see how it goes from here on.

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Book Review: Love Burning Bright

Love Burning Bright
Cassie Perkins
#6

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 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 and her brothers are sent to camp for a week so their parents can have some time to themselves. At first, Cassie is lonely. Then she meets Ethan, a wild, reckless, older boy who flirts with all the girls and treats her little brother badly. Cassie knows he’s a terrible person, but when he turns his attention to her, she can’t help but be attracted to him.

Cassie has finally moved on from family drama, and now her focus turns to something a little more common to girls her age: a crush on a boy. She seems to have to learn everything the hard way, as here she fells into a trap that might be familiar to some of us—getting into a relationship thinking she can fix the other person. She’s certain God wants her to help Ethan, and maybe he does, but she’s still pretty immature herself and goes about it in the wrong ways. Even as the message being focused on throughout the week is about finding God’s will, including in love, Cassie keeps mis-applying it to herself and making another common mistake of assuming Ethan needs this truth more than she does.

It was nice to see Cassie move beyond her selfish whininess in the past books to a new type of problem. And the story didn’t go the way I assumed it would, so that was nice. I’ve enjoyed this series so much, even with my small complains about Cassie’s selfishness, and hope to be able to recommend them to my daughter when she’s a little older (they’re not easy to find). The next story in the series is the one I remember the most from when I was a teenager, and I’m looking forward to continuing!

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Book Review: ‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season
Echo Company
#3

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Focus turns from Michael and his squad to Rebecca, a nurse working at a hospital in Vietnam where the casualties are sent. While life is difficult enough for her, not to mention the work she has to do, she can’t imagine what it’s like out in the jungle. In the combat zone. Until she ends up out there, all by herself, just trying to survive.

I was really confused as I read this book, because the official synopsis makes it sound like the story still centers around the guys in Michael’s squad. They’re barely in it, and the entire thing is from Rebecca’s perspective. This might not have bothered me so much if I knew to expect it. Lots of readers seem to have already read the last book in the series, The Road Home, which was apparently originally marketed as a complete stand alone and wasn’t connected to the series until years later. That book seems to be solely about Rebecca as well. So, then, leaving aside my disappointment at not seeing the guys much, the book was good in its own right.

Rebecca was a strange mix of different than Michael, and yet similar. She shares at least a mild belligerence toward authority to him, but she’s really upbeat and whimsical. Plus, she volunteered to go to Vietnam. She’s got such a heart to help, it makes her the kind of person who could so easily be too emotionally invested in all of the injured people who come through the emergency room. While it’s difficult for those of us who have never been in this kind of situation to understand just how dangerous that can be, I can understand enough to feel for her.

Also because of the official synopsis, which talked about the guys finding Rebecca in the jungle, I was a little frustrated when it took so long for that whole scenario to start. And there was a scene out in the jungle that went on a lot longer than I understood. Honestly, I think we were supposed to get something out of it that I just didn’t. But overall, it’s still a decent book, and I tried not to let the disappointment caused by the official synopsis affect my rating (much).

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Book Review: The Much-Adored Sandy Shore

The Much-Adored Sandy Shore
Cassie Perkins
#5

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 / 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’s mom and step-dad think she’s completely self-centered, so she sets out to prove them wrong by helping a social outcast at her school change her image. What really happens, though, is that Cassie learns to be more grateful for her own blessings.

If I thought Cassie was childish and annoying in the last book, she really hits new heights in this one. She is just downright mean (of course, this is from the perspective of a parent, which is probably different than the perspective of a teenager who might read this book). I can’t even say that plenty of teenagers in her situation wouldn’t act the same way, but it does get a bit difficult to read. Fortunately, this book puts an end to all of that. And here’s where I begin to feel like this series is basically a series of after-school specials for Christian teens (not in a bad way). Parents getting divorced and remarried, a classmate with AIDS, and now the serious topic brought up in this book. I won’t say more, because it’d be a spoiler for the climax. Though I did suspect it earlier in the book, I don’t think as many younger readers would. Then again, these days, teens have seen a lot more than they had in my day, whether in real life or on TV.

The story about Cassie helping Sandy Shore didn’t go the way I expected it to at all, which is a good thing. And Cassie definitely saw her own life in a new light by the end, which explains why the next few books finally get her away from the drama of her home life and into whole new messes. Though it looks like she won’t be at school as much in the rest of the series, I really hope we get a chance to catch up with Sandy Shore before the end.

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