Book Review: The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four
Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 34 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

This is going to be the shortest review I’ve ever written. I’m slowly making my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories for the first time. This was not my favorite. The mystery wasn’t nearly as interesting as others have been; in fact, it was a bit bizarre. It’s the book where Watson meets the woman he ends up marrying, but that relationship didn’t grow in any particularly interesting way either. Overall, the story just felt slow and not very memorable.

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Book Review: Millstone of Doubt

Millstone of Doubt
Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries #2
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

Both fledgling agents for the crown, Lady Juliette Thorndike and Bow Street runner Daniel Swann individually need to figure out their roles and places in the spy network as well as their “normal” lives. When Juliette’s best friend’s father is killed, Juliette is told to stay out of the investigation, but Daniel plunges headlong into it. Meanwhile, Juliette is still in the middle of her debut season, and Daniel’s lifelong patronage by a mysterious benefactor will soon be coming to an end, leaving him in an unknown position. How will they navigate these difficult situations and deal with their growing feelings for each other?

I may have rated this book a star less than the previous book in the series, but I still really enjoyed it. The overall world that Vetsch has set up in this series and the one it’s connected to, Serendipity & Secrets, is one I really hope I don’t have to leave any time soon. Juliette learning to become a spy, using her training in real-world settings while trying to get over her weaknesses, but still having to act the role of a debutante, is a fun mixture. Daniel’s combining of his police work with spycraft isn’t as much of a stretch, but it still allows for some panic moments as he tries to keep his secret. There was also a great moment when Daniel’s friend and co-worker Ed gives him a little speech about the goodness of God, even when we don’t see it in our lives, that I really liked.

The mystery was overall good. I liked the different paths they went down trying to solve it; mystery is a favorite genre of mine, and this one was enjoyable. I did guess who the killer was pretty early on, but wasn’t 100% sure I was right until a while later (but before it was revealed). There was another mysterious aspect unrelated to the murder that I also figured out early on, but I still liked the way it played out. The story slowed down enough in the middle that I detracted a star, but overall, I really liked this book. I highly recommend it for fans of this genre and time period, whether you like romance or not, though that aspect is more in focus in this book than the previous.

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

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Book Review: Ready to Return

Ready to Return
by Ken Ham with Jeff Kinley

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

After exploring the phenomenon whereby a high percentage of 20-somethings who grew up in the church have left by college age in Already Gone, in this follow-up book, Ken Ham delves more deeply into why this happens and what we can do to try and stop it.

Though some of this book seems to be a rehash of the first book, that doesn’t make it any less important as a standalone book. The danger of a child growing up and not finding church relevant (and possibly, by extension, God) is still very real. I still agree that while one’s individual salvation may not be dependent on whether or not they believe in a literal six days of creation, amongst other ways the the world is trying to undermine the Bible, the impact that an individual’s belief can have on young Christians (meaning young in age or simply new to the faith) can be devastating. Put simply: If, in attempting to influence someone toward God, you put across to them that certain parts of the Bible can’t be trusted, why should they think any of it can be trusted? Is it really more believable that a man could be born to a virgin and then rise from the dead than that a supernatural being could create the world in 6 days?

One of the larger ideas this book pushes forward is that there is no such thing as a neutral stance. Not believing in God doesn’t make someone un-religious. It only makes them a believer in a different god, even if they don’t think of it that way. Ham points to Neil deGrasse Tyson and other prominent atheists who go as far as to state (or at least imply) that we should consider stardust our creator and savior, rather than God or Jesus Christ. This is not a neutral stance at all! And this is the kind of thinking that goes into school textbooks, which kids spend more time reading, being taught from, and being tested on than the very Word of God. And here is where the main focus of the book seems to lie—the danger of public education all week counterbalanced against one or two short sessions at church. It’s not enough.

As with the previous book (Already Gone), if you’re thinking about reading this book, understand that it makes the assumption that the reader believes the Bible 100%, including on matters like creation in 6 literal days, a young earth, the global flood, and…well, find out more about what the authors of this book believe at this link. If you do not believe the Bible is true, or to be taken literally, on all of these points, this may not be the book for you. If you do, and you’re concerned about diminishing Christianity in our time, this book is worth a read.

Find out more about Already Gone and Ken Ham’s ministry at Answers in Genesis

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Book Review: Alcatraz

I, Q #6
by Roland Smith & Michael P. Spradlin

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s spy thriller

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with Independence Hall.

New step-siblings Q (short for Quest) and Angela continue to help SOS, a team made up mostly of retired operatives from the CIA and other organizations, track a ghost terrorist cell. The highest leaders of the cell are finally backed into a corner, but will they be defeated or live to fight another day?

This is the final installment of the series-long story, the kind of series that you really need to start from the beginning. In some ways, it’s a satisfying conclusion to the story, as answers are provided, some more surprising than others. Some pieces fell into place that made the identity of Number One fairly obvious to me and, in fact, made me realize maybe I should have guessed it sooner. But I didn’t, and I doubt most of the kids in the target age group would either, which makes for an exciting story.

There were some things that happened that I didn’t really think made much sense or weren’t necessary. And the supernatural element that developed throughout the series did not have a satisfactory explanation for my preference. By that I mean that it was fully explained, but the root of the supernatural abilities didn’t really make sense. I can’t explain very well without spoiling it, but it just sort of seemed like the author(s) didn’t put as much thought into the backstory as they should have. However, since the series was a solid 4 stars for me all throughout until this book, which was only half a star less than that, I think it’s well worth a read for anyone who is at all interested in the genre or series synopsis. I’m glad I read this series, though I doubt I’ll re-read it.

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Book Review: The Librarians and The Lost Lamp

The Librarians and The Lost Lamp
The Librarians #1
by Greg Cox
read by Therese Plummer

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Fantasy adventure

In 2006, Flynn Carsen, the lone librarian, is sent to keep Aladdin’s fabled lamp from falling into the hands of The Forty, a criminal organization that has been searching for the lamp for centuries. Using Scheherazade’s The Arabian Nights as a guide, Flynn must outwit the thieves. In 2016, the new team of Librarians heads to Las Vegas to find out why a man winning the lottery is cause for concern. And they might just run into an artifact from Flynn’s past.

Let me first state that I love The Librarians. I think the show is better than it has any right to be, and a large part of that is due to the great casting. The movies were good as well, but I think the show really took the overall story world to a new level. Though I haven’t been able to find definitive proof of where in the show this book takes place, I’m calling it between seasons 2 and 3. And while the book does attempt to give some basic understanding of the overall setting and backstory of the Library and the Librarians, I think this book is best read by someone who has seen at least the TV show. Considering that half of the book takes place while Flynn was the sole librarian, a knowledge of both the movies and the show might be best.

I liked that we kinda got some of both—solo Flynn and the dynamic of the group. The movies with Flynn tend to be more epic, big-budget adventure, with him trying to track down some kind of relic that could be a huge problem in the wrong hands, and his side of the story in this book is just like that. The TV show episodes, at least the filler/MOTW (monster of the week) episodes, involve more mystery as the team has to first track down who and what is causing the problem and then figure out how to stop it. Their side of the book continues that trend.

At its best, The Librarians is campy fun, and at its worst, it’s illogical hand-waviness. This book had all of that, and I commend the author for doing a pretty good job capturing the characters pretty well. I know not everyone agrees on that, but I literally just finished watching season 3 of the show before reading this book, and I never felt like any of the characters acted all that out-of-character. And that’s considering that I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator definitely did not sound like any of the main characters (especially Stone). In fact, her tendency to be breathy during the non-dialog text and make every character sound like they were gasping at the end of every line could have ruined the story for me. But I was caught up in it enough that I was able to ignore it most of the time, and I’ll even give the audiobook another chance as I continue the series.

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Book Review: The City of Ember

The City of Ember
Book of Ember #1
by Jeanne DuPrau

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

The city of Ember has survived for over 200 years, a city of light in a world of darkness. But lately, the lights have been going out more and more, and no one seems to know why or how to stop it. Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, both twelve years old and recently assigned jobs for the city, believe they’ve found something that might just save everyone in Ember. If only they could get people to listen to them.

This is the 2nd book I’ve read in this genre in a short period of time, and at first, it reminded me a lot of The Giver. It quickly becomes its own story with a very different theme, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did The Giver, though for different reasons. The slow falling apart of the city and the vastly varying ways the citizens respond to it are fascinating to follow along with. Lina and Doon are well-crafted characters, both with their own issues and driving desires. They even have considerably different reasons for wanting to save the city, and I really admire DuPrau’s ability to make them such well-rounded characters in a short space. I also appreciate how she explains items that are common, everyday things to us but are completely foreign to these people.

I’m looking forward to my 12-year-old daughter reading this book so we can discuss it. I think she’ll enjoy it as much as I did, and I recommend it for others around that age (or older) too.

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Book Review: The Plunder Down Under

The Plunder Down Under
Treasure Hunters Book #7
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with Treasure Hunters.

Mom and Dad Kidd are accused of stealing an Australian national treasure, and it’s up to the kids and their adventure-loving uncle to prove their innocence.

Though I noted several formulaic repetitions in this book, I tried to be objective in how I viewed the book. For example, if I were reading this book without having read the previous books in the series, would I have enjoyed it more? Possibly. However, it is the 7th book in a series, which means of course the authors need to write at least as much for the people who have already read the rest of the books. And really, even if I were reading this book apart from the rest, I would wonder why every treasure hunter in the book feels the need to tell everyone they encounter what they’re looking for. It seems completely unlikely, and it’s no wonder all of these treasure hunters end up tripping over each other to get the same loot.

Right off the bat, Tommy does something ridiculously stupid in the name of “love,” and though his parents could easily correct it by simply laughing off what he said and not showing the person they just met their most secret treasure room, they do it anyway, I guess because it would be rude not to? I don’t get it, but it’s not the first time I’ve felt that way while reading this series.

I did give this book a little higher rating than the last few, so on the plus side, I appreciated the little bit of history of Australia and the aboriginal people that was provided. It was also nice that the kids got to do a lot more of their own adventuring (with their uncle, who gives them a lot more leeway than their parents do) this time. I also appreciate that the Twin Tirades seem to have been toned down a little, which is ironic, since they turn into “quadruple” tirades in this book…but maybe there just aren’t as many of them. Or maybe it has to do with me switching from audiobooks to reading for myself, though I did that a few books back. Though I’m not the targeted audience for this book, I feel like it is the kind of children’s book that treats kids like…well, like kids, but not in a good way. I really don’t feel comfortable recommending this book or its predecessors to any age group. However, there are far more positive reviews for this book than negative, so I’m in the minority (I’m used to it). Please do check out other reviews for the book if you’re interested.

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Book Review: Trapped in Hitler’s Hell

Trapped in Hitler’s Hell
by Anita Dittman with Jan Markell

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Anita Dittman was a child living with her family in Germany when Hitler and the Nazis started to make life increasingly difficult for Jewish people. Anita, her mother, and her sister were Jewish, while her father was not. He abandoned them to save himself, and though Anita’s sister managed to escape to England, Anita and her mother were moved into a ghetto, and later, work camps. As a Christian Jew, Anita found comfort in her relationship with Jesus, even before she really understood what it meant to have that relationship. Her story is told in Trapped in Hitler’s Hell.

I have read accounts of Jewish people and resistance workers in countries that were occupied by the Nazis, but I believe this is the first I’ve read of a Jewish family living right in Germany. Anita and her mother had some protection because of Anita’s non-Jewish father and because Anita and, eventually, her mother were Christians, but life was still difficult and dangerous, and much worse lay ahead.

While books like this can often make the reader question, “What would I do if this happened to me?” the question this most brought to my mind was, “How can I be as trusting and faithful with my witness in my life right now as she was during such hard times?” Though often told to stop talking about Jesus, Anita just couldn’t help herself, so great was her love for God. And no matter what bad thing happened, she would always be the first to express that God was still in charge. I do wonder about the wisdom of her tendency to always assume that God would keep her and everyone she was with safe and intact, since God does not promise earthly safety, especially during times of persecution. Not that he doesn’t ever keep someone protected, alive, even healthy, against all odds, but if we believe that will always be the case and it’s not, will our faith be shaken? Despite that concern, this book is worth reading for anyone interested in Holocaust accounts, especially those from a Christian worldview.

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August in Review

I read 8 books last month, which is a tie for my lowest number of books in a month this year. Not my lowest amount by page count, though, so that’s something. I’m a bit behind in keeping up with my reading goal for the year, but I don’t think I’ve been reading nearly as many children’s books as I expected. I may need to slip some of those in over the next month to bring my total back up. As to the quality of the books I read last month…as you can see from my list below the cover pictures, it was not a great month for reading. Here’s hoping September will be better in more ways than one!

Here are the books I read in August:

The End by Lemony Snicket (2 / 5)
Freedom’s Song by Kim Vogel Sawyer (3 / 5)
A Seven Letter Word by Kim Slater (3.5 / 5)
All-American Adventure by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein (2.5 / 5)
A Treacherous Tale by Elizabeth Penney (2 / 5)
The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters (2 / 5)
The Debutante’s Code by Erica Vetsch (5 / 5)
Trapped in Hitler’s Hell by Anita Dittman with Jan Markell (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs. My favorite book from August (by FAR) was The Debutante’s Code. I started 1 series, continued 1 series, and finished (or caught up on) 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.

*This includes a series I didn’t reach the end of, but decided not to continue reading, after being at least 2 books into the series.

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

Book Review: The Mummy Case

The Mummy Case
Amelia Peabody #3
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

After some time away, the Emersons are returning to Egypt for a dig, this time taking their young son Ramses along. When Amelia suspects that a suicide might actually be foul play, her husband doesn’t agree. Then strange things begin to happen in the area around their not-so-exciting dig site, and Amelia sees connections where Emerson just sees random misfortune. First Amelia has to convince him that something is afoot, and then they have to solve the mystery before anyone else gets hurt.

My synopsis probably doesn’t do the story justice, but I found myself equal parts lost and bored while listening to this installment in the series. And I think the reason I got lost at times was due to my mind wandering, because the story simply didn’t capture my attention as the books before it did. I’m not completely sure why, either; maybe I’ve already grown tired of the formula of this series? But I also think it’s partly because the mystery was super slow in getting going. After the death that Amelia suspects is a murder, it’s mostly just them getting on with their dig and meeting lots of new people for quite a while. Little things that keep the mystery in mind happen, but nothing all that exciting.

I think part of my issue is with Ramses, though. He’s an amusing character, but only to a point. I don’t honestly know how old he’s supposed to be in this book, but I’m guessing around 7. And he’s super smart, can translate ancient languages, solves much of the mystery alongside (or ahead of) his parents, and speaks with a speech impediment. And he always obeys his parents, but finds loopholes in what they tell him to do (or, more accurately, in what they neglect to say he can’t do). I also grew quite weary of Emerson’s (and Amelia’s, to a lesser degree) disdain for Christianity and Christian missionaries. There were a few humorous moments in the book, but not as many as I remember in the first two. Since much of my dislike of this book was personal preference, and it’s clear that many others enjoyed it, if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries or Egyptology, you might want to check this book out. If you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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