Book Review: The Cat Who Sniffed Glue

The Cat Who Sniffed Glue
Book #8
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When the son and daughter-in-law of a prominent family in the far-north town of Pickax is murdered by what looks like a robbery gone wrong, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran can’t help but ask the probing questions the police aren’t. And is it possible that someone is using the recent rash of vandalism in the area to cover something more sinister?

Koko is at it again, though he seems to be licking glue at least as much as he’s smelling it. I always try to figure out how his antics connect to the crime, and I don’t know if my lack of being able to do so is because I’ve never been very good at making connections when reading or watching mystery stories or because Braun doesn’t give the readers enough clues.

I’ve been enjoying this series overall, though this one didn’t stand out to me as much as others have. Qwill made some wise decisions in this book regarding the women in his life, though I knew what the outcome would ultimately be, since I’ve read some of the later books in the series long ago. This is my first time going through from start to finish, though, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so.

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Book Review: The Bride of Ivy Green

The Bride of Ivy Green
Tales from Ivy Hill #3
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

In this culmination of the trilogy, the women who have been in focus so far are joined by another—a mysterious, new, possibly French dressmaker. More secrets will come to light as some old relationships are mended and others are just beginning.

In a way, this trilogy reminds me of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, in that it sometimes seems to meander through daily life, weaving a story of a small group of characters, rather than having a focused plot. However, by the time you get to this third book, it’s clear that all of that meandering was deliberately wending its way toward this final book. Even with the wrapping up that happened here, new plots were introduced. I’ll admit I didn’t care much about the dressmaker, probably because adding a brand new character, after so many pages of being engrossed in the lives of others already, made that new character’s life seem shallow by comparison.

I was quite happy with how things turned out, and the way they got there (though the “near misses” started to wear on me), for each of the main characters save one. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I really wish Mercy’s story had gone differently. I sometimes write down my thoughts as I read—when I want to make sure I remember something for the review or simply when I feel strongly about something. In this case, I wrote down a couple of predictions (or, rather, hopes and wishes) for Mercy, even though I had good reason to believe they would not happen. My reason for assuming that, though, was simply due to the nature of the romance (especially Christian romance) genre. And while I was correct in my assumption that what I hoped for Mercy would not happen, the conclusion of her story did include an offer that I did not predict and was pleased to see happen.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Ivy Hill—so much so that after I finished this book, I immediately re-read the follow-up Christmas novella, An Ivy Hill Christmas, in the hopes of “catching up” with the main characters in this trilogy, even though I knew the focus had moved on. I don’t think this is the kind of series I will decide to re-read some day, but I am all the more excited to read more books by Julie Klassen.

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Book Review: The Slippery Slope

The Slippery Slope
A Series of Unfortunate Events #10
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

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

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Carnivorous Carnival (and possibly others before it).

The three Baudelaire orphans are separated but must find a way to work together to save one of them from the clutches of Count Olaf and his troop. As they close in on some answers, other questions only grow more mysterious.

I don’t want to repeat myself in regards to what I don’t care for about this series, so if you’re interested, feel free to check out my reviews of the previous books. I’ll instead mention a few things that led me to give this book a higher rating than the previous one. I appreciate that the repetitiveness of the formula in the earlier books in the series is a thing of the past. No more new guardian every book, though that does lead me to wonder if Mr. Poe is doing anything to try to find these lost orphans at this point. Yes, he’s gullible enough that he probably believes the newspaper reports that they killed someone, but they were still his responsibility. I hope to see something more from him before the end of the series.

There was a twist in this book that I didn’t expect and something else unexpected happened too. Both bright spots in an otherwise un-surprising plot. I like that Sunny is growing (probably not physically, though), yet the other two siblings don’t change much. “VFD” is becoming my least-favorite acronym, considering how much Snicket forces it into the story. Three books ’til the end, and I’ll probably never re-visit this series.

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Book Review: Number the Stars

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s historical fiction

Annemarie Johansen doesn’t really understand why she has to pretend that her friend Ellen is her sister. Or why Ellen’s parents have to leave without her. But when Annemarie’s parents and uncle try to help Ellen’s family and some other Jewish people in Denmark flee to a safer country, Annemarie knows it’s important and will do anything she can to help, even if it’s dangerous.

I really appreciate that in so few pages and in language kids can understand and get into, Lowry not only paints a vivid picture of the danger and fear that those who lived in Nazi-occupied countries dealt with, but also touches on the resistance offered by non-Jews living in Denmark. I also liked seeing the love and loyalty the Danes had for their king, which is something most American’s can fully understand, and the way the scientific community pulled together to help save lives.

Many of us remember reading this book for school, though I didn’t remember it nearly as well as I thought (or maybe I was thinking about a different book the whole time, though if so, I can’t pin down what it was). Required reading or not, this is a good book to introduce young readers to the darkness that many in Europe faced during WWII.

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Book Review: A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet
Sherlock Holmes
#1
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

I almost feel like I should write two separate reviews for this book, considering how vastly different parts 1 and 2 are from each other. I can’t say that Doyle’s decision to leave England and go back in time several years to show the victim and murderer’s backstory in America up close is one that makes a lot of sense to me, but I didn’t hate it like some seem to. If this had been the first Holmes story I’d read, though, I could see where it might make my hesitate to pick up another. In the end, I think that, though the Utah diversion was interesting in its own right, it felt completely unnecessary to the mystery story.

Now, outside of the trip to Utah, it was great to see the original meeting between two characters who have been duplicated and imitated so many times since. Watson learning what Holmes does and seeing the first glimpses at his methods and madness is fun to read. I liked the introduction of Watson himself too. Overall, I’ve been enjoying my first time reading these stories.

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Book Review: Between Heaven and the Real World

Between Heaven and the Real World
by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Singer and songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman shares the story of his life so far—childhood, romancing his wife, the road to becoming a household name in Christian music, and the loss of his young daughter. Chapman does not hold back as he tells of doubt, uncertainty, even anger, but also of learning to trust God, to believe He’s working even when we can’t see it, and to let Him lead the way.

I went into this book knowing that there would be tears involved, considering the circumstances around his loss (I don’t know if spoilers are an issue for an autobiography, but I’ll still avoid it, just in case), and I’d imagine it would be even more difficult for those who have experienced a similar loss. The emotion is raw, unfiltered, and there’s no attempt to cover it up and say “God’s got this,” since that would be disingenuous to how they were feeling at the time. One thing Chapman points out in this book is that you can know and fully believe that God is good all the time, and that His plan and timing are perfect, but that won’t necessarily keep you from feeling completely devastated by a loss, especially when in the immediate moments, days, months, when you’re still in shock, reeling, trying to process and figure out how you even take another step forward. This book is certainly not a how-to on picking yourself back up after a devastating loss, trusting in God, and moving forward firmly in His plan, but more a picture of one family’s muddled, messy attempts at finding daylight in the utter darkness.

And of course, this was just one chapter of Chapman’s and his family’s lives (several chapters in the book, though). I appreciated reading about how his earlier life led him to be the man he is and write some of the songs he’s written. I was fascinated by some of the stories behind songs that are well known to me. I do wish some of the theology had been delved into a little more deeply, for example the foundational reason that a loving God allows bad things to happen, but in the end, he was sharing his life, not trying to preach a sermon. I was also often disappointed with the picture placement, because pictures would come too early and sort of “give away” something that was coming. It might have just been an issue with the Kindle version, but then some pictures came on time or a little later than the event was discussed, so who knows. (I fully enjoyed the pictures themselves, though.) Overall, it was a deep, at times dark, fascinating read, and think that fans of Steven Curtis Chapman’s music will enjoy it, as well as people interested in the behind the scenes of the Christian music industry.

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April in Review

I read 8 books last month, an overall light month of reading for me, compared to the rest of the year. I think it was a combination of reading a few books that took longer to get through and working more at my job lately, as well as working more on my own writing. Plus, my audiobook-listening time has been diminished of late, so I only finished 1 last month. I also got pretty lazy at writing the reviews and thus am ending the month with two that I haven’t written yet, which is pretty unusual for me.

Here are the books I read in April:

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis (5 / 5)
Treasure Hunters by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein (3 / 5)
Behind the Lights by Helen Smallbone (4 / 5)
The Alamo by Roland Smith and Michael P. Spradlin (3.5 / 5)
The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers (4 / 5)
Gospel Reset by Ken Ham (4 / 5)
Between Heaven and the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham (review pending)
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (review pending)

This list includes 1 ARC. My favorite book from April was The Silver Chair. I started 1 series, continued 3 series, and finished 0 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 Last Sin Eater

The Last Sin Eater
by Francine Rivers

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

Appalachia, 1850s – Cadi Forbes is a 10-year-old member of a clan of Irish immigrants who have resurrected a tradition of their ancestors. Upon the death of a clan member, a ritual is performed to summon the sin eater, who will eat the sins of that person so that the deceased can go to heaven. The sin eater, being a man himself, takes the sins of hundreds, sacrificing his own soul to save the souls of others. Weighed down with the guilt of her own sin, Cadi seeks out the sin eater in the hopes that he can eat her sin now and give her some rest.

Let me start by saying that the setting in this book is top-notch. The way the characters talk took a little getting used to, but that adds to the immersion. Though that makes it all the more strange when a new character shows up partway through the book and talks like a KJV Bible. And stranger still that the other characters seem to have no trouble understanding him.

The story that revolves more directly around Cadi and the sin eater is what I liked most about the book. Her quest to be absolved of her sins and his desire to better understand his role are heartbreaking, yet allow for maximum hopefulness as the story unfolds. I’ll admit I didn’t care for the way the preacher’s storyline plays out though. The book overall feels really allegorical, with a character that is clearly not “real” in the strictest sense of the word and the instantaneous way that the characters know entire passages of the Bible by heart. Not that I’m against an allegory, but there was one particular element in the story that it would have been really nice to get even a partial explanation for that was completely left unaddressed. Overall, though, this was an engaging read, and I think most fans of historical Christian fiction, especially those with a missions-type storyline, would like it.

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Book Review: Gospel Reset

Gospel Reset
by Ken Ham

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Ken Ham explains in this book that, “The gospel message hasn’t changed, but the way in which it needs to be presented in a secularized culture does need to change.” Since reading Already Gone a few months ago, I’ve started to wonder how our church can better present the truth of the Bible to the youth that attend. Last month, my husband and I went to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum and came back with some books that my husband wanted to read, including this one, and after reading Gospel Reset, he’s started to have similar thoughts to those I’ve been having.

The book rehashes some of the information presented in Already Gone, but obviously not everyone who reads it will have read the other book (my own husband, for example). To me, the value of the book lies in the comparison of Peter and Paul preaching to Jews and Greeks (respectively) in different chapters of Acts to the culture of America past to America present. Though many of us today already recognize that the culture is a lot less open to hearing about the Gospel than it has been in the past, it’s helpful to have this comparison to the Bible and the early church.

I found most of the illustrations unnecessary (and sometimes confusing), but overall, the viewpoint presented and resources at the end can provide some helpful insight into a big problem facing Christians today.

Find out more about Gospel Reset and Ken Ham’s ministry at Answers in Genesis

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Book Review: The Alamo

The Alamo
I, Q #4
by Roland Smith & Michael P. Sprandlin

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 trail a ghost terrorist cell along with SOS, a team made up mostly of retired operatives from the CIA and other organizations. Angela’s mother is climbing her way toward the top of the ghost cell, but the danger is getting higher all the time. Meanwhile, something strange is going on with Boone, and is Q’s dad friend or foe?

Here we have part 4 of the series-long story, the kind of series that you really need to start from the beginning. This is the first book that is co-written by another author, but it’s not super noticeable to me. Though I will say that this is the first book that starts with a list of all of the characters and a recap of past events, which my aging memory appreciated. Overall, though, it doesn’t feel particularly new. None of the questions from the last book are answered and are really only muddied more. The characters gain a very small amount of ground, and some of the plot points feel like a rehash.

There’s still a lot of action, and I like the way that the series moves around the country to different major locations. I think there are some discrepancies regarding the relative placements of the Alamo Plaza and the San Fernando Cathedral, an area I’ve studied recently for my job (https://www.getbeyondthewalls.com/), so that brought me out of the story a little. However, I’m still really interested in seeing where the rest of this series goes.

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