Book Review: Merry Humbug Christmas

Merry Humbug Christmas
by Sandra D. Bricker

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christmas romance

Joss Snow has had enough of Christmas pageantry, so for the last few years, she and her best friend Reese Pendergrass have skipped the holiday together. But this year, Reese is newly engaged and spending a traditional Christmas with her future in-laws. Joss, left to go on her Bah! Humbug cruise alone, ends up on a 12 Days of Christmas cruise instead and Reese’s trip seems to take every bad turn possible. Will these two friends survive the holiday?

Technically this is written as 2 separate novellas, “Once Upon a Jingle Bell” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Deer,” each following one of the two friends through their holidays. The story is mostly cohesive, though; it simply tells the 2 main characters’ escapades one at a time. Each chapter starts with a line from a “12 Days of Christmas” parody invoking Murphy’s Law, which I liked. And Murphy’s Law comes in heavily, especially in the 2nd story. While normally the “everything that can go wrong will go wrong” trope annoys me, I enjoyed the book and even liked the 2nd novella more than the first.

One great thing about this book is that, even though it’s a Christmas book, it’s not as sappy as Christmas books so often are. On the other hand, it’s billed as a Christian book, but the Christian content is incredibly light. And there’s a lot of emphasis on physical looks in both relationships. If you’re not looking for a faith-filled story, though, this is a nice light-on-the-syrup Christmas read with some romance and fun.

Find out more about Merry Humbug Christmas

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Remembering Christmas

Remembering Christmas
by Dan Walsh

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian, Christmas fiction

Rick Denton likes his life as a high-powered accountant, living how he wants, with very few responsibilities. But when his step-father, who he never much cared for, has a stroke on Thanksgiving weekend, his mother asks him to come to Florida and help out at the bookstore the couple own and run together. Rick agrees out of obligation, not expecting to stay more than a few days…which stretches on past what he expected. Rick isn’t sure he can handle much more of the people who frequent the store, and worse yet, they always seem to have great things to say about his step-father, who Rick always saw as an interloper. Is it possible there’s more going on here than he would have thought?

I kicked off my Christmas-season reading a little late this year, but this was a great book to start it off. The story was a little predictable, as Christmas stories tend to be (especially those that involve romance, which this one does), but it was still sweet. I teared up during a particularly emotional scene with Rick’s mom (Leanne) and step-dad (Art) at the hospital, because it reminded me of being in my dad’s hospital room after his heart attack, while we were waiting for them to be able to do surgery on him. And at other times, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like if I were in Leanne’s place, where my husband was the one in the bed. It was well written, with Leanne’s perspective showing what a loving, long-term relationship can look like.

By the end of the book, I had a few issues, the most glaring being the incredible amount of typos and grammatical errors. I can’t believe this book was ever published by a traditional publishing house, as it seems to need a lot of polishing. There was also one moment that made me cringe a little, and later, I was surprised that no one in the story seemed to feel that Rick was trying to buy some of the characters’ love. But those things aside, I enjoyed reading this book; it’s a sweet, warm Christmas read.

Find out more about Remembering Christmas

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Shadows of Swanford Abbey

Shadows of Swanford Abbey
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian mystery, romance

Tasked by her brother to present his manuscript to a well-known author, Rebecca Lane takes a room in the monastery-turned-hotel Swanford Abbey, where the author is also staying. And so is Frederick Wilford, an older man Rebecca once had a huge crush on. When the famous writer is murdered, Frederick, as local magistrate, is determined to find the guilty party, even if the investigation shines a light on secrets Rebecca is hiding.

As a Regency-era romance, the story here is pretty good. As a mystery, it’s only okay. My biggest issue is that it takes quite a while to really get going; so much of the first half is spent describing the abbey, hinting at things from the past that affect the present (which we won’t know more about until much later), and setting up the mystery around the murder, which doesn’t even occur until over halfway through the book. I don’t mind a mystery taking so long to get started if I spend that time trying to figure out who the victim might end up being, along with who the murderer will be, but in this case, the synopsis tells us who the victim will be. All of this led the book to feel slow for a while.

I mostly liked the characters. Rebecca had her issues in the story, mostly stemming from the task her brother insists she help him with, but this seems to lead her to not care at all about the societal conventions of her time or about her reputation. That leaves Frederick to be the most understanding man ever. He ends up having to help her in a lot of different ways, more times than I might normally prefer in a story like this, but it didn’t bother me this time, I think because it didn’t seem as contrived as it could have.

I raised my eyebrows during part of a scene that seemed to be straight out of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, and found out while reading the author’s note at the end of the book that I was correct. She also mentioned other classics that she took some direct inspiration from, though those others I either haven’t read or don’t know well enough to have recognized the way she used that inspiration. Overall, I enjoyed the book and the characters and recommend it to fans of historical romance. Fans of mystery books may like it, too, if they’re not bothered by what I described above.

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

Find out more about Shadows of Swanford Abbey

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Lost in Darkness

Lost in Darkness
by Michelle Griep

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

When Amelia Balfour’s father dies, it puts a halt to her plans to travel to Cairo for her travel-writing career. She was never close to her father, but his death means that she is responsible to help her estranged brother through a surgery meant to cure a disorder that has caused him to grow to giant proportions. The surgery is experimental and risky, and even the surgeon’s new partner, Graham Lambert, has doubts about whether or not it is worth the danger to the patient.

If I could break this story down into parts, the plot would get at least 4 stars, but characters would get maybe 2-3. The writing would get 4-5 stars, but relationship development would get maybe 3. As you can imagine, it was difficult for me to put a single rating on this book, with which I had my ups and down. In the end, I did like the plot, which was mostly dark with a light of hope shining through. It was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and not subtly, considering that the author herself has a small role in the book. There is a bit of a mystery in the book that I didn’t see the purpose of, but all in all, the story was good.

My biggest issues were with the characters and the relationships that developed between them. Graham is inconsistent in a way that frustrated me, at times attributing hope and sovereignty to God, but at other times saying he’s not a religious man and that God likely wants nothing to do with him. He’s also so often shown to be a man with a short temper and violent tendencies, though Amelia describes him as normally cool and calm. The relationship between the male and female MCs developed about like one would expect from a romance, but the one that bothered me was the friendship between Graham and Amelia’s brother, Colin. We really don’t see much development there, and then suddenly Graham thinks of him like a brother. I would have loved to see that progression.

I wished Amelia would have come to see how idolatrous her superstitions were a lot sooner, but overall I liked the Christian message presented in the book, especially Mrs. Bap and her total reliance on God and her comment that death for a believer is the ultimate healing. In the end, I’m glad I read it, and think most fans of Christian romances of the Regency era will enjoy this book, especially if they’re okay with a little darkness in the story.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Lost in Darkness

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Fantasy adventure, romance, humor

This was my first reading of Goldman’s “good parts version” of the S. Morgenstern classic. I’ve seen the movie, of course, enough times to appreciate how similar it is to the book, and the following review will include some comparisons. Overall, I liked the book, though it did have some downsides for me. In fact, I almost called it quits in the first chapter. Fortunately, I stuck with it, and really enjoyed the book once it took off.

I’ll start with what I liked. Both Inigo and Fezzik had full backstories that I thought at first would be dry to read about, but I was wrong! They gave those characters so much more depth. In fact, there’s more information giving in a lot of areas (not surprising when a book is turned into a movie, even when done well). Humperdinck is even more villainous than he is in the movie, the Zoo of Death being quite dark and a great setting for The Machine. To be honest, I don’t know what I would have thought about the book if I had read it before seeing the movie, since I’m sure some of what made it more enjoyable was having the well-chosen actors in mind when reading.

The story-within-a-story framework for this book is quite inventive. I’m sure Goldman fooled (and possibly still fools) many people into believing that there really was an original book written by S. Morgenstern that he then abridged. The fictional version of himself that he puts into the story, though, is pretty terrible. I struggled through the intro section in which he explains how he tried to track down the original book for his son, due mostly to the fact that during that part, he calls his son fat, blames his wife for his son being fat, and wants us to know how much he wants to cheat on his wife. Boy, am I glad the framework in the movie is just a kid and his grandpa. Then we get into the book and there’s so much focus on physical looks regarding Buttercup and other women for so many pages, after how disheartening the intro was…I put the book down and told my husband (who strongly wanted me to read it, whose favorite movie is The Princess Bride, and who also really liked the book when he read it some time ago) that I didn’t think I could go on. But I did. And I’m really glad I did. The book is really fun overall, but when I go back and read it again someday, I may start at chapter 2.

Find out more about The Princess Bride

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Eagle and the Lamb

The Eagle and the Lamb
by Darlene Mindrup

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Sarah, a young Jewish woman, is made the slave/companion to a young, ailing woman named Diana by Diana’s brother, Antonius, a tribune of Rome. Diana wonders about the peace that Sara has, even as a slave, and Sara can’t help but talk about her faith in Jesus Christ. Antonius, however, doesn’t wants Christianity poisoning his sister, even while he has to admit to being unable to stop thinking about Sara and how different she is from Roman women. What began as a terrible situation for Sara and her family when they became indebted to the Roman might just turn out to be part of God’s will for the lives of everyone involved.

I am so glad I found this book and read it again! When I was in high school, my family went to visit my grandparents in Arizona (I live in the midwest), and I remember them having a library full of paperback romance novels (probably mostly Christian, if not wholly, since they lived at a church). I read several of those books during our stay there, but this is the only one I remembered well enough to track it down again, which took me a long time and a lot of digging. It’s a sweet romance, but also a tale of early Christians during the time of Roman persecution around 62 A.D. and the difficulties they had to face just to be able to practice their faith. Sara is a great example of a Christ-follower spreading His love and message to everyone she spends time with. Secondary characters add to the enjoyment of this book, especially a fellow slave and Christian who some readers likely see as a serious contender for Sara’s heart.

Antonius may be harsh through much of the book, but he’s a well-written, realistic character. He’s a Roman soldier, taught to believe that Rome is the center of the universe and that the rest of the world should fall at his feet. Even with his culture and training, he’s actually set apart from others of his type, which is clearly shown in the story. And let’s not forget that he actually saved Sara and her parents from being sold into much harsher slavery near the beginning of the book. When he treats her badly, she stands her ground. When he insists she not speak to Diana about God, she weighs the obedience of her slave master against the obedience of her one true master, God.

The book’s title is an apt description of the contrast between these two characters, and I think that contrast is why I love the story so much. I read the book to reminisce about the first time I read it, and didn’t expect to find much of substance, but it’s really quite a lovely story. It’s pretty short, but I didn’t feel that detracted at all—in fact, that kept the story from dragging out like some romance books can do. I also didn’t think I’d care about the series this book is the beginning of, but now that I know the next book is about Decimus, the fellow slave I mentioned above, I’d love to see his story.

Find out more about The Eagle and the Lamb

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Trace of Doubt

Trace of Doubt
by DiAnn Mills

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

After fifteen years in prison, Shelby Pearce is ready to start her life over. But as a convicted murderer, allies are hard to come by, especially since there’s still the question of $500,000 that she’s suspected of stealing at the same time as the murder. Denton McClure, who’d worked the embezzlement case as a rookie agent, is sure she’s guilty and is determined to prove her guilt and uncover the cash. As he gets to know her, though, he begins to doubt what he’s known as fact for 15 years. And it looks like he’s not the only one who’s out to find the money.

This is the second DiAnn Mills book I’ve read, and though I quite liked the other one, this one was a miss for me. I think that mostly boils down to the author’s writing style, which I don’t remember being quite so distracting for me during the other book I read. In this book, though, I often found myself confused by what thought or emotion was being portrayed in a scene, unable to quite grasp the meaning in the author’s choice of words. In many scenes, dialog felt unnatural or stilted, or even felt as though the characters were not having the same conversation as each other.

I did like some of the characters, though mostly secondary ones. Shelby was written well for the bulk of the book, but I didn’t connect with her as much due to my own very different personality as anything. By the end, though, I realized she was actually pretty terrible at making good decisions. Denton was confusing and a little unbelievable in his drive to prove her guilt, letting the search for $500k control/ruin his life. As the mystery of who is targeting Shelby since she’s been released from prison is revealed, as well as why, the premise of her confessing to murder and going to jail becomes less and less believable to me. I won’t give any spoilers, but it mostly goes back to what I said above about Shelby making terrible decisions.

I struggled with consistency issues in various places and with a couple of antagonists that were fairly one-dimensional. I did, however, like the theme about redemption that was brought out more by the secondary characters that were willing to look past Shelby’s history and give her a chance to start over as much as anything. I really dislike giving this low of a rating to any book, and I can already tell that this is going to be one of those books that makes me wonder if I got a different version than everyone else. Please check out other reviews for different opinions, as most of them are positive so far, if you’re interested in the synopsis and/or genre.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: September 7, 2021

Find out more about Trace of Doubt

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: A Gilded Lady

A Gilded Lady
Hope & Glory #2
by Elizabeth Camden

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, The Spice King.

Caroline Delacroix’s job isn’t an easy one, as secretary to a difficult first lady, but it’s an important one. Being at Ida McKinley’s beck and call is the least Caroline can do if it means she might be able to secure a presidential pardon for her twin brother. Luke is in prison in Cuba, charged with treason, and Caroline will do anything she can to help him. Unfortunately, this puts her at odds with the newly appointed head of security for the president, Nathaniel Trask. Though he’s taken by Caroline’s wit and beauty, he can’t trust the sister of a traitor to the country.

I liked both of the main characters in this book, and I really liked reading the fictionalized history of President and Mrs. McKinley at this time of his presidency. It was interesting to go along on their cross-country train tour. I also enjoyed the continuation of the story of Luke in prison in Cuba that began in the first book in this series. The story overall was good, but I didn’t find it as engaging as the first book in the series. I also had some issues along the way that brought the rating down for me.

The first thing that bothered me was that certain events in this story didn’t seem to match up well with the previous book. There’s some overlap in time, though it’s a bit difficult to follow, because time passes in jumps now and then in this book. Still, there’s a scene in the previous book that involves both MCs in this book, and the timing of how things are discovered in this book just don’t mesh with that scene. I kept trying to figure out how the two stories lined up, timing-wise, and it was distracting. I also noticed some inconsistencies in Luke’s behavior later in the book that I can’t explain without spoiling things.

The dialog continues to be fairly modern in this series, but I’m not personally bothered by it. After reading the first book, I thought the story of Luke that began there would encompass the entire series, the third then focusing on him, but just from the synopsis of the third book, one can see that’s not the case. My initial desire to read this entire trilogy is a little diminished by the way his story arc played out in this book, but I still want to read his story. This book may have been a little bit of a let-down to me after how much I loved the first one, but I have a feeling most of it is personal preference and that other fans of Christian or historical romance will still enjoy it.

Find out more about A Gilded Lady

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

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

Find out more about The Cryptographer’s Dilemma

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: A Love to Cherish

A Love to Cherish
Glory, Montana #2, The Preacher’s Daughters
by Linda Ford

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

When Reese first sees Victoria, he’s convinced that she’s the missing daughter of a wealthy man from Chicago, where he used to live. But why is the woman living under an assumed name and claiming to be the adopted daughter of the local preacher and his wife? What Reese doesn’t know is that Victoria doesn’t remember anything about her life before 4 years ago when she was the sole survivor of a terrible accident. As Reese tries to untangle the truth, he grows closer to Victoria and begins to wonder if the truth might do more harm than good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this story very much. I did not care for the main male character, starting right from the beginning when Reese makes a big deal (in the narration) about valuing trust so highly, and then he misleads a storekeeper into thinking he was asking questions about Victoria because he was interested in her as a possible suitor. And then he proceeds to hide his suspicions from Victoria, under the guise of protecting her. The fact that this story is a romance, and thus the male and female leads have to end up together, doesn’t excuse the author from such contradictory characterization, or the fact that there’s no real consequence for this deception.

The book is short, maybe novella length, and yet, there is a lot of repetition. The story is shallow, mostly focusing on the difficulties Victoria faces not knowing her past and Reese’s vow to always find the truth, after being spurned by a deceitful woman. What added to the shallow feeling of the story is the author’s way of showing how the characters are feeling. Generally, they either shuddered or shivered if they were worried, nervous, unhappy, scared, maybe even confused. That’s it…shuddering or shivering (which, it can be argued, are practically the same thing anyway) are all they, especially Victoria, seem to be able to do to show those feelings.

I liked the first story in this series, but I don’t think I’ll continue on after reading this one. It felt rushed and hollow. As is common with books that I don’t care for, though, most of the other reviews for it are positive, so please check them out if the story interests you.

Find out more about A Love to Cherish

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!