Book Review: Library of Souls

Library of Souls
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #3
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the trilogy, starting with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Jacob may have a shiny newfound ability, but it’s not as easy to control as he would have hoped, especially when most of the other peculiar children, as well Miss Peregrine herself, need rescuing, and it’s up to Jacob and Emma, along with the peculiar dog Addison, to save them. It’s time to navigate the seedy underbelly of peculiardom, and it definitely won’t be easy.

This book nicely ties up the 3-book story encompassing the first half of the overall series as it exists right now. I was sad that most of the other children were barely in it and that there weren’t many new characters involved either. The story is still inventive and full of action, though. The setting(s) for this book isn’t quite as interesting as those in the previous books—so much time is spent in one dark loop. The inclusion of “drugs” and addicts in peculiardom makes total sense, though it’s certainly sad and pretty appalling when the truth is revealed.

The ending was way too easy, but even as I say that, I’m okay with it. The books up to this point were intense and the characters went through a lot. They deserve something good happening. Overall, the book is even darker than the previous ones, which, coupled with the fact that it has more of an ending than the others that tended to leave on cliffhangers, left me feeling a little less overall excited about the book. I don’t think that’s the book’s fault, though. I’ll sum up by saying that I’m really glad I read these books, but I’m a little uncertain about continuing from here.

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Book Review: Terror from Outer Space

Terror from Outer Space
Last Chance Detectives #4
by Robert Vernon

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

Have aliens landed in the desert? Though the report may be unbelievable, Sheriff Smitty can’t deny that something strange is going on, especially when he has his own frightening encounter. It’s up to Mike, Winnie, Spence, and Ben, the Last Chance Detectives, to investigate, but they won’t like what they find.

Overall, this was another solid addition to the series, with some exciting scenes and a hard, but important, lesson of faith learned by Mike. The mystery was predictable to me, but younger readers will be much less likely to guess what’s going on. If I’d been in Winnie’s shoes in this story, I probably would have passed out, or at least been found curled up on the floor crying.

Speaking of Winnie, it’s much more obvious in this book that she’s not as well developed as her three friends. The other three have a line or two explaining what they bring to the group at the beginning of the story. Mike’s confidence makes him a natural leader, Spence is clever and inventive, even Ben is said to provide fun and out-of-the-box thinking. There’s literally nothing, not even a minor attempt, made to show Winnie’s contribution to the group, and thinking about the 3 books in this series I’ve read in the last few days, I couldn’t tell you what it was either. She’s just…there.

This is the first new story to come out in a series from the 90s, and while I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the 2 originals that I recently read, I do still recommend this book for those around age 10-14.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: October 5, 2021

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Book Review: Escape from Fire Lake

Escape from Fire Lake
Last Chance Detectives #3
by Robert Vernon

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

When Mike Fowler stumbles across bank robbers making a getaway, he becomes an accidental hostage. Unwilling to let him point the finger at them, the thieves leave him for dead in the middle of the desert. Can Mike make it to civilization before succumbing to the sun in Fire Lake?

Wow! For a short book meant for kids, this was quite an intense ride! Unlike the first book in the series, this one was completely new to me, and it really sucked me in. Mike’s trek through the desert, trying not to give in to the sun or his own worries, was really suspenseful and kept me hooked all throughout. At the same time, the other Last Chance Detectives are looking for him, and that part is interesting too. Whereas children’s books can sometimes venture away from reality, in that the kids in the story do things that kids wouldn’t really be able to do in real life, I felt like all of it was quite plausible in this case.

Though there wasn’t any kind of mystery in this story, at least not to the reader, it was still full of adventure and great lessons about relying on God and letting Him give you peace in scary situations. Again the danger is very real, but it doesn’t get to be what I’d consider too scary for kids, and I highly recommend this book for those around 10-14.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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**Note: This book has been out since 1996, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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Book Review: Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa

Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa
Last Chance Detectives #1
by Jake & Luke Thoene

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

It started with a cryptic radio transmission that led to Ben seeing some green lights in the desert. But his friends, the other Last Chance Detectives, Mike, Winnie, and Spence, aren’t sure his story of UFOs in the desert is believable. Still, there’s obviously something going on out there, so it’s time to investigate!

This was a fast-paced adventure with a realistic feel to it. The kids are friends but still have arguments, one of which led to the adventure in the first place. I liked the small-town setting that goes even further into a feeling of remoteness due to being surrounded by vast desert. Though I wasn’t as baffled as Ben was when the sheriff didn’t corroborate what he saw, readers of the age group for which the book is intended will likely get swept up into the adventure and intrigue. The stakes are high and the danger is real, but nothing too intense for kids around 10-14, for whom I highly recommend this book.

I watched the movie many times in my teenage years (we only owned this one, though, so I’ve never seen/read any others in the series). I didn’t expect to remember as much as I did when I read the book. A few lines I could even hear the characters saying in my head. It was a really fun way to re-visit my childhood, and I’m looking forward to watching the movie again too (and reading/watching the rest of the series)!

Clarification: I didn’t read the version shown in the picture above, which is the original based on the movie that came out in 1994. I own the older book and had intended to read it soon, but hadn’t yet when I saw that it was being re-released, along with at least 1 other in the series and 2 new ones that I can see. For this review, I read the new release version, which does have some differences from the original.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa
**Note: This book has been out since 1994, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
Tales from Ivy Hill #1
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

It’s been a year since Jane Bell’s husband died and left her his coaching inn, but Jane isn’t any more prepared to end her mourning period than she was a year ago. The inn has gone on without her direct involvement during that year, but she’s finding out that it hasn’t necessarily gone on well. A large loan from the bank is about to come due, but the inn isn’t nearly as prosperous as it used to be, and now it’s in danger of being taken away. Jane’s mother-in-law, Thora, will do anything she can to help save her family’s inn, even while feeling displaced by the new mistress of The Bell. There are others who might be able to help as well, but Jane isn’t completely sure how to proceed…or who to trust.

This is the type of book where the story may focus on one main character for now, but this first book also introduces several other characters who will have more of a spotlight in future books, and gives us a decent set-up to those future stories. So a good amount of characters overall were introduced, but it didn’t take me long to get invested in their lives. I thought the set-up was giving us more of a mystery than there turned out to be, and I seriously anticipated the revelation of a conspiracy that never happened. But that was my own fault, not necessarily the book’s. I think I read more into certain people’s behavior than was intended (or maybe the author did want us to suspect that person).

Jane was a very dynamic character, in that she changed fairly drastically from the beginning of the book, where she spent her days languishing in her small home and ignoring the inn, to the end of the book, by which point she’d at least attempted to take the reigns of the inn firmly in hand. I liked the way the story and characters come together by the end, and that there is no sudden, miraculous save. Hard work and diligence are required, and a perfect ending is not guaranteed.

In some places this book is billed as a romance, and there is some romance involved. However, it is nowhere near a focal point, and (spoiler alert) the main character doesn’t end up with a beau by the end of the book. I believe that is another storyline that will continue on throughout the trilogy, and I’m quite okay with that. If you’re a fan of historical Christian fiction, keep that in mind when considering this book. I do recommend it, and am looking forward to continuing the series.

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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.

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Book Review: Hollow City

Hollow City
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fantasy

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

On the run from monsters bent on killing them, or worse, Jacob and the other 9 peculiar children who escaped Miss Peregrine’s loop head for London in 1940, hoping to find safety and a way to help Miss Peregrine, who’s stuck in bird shape. They know the danger will only be higher in London, but they don’t have a lot of options. In a world where everything is already not as it seems, these (not exactly) children will have to decide who to trust while avoiding the further threat posed by the ongoing war.

I have been enjoying this series so much more than I expected. I find the overall story of the peculiar world inventive and fascinating. And in this book, what was set up in the first one really came alive. Rather than being completely lost and trying to understand, Jacob is…well, he’s still a bit confused, but there’s a lot to learn about, after all. As he begins to use his peculiarity with purpose, though, he gets to more involved in the mission. The other children have more of a chance to shine as well, both in personality and in ability. Though none of them is explored particularly deeply, with 10 characters going through most of the book together, I’m not very surprised or bothered.

I am fascinated by this story that is the ultimate example of using visual prompts to come up with ideas for a story. It’s a common exercise for aspiring writers, especially when they’re trying to come up with something to write about, and Ransom Riggs shows how well it can turn out. I still think he might over-describe the pictures sometimes, which makes those moments in the story feel a little forced, but I liked that he got away from every picture being an actual photo the characters looked at in the story, and many were just used to show us an illustration of a scene or a character.

The plot was definitely the highlight for me, as well as the world-building. I still think the actual writing could be better. I also don’t understand why just about every adult they run into immediately treats them with anger and hatred. There’s a scene at a train station that just seemed ridiculously unlikely to me. And I really could not care less about the relationship between Jacob and Emma—partly because she’s actually a lot older than him, even if she does look like a teenager, and partly because she was in love with Jacob’s grandfather. Both of these things just make it weird, in my opinion.

This book is full of “one step forward, two steps back,” to the point where it feels like the characters (and, by extension, we the readers) will never be able to stop and catch their breath or have good news that doesn’t turn bad. But then I got to the end, and wow! Though I’m usually not a fan of cliffhangers at the ends of books, I’m totally okay with this one! (Granted, it helps that I don’t have to wait for the next book to come out.) For now, though, I’ll stick with the recommendation I made for the first book: If you’re thinking of reading this series 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.

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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.

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Book Review: The Glory of Love

The Glory of Love
Cassie Perkins
#9

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 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 returns home near the end of a long summer to find her family has become enthralled with her step-brother Nick’s new friend, a giant of a man named Dustin. Cassie doesn’t appreciate being thrown together with him just because Nick and Andrea, Cassie’s best friend, happen to be dating. Even as Cassie finds herself liking him more and more, he’s about to ship off to be in the army for 2 years, so she does everything she can to guard her heart.

Here at the final book in the series, I find that my reaction to it is related at least as much to how it calls back to the rest of the series as it is to this story itself. For example, Cassie immediately dislikes Dustin, mostly just because everyone else likes him. That’s been a rather tired recurring theme for her throughout the series, as she dislikes almost everyone new, and not always for the same reason. Overall, though, she’s clearly just not very accepting of change. She also has shown this amazing ability to turn the head of a lot of guys in the series, often just by being “different” from everyone else around. And finally, despite the lesson she should have learned from the previous book where she “fell in love,” she again convinces herself that she can date a non-believer and change him.

Also like some of the other books in the series, I had a feeling I knew where this story was going to go. Fortunately, it didn’t quite follow my predictions completely (which also happened with some of the other books too), and the story came out interesting in the end. I think I would have liked something a little more final for the last book in the series, but Cassie is still a teenager at this point, so a satisfactory wrap-up to this particular story would be difficult to swallow anyway. And since these were written in the early 90s, I don’t have much reason to hope for a follow-up. The series overall averaged about 4.5 stars for me, and I’m so glad I read through the whole thing again recently. I will be recommending the series to my daughter (currently 11) and do think it’s worth looking into for other Christian girls in the middle school to early high school range.

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Book Review: Hangman’s Curse

Hangman’s Curse
Veritas Project
#1

by Frank Peretti

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian thriller

The Springfields are a family of investigators—Dad, Mom, and twin siblings Elijah and Elisha—for the Veritas Project, which seeks to find the truth behind strange mysteries and crimes when others are unable or unwilling to see past the surface. They’re sent to a high school in Washington where kids are falling mysteriously ill with symptoms of fear and paranoia. As the family begins to assimilate into the school, they’re shocked to discover how certain students are treated, both by other students and by the faculty. Can they discover who—or what—has the school’s most popular kids seeing a ghost?

This book and its sequel, both of which I read several times back when they were new, are a large part of why Peretti has been my favorite author since high school. This is the first time in at least 10 years that I’ve read it, and it did not disappoint. The core issue in this book hit me a lot harder this time, maybe partly because I’m older now, but also because I read Peretti’s semi-autobiographical book The Wounded Spirit last year for the first time, which describes heavy bullying in his adolescence, and that really put this book into a new perspective for me. While it certainly does not excuse the kids who have been bullied and then retaliated, it sheds a light on the incredible injustice that can be prevalent in schools.

One thing that I think could trip some people up about this book is that the very premise of the series isn’t realistic. The fact that it’s the president of the United States who establishes this investigative group specifically with a Judeo-Christian perspective, as well as the teenagers of the family being investigators themselves, it’s not believable in this day and age. However, like with others of Peretti’s books, I think it’s perfectly okay to not think of it as meant to be completely realistic, and think of it more as a “what if” scenario. And in that way, it’s very insightful. I also question the likelihood of a high school teacher at that time actually teaching kids that there is no right or wrong…seems pretty foolish, since at a school, they’d most likely want kids to believe that the rules are right and that breaking the rules is wrong. Otherwise, they’re inviting anarchy. In today’s society (only 20 years later), though, I would buy this a lot more.

One last thing I should mention is definitely a spoiler, so highlight the black text at your own risk. If you have an issue with spiders, you may need to be careful reading this book. My own phobia is pretty bad, but I was able to push through. I don’t know if that’s an indication of how much I like the book or how un-intrusive the issue was, but it’s there. I do love this book, though I don’t know how well I’ll be able to watch the movie. I own it and have definitely watched it more than once in the past. I’m not sure if that means my phobia has grown over time or if the movie just isn’t too bad. There is one sequel to this book (man, do I wish Peretti had written more of these), and I remember liking it even more than this one, so I’m pretty excited about it. I highly recommend this book to all fans of Christian thrillers, whether you’re a teenager or adult.

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