Book Review: The Cat Who Turned On and Off

The Cat Who Turned On and Off
Book #3
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

TCW 1-3

Former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran takes on a new challenge–writing something worthy of a cash reward about the much-disdained part of town known as Junktown. When he begins to sniff around the haven for antique dealers, a mystery is already afoot. A beloved dealer has recently fallen and died, but Qwilleran quickly begins to suspect foul play.

This is my favorite so far, finding the trio of Qwill, Koko, and Yum Yum really beginning to feel like a family. The characters are a lot more engaging, the mystery is interesting and a little easier to follow and potentially solve by the reader, and the interactions between man and cats are cute and whimsical.

I felt like Braun really hit her stride with this story (and then stopped writing for 20 years), as Qwill seemed less grumpy and more open to new things. I loved his misunderstanding about Junktown near the beginning of the book. I really appreciated what Yum Yum added to the investigation, considering that she always seems to take a backseat to Koko when it comes to laurels. And there was a character introduced in this book that I’m pretty sure is going to be around later, because her name is very familiar. Other than some of Qwill’s fellow newsmen, no characters have recurred yet, so that’ll be interesting to see in the future.

Overall, this was a nice, quick read, and the best of the first 3 in the series. I would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

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Book Review: Unclaimed Legacy

Unclaimed Legacy
History Mystery #2
by Deborah Heal

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian sci-fi

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Time and Again.

Abby’s summer tutoring job continues, but the computer program that allowed them to “time surf” the history of her pupil’s house has stopped working. When they house sit for a relative of a friend, though, the program invites them to view the history of a whole new area, this time alongside the handsome John Roberts. They get much more than they bargained for.

This second installment in the series is, to me, a step down from the first. While the story that they dig up in the lives of the past occupants of the house is more in-depth than what is shown in the first book, it’s also a lot darker. What bothers me more, though, is the story in the present time.

I’ll start with some good things before I get to what might seem like a rant. I really liked the little name game that John and Merri, Abby’s pupil, played throughout some of the story. I liked that the little boy with the deaf mother has people who care enough about him to help with his speech issues. And I did like the “Old Dears” as characters–maybe just a little over the top, but generally cute (the big secret between them notwithstanding). I also really liked Merri’s connection with the Old Dears. It was nice to see her come out of her shell more, even as her mom ignored her more than before and her dad acted like a typical fictional deadbeat dad (not quite so typical in the end, though).

However…if I wasn’t a fan of Abby (the main character, mind you) in the previous book, I just plain disliked her in this book. Her best friend, with whom she talks on the phone a few times throughout the book, refers to Merri as “chubster,” as well as several other unflattering, harsh terms, which she uses because Abby had previously used them in referring to Merri. Abby chides her friend, but only because Merri is trying to do better now, not because Abby recognizes that those were just horrible things to say about the 11-year-old girl she’s tutoring, who already has huge issues! If Merri had heard any of those terms, would she have just accepted that they were okay to use in the past, before she was “trying”? No, she’d probably be devastated.

Then there’s the developing relationship between Abby and John. The problem is that he tends to take off when things get a little intimate. This leads Merri’s mom to speculate that maybe he’s gay, because goodness knows he couldn’t possibly have any other reason to not paw a girl he likes. But thank goodness he checked out her butt so that we can lay that question to rest. Seriously? And there’s a friend of John’s who’s basically a 90s tech geek, right down to the 90s lingo. It was really strange.

This book, like the previous, has absolutely nothing in the way of mid-chapter scene transitions, which can be really jarring when you’re reading and suddenly it’s another day, location, etc. Overall, though, it’s the characters and present-day plot that make me not so sure I want to read the final book in this series. Especially since the synopsis involves Abby’s best friend who almost seemed offended when Abby told her not to call Merri a chubster, and who otherwise is a bit pushy and annoying to me. If you’re really into history, you may still find this series to your liking if the things I mentioned above don’t bother you. Definitely start with the first book, though.

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Book Review: The Two Towers

The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings #2
by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of The Fellowship of the Ring, this is going to be less of a real review and more just my thoughts on my experience with this book. This is my first time through the trilogy, and I’m listening to the audiobooks, because I don’t think I’d make it through if I was reading. One note about the audiobook–Rob Inglis, the narrator, does a fantastic job! He even sings the songs, and while I suppose it would be strange if the narrator of these books with so many songs didn’t attempt to sing them, I still think it’s particularly neat.

I liked this book more than the previous, as we jump right back into the story. It felt more swiftly paced, too, even during the part where Frodo and Sam were wandering for a while. As with the previous book, my notes on this book are from a standpoint of having seen the movies several times, and I prefer the movie that goes back and forth between the two storylines, rather than showing all of one, then all of another. But I do appreciate that they were written to be two separate books, and then had to be combined into one. I also liked better, in the movie, not knowing that Sam had taken the ring from Frodo when he thought he was dead, or knowing that Sam was even following him, until the right moment.

One of the things I’m getting most out of reading the books after having a cursory understanding of the story from the movies is getting to understand the world and the characters more. For example, I like having a better understanding that Gandalf is something special (celestial, even), not just a simple wizard (whatever that would mean anyway). Also, Gollum is so wonderfully sarcastic in the book, which I just loved!

I know that I’m not going to appreciate these books the way that many others do; I don’t think I’m the right kind of person to really get into the history and depth Tolkien put into his world. But I’m still enjoying them and am glad I’m reading them.

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Book Review: The Death Cure

The Death Cure
The Maze Runner #3
by James Dashner

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, The Maze Runner & The Scorch Trials.

The first thought I had after I finished reading this book was, “Eh.” And in a lot of ways, that accurately sums up my thoughts on it. It was…okay. Not terrible (better than book #2), but not great either. The answers in this book only solidified my theory that Dashner did not have the trilogy planned out when he wrote the first book and didn’t really know where to go from the maze.

The reasoning behind all of the trials and “variables” was mediocre at best. Terminology was strange and didn’t always make sense (like “killzone”), and in the end, most of what was going on was not any more grand, exciting, or surprising than everything I guessed at along the way. The ending was more of what I would call a “non-ending.” Not satisfying in any way.

The characters didn’t get much better in this book. The only character I really liked throughout the series was shafted in this book. Teresa was even more pointless in this book than in the previous. And I seriously don’t get any kind of a feel for Brenda. So many people like her, but she seems fairly lifeless to me. And something she said near the beginning of this book, now that I think of it, makes no real sense and barely came into play.

So in the end, would I recommend this series? No. Not to adult readers, at least. Maybe teenagers get more out of it, I don’t know. It seems like it’s one of those that you either love or just don’t care for at all. I liked the first book, but the rest of the series didn’t deliver on that set-up. And I have no desire to read the two prequel books.

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Book Review: To Steal a Heart

To Steal a Heart
The Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency #1
by Jen Turano

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

When a resident at the Holbrooke boardinghouse is falsely accused of theft, the other ladies of the boardinghouse band together, using their diverse talents and abilities, to clear her name. From this comes the idea to form the Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency, which appeals to the ladies of New York City in 1886. For Gabriella Goodhue, who puts her childhood as a thief to use for the agency, this leads to a reunion with her once-best friend from her childhood, who has also turned from a life of crime. Nicholas Quinn is as surprised to see Gabriella as she is to see him and even more surprised by the fact that she seems to hate him now.

This book, unfortunately, was not really for me. It hit a lot of wrong chords with me, and I really don’t care for the author’s writing style. The characters are okay, though most of the larger characters seem too similar to each other, with only a few stand-outs. The villain is incredibly over-the-top and cliched. The plot is disjointed and doesn’t really follow one thread all the way through, except maybe for the connection between Gabriella and Nicholas.

The premise is interesting and the story that comes out of it is decent. The given synopsis (clearing the friend’s name) comes to a conclusion before the 50% mark, which led me to wonder what the book was really about. In the end, the story goal seems to really have been about giving both of these street urchins (Gabriella and Nicholas, who were both orphans and part of a gang of thieves in their childhood) answers to their past. This came out of nowhere, as it wasn’t really established in the first part of the book, other than the simple fact that they had been orphans.

I also thought the history between Gabriella and Nicholas was not nearly strong or deep enough for how they acted and talked. Gabriella was 12 when she was taken away from the gang. Nicholas was (I think) 14. Yet they act and talk as if they were much older and more mature when they knew each other in the past. When they meet again, they’ve been apart longer than they’ve been together, and they certainly don’t act like they were super close as kids. We only know they were because they say they were.

All of the above things, however, would probably still have left me with a book I could enjoy, had it not been for the writing style itself. It was very wordy and felt really shallow. I’m not a stickler at all for the “show, don’t tell” adage, but if I am noticing an abundance of adverbs, it’s probably too much. Take for example the following: “That he looked incredibly furious was not in question, nor was it in question that he also looked rather dangerous.” Not only is this pure telling, it’s telling with way more words than necessary (and this happened often). Various expressions were overused throughout the book, too, like “resuming the friendship” and “lady love.”

I like the idea of the premise of the series, and the fact that the next book is about one of the most interesting characters from this book makes me a little sad. Because from reviews I’ve read of other Jen Turano books, I have a feeling this one is not a stand-out in regards to writing style. I don’t have any plans at this time to read any more of her books. However, she has many great reviews on a lot of books, including this one. So if you don’t think the issues I’ve mentioned in my review would bother you, please do give this book a try. It’s just a miss for me.

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

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Publication date: November 17, 2020

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Book Review: A New Leaf

A New Leaf
Cape Light
#4
by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

It’s near the end of winter in Cape Light and a time for new beginnings for many of its residents. This includes the newest resident, Dr. Matthew Harding, who has just moved to town with his teenage daughter, hoping to start a new life three years after his wife’s death. Molly Willoughby is toying with the idea of starting a new business, Sophie Potter has to figure out how to move on after her ailing husband is gone, and a controversy from many years past shakes things up for Tucker Tulley.

One of the best things about this book is that the story moved away from the Warwick family, after 3 books about them in some capacity. They were in the background, which was fine, but the main storyline in this book involved Dr. Harding and Molly Willoughby. Overall, it was a decent read. Parts of it were better than others, and some characters were better than others.

The romance thread in this story didn’t draw me in like it probably should have. I liked how both grew as individuals and how they had a hand in helping each other see what they needed to work on. But even by the end, I didn’t feel much chemistry between them. They seemed more like really good friends. And there was an obstacle in there that seemed completely pointless.

On another story front, I was appalled by Fran Tulley’s actions in the book, even if she did feel bad about it later. And Tucker began to wear on me after a while too, since most of his own thoughts were about how uncertain he was of his feelings and actions at pretty much every step of the way.

In the end, the book was decent, but I didn’t love it enough to continue this series that has been mostly just okay so far. It feels like a good stopping point anyway, though, because all of the books after this are Christmas-themed, and the final page of this book provided a nice wrap-up to the first 4 books. I don’t know if that was intentional or not–maybe the series wasn’t originally meant to continue? However, I do have a copy of book #9, and with Christmas coming up and feeling like I have a good enough introduction to the series and the town, I do still plan to read that book, most likely my final go at the Cape Light series.

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Book Review: Anne’s House of Dreams

Anne’s House of Dreams
Book #5
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

After the first book in the series, I have liked each one just a little less than the one before it. It didn’t seem quite the same anymore and also began to feel repetitive. Fortunately, this book brought me back to the love I had for the first book.

It’s not as if there are no more characters or situations that in some way mirror those from earlier books. But there was a lot less of that, and overall, everything felt new and fresh again. I’d say the characters introduced in this book, as well as getting to see Marilla and some of the others a bit more, really made the book for me. Not to mention Gilbert and Anne starting their lives together. I loved Captain Jim and got a kick out of Miss Cornelia, especially the way she and Captain Jim bantered.

Then there’s Leslie Moore. Of all the ways her story could have gone–and I had a few different predictions, believe me–I never imagined that twist.

Overall, I loved this book about as much as I loved the first book in the series. Unfortunately, it only highlighted the slower, drier books in between. I have no idea what to expect of the rest of the books in the series, but I can’t wait to find out.

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Book Review: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings #1
by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of The Hobbit, this is going to be my less of a real review and more just my thoughts on my experience with this book. After reading The Hobbit, I knew I had to go on to read the LoTR series. However, I also knew that I would never make it through if I read the text. My sister once suggested listening to the audiobook instead, so though it’s not normally my preferred method of reading a book, I gave it a try. For something like this, it turned out to be great.

As someone who has seen these movies many times, it’s interesting to read the source material. I can also see now how other authors and books I’ve read are very influenced by this series of books. It was again, and even moreso in this book, interesting to get more depth on the story, on the world, and on some of the characters that are in the movies I’ve so enjoyed.

The main downside to me is that it just feels like the adventure takes way too long to get going. The events in the Shire before Frodo even leaves weren’t so bad, but I was astounded by how far into the book I was by the time the Hobbits got to Bree. After that, everything else felt super fast by comparison.

I know my reading of these books will be tainted in many ways by having seen the movies first, but there’s nothing I can do about that. But while I knew some things were made up or expanded in The Hobbit movie, and of course I knew that several events and characters were left out of the LoTR movies, I was surprised by some of it. Frodo selling Bag End was a sad shock. Arwen is barely mentioned in the book, and both Legolas and Gimli feel much less important than the movie makes them to be. And again, the amount of time that passes between plot points just amazed me (Frodo is 50 when he begins the journey!).

I am so glad I read The Hobbit first, too, because it adds a connection and even some emotion to know who Gimli’s father is, to know who Balin is, and to understand a bit more about who the dwarves that died in the Mines of Moria were. It’s also interesting to me that the elves know of Frodo, through Bilbo, and that Frodo even knows some of the elvish language! That’s completely lacking in the movies, but makes total sense, given the events of Bilbo’s adventure.

I’ve already started on The Two Towers, and look forward to finishing the series.

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Weekly Writing Update: 10/25

I have finished the revision I was doing with one of my sisters, and any further revision of  “Outcast” is up in the air right now. I may be completely done with revisions, but it’s difficult to know, and I’m not in a huge hurry to make that decision. I have started on line edits, though, because I don’t anticipate any large revisions from here forward. By the end of this month, though, I think I’ll know for sure what I have left to do, and be able to set a publishing date (or know if I need to push it back a little instead). I don’t like being so up in the air at this point, but such is the life of a self-published author with no budget.

NaNoWriMo starts in a week, and I think I’m as prepared as I’m going to get. I finished the character interview I started last week, and though it didn’t lead to any wild “Aha!” moments, it still helped me get a firmer handle on a character that has only been in one book so far, but will have a prominent role in what I’m writing for NaNo (first draft of book #4 in the series). I also got my outline, which had been only in the notes sections of Scrivener, into a printable form, so I can have it with me wherever I may write next month. I’m ready and excited to start!

While I work on continuing the series, if you’re interested in reading where it all starts, Pithea is available on Amazon as both an e-book and paperback (it’s also on Kindle Unlimited).

Book Review: P.S. Goodbye

P.S. Goodbye
by Tari Faris

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

When Caroline Williams, expecting a proposal, is dumped instead, the last person she wants to see is Grant Quinn, on whom she had a huge crush when she was thirteen. But he’s moved to town, and comes to the store she runs with her sister, looking for work. Caroline offers a trade–he can work for them if he lets her help him find a more permanent situation…somewhere else. But Grant is a harder nut to crack than she thought he’d be, and she can’t afford to let her ordered, list-driven life fall apart by letting him in.

This is a short book, only about 170 pages. Grant’s character has some depth, but I think Caroline stayed in the shallow end. The most interesting thing about her was related to love letters she wrote to Grant when she was thirteen, and then letters she wrote him after the two had a short-lived connection when Caroline was 18. But that part of the story wasn’t fleshed out nearly enough for me (especially considering that the title of the book is related to it). Caroline also had a tendency to impose ground rules, only to break them herself. She was said to live her life by lists, but in the end, her actions did not prove that about her.

There were also some romance tropes in this book that aren’t my favorite, like one pretending to be the other’s girlfriend/boyfriend to get family off the one’s back. And then the pretend girlfriend/boyfriend initiating a steamy kiss just to make it seem more real. And this leads to one of the other things I didn’t like about it–it was more about the physical than I prefer, especially in a Christian story. There was nothing graphic at all, but definitely more emphasis was put on physical attraction and touching than I like.

I did enjoy this book more often than not, which was mostly due to Grant, because Caroline was a flat heroine/romantic lead. This is a prequel to a short series of full-length romances, and I would be interested in seeing how the author does with a novel-length story.

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