Book Review: Time and Again

Time and Again
History Mystery #1
by Deborah Heal

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian sci-fi

Abby takes a volunteer job as a live-in summer tutor for an eleven-year-old named Meredith and moves into their large, old house in a once-thriving railroad town. After spending some time trying to bring the unhappy, spoiled Meredith around to the idea of studying, and exploring the neighborhood a bit, Abby and Meredith discover a strange secret on the brand new computer Abby’s estranged dad bought her–they can follow their house back in time and watch the lives of people who lived there in the past.

The first thing I want to say is don’t get too hung up on the categorization of this book as “time travel.” It’s not what almost anyone would really consider time travel. Abby and Meredith can watch the past, and even in some nebulous way “hear thoughts” from at least one person they’re watching, but there is no traveling in time. They call it time surfing. And while I did have some issues with this book, by the end, I realized I had mostly enjoyed it, and plan to continue with the series.

It takes a long time for anything to really happen. We get to know Abby and Meredith as the former gets settled in and the latter balks against all forms of learning. I found Abby to be not a terribly nice person, kind of even haughty sometimes. And Meredith is just a spoiled brat, plain and simple. She acts older than her age at first too, especially when she’s acting out. I also had to wonder if college-student Abby had ever interacted with a boy before when she meets John Roberts and acts like a middle-schooler.

When the time surfing really got going, I found myself a lot more wrapped up in both of the storylines. Meredith began to be less bratty, probably as much because she’s got someone spending time with her and showing real interest (make no mistake–divorce and single parent-ship can be really hard on a child). And the story of Charlotte, the young woman who lived in the house in and around the Civil War, was interesting.

There are a few things that really took me out of the story, which are likely a result of the book being self-published. A jarring lack of scene transitions, for example. And, for a book so focused on history, I was seriously shocked to see Abby say that in pre-Civil War times, Illinois (the state they’re in) bordered the slave state of Ohio. Not only has Illinois never bordered Ohio (Indiana is in between), but Ohio was not a slave state.

The book is novella-length and not a difficult read by any means. I’m definitely curious to see where the series goes from here. I would recommend this book for readers of Christian fiction, especially those who like history.

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Book Review: The Shepherd’s Wife

The Shepherd’s Wife
Jerusalem Road #2
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

In the Bible, Jesus is said to have at least two sisters, neither of which are named. In The Shepherd’s Wife, author Angela Hunt gives these women names, families, and lives. Pheodora lives in Bethlehem with her shepherd husband, and Damaris is married to a wealthy merchant’s son in Nazareth. While Damaris’s husband takes steps toward becoming a well-respected Pharisee, Pheodora’s husband, Chiram, is thrown in debtor’s prison. It is up to Pheodora to follow through on Chiram’s plan to breed and raise two pure white goat kids for the Yom Kippur sacrifice, which is their only hope to pay Chiram’s debt.

I enjoyed the first book in this series, but absolutely loved this one. By the last third or so, I had a hard time putting it down. All of the brothers and sisters of Jesus (called by his Hebrew name Yeshua in the story) are involved, and I appreciated seeing the family dynamics as they interacted with each other, worked together, and even talked about what their eldest brother was up to. Pheodora, whom the plot revolves around, was determined, loyal, and hard-working, but also had plenty of flaws. The book is probably more character-driven than plot-driven, which is really my cup of tea.

The book is written from the sisters’ alternating perspectives, with Pheodora’s being the one shown most often. I wasn’t sure what the point of showing Damaris’s POV was at first, but it really did add to the story. Especially at a point somewhere in the middle when the suspense ramped up because of something we only knew happened due to seeing Damaris’s home life.

It started to get really difficult to read as the injustice against Chiram was more fully revealed, and though I assumed all would be made right by the end of the book, it was all just too real. And in real life, things usually aren’t made right, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel by the end. However, the last quarter of the book brought such surprises, emotions, and lessons learned, that I was not thinking about whether or not the incredible injustice was made right.

I have a difficult time giving books 5 stars unless I can see it being a book I’ll re-read at least once in the future. This is a book I definitely will read again someday, at least once. I highly recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction, and I’m really excited about what the author has planned for the next book in this series!

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

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Publication date: October 6, 2020

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Book Review: Armada

Armada
by Ernest Cline

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Science fiction

When Zack Lightman sees an alien ship from his favorite video game flying around outside the window at school, he’s sure he’s going crazy. He’d just be following in the footsteps of his dad, who’d died when Zack was a baby. Zack had found notes his dad had kept about a massive conspiracy that involved just about every alien-related movie, TV show, and video game ever made being used to prepare the world for a real alien invasion. But when he finds out that it’s all real, and so is that ship he saw out the window, and that he and other gamers are going to be called upon to save the world, will he be up to the task?

As someone who isn’t a huge fan of this type of sci-fi, I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I am aware of the similarities to The Last Starfighter, but don’t really remember that movie. Still, even I felt like this whole story had been done before, and that there wasn’t enough of a new twist on it in this book to make it fresh. In the end, I was left feeling like the slow build-up didn’t have enough of a pay off.

My husband thought I’d like it more than Ready Player One, though couldn’t explain why. I think it might be due to the fact that the heavy amount of 80s references in RPO were lost on me, and perhaps he thought references in Armada to Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. might hit closer to home. Unfortunately, they didn’t. This was partly because the references to things I actually know more were lighter than those to movies and games I don’t have much, if any, knowledge of. But it’s also partly because the references saturated the story so much. Characters quoted movies or games with no context, events or situations were likened to movies, etc. that I wasn’t as versed in as they were, and thus, I couldn’t get into the story like I was probably meant to. And in the end, if you strip away all of these sci-fi pop culture references, what do you have? Just a simple invasion story that’s mostly been done before.

Yes, there was a bit of a twist at the end, but it wasn’t that shocking or interesting to me. By that point, the events and narration had led me to a point where I didn’t feel like I could trust anything that anyone said, anything that happened. The truth that was revealed was even speculated by Zack earlier in the book, which made the reveal that much less exciting.

The only time I really remember feeling all that interested in what was going on was at the very end, after the reveal. The falling action and the epilogue…that’s what I wanted to know more about. But if a sequel to this book ever came out, I don’t know if I would care enough to read it.

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Book Review: Alex book series (3 books)

Shoelaces and Brussels Sprouts
Peanut Butter and Jelly Secrets
Grapefruit Basket Upset
Alex series books #1, 4, & 10
by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Lucia Monfried

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children, Christian

Alex is a young girl (starts at around 8 years old and ages a bit through the series) who just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Seemingly innocuous decisions have a tendency to snowball out of her control, despite her best intentions to get things back on track. Her patient parents help her to see what she could have done differently and what she should learn from her mistakes.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Secrets survived my childhood with me, and I read it so many times. I remember having such a sense of camaraderie with Alex back then. The dark places and heart-pounding situations that she got into felt very real. I could easily imagine myself having the same struggles trying to correct my bad choices on my own. There are scenes during which she snuck around and hid in dark places that have really stuck with me over the years.

My mom owned Shoelaces and Brussels Sprouts when I was younger, and while I don’t remember reading it as many times as my book, I still remember identifying with Alex. As an adult, I can see where it would have made her whole life easier by simply telling her mom about the incident that prompted her to tell the First Lie, which then snowballed into more lies. But as a kid, I know I made plenty of my own similar bad choices to try to save myself.

This was my first time reading Grapefruit Basket Upset, so I don’t know whether my view of it would have been different if I’d read it back then as I did the other two. However, the circumstance in which Alex finds herself in this book is also not one that I think I would have connected as much with back then. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so competitive as she is, and I definitely would not have made the one final, terrible choice she made (at least, I can certainly hope not). However, the story itself, and the lesson learned, is on par with the other two books.

This book series is pretty old, and I don’t think they’re in print anymore (first one came out in 1987). At some point, they came out with different cover versions, too, though I’m a fan of the originals. If you have an opportunity to pick up any of the Alex series books, I recommend them. They’re short, quick reads that children will be able to connect to.

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Book Review: A Gathering Place

A Gathering Place
Cape Light
#3
by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, Cape Light & Home Song.

Leading up to and going through the Christmas season, mother and daughter Emily and Sara have to figure out how they fit into each others’ lives, while both also trying to work out a burgeoning relationship. Meanwhile, Reverend Ben and his family deal with some family crises, and local diner owner Charlie and his wife struggle to keep their marriage happy.

Continuing shortly after the previous book ended, book 3 continues the saga of the residents of Cape Light. The drama ramps up, and multiple characters attempt to define their romantic relationships. I found this third book to be somewhere in between the first and second, in terms of how much I enjoyed it. I was still interested in seeing where story threads that were set up in the first book would go, but less interested in some of the storylines that were focused on in this book.

One of my biggest issues is that the official blurb for this book focuses on Mayor Emily Warwick and her relationships with her newly found daughter and with newspaperman Dan Forbes. However, the book really focused a lot more on her daughter Sara and her new job at the newspaper, as well as her own romance. I found that storyline less interesting, which understandably detracted from the overall book for me. And there were 2 romantic culminations at the end of the book, which left me feeling less caught up in the one that came second.

The religion that many of the residents of Cape Light follow is more highlighted in this book, but frankly, it made me sad. It was very shallow and consisted more of passionate pleas that God would spare loved ones lives than any kind of understanding that as Christians, we shouldn’t cling so tightly to this life, because we have the hope of eternity. Don’t get me wrong–I am not against praying for healing in this life, not at all. However, if we let the idea that our Christian loved ones might die cripple us, we are not trusting God at all. And this is not a very good testimony to present to readers.

I did, however, like the way the reverend himself was presented in his personal life. He was shown in his humanness, not as some kind of saint, as he dealt with his family issues and regretted his actions and attitude after certain interactions.

From the very first book, unraveling the lives of the different people in this town was what made me want to continue the series. Some of those arcs have played out, but there are some others that are still ongoing, which is enough to make me want to read the next one. After that, the series becomes all specifically Christmas novels, but at this point, I don’t think I’ll want to stick with it if the 4th book is a less than 4-star read for me.

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Book Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner
Book #1
by James Dashner

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

I’ve not read any of the big-name YA dystopian series that have been popular over the years, so this is my first foray into those books. I liked this story–both the plot in this book, and the larger story that it sets up. While there were some things that I felt could have been done better, they were not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment.

I found the immediate world-building–the Glade and maze around it–interesting and fun to explore (if “fun” is the right word, given the situation). It felt a lot like a community a bunch of teenage boys would create. And Thomas himself I found to be an engaging main character. Others have seen him as a Gary Stu-type (too good at everything), I didn’t see it that way at all. Yes, he had his areas of innate ability, but I didn’t find it to be overly done, and there were legitimate reasons for all of it.

One thing that bugged me the most was the fake cussing. I get the reason Dashner included it (or at least, my assumption of his reason), but in the context of the story, it really didn’t make sense. The boys remembered the world overall, just had no personal memories, so why did they feel the need to make up their own swear words? And speaking of those memories, the progression of life as we know it to the dystopian world these people inhabit seems a little off in conjunction with the things they remember. Especially adding in some other factors that would be a spoiler to mention.

While there were plenty of predictable things that happened, the danger was real, and it kept me moving quickly through the entire book. My husband started listening to the audiobook at the same time, which is not something we’ve ever done before. I’m also looking forward to continuing the series, and hope we’ll do so together.

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Book Review: Forsaking All Others

Forsaking All Others
Western Vows #1
by Kari Trumbo

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Escaping the Santee Sioux Reservation in Nebraska in 1881, Rose and Pete travel to Kansas to start a new life. Life outside of the reservation is different, and as Rose quickly learns, so is Pete. Unable to agree about who to trust and how to move forward, their friendship is put to the test. Pete has always been there for Rose in the past, and she doesn’t understand what has changed. All she knows is that she can’t go back to the reservation.

Sadly, I had a very difficult time finding much of value in this short story. As a male romantic lead, Pete has some serious issues. And while that alone isn’t a problem, for me to care about the relationship between these two, he really needs to have some kind of redeeming qualities. He doesn’t–at least, not in my opinion. He’s stubborn and hot-headed, treats Rose like dirt, and essentially feels that the simple fact that he loves her and has helped her a lot in the past should be all that matters. Even when he has a change in attitude, all Rose has seen from him since they left the reservation is his sulky, jealous attitude, so frankly…the romantic climax just fell flat for me.

Morgan is probably the character with the most depth, but he’s treated badly–both by the characters and by the author. I feel like a decent attempt was made with Rose, but the relationship stuff she had to deal with just made her seem weak and cliche. Overall, I think the story suffered a lot from being so short. The heart and attitude changes that Pete went through, had they been fleshed out far more, and had he really been given the chance to show Rose that he’d changed, would have made the story so much better.

The writing style was easy to follow, but the dialog was way too modern at times. And in the second half of the novel, the editing seemed to just fall apart. I noticed a lot of grammatical errors, and that really detracted from the story.

The story is the beginning of a series, the books of which (all stand-alones, from the looks of it) get longer as the series goes. This one is Kindle-only, and looks like it came out after the rest of the series. The title doesn’t really fit the book, in my opinion, which may have just been an attempt to keep it in the theme of “wedding vows” that the series has going for it. And this is yet another time where I feel like I read a different book from everyone else, because most of the other reviews are 4-5 stars. Please be sure to check some of them out if the book interests you. As for me, I don’t plan to continue this series.

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Book Review: Loving a Rebel

Loving a Rebel: The Preacher’s Daughters
Glory, Montana #1
by Linda Ford

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Rebel

To avoid succumbing to a winter storm, Flora Kinsley and Kade Thomas are forced to spend two whole days alone together in Kade’s small dwelling. The year is 1884, and Flora’s dad is a strict preacher, who she knows will not take kindly to the circumstances. With her honor and reputation at stake, will Flora’s rebel heart be forced into a marriage she does not want, or will Kade be able to convince either of the two stubborn Kinsleys into an amicable arrangement?

This is a short, clean romance that hits the nail on the head in regards to a person of Flora’s personality–simply that forcing her to do something will only lead to rebellion and hardship. I’ve always appreciated a well-done story about two characters who are thrust into a relationship or marriage and have to learn how to make it work. That isn’t quite how this story plays out, but it was still a good read.

From early in the book, as Flora and Kade spend their two days together, it is clear that they are both completely different in the taking-risks department. Yet, they begin to learn from each other and minds and hearts are eventually changed. I really appreciated the depth we delve into the reasons behind why both of these characters are how they are, which I wouldn’t have expected in such a short space. One thing that bothered me, though, is just how stubborn everyone in this book is. No one is willing to bend when it seems like they have no reason to be so firm. The preacher annoyed me in particular, given the way he acted toward Kade even way past the point when he had any reason to treat him that way.

There is one particular character who seemed a bit over-the-top, which I think is because I sensed his inclusion as a simple plot-driver more than I normally would. In the end, though, I was a little amused by him, which is pretty strange, given how he acted in the book. There’s a large part of me that would like to hear more about him in the future–perhaps a change in perspective, maybe even a conversion.

There are points in the book that felt way too modern to me, given the time period. Overall, though, I enjoyed the story. It is the beginning of a series, which I do intend to continue at this point. I recommend this book to fans of Christian historical romances, and have high hopes for the rest of the series.

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Book Review: A Soldier’s Promise

A Soldier’s Promise
Crystal Lake #2
by Laura Scott

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

Soldier

Derek wants nothing more than to be a father to his recently motherless daughter Lexi, but there are some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to that dream. As he tries to outrun some of those obstacles, he’s in a car accident that forces him to stop his flight in Crystal Lake. There, he and his daughter are helped by ER nurse Julie, who has her own burdens to shake off. Will these three find what they’re looking for in each other?

This story is about a novella-length, about twice the length of the previous one. And it did have more substance than the previous book, even allowing for a fairly serious storyline to be tied up. Unfortunately, even with the shorter format, there’s a good deal of repetitiveness in the narration, especially involving the main characters’ inner turmoil about their individual situations (as well as their joint situation). I appreciated Derek’s characterization, but felt Julie left a lot to be desired in, regarding having much of a personality.

Most likely because the story is so short, it has the unfortunate common situation where two characters who have only just met develop feelings for each other very quickly. This particular relationship moved to kissing more quickly than I prefer, especially for a Christian read. And so much of the romance we see them develop revolves around them admiring each others’ looks.

I appreciated that Julie wanted to share her faith with Derek, and by extension, with Lexi. I don’t recall it being wrapped up in the story, but it certainly wouldn’t have to be, realistically speaking. I think there was a good foundation there for the future, though (their fictitious future that won’t likely be in any future books, of course). There was one theology point I didn’t agree with, but I won’t mention it here.

As the second book in a series of similar stories, and both being decent, but not stand-out reads, I don’t plan to move on in this series. However, if you are interested in a short, sweet, clean romance, this book can easily be read as a standalone in the series. I thought we might get a bit more of a glimpse of the characters (as a pair) from the first book than we did, since they all work in the same hospital. Please be sure to check out other reviews, as there are plenty who liked it more than I did.

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Book Review: Spark (DNF)

Did Not Finish: Spark
Swipe
#4
by Evan Angler

My rating: DNF, no rating
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

The decision to set aside a book that I most likely won’t finish is never easy, which is why I’ve only done it twice before. But this one was even harder, because it was book #4 in a series. Unfortunately, the series apparently doesn’t have an end at this time, and book #4 is a major departure from the 3 before it. The author always seemed a bit eccentric, but it went way too weird for me in this book.

One of the biggest issues I saw in other reviews was that the author left behind the characters that we spent so much time with in the first three books in favor of some new people. I don’t think I would have minded that so much on its own. However, the main character of this book had this strange way of referring to herself. She was “Ali Without a Name,” but there was no explanation of that (considering that she clearly did have a name, I’d have liked to know the story behind this). Then sometimes she or someone else would refer to her in other ways like “Hungry Ali” or “Naughty Ali.”

This, amongst other things, caused me to get that “just hang in there until things make sense” feeling. And then I cheated a little. My son has read all 4 of these books, though it’s been several years. But still, I asked him if any of these things that were making no sense would eventually be explained. He said pretty much no. I decided to call it then, about 1/4 of the way in.

Still, I liked the previous 3 books enough that, even though it’s been 7 years since this book was published, I hold out the tiniest bit of hope that the author will continue the series. If that were to happen, I’d come back and finish this book in preparation of the next. Unless that happens, though, I have no desire to find out what’s going on with Ali and the Tinchers.

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