Book Review: The Secret of The Desert Stone

The Secret of The Desert Stone
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #5
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure

Dr. Cooper is summoned to a country in Africa to investigate a giant stone that appeared overnight, separating the country’s new dictator and his army from other parts of the population. The stone is miles high and wide, so the big question is, who put it there? When Dr. Cooper and his teenage kids, Jay and Lila, end up stranded on the other side of the stone, will the locals be welcoming or try to harm them? Will they discover the secret of the stone before the dictator loses his patience with them?

This installment of the series didn’t have quite the excitement of previous books, but it still had its moments. I think the best thing about the story is that it sort of brings Romans 1:20 to life. (“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”) I may have already said too much, in regards to avoiding spoilers, but I really appreciated the simple faith and thirst for more understanding about God exhibited by “primitive” people in the story.

I think one of the things that bothers readers most about these books is the unrealistic nature of things that happen. I like that Peretti isn’t afraid to explore what could happen, even while we know things like this don’t really happen much in modern times. Still, he paints an interesting and entertaining picture.

One final note–I listened to the audiobook specifically so that I could hear it read by the author. I love how he did roles like Mr. Henry and even his small role in the movie Hangman’s Curse, and I figured the book would be that much better in his own voice. It did not disappoint! I will most likely listen to the rest of the series this way too.

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Book Review: Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea

Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #4
by Frank Peretti

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

Frustrated by her father’s lack of willingness to discuss her late mother, teenager Lila insists on leaving Japan, where Dr. Cooper is teaching about his work, and going back to the States. But on the way, her plane is hijacked and crashes over the ocean. While she is trapped at the bottom of the sea in an air-tight weapons pod, Lila’s dad and brother try to find her before it’s too late.

This book was quite a departure from what the series has been up to this point. Instead of uncovering secrets in Dr. Cooper’s capacity as biblical archaeologist, it’s more a straight race against time to find and save Lila. I liked it, though, maybe more than the one before it that had been my favorite so far. I liked the adventure and excitement, the ways that Lila tried to keep herself from panicking in the pod and tried to save herself, and the descriptions of the tiny islands in the South Pacific.

Though the heavier supernatural elements that came about in the previous books weren’t here so much, it was still clear God was involved in the story from start to finish. This book has led me to realize that the series is basically a modern-day parallel to certain biblical accounts and truths. It’s as if Peretti started each of these books by asking himself, “How would these certain verses of the Bible look if they happened today?” This one, for example, has shades of the story of Jonah (not subtly so either). It’s a solid addition to this middle-grade series.

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Book Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank
Amelia Peabody #1
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

As a female during the Victorian era in England, Amelia Peabody is ahead of her time. Unmarried and independently wealthy, she has no need for a man or most of societal conventions. With a passion for Egyptology and a thirst for adventure, she decides to travel to Cairo, taking into her company along the way a young woman whose reputation has been tarnished. Amelia gets the adventure she’s looking for, and more, when a missing mummy begins to terrorize the women.

I was not a huge fan of this book for the most part. Amelia’s attitude, which is the main thing that most other readers seem to love, just irritated me most of the time. Her haughtiness and aggressiveness was just too much. I listened to the audiobook, and the reader did such a good job infusing the 1st-person narration with arrogance and disdain that it only added to my dislike for Amelia. Add to that the mystery being a bit light–took a long time to get going and was mostly easy to solve–and Amelia’s disdain for Christianity, and it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read for me.

There were parts of the book that I found interesting–the descriptions of excavation and archaeology in those days, as well as travel by the dahabiyas (luxury boats) on the Nile. However, by the time I was halfway through, I’d decided I wouldn’t continue the series after the first book. Now that it’s been a few days since I finished it, I think I may give it another try. The next book is set somewhere around 6 years after the first one, and it looks like many things will be different. As for this first book, though, I do think others might appreciate it more than I did, so if it sounds interesting, be sure to check out other reviews and consider giving this book a try.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race

Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #3
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

After a grand escape game and a library-fied version of the Olympics, Mr. Lemoncello brings his favorite 12-year-olds (though I’d guess some are probably 13 by now) a game that sends teams on a much grander adventure–across town in bookmobiles and across states in his banana jet. But trouble is afoot when Kyle’s team uncovers evidence that Mr. Lemoncello plagiarized his very first game. Will his newly honed research skills be enough to clear his hero’s name?

After loving the first book in the series and enjoying the second one as well, this one didn’t seem quite as good in the end. The required suspension of disbelief is much higher in this one, both because these kids are allowed to take private jets to other states and even NYC without any real adult supervision, and because my past observation of most of the kids just being over-the-top knowledgeable was ramped up in this one. Not only do some of these kids know just about every juvenile book ever written, plus have an extensive knowledge of the Dewey decimal system that they can mentally search whenever needed, but now some of those same kids know vast amounts of information about historical events and figures like the Wright brothers’ first flight. It’s all just a bit too much to swallow.

I did still like the puzzles and riddles along the way, though. I enjoy being able to solve some of the clues along with the kids, though that was certainly lighter in this one. The more of these grand-scale games Mr. Lemoncello dreams up, the bigger they seem to have to be, which is somewhat understandable from a fiction stand-point, but seems like it’ll be difficult to sustain. And strangely, while the game itself is grander, the prize is…considerably less so, though that might just be from an adult’s perspective.

The mystery that came up in the latter half of the book and stalled the great game was interesting, as it was quite the reflection of the way the general public will believe nearly anything if they’re given a convincing enough presentation, no matter if the facts back it up or not. Parts of the mystery were predictable, parts not so much, and in the end, while I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did the first two, I know that the things that brought it down the most for me are going to be more noticeable to an adult than the age group the book is meant for. My 10-year-old daughter loved this book as much as the previous two, and I think it’s safe to recommend it for kids around 8-12.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Saw Red

The Cat Who Saw Red
Book #4
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

Former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran starts a new diet just before he’s made the newspaper’s first ever gourmet reporter. In typical Qwill fashion, he immerses himself in the culture by moving into a boarding house where the owner is a gourmet chef and requires all boarders to have some sort of connection to food. Part of the reason for moving there (okay, maybe most of the reason) is that Qwill’s old flame lives there, and when she disappears, he starts to question if foul play is involved. Still, she’s always been flighty, as Qwill knows well enough. Then a houseboy vanishes, and Qwill kicks his investigation into high gear.

My experience with this book is probably a bit tainted by the fact that I’ve read it before, many years ago. It’s actually one I remember most from whichever ones of this series I read when I was younger. So that being said, I really liked the story and the mystery, even though I was pretty sure I knew what was going on the entire time. Because even with that past experience, I couldn’t quite decide for sure if my theory was correct or not. In the end, the mystery was interesting and maybe even a bit more sensational than normal for this series.

I always enjoy the antics that the cats get up to, and this book was no exception for me. Qwill even has a bit of a scare involving them, and it’s very touching to see his reaction. One particular side character amused me quite a bit too, even down to a comical description of the car that he drives. I only wish there would have been more of him. Overall, this was an entertaining read that I do believe beat out the previous to be my favorite in the series so far. I would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #2
by Chris Grabenstein

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

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

After their big win in Mr. Lemoncello’s escape game, Team Keeley is challenged by basically every kid in the country. They all want their chance at stardom (starring in commercials for Mr. Lemoncello games) and are unhappy that the contest was so localized. So Mr. Lemoncello grants them their wish, because hey, that means he gets to create more games! The top teams in each region of the country are chosen and invited to Ohio to compete for full college scholarships–against Kyle’s team. The only problem is that Kyle isn’t so sure he’s up to the challenge this time.

After the pure fun I had with the first book, I knew this wouldn’t be able to be quite the same. For one thing, it’s not so much with the escape room aspect anymore. There are puzzles involved in the games, but it’s not nearly the same as it was in the first book. However, it’s still a fun read, and even has a bit of mystery. So while I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I did the first book in the series, it was still good.

For all the similarities to Willy Wonka in the first book, this had even more. Including a particular bit that I guessed at from early on, comparing a character to a role in Roald Dahl’s book. Even still, though, the book did keep me guessing a bit as I waited to see if I was right. And unlike the “justice” in Wonka’s world, it’s nice to see some of the “bad” kids have a change of heart by the end of this book.

In my review of the first book, I mentioned that it was unrealistic how much knowledge some of these kids have–Kyle is about the only one who doesn’t come across like he lives and breathes books and studying. That was much more noticeable this time. Still overall, it’s a good book, fun for kids, and I continue to recommend it for kids around 8-12 and for parents, especially those who like games.

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Book Review: Anne of Ingleside

Anne of Ingleside
Book #6
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic

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

After watching Anne grow up and become a wife and mother, this book chronicles several years of motherhood, with an eventual six children. Like many of the other books in this series, there’s not exactly a single plot to the book, more a series of vignettes about the children’s antics and some of Anne’s own activities. Some of her children are a lot like her, fanciful and whimsical, and in some ways, it was like seeing Anne as a child again.

It was interesting, and I’m not entirely sure how realistic, that so many of her children’s scrapes led them to be outside on their own at night. I really felt for some of them, considering the ways they tended to let their imaginations run away with them. I can remember being a kid and not fully understanding what was going on, and that leading me to be scared, unhappy, sad, etc. when I probably didn’t need to be.

I did not care at all for Aunt Mary Maria, which I’m sure was intentional, but she when had the audacity to tell one of the kids, as they were about to leave home for 2 weeks, that if he was naughty, a man would grab him up in a big, black bag, I couldn’t believe it! And this after scoffing at one of the other kids for still believing in Santa, which is such hypocrisy. I don’t care what generation you’re from, you wouldn’t get away with scaring my kids like that.

I liked seeing some of the characters back from previous books, and overall, I didn’t mind that Anne had grown up so much. It wasn’t my favorite of the sequels (that honor goes to the previous, Anne’s House of Dreams), but I still liked it a lot. It’s the last book in the series proper, and I may someday read the final two books, but for now, I think I’ll stop here. When I re-read Anne of Green Gables in the future, I may skip past the next few and only re-read books 5 & 6. I’m just not a huge fan of the rest.

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Book Review: Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders
A Woman of WWII Mystery #1
by Tessa Arlen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Newly trained Air Raid Warden Poppy Redfern takes up her post in the small English village of Little Buffenden, where an American Air Force airfield is about to open. The airfield could make this otherwise quiet hamlet a target for an air raid, but the Germans aren’t the only danger to Little Buffenden; trouble is much closer to home when two women are murdered only days apart. When suspicion is cast upon the Americans at the airfield, distrust for the “friendly invaders” surges in Little Buffenden. Poppy begins to investigate while continuing her duties as warden and trying not to end up as the next victim.

This book was all sorts of great! The descriptions made the story come to life, and though there were quite a few characters from the village and neighboring airfield involved, the author did a great job of helping me keep them all straight as I got used to them. Poppy had a wonderful mixture of spunk, loyalty, compassion, and intelligence, with a little quirk thrown in (it’s not that strange to have the main character of the novel you’re writing pop into your head with observations or admonitions now and then…or so I’ve heard).

I really liked the feel of this small town in 1942 England, where they’ve been at war for much longer than their American allies, not to mention more directly affected. The things the Air Force men take for granted, like having sugar and beef readily available, were luxuries to the locals. The attempts made by Poppy and her grandparents to help their fellow villagers see the Americans in a different light showed the great wisdom of this family. And though there are some bumps along the way that were a little frustrating, the American pilot that works with Poppy, Griff, was one of my favorite characters. Also, I’m not a dog person and don’t normally care much about dogs in fiction, but Bess was pretty great.

I would classify this as a cozy mystery–it has all of the earmarks. I had guessed who the murderer was much earlier than I normally do, but I wasn’t quite certain, and the reveal was still done really well. However, the book does probably have a little more description of violence and disturbing images than you’d normally find in a classic cozy mystery. That’s not to say that it’s very much–it didn’t bother me at all, and I don’t have a very high tolerance for some of that kind of thing–but enough that I thought it was worth mentioning if I’m classifying it as “cozy.” All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience this book provided and would recommend you give it a try if either of the genres interest you. There’s a second book in the series so far, which I’m looking forward to reading.

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Weekly Writing Update: 1/17

I’ve started to focus more on revision again finally, after the slump that started around the holidays. I had a conversation with the younger sister of Leahna, one of the main characters of book #3. Somehow that ended up involving the sisters’ brother too, and in the end, I had so much more insight on both of these two side characters, especially the sister. And then I finished one of the brand new scenes that I’ve slated to add into the story, all of which focus on Leahna and her family, a group of characters that were sorely under-represented in the previous drafts.

Over the next week, I will probably continue to work on the new scenes, saving my new full revision until after all scenes I’ve already planned are done. Then I can start at the beginning and get an idea of how things are flowing so far.

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).


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Book Review: A Noble Masquerade

A Noble Masquerade
Hawthorne House #1
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Lady Miranda Hawthorne has never appreciated the “lady lessons” her mother has forced upon her since childhood. She copes with these frustrations by journaling in the guise of letters written to her elder brother’s school chum, a man whose antics, as told by her brother, make her think he’d be of a similar mind to her. She never mails the letters, keeping them locked up in a trunk. But when her brother’s new valet accidentally mails one and Miranda receives a reply from the Duke of Marshington, it sets off an unlikely, if tenuous, friendship. There’s just one problem–no one has seen the duke in 9 years…but on the other hand, maybe he’s actually right there at Hawthorne House.

So for the first half of this book, things were good. Maybe not 5-star good, but still good. Though Ryland (the duke) is a little manipulative, it really did start out innocent, and I think his motivations were sincere, if a bit flawed. But then around the halfway point, things went downhill for me. Miranda goes a bit batty, scenes are really confusing and plodding, and the whole angle of the duke as a spy is sort of shoved in the background, while also sort of being a big part of what’s happening.

Miranda, who is described in the synopsis as acting “every inch the lady” is never really shown to be acting like a lady. She’s always bucking against that role, barely able to keep her mother from chastising her, or doing whatever she wants when her mother isn’t there. But in the second half of the book, she throws all pretenses of being a lady out the window, threatening or attacking men in anger, sneaking out of the house to visit an unmarried man, and a host of bad decisions that only seem to be okay because they’re helping her to go against her mother’s lessons. I didn’t have an issue with her internal struggle with the slot she’s being forced into, but it did get a little ridiculous in that second half.

There is a purportedly tense game of whist played at one point that was just a long, confusing, pointless scene for me, because apparently a lot of unspoken communication hinges on the way the game is played, and…well, how many of us modern people know anything about the game of whist? Then Miranda’s family rehashes the game on the ride home and boy is Miranda’s brother shocked…but I have no idea why, nor what the implications are. Less time should have been spent on that and other less plot-driving endeavors, and more time on showing us both of the MCs’ anxieties about their places in life. Because they each had realizations near the end about how their life is better than they think it is or something, but both of these anxieties were not particularly founded in the earlier parts of the book.

The romance was clearly the driving force of the plot, which is certainly allowed in a romance story, but I prefer those where the rest of the plot, even without the culmination of the romance, stands on its own as a good story. This isn’t one of those. In fact, in the end, I’m not even completely certain if the suggested head “bad guy” was actually a bad guy, because that whole storyline was left behind in the build up to the climax, which, no, wasn’t even from the main plot.

This is the 2nd Regency romance I’ve read in less than a month where the male MC is a duke who is also a spy for England. I really liked the angle of the letters that Miranda had never meant to send being the catalyst to a relationship. Again, I liked the first half or so, though the more I think about it, the more I wish Ryland had been more sensitive to Miranda’s trust issues instead of using them against her. But back to the letters, I did love the culmination of that plot thread in the epilogue, though I won’t explain more due to spoilers. I just wish the rest of the book had held up to the good parts. It’s definitely not high on my list of favorite Regency romances, and I likely won’t read it again. I did like the novella that starts off this series, and the male MC in the next book intrigued me in this one, so I plan to go on to book #2 and see how that one goes.

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