Saturday, April 13, 2024

"Kill the Dawn" by Emily Hayse

Ahhh, Hamlet.  Is any Shakespearean play more obviously suited to a YA magical Vikings retelling?  I can't think of any.  I mean, it's already set in Scandinavia, based on a medieval Danish tale -- dragons wandering by wouldn't seem at all amiss even in Shakespeare's version.

Yes, this Hamlet retelling has dragons.  It has tamed dragons and wild dragons.  There's a dragon hunt.  There are also horses, warriors, wolves, snow, Viking ships, Viking funerals, and a lot of hard-to-pronounce names.

Hakkr's father, the king, dies while off warring with a neighboring bunch of Vikings.  Hakkr learns from a new slave, called a thrall, that his father did not die in battle the way everyone says, but was betrayed by one of those he considered his closest friends.  When that friend marries Hakkr's sister and claims the throne that should belong to Hakkr, their entire community is set on a path of destruction that will claim many innocent lives by the end -- and some guilty lives, too.

I like that the ending here is slightly changed from Shakespeare's play, in a way that makes sense for this world and these characters.  I was particularly pleased by the true identity of one side character becoming clear only at the very end.  I don't want to say who, because it's a pretty big spoiler, but it's cool.

As usual, Emily Hayse melds a lyrical style with forceful pacing to create a book both beautiful and thrilling.  Kill the Dawn is part of the Classic Retold multi-author series of fantasy novellas that were released last fall and winter.  It's the first one I've read from the series, but I have all nine books, so expect me to read and review them all eventually.

Particularly Good Bits:

Hakkr hung back.  He was caught in a separate world, slow and empty, his grief washing over him like cold sea waves (p. 30).

"You do the right thing and don't think about it.  To some men it is a very great struggle.  You -- you are friends with doing right and do not battle it" (p. 70).

"I will not let fear keep me from that which is right" (p. 172).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for non-gory violence, including off-page deaths of children (some killed violently during war).  No bad language and no smut.  

This is my 12th book read off my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Challenge.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"Winter Holiday" by Arthur Ransome

In my defense, it WAS winter when I started reading this aloud to my kids!  I started it in January, but it's been challenging to fit read-aloud time into the general chaos that has been our lives for the first few months of this year.  In fact, I finished reading it to them in the van on the way home from a road trip to Indiana to view the total solar eclipse this week.  I think the characters in this series would have approved of that.

This is book four in the Swallows and Amazons series, and I think it ties with the first book as my favorite so far.  That's partly because I love snow, and this involves a lot of snow, and partly because it felt kind of new and different because of the setting and the addition of new characters.  To the usual Swallows (John, Susan, Titty, and Roger) and Amazons (Nancy and Peggy) and Captain Flint, we add the Ds (Dick and Dorothea).  The Ds are NOT great at things like sailing and camping and climbing mountains... but they are willing to do their best and try their hardest, and I grew to love them for their gumption.

Because the Swallows and Amazons are both spending their winter school break at the lake where they usually hang out in the summer, they decide to get together an expedition to the North Pole.  They meet Dick and Dorothea after the Ds try signalling with lights to the house at Holly Howe where the Swallows are staying, only they don't know Morse Code, so the Swallows and Amazons promptly teach it to them.  And then let them tag along as they build an igloo of sorts, and make plans and preparations for their polar expedition, and so on.  The Ds enter fully into the very real spirit behind the somewhat imaginary expedition, and end up having a truly thrilling adventure of their own before the end.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for children getting into dangerous situations.  No one is ever permanently or seriously hurt, however.

This has been my 23rd book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list, and my 11th for the 2024 Mount TBR Challenge.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

The I'll Get Around to It Tag

I found this at The Christian Fiction Girl and thought it looked like good fun, especially as I eye my TBR stacks and shelves, and see how they just keep filling up no matter how assiduously I try to empty them.

The Rules 
  • Link back to the original post @ Quote, Unquote
  • Link back to the person who tagged you. 
  • You may use the included graphic anywhere in your post (optional; a black clock with Roman numerals) 
  • Answer all seven categories with a book. 
  • Tag seven others. (optional)

The Categories

1. A classic book that you have been meaning to read forever but haven’t yet

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.  I even bought myself a really pretty copy a couple years ago, but that still hasn't gotten me to actually read it.  Yet.

2. A book on your shelf that you haven’t read yet 

Um, I have more than 400 books on my shelves that I haven't read yet.  And you want me to pick one?  Well, I shall pick Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, which has been on my TBR shelves longer than two of my kids have been alive...

3. A book that you got recently that you haven’t read 

I just picked up a lovely copy of The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens at a thrift store recently.  Will read it someday.

4. A book that you’ve had forever but haven’t read 

I've had Under the Deodars by Rudyard Kipling on my shelves since before all three of my kids were born.  Still haven't read it.

5. A book a friend recommended that you haven’t read 

People tell me I will love The Story Girl by L. M. Montgomery, and I have a copy on my shelves for when I am in the right mood for some Montgomery!

6. A book you’re procrastinating on 

I keep telling myself to read Villette by Charlotte Bronte, but I am a little afraid to try it, to be honest.  I'm afraid I will compare it to Jane Eyre too much, and it can't possibly live up to that.  I know I can choose not to compare them intentionally, but I worry I will do it subconsciously.  One of these days, I'll read it!

7. The next book on your TBR

Break the Beast by Allison Tebo, a fantasy retelling of Beowulf!

Not tagging anyone with this today because I just don't feel like it.  Play if you want to!

The categories again, for your copying ease:

A classic book that you have been meaning to read forever but haven’t yet 
A book on your shelf that you haven’t read yet 
A book that you got recently that you haven’t read 
A book that you’ve had forever but haven’t read 
A book a friend recommended that you haven’t read 
A book you’re procrastinating on 
The next book on your TBR

Friday, April 5, 2024

"The Lonely Men" by Louis L'Amour

Not my favorite Sackett book, I'm afraid.  Even though it stars Tell Sackett, who IS my favorite Sackett!  Mostly, I think I disliked it because it had Laura Sackett for a villain, Orrin's ex-wife, and she is poisonous and spiteful and horrid.  I just wanted to get myself (and Tell) as far away from her as possible.  She's really just in bits here and there, but ugh, I hated having to deal with her whenever she cropped up.

I did love how Tell and three friends risked everything to rescue some children.  I love protective characters, and that is no doubt why I love Tell Sackett.  Also, Dorset was another of L'Amour's wonderful female characters filled with grit and grace.  She was the direct opposite of Laura, which was refreshing.

Particularly Good Bits: 

With none to share our sorrows or regrets, we kept them to ourselves, and our faces were impassive.  Men with no one to share their feelings learn to conceal those feelings.  We often spoke lightly of things which we took very seriously indeed (p. 17).

I figure I was shaped to be a wallflower, but I don't mind.  I sort of like to set back and listen to folks, to drink coffee, and contemplate (p. 20).  (ME TOO, Tell!)

The desert is the enemy of the careless (p. 40).

"It is easy to destroy a book, but an idea once implanted has roots no man can utterly destroy" (p. 94).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for a lot of violence, including torture, and kids in peril.  The violence is not gory, but it isn't too glossed-over, either.  There is a smattering of bad language.

This is my 10th book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

"Ruthless" by Candice Pedraza Yamnitz

The novella Ruthless is a prequel to Unbetrothed, which I reviewed here a couple years ago.  It focuses on Cottia, the mother of Unbetrothed's heroine, and her late teen years when she was an assassin.  I kid you not!  She is held in a sort of thrall by an evil man who makes Cottia use her magical talents to kill people on his orders.

Cottia is desperate to leave this lifestyle.  She believes her master when he says that if she can kill a certain person at a big party and use is death to start a war, he will release her from fealty to him.  But Cottia discovers her powers are useless against believers in the Ancient One, this fantasy world's version of God.  Slowly, Cottia begins to believe she may be able to be freed from her master if she puts her trust in the Ancient One.  A handsome and extraordinarily kind prince is instrumental in her coming to believe this, and in helping Cottia break free.  This is kind of a how-they-met story, rather than a love story, which I found a lot of fun.

Like Unbetrothed, Ruthless is set in a fantasy world that has a Latin flavor, not a Germanic or Nordic one.  Although this is a prequel, it stands alone perfectly fine and would be a great introduction to this world for new readers.  I liked the fast pacing of this novella, and how much character development for Cottia it held.  I could have used more development for the prince, but I know Yamnitz is working on a sequel to this, so I expect we will get to know him better in that.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for fantasy violence, assassinations, perilous situations, and deaths.

Monday, March 25, 2024

"Murder at the Serpentine Bridge" by Andrea Penrose

Did I worry that, when the two main characters of the Wrexford and Sloane Historical Mystery series got married, the books might take a, shall we say, salacious turn?  I did.  But, they didn't!  Yes, there are a few on-page kisses, and a brief mention of enjoying the pleasures of the marital bed, but that's it.  Whew.  This series continues to be a delight!  My only sorrow regarding it is that my library doesn't have the next couple of books in the series!  Boo!  But, honestly, I have been considering buying copies of the series for myself.  I know I'm going to want to reread them!  And I don't want to trust the library not to get rid of them when they decide they aren't popular enough to keep on their shelves, as that has happened several times with mystery series I enjoy :-(

In Murder at the Serpentine Bridge, a brilliant inventor is murdered, his body dumped in the river.  He was working on a secret, dangerous project, and his plans for it are nowhere to be found.  The Earl of Wrexford and his wife, Lady Charlotte, become increasingly involved when they take the inventor's orphaned nephew under their care.  Their adopted sons, Hawk and Raven, befriend the lonely boy and nickname him Falcon.

Falcon inherited a title and property from his late father, but is not of age to manage his inheritance, and he has another uncle, his father's brother, who is supposed to be managing his estate.  But that uncle resents Falcon for a variety of reasons, not least because Falcon is a "quadroon," one quarter black and three quarters white.  His inventor uncle was Falcon's mother's brother, half black himself, but highly respected by most in England's scientific circles. 

The inventor's murder is not race-related, but greed-related, as unscrupulous bad guys want to sell off his plans for his dangerous invention to the highest bidder, no matter whether or not the highest bidder is an enemy of England's.  But the varying attitudes of Regency England toward black people do come into play.  As usual, Penrose includes actual historical events in her book, and there is a note at the back explaining which events are real, and which characters are inspired by or based on real people.  Because I love learning about history, I always appreciate that aspect of these books very much.

Particularly Good Bits: 

"None of us can sail a ship alone.  We need friends aboard to help us steady the keel and keep a firm hand on the tiller when the weather turns rough" (p. 173).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for murder, children in grave danger, brief on-page kisses, and the aforementioned sentence in which Lady Charlotte thinks about having enjoyed her bedroom activities with her first husband, but not so much as with her second.  The line is as vague as my description of it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

"The Vanderbeekers Ever After" by Karina Yan Glaser

Well, I can now officially say I wholeheartedly love this entire series.  I'm sad that it has come to an end, but I'm happy it went out on such a beautiful, love-filled note.

This book is more serious than the previous books in the series, though some of them got plenty serious in places.  But this one is heavy in lots of different parts, and the whole story has a more serious flavor.

Not sure if this is a spoiler or not, but treat it like it is if you haven't already heard about what happens in this book.  Laney Vanderbeeker is diagnosed with leukemia early in the book, and the bulk of the story centers on her stays in a children's hospital getting treated for cancer.  As a result, Aunt Penny and Mr. B keep wanting to postpone their Christmas wedding, but Laney holds onto the promise of their wedding as something to look forward to throughout her treatments.  

While there are plenty of fun and cute and even funny moments in the book, Karina Yan Glaser never treats Laney's illness lightly.  She explores how scary a life-threatening illness is not only for the person who has it, but for every family member.  Much kindness and love is shown to Laney, but not every child at the hospital has a family like the Vanderbeekers.  And not every child at the hospital has cancer that has a high survival rate like leukemia.  Glaser never lets the book get too grim, but she keeps it realistic too.  Any reader who has watched a loved one suffer with cancer is going to feel seen here, and find understanding.

The book does end on an upbeat and hopeful note.  But I wouldn't hand this one to kids under 10 who are very sensitive or easily upset.  

Particularly Good Bits:

Laney tucked that memory into her heart, another reminder that the kindness of strangers could brighten any day (p. 60).

Love came in all forms, whether it be from hugs or words or gifts or food (p. 148).

Everyone had their own story filled with joys and hardships -- no one was spared from pain (p. 360).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for some heavy topics and the off-page death of a side character.  Parents should consider whether or not their kids can handle all that before letting them read it.

This has been my 9th book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

"The Annotated Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen (Annotated and Edited by David M. Shapard)

This is the second time I've read The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, which pairs Jane Austen's classic novel with extensive notes and commentaries by David M. Shapard.  I used this edition back in 2021 when I led a read-along here for S&S, and I very much enjoyed learning from it.  So, when I decided to join the #JaneAustenDeepDive2024 reading group on Instagram, I decided I wanted to read all of these annotated editions.  We're taking two months to read each book, and really having a great time discussing things very thoroughly.  

That slower pace is ideal for these annotated editions because they really do take a lot longer to read -- there are thousands of notes in here explaining everything from naming conventions to social niceties to the differences between a carriage and a barouche, to what kinds of food would be common in that era for different classes.  Because history fascinates me, I absolutely loved reading this edition, even for the second time!

However, reading a thoroughly annotated book like this is a very different experience from reading the novel on its own.  I can't fully immerse myself in the story because, every paragraph or two, I have to stop reading the novel to read an explanatory note.  So, because I love history, I found it very enjoyable, but enjoyable in a different way from simply losing myself in the story.

That means that I would not recommend reading this annotated edition if it is your first time reading Sense and Sensibility.  But if you have read it before, and you want to understand the society and world and times that the story takes place in and was written in, then it can be very wonderful.

I know this review is mostly about the annotations, not the story itself.  Briefly, this is the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, whose father dies at the beginning of the book, and they and their mother and younger sister must move away from their home and live in a much smaller and poorer way than they are used to.  Both Elinor and Marianne fall in love, but their different temperaments and personalities, and the very different nature of the men they fall in love with, means that they have very different experiences in love.  The whole book is a meditation on whether or not it's wiser to let your heart by ruled by your head, or let your head be ruled by your heart -- or whether it might be wisest to balance the two.  It's a good book, but not a high favorite of mine.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for the text and PG-13 for the annotations, which talk about subjects such as unwed pregnancy in a much more frank way than the text does.  Nothing salacious, and no bad language, but not necessarily something I would hand to a young teen, either.

Monday, March 4, 2024

"The Sky-Liners" by Louis L'Amour

Two Sackett boys that I first met in The Sackett Brand are the heroes for The Sky-Liners.  Flagan and Galloway Sackett are about to head west to make new lives for themselves when they take a disliking to the rowdy way a bunch of riders arrive in a small Tennessee town.  They decide the rowdy bunch needs some settling down, and they make good on their decision, but doing so embarrasses the leader of the riders, Black Fetchen.  

Worse yet, Flagan and Galloway then promise an elderly gent to escort his feisty granddaughter Judith to her father's home in Colorado.  Guess who Judith is set on marrying if she can just manage to get away from her grandfather?  Black Fetchen, of course.

By the time the Sacketts reach Colorado, they've had multiple run-ins with Fetchen and his gang, and they end up in a regular feud with his bunch before the book is over.  Of course, the Sackett boys come out on top in the long run... and one of them even falls in love with Judith.

This was not my favorite Sackett book, but it was a lot of fun anyway.

Particularly Good Bits: 

I went for coffee.  It was hot, blacker than sin, and strong enough to float a horseshoe.  It was cowboy's coffee (p. 80).

A man with nobody to care for is as lonesome as a lost hound dog, and as useless.  If he's to feel of any purpose to himself, he's got to feel he's needed, feel he stands between somebody and any trouble (p. 83).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It PG-10 for violence and a few old-fashioned cuss words.

This has been my 8th book read off my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Challenge.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

"We'll Always Have Casablanca" by Noah Isenberg

I really love learning about the creative process.  Whether it is how someone writes and edits their book, how movies are made, how songs get written -- it all fascinates me.  Especially if I am familiar with the creative work in question.  So about 3/4 of this book absolutely fascinated me.  Isenberg has meticulously put together a behind-the-scenes look at how Casablanca (1942) came to be, from the writing of the stage play Everybody Comes to Rick's through the post-production editing and scoring for the film.  

I think the coolest thing I learned from this book was that almost everyone involved, aside from Humphrey Bogart and a handful of other actors and crewmembers, were actually pretty recent immigrants to Hollywood from Europe.  Many of them experienced the kind of refugee situation that is shown in the film, waiting desperately for an exit visa and hoping against hope to make it safely out of Europe before the Nazis completely overwhelmed everything and everyone.  That is going to make this film extra poignant the next time I watch it.  I had realized that, obviously, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid and Peter Lorre were European and had probably come to Hollywood in part to escape the Nazi threat.  But even director Michael Curtiz was originally Hungarian, and the actors playing the Nazis in the film were mostly native Germans who had fled Germany.  Making this pro-freedom film must have been so immensely satisfying for so many involved, and yet heartbreakingly real, too.

The last couple chapters are about how the movie has influenced Hollywood and society, and I mainly skimmed those.

Anyway, if you like learning about how movies get made, this is a cool book.  For adults.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for discussions of sexual topics, mainly things that couldn't be shown in the film, but also sections from fairly explicit sequels that have been written over the years by people who want to fill in the things the movie only hints at or leaves open to interpretation.  You can skim those bits, but they aren't always easy to spot coming.

Friday, February 16, 2024

"Kling Klang Gloria" by Jenni Sauer

I think this may be Sauer's best book yet.  Certainly, it is her most complex book yet.  Kling Klang Gloria is a follow-up to Rook di Goo, meaning it is book two of the War on Taras series.  It reads fine as a stand-alone, but you are going to enjoy the last section more if you have already read Rook di Goo.  And, since that last section is my favorite part of the book, overall, I definitely do recommend you read the first book first.

And now you're like, um, Hamlette?  Jenni Sauer has like five other Evraft books out too?  Which you have also reviewed?  How is this book two?

I'm so glad you asked!  This is book two because it is the second book in the War on Taras series, which takes place in the Evraft Galaxy.  The other books take place there too, and they sometimes involve characters who were in these books.  And that's about as much explaining as I can do.  I suggest visiting Sauer's website or connecting with her on social media to learn more.  Or just read the books and figure it out!  That's what I did ;-)

Anyway, Kling Klang Gloria starts out as a Sleeping Beauty retelling of sorts, then morphs into a King Thrushbeard retelling.  Princess Zariya wakes up from a cryogenic sleep and discovers her planet, Taras, has been overrun by their enemies.  The palace where she grew up has been leveled and the capitol city razed.  What's left of the Tarisian population is scavenging for survival and avoiding the occupying troops as much as they can.

Zariya is welcomed back by the only remaining royal guard, Thrush, who has faithfully waited all these years for her to awaken.  Together, they set off across the planet, looking for safety and purpose, basically.  Slowly, Zariya learns what happened to her planet and her people, and she slowly picks up clues as to Thrush's past, too.  Woven throughout the book are flashbacks to how and why Zariya was frozen and what her life was like beforehand.

Zariya was viewed as a spoiled and nonsensical girl all her life, treated as if she did not have a mind or will of her own and should just be a pretty puppet.  The only person who ever understood her was a boy named Arian, her only friend, but the two drifted apart as they grew up, leaving Zariya bereft and confused more than once as Arian stepped farther and farther away from her.  Zariya loves to fix things with her hands and has a genius for mechanical things, but struggles to understand social expectations and emotional cues, which makes me assume she is meant to be somewhere on the autism spectrum.  Maybe?  

Thrush starts out didactic and gruff, but mellows as he starts to trust Zariya and protect her because he wants to, not because it's his duty.  The two grow close and begin taking hesitant steps toward a romantic relationship, but this is more a coming-of-age story than a love story.  Their romance is sweet and very slow-burn, and I liked it a lot.

Particularly Good Bits:

Funny, that living scared her more than dying did.  But she had gone to so much trouble to survive, that was exactly what she intended to do (p. 18).

People were minefields of emotions and social constructs Ziya had never learned to read no matter how hard she tried (p. 267).

They weren't perfect.  Neither of them.  But maybe they could be imperfect together (p. 395).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some intense situations, violence, fake marriage as a cover story that involves Zariya and Thrush sharing a bed (innocuously) multiple times, and some mentions of menstruation and tampons that might not be something younger readers would appreciate/understand.  There's no cussing, no smut, and no gore, but there are brief mentions of someone having been tortured and several instances of hand-to-hand combat and other acts of violence.

This is my 6th book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

"A Very Bookish Romance" by Abigayle Claire, Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, Kellyn Roth, and Kate Willis

I am a little sad that this is the last "A Very Bookish Holiday" title.  The series of Christian novellas has been a lot of fun, and has introduced me to some authors I might not have tried otherwise.

Like in the previous installments of this series, each novella in this collection retells a classic book, but also has the characters in the novella reading that classic and thinking about how it relates to their own situation.  Which sounds awfully meta, but I promise it works in a charming and cute way.  After all, what avid reader hasn't seen parallels between something in their life and a beloved book?  That's part of what makes reading so much fun!

Of the five novellas here, my favorites were "The Artist of Hearthstone Cottage" by Kellyn Roth and "Daisy's Heart" by Abigayle Claire.  Interestingly, those were the two that are based on books I am not very, very familiar with!

Here's a little bit about each novella:

"Daisy's Heart" by Abigayle Claire is inspired by Charlotte's Web by E. B. White, which is a book I actively avoid because I can't stand spiders.  However, I did read it as a kid, so I do remember vaguely what it is about.  But this story stands beautifully on its own -- it's about a young woman, Daisy, whose parents have died, leaving her to care for the family farm and her younger, developmentally challenged brother.  She wants to save the farm, she wants to raise her brother well and give him a good home, and she wants to maybe have time to think about going out with the kind handyman who helps her out from time to time... but she's under an awful lot of pressure.  Learning to accept help, even ask for it, is a big part of Daisy's character arc.  I happen to be writing a book that revolves around that theme myself, so this story resonated really strongly with me.

"A String of Paper Hearts" by Sarah Holman is inspired by Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  It's about a college girl who can't stand this loud and socially awkward guy, but ends up having to spend a lot of time with mutual friends and coming to realize maybe she is way too prone to judging people on appearances.  This was a good story, but I was a bit taken aback by the repeated denunciations of anyone who likes any movie version of Austen's book that is NOT the one released in 1995.  First of all, I thought Austenites had grown past that particular nonsense a few years ago, and second of all, it was jarringly at odds with the novella's theme of not judging people for having different opinions or likes and dislikes from your own.

"Southeaster Lodge" by J. Grace Pennington is inspired by Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.  This one was very cute, all about a girl who takes a job cleaning a family-owned resort that hides a few mysteries and secrets.  She falls for the owner's son, who manages the resort, but some poor choices in friends threaten their emerging relationship.  I really appreciated that there was no horrible John Thorpe character in this.

"The Artist of Hearthstone Cottage" by Kellyn Roth is inspired by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, which I have never read.  This one is set in Britain in the 1940s, unlike all the others, which are set in the USA in the present day.  I love the 1940s as a setting, so that definitely endeared the story to me.  Plus, it felt very relatable -- its about a mom struggling to balance raising her toddler with being an artist.  Her husband died during WWII, and she has moved away from everywhere and everyone she knows so she can start life over again with her son.  She makes some new friends and finds a new love interest, but needs to come to terms with her past before she can truly move forward with life.

"Lore in Love" by Kate Willis is inspired by Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In it, a teen gets a part-time job helping watch toddlers and babies at a Christian school/daycare.  Sometimes, she gets a ride to her job from one of her mom's friends, but sometimes, it's that friend's quiet teen son who gives her a lift.  A sweet relationship slowly develops between them.  This one also features a younger sibling with developmental challenges, and the friendship between those two siblings was really lovely.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Absolutely nothing here that you couldn't read aloud to a child.

This has been my fifth book read off my TBR shelves for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge (I didn't receive my copy until it was released in 2024, but I had pre-ordered it in 2023, so it still counts!) and my third for the #CozyWinterChristianFictionChallenge

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

"Shadowed Loyalty" by Roseanna M. White

I have mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, White can write characters that feel so realistic that I feel like I have met them in real life.  On the other hand, when she writes a character who frustrates and annoys me, that can start to get to me.  So, this book was very well-written, and very engaging, but one of the secondary characters drove me NUTS.

Sabina's father is a mafia don.  Her fiancĂ© Lorenzo's father is one of her father's right-hand men.  Their fathers have agreed that, although their Chicago mafia organization is a family business, these two children of theirs are not to be involved in it.  They are clean, free in conscience and mind as well as in reality.  

But, can they really be free when their families are involved in so much corruption, violence, and criminal activity?  That's the question at the heart of the book.

Sabina has felt neglected and ignored by Lorenzo ever since their engagement.  She is flattered when Roman, a handsome newcomer to Chicago, pays attention to her.  Their involvement grows deeper and deeper... until one fateful day when he reveals himself as an infiltrator, a Prohibition agent who was using Sabina to get close to her father and take him down.  (This happens in the very first chapter -- it's not really a spoiler, honest.)  The bulk of the book is about Sabina and Lorenzo trying to figure out if they still want to be together, and how much their families' involvement in crime is going to affect their futures.

Roman is the secondary character who drove me crazy.  Ugh.  The guy had this unwavering fixation on Sabina that made me want to shake him pretty much every time he showed up on the page.  So annoying.  Very well-written, to be honest, but very annoying to me personally.  Might not bother you at all!

Particularly Good Bits:

"Brother Judah said once -- I don't remember when, but it stuck with me -- that forgiveness isn't a ticket you buy, a one-time thing bought and paid for.  Forgiveness is a train you choose to ride through life's journey.  You have to stay on it, even though sometimes you don't know where it's taking you" (p. 127)

People were never just what they did, or just where they found themselves.  People were never just their sins (p. 246).

The job of a candle was to shine despite the fact that the darkness could never comprehend it (p. 260).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16 for quite a bit of non-descriptive sexual content.  As in, there are extramarital affairs going on, some side characters are prostitutes, and there are mentions of petting.  A few on-page kisses, and everything else is pretty tasteful and non-titillating, but I wouldn't hand this book to my tween daughters.  There is also some violence, including shootings and fistfighting.

This is my 4th book read from my TBR shelves for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2024 and my 2nd for the #CozyWinterChristianFictionChallenge

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Top Ten Tuesday: Be Brief

This month's first Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Top Ten Quick Reads/Novellas."  I am only counting novellas intended for teens and adults, not middle-grade or junior fiction, because otherwise the whole list would be just my favorite books from when I was a tween/teen.  That would be fun, but not where I chose to go today.

I arranged these by alphabetical order because I didn't feel like trying to figure out which ones would be my next-favorite after Falling Snow, which is definitely tops here.  All titles are linked to my full reviews.

Corral Nocturne by Elisabeth Grace Foley (G) -- western Cinderella retelling

Falling Snow by Skye Hoffert (PG-10) -- fantasy circus Snow White retelling

The Goblin and the Dancer by Allison Tebo (PG) -- fantasy Steadfast Tin Soldier retelling

A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews (PG-13) -- Victorian Christmas retelling of North and South

The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett (G) -- classic about extending a helping hand across social divides

The Reluctant Godfather by Allison Tebo (G) -- funny Cinderella retelling

A Sidekick's Tale by Elisabeth Grace Foley (PG) -- funny western

The Silent Gondoliers by William Goldman (PG) -- funny fable

With Blossoms Gold by Hayden Wand (PG) -- fantasy Rapunzel retelling

Woman in the Dark by Dashiell Hammett (PG-16) -- hardboiled detective story

Thursday, January 25, 2024

"The Sackett Brand" by Louis L'Amour

Ladies and gentlemen, I now have a favorite Sackett, and his name is Tell.

I am probably going to have to go back and reread Sackett and Mojave Crossing now because they also star Tell Sackett, and since I now love him, I must go back and appreciate him in those.  Though, truth be told, I will probably wait to do that until I have finished reading all the Sackett books.  Then I will go back and read all of Tell's books again.  Because I have 9 books left to read yet -- he may very well be in more of them!  (Please, if you know he's in more of them, don't list them all off to me.  I want to discover who each book is about on my own.)

Anyway.  Poor Tell Sackett.  Poor, dear Tell Sackett.  He finally marries Ange, the girl he met back during Sackett and fell in love with.  And then someone kills her.  And tries to kill him.  And nearly gets away with both.  So the whole book here is Tell recovering from almost dying and then figuring out who murdered his wife and why.  And getting himself repeatedly almost-killed in the process, until he's pretty well cornered by his wife's murderer's henchmen and going to die any minute...

...and then the cavalry arrives.  Only they aren't the U. S. Cavalry, they're a whole heap of Sacketts from all across the western half of the country.  (This is not really a spoiler, because they start to congregate about halfway through the book.)  Tell's brothers Orrin and Tyrel, their cousin Lando, and some spiffy new Sacketts I hadn't met yet but look forward to meeting -- they find out there's a Sackett in trouble, and they hustle over to help as fast as they can hustle.

This book, y'all.  It hit SO many big sweet spots for me!  Cavalry arrives to save the day?  Check.  Assemble a team of heroes?  Check.  Vow to avenge someone by bringing their killer to justice?  Check.  One dude taking on a huge force and slowly whittling down their numbers through superior skills and intelligence?  Check.  Bad guys turning on each other?  Check.  Surviving by making do with what you can find in the environment around you?  Check.  I mean, it's like this book was written for me.  Wow.

So, yeah.  I loved it.  A lot.  I'm already looking forward to re-reading it.

Particularly Good Bits:

One thing I've learned over the years: never to waste time moaning about what couldn't be helped.  If a body can do something, fine -- he should do it.  If he can't, then there's no use fussing about it until he can do something (p. 23).  (This is basically my entire attitude toward worry.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16 for quite a bit of violence and deadly peril, plus an off-page assault of a woman that, if it wasn't rape, was going to be except she died first.  The word 'rape' is never used, but intent is there in the subtext.

This is my third book read off my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

"Up from Dust: Martha's Story" by Heather Kaufman

I know we are only a couple weeks into the year.  But I suspect this is going to be my #1 favorite new read for 2024.

I already love Kaufman's contemporary fiction, The Story People and Loving Isaac.  When I learned she was writing some historical fiction set in Biblical times, I got very excited because, as you know, historical fiction is one of my favorite things to read.  And, when I found out her book would be focused on Martha from the Bible, sister to Mary and Lazarus, well... I started to count down the days until there would be advance copies available from the publisher, in hopes I could sign up to get one.  And I did!  So, this book releases TODAY, but I have already finished reading it, hugging it, crying over it, rejoicing over it.  Get yourself a copy so you can do the same!

So, I have a bit of a personal connection to Martha from the Bible, which goes way back to college.  I attended Bethany Lutheran College, and their motto is One Thing Needful, which comes from the Biblical account of Jesus visiting siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at their home, and Martha being super stressed out by trying to get a meal on the table while Mary sits by Jesus and listens to him teach.  Martha asks Jesus why he won't tell her sister to help out, and Jesus says that Mary has chosen the most important, most needed thing, which is learning from him.  And, of course, the point of all that isn't that we should never serve others, or that meals are unimportant, but that we should not try to dissuade others from listening to and learning about Jesus.  Nor should we let day-to-day stresses keep us away from Jesus.

And y'all, I have heard soooooo many sermons and homilies on this Bible story.  I think they hit it in chapel once a month.  I attended chapel every day for four years.  I heard that story a LOT.  Which is good, because it's one I needed to hear a lot -- I very often get bogged down in day-to-day stresses and chores and being busy busy busy busy busy.  I need to make sure that does not get between me and learning about and from my Savior.  

Since I have such a personal connection to that account in the Bible, I have been hesitant about reading any fiction about those particular people.  Because a lot of people do NOT get the correct lesson from that account, and that always bugs me.  Too many people see it as a condemnation of acts of service, or as a way of saying "doing things" is lesser than "learning things."  It gets abused a LOT, folks.  Watch out for that.

Anyway.  I KNEW that Heather Kaufman was going to avoid those theological pitfalls.  I KNEW she was going to handle these real, historical people with respect and honor and kindness.  All of them.  And I was totally right.  She did!

Kaufman gives us a fictional Martha who is bowed almost double under the weight of guilt and sorrow and worry and fear.  The whole first half of the book is about a young Martha, in her mid-teens, trying to raise her younger sister because they have lost their mother.  Young Martha falls in love, but her life is very difficult -- her father is remote and sometimes emotionally abusive, her little sister Mary is wild and wayward, and her brother Lazarus is trying to grow to manhood before he's really ready.  Martha's young life is basically one huge mess, and yet, falling in love grounds her in a calm she has never known.

Which totally doesn't last.  This is not an easy book to read, emotionally.  It did bring tears to my eyes, more than once.  But you know how some people are like, "This book destroyed me!  You should read it!"  Well, this book did not destroy me.  It built me up.  That is the best kind of fiction.  (You should read it!)

The second half of the book is about Martha as an adult.  Her life is still chaos.  She's closed herself off from those around her, she's focused on working and doing and getting things done as much as possible, and she's... pretty much a picture of a lot of people I see every day.  Just focus on tasks so you don't have to think or feel.

Then Jesus Christ steps into this closed-up, broken, heartbroken mess that is Martha's life.  Into the wayward, searching, desperate mess that is Mary's life.  Into the confused, earnest, hopeful mess that is Lazarus's life.  And, as they come to believe that, yes, this Jesus is the Messiah that they and all Jewish people have been waiting for since a few days after the world began... their lives are transformed.  They are not fixed.  But when they stop trusting themselves for solutions, when they center their hearts on God and trust him to care for their every need, and when they stop trying to "be enough" in and of themselves, their lives truly are transformed.

I especially loved the depiction of a difficult and combative sisterly relationship being healed.  I know some sisters who have not been friends for many years, and this gives me hope that they can also one day discover that they do love each other.

This book weaves fictional lives for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, incorporating the real events that the Bible tells us about them.  It's a masterful piece of fiction with so much truth and hope inside, that I know it's a book I will reread many times in years to come.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Worry is like a ravenous beast, child.  The more you feed him, the more he wants and the harder he'll go after it.  Take it from an old woman who knows... do not give your worry one more scrap of food" (p. 99).

I would choose to turn my eyes from what I lacked and look instead to what Yahweh in His wisdom had chosen to give me.  I would not waste this day weeping (p. 172).

"When bitterness chokes the life out of a man, he comes to love his hurt more than Adonai.  And when knowledge becomes its own reward, a man comes to love his mind more than Adonai" (p. 219).

I opened my eyes and stared at the Christ.  I didn't understand this path.  In truth, I did not want this path.  But it was the path that Yahweh had given me, and perhaps that was enough (p. 271).

"Some need no excuse for their hatred other than self-interest" (p. 280).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for non-detailed references to menarche, kissing, and childbirth.  A woman dies in childbirth, which could be distressing to younger readers.  No bad language, smut, or gore, but some violence occurs off-page and we see the results.

This has been my second book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge and my first for the #CozyWinterChristianFictionChallenge.

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of Up from Dust from the publisher.  I read the whole book, and my thoughts and opinions expressed here are my true ones.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Announcing the #CozyWinterChristianFictionChallenge + Giveaway

I am co-hosting a reading challenge for the next six weeks!  Through March 1, fellow Christian author Laurie Sibley and I are challenging readers to brighten the winter days by reading some Christian fiction.  We have announced this challenge on Instagram (my kick-off post is here), but you don't have to be on IG to participate!  Bloggers are welcome too.

Want to join?  It's easy!  Copy that bingo board for your own use.  Cross off the things you do between now and March 1.  You are welcome to combine prompts if you wish -- for example, you could read a Christian fiction book published before 2000 that is part of a series, and cross off two squares.  You could read a Christian fiction book by a new-to-you author that a friend recommended, and cross off two squares.  You could reread a favorite Christian fiction book while snuggled up under a cozy blanket with a cup of hot tea while it snows outside, and cross off four squares!  

The books you read for the challenge should be Christian fiction, since this is specifically a Christian fiction challenge.  However, you can decide for yourself if that means the books are labeled "Christian fiction" by the publishers or if they are simply written by an author who professes to be a Christian.  For example, even though The Lord of the Rings is not explicitly Christian fiction, J. R. R. Tolkien was a Christian, and his writing is imbued with Christian themes and truths even though he does not mention Jesus Christ or the Bible in the books.  

As you cross things off, you can also use those as entries for the giveaway!  Every square crossed off counts for one entry, and has a corresponding entry button in the giveaway widget.  Every bingo you make (four crossed off in a row, horizontal or vertical or diagonal) counts for an extra four entries via the giveaway widget.  

And, if you want a few extra entries, you can get those by subscribing to our author newsletters!  You can sign up for mine here, and for Laurie Sibley's here.  If you do subscribe to either/both of those, don't forget to enter that into the giveaway widget to get your entries!

For your convenience, here is the giveaway widget:

You can also access that widget by visiting this link.

Feel free to share this with friends!  The more, the merrier :-)