Book reviews for February 2024

Written by Michelle Watson

February 27, 2024

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It’s been a while since my monthly reading mix was so, well, mixy!

My book reviews for February 2024 include a modern mystery/thriller, a nonfiction on productivity, two historical middle-grade books, a couple of fantasies, and a rare dystopian YA.

I even reviewed two books as ARCs, which is always fun!

I’m including one DNF because I think some of you might love this author, even though her books weren’t my cup of tea at this moment in time.

Will any of these make your TBR? Leave a comment and let me know.

Here’s where you can find me on Goodreads. Connect with me there, so that I can see what you’re reading, too.

Let’s dive in!

Do More Better

By Tim Challies

How to be a productive Christian human

You’ll love it if you want a few good reasons WHY productivity matters in our walk with the Lord

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This would make the perfect high school graduation gift for a Christian kid. This is a short, practical method to getting things done that comes from a Christian perspective. It wasn’t earth-shattering for me, but I can imagine it would be super helpful for my teenage nephews who are about to embark upon Real Life after high school.

This is my first interaction with Challies, so I don’t know him in any other context besides this book, but I liked what he had to say about centering life on loving God and serving others. We’re not getting more things done just so that we can amass wealth and accomplishments and fame. We’re trying to steward our lives in a way that will honor God because we love and revere Him, and we acknowledge that He is in charge of our plans and path.

I think this book would’ve felt more “new” if I hadn’t read Mystie Winkler’s planner book. She draws on several of his frameworks, including a weekly review. I liked the planner book a lot because it’s specifically for moms, and it felt more relevant to my situation right now.

I’m not a big app person. I do much better with paper and ink, but I can apply the general principles attached to the digital tools (Todoist, Google Calendar, and Evernote) to my paper planner.

I did enjoy the section on Serve and Surprise. I like the idea of surprising people by going over and above.

Content warnings: None

The Silent Governess (DNF 50%)

By Julie Klassen

When a young woman in regency-era England is forced to flee home, where will she turn?

You’ll love it if you like slow-burn, clean regency romances with Christian undertones

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This is the second Julie Klassen book that I’ve DNFed since the beginning of the year. I tried listening to Castaway in Cornwall on audio first, and then I got bored at the 35 percent mark. I decided to start this one, and I find that I’m forcing myself to go back to the audiobook…I have no desire to continue, so I’m going to just stop.

I don’t know if it’s the audio format or if it’s just not the right time for a regency romance. The books aren’t bad, but I think they’re lacking the conflict and emotion that I’m craving right now.

There are times when a relatively sedate and buttoned-up story is just the ticket. But, that’s falling flat for me at the moment.

Not giving up on you, Jules! I’ll be back.

Content warnings: Nothing graphic, but there was one scene when a man made unwanted advances toward the protagonist, and she got away.

First Lie Wins

By Ashley Elston

When a young spy needs to redeem herself in her boss’s eyes, she finds herself tested in twisty ways

You’ll love it if you puzzle-y thrillers that are low on graphic content

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I needed something different. I saw that this popular thriller was high on twists and low on sex and violence, so I gave it a try. I’m NOT much for thrillers, but about once a year, I’ll pick one up. I never seem to love them, so take my review with a grain of salt.

Here’s what appealed to me: I knew this was going to be a plot-driven book. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of character arc, and, turns out, there wasn’t much of one. The plot was interesting and did deliver some twists and turns that I enjoyed and didn’t see coming. It was fast-paced and short. A nice palate cleanser.

I could’ve done with MORE character, especially from the lead.

I won’t spoil the end, but…I had issues with the note it ended on. It didn’t have good resonance, even though it is discussable.

Content warnings: The book didn’t rely on graphic scenes for shock and awe. So, no graphic violence or sex. The main character is living with a man. Some deaths occur. There was the usual foul language that you’d expect, but it was moderate—not minimal but not everywhere. Of course, this is a worldly book, so it comes with, well, worldliness.

The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry

By Anna Rose Johnson

An awkward orphan girl is adopted by a big family who lives on a tiny lighthouse island

You’ll love it if you’re craving a short middle-grade book that feels like L. M. Montgomery

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What a delightful story. Like Anna Rose Johnson’s debut, this book has that classic, vintage feel. What’s more, Lucy Landry is Anne Shirley reincarnated. She’s dreamy and inattentive, but it’s obvious that her behavior is a coping mechanism, and so, even though she makes us cringe, we FEEL for her.

This is one of those stories where the young protagonist is plopped into a completely new life. Think Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox, and, of course, Anne. Lucy Landry has lived primarily alone with an elderly caretaker. When she’s adopted by a couple with six children who live on a tiny lighthouse island, she’s utterly unprepared for the chaos and conflict. I’m glad that the author didn’t shy away from this conflict. It was HARD for Lucy to fit in, and this constant tension made the story interesting.

I loved the mystery of the long-lost necklace that’s woven through the story. While this is a subplot and not the point of the book, it adds a layer of interest to liven up the main plot, which is Lucy’s transformation. Plus, finding the lost necklace gives Lucy a goal and deepens her connection to her past.

This book is short and easy to read. It’ll appeal to kids (and adults) who want a quick win.

Also, Lucy deals with some debilitating fear. Since so many kids struggle with fears, this is another touchpoint that will appeal to anxious kids without triggering them (I think).

And a huge WOO-HOO to the depiction of a homeschooling family. This is rare! (But spilling stuff all over our school supplies is, sadly, not. Haha.)

Thank you to NetGalley and Holiday House for a digital ARC of this novel.

Content warnings: Lucy is afraid of sailing on the water. The book shows her getting anxious about the prospect of (and the reality of) getting on a boat. She and one other character freeze up in panic, but it’s not depicted as a detailed panic attack. Mentioning this just in case it’s relevant for your youngster.

Once a Queen

By Sarah Arthur

A teenage American girl visits her English grandmother’s mystical estate for the first time and learns there’s much more to her family than she thought

You’ll love it if you, as a kid, hoped with all your heart that doors to other worlds actually existed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

After hearing Sarah MacKenzie from Read-Aloud Revival (I love her) interview the author, I was ready and rearin’ to love this book, and maybe my expectations were too high. I liked it but did not love it. Now, I do love the premise: There are portals to other worlds. They exist, just like in fairy tales. All we have to do is find them. That’s a common childhood fantasy, right? But the execution felt a tad off for me.

The protagonist is young Eva, an American who travels with her mom to visit her Grandmother in England for the first time ever. Soon, she realizes that her regal Grandmother was once a queen in fairyland.

Positives: Complex female relationships—whoooo-wheeee. Women. We can be weird. We don’t always treat each other right, and this book is packed with strong females who all seem to have fraught relationships with one another. This didn’t detract from the book at all and was one of the highlights for me.

Negatives: The writing wasn’t as immersive as I’d hoped. The pacing of the plot did drag a bit for me. I found myself wondering more than once, “Where is this going?” Eva was always finding clues and making little discoveries, but they all seemed a tad disjointed. I couldn’t see how the story was building to any sort of climax. The chapter-ending Ternival tales (fictional excerpts from a book of fairy tales) were a little hard to follow. It was a lot of new information to keep track of.

Thank you to NetGalley and WaterBrook for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Content warnings: I wouldn’t hesitate to let any teenager read this. There’s nothing graphically scary or violent, and there is a sweet romance but it’s very much a side note until the end, and even then, there’s just a hint.

What the Moon Said

By Gayle Rosengren

How will 10-year-old Esther survive now that her family must move from the city to a farm due to the Great Depression?

You’ll love it if you loved Sweet Home Alaska or any of the Little House books

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What a sweet, heartfelt book! I read it in just over a day, and it’s perfect for kids who love pioneer or homesteading books.

It’s the Great Depression, and we see one year in the life of 10-year-old Esther. All she wants is to earn her mother’s love. Her Russian immigrant mom is exacting and superstitious. She scolds easily, worries constantly, and hugs not at all. What can Esther do to make Ma love her?

When Esther’s dad loses his job in Chicago, the family moves to a Wisconsin farm to try country life. How will Esther adjust?

This story has two strong journeys: the outer journey: Will the family make it on the farm? And the inner journey: Will Esther at long last receive her mother’s love? This makes it a simple yet layered growing-up tale.

It is a sweet story, with lots of emotion. I got teary-eyed a few times. I appreciate how the book doesn’t villainize the city or the country. I also love how there is a faith element. The family prays and goes to church. Ma and Pa also carry a lot of superstitions from the Old Country, and it’s interesting to see how that’s handled.

The reading level is low, so younger kids should be able to tackle it. The plot touches on many universal “kid dilemmas” that anyone can relate to, and it also opens a window to a distinct time in history and how people lived back then.

I got this book recommendation from this list of page-turners.

Content warnings: Nothing graphic or overly scary. However, one character has a medical emergency that requires hospitalization. One character chokes on food.

Breeder

By K. B. Hoyle

When B-Seventeen is ripped from her perfect life, how will she survive in a world of lies?

You’ll love it if you’ve got a soft spot for YA dystopian fiction but wish they weren’t so filled with despair (this one isn’t!)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I inhaled this book in a couple of days, and I’m very picky when it comes to my teen dystopias. This book has a lot in common with The Hunger Games—I’d definitely call it a read-alike—but it’s a lot less depressing. In fact, this book is incredibly life-affirming. But it’s most definitely for teens and no younger.

So, we’ve got a strong female lead, who lives in a futuristic society that has tried to rid the world of inequality by making people the same—as “same” as they can get them. All aspects of life are controlled by the powers that be. People are drugged into submission. Rebels are driven into hiding.

Our young, female protagonist, Pria, works as a Breeder. Her job is to birth babies for the new world. Sounds a lot like The Giver series, right? It’s very similar to the Birthmother role in that series.

Well, something happens to Pria. She begins to feel discontent with her “perfect” life. She begins to ask questions—gasp! This puts her in danger. I don’t want to spoil it, but the plot is strong, and the themes are solid.

The pacing of this book is fantastic. It didn’t drag. It starts small and just gets bigger and broader, but everything that happens to Pria is tied to the overall story question and the main theme. It’s a great way to get teens thinking about systems of governance, issues of freedom, and also abortion and eugenics.

Content warnings: There are dramatic scenes of peril, as you’d expect. Physical and gun violence. There are scary monsters called Unfamiliars that attack. But nothing goes graphically over the top. There is a romantic subplot that involves some physical intimacy but no sex. There is an attempted rape that does not occur.

The Black Cauldron

By Lloyd Alexander

Everyone’s favorite assistant pig-keeper is off on another adventure, but this one will test him to the core.

You’ll love it if you want to read a high fantasy rescue story filled with dramatic dilemmas

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Dilemmas. That’s why this book is so good. The characters are faced with one impossible choice after another until the very last chapter. My boys and I really enjoyed this second installment in the Prydain Chronicles.

The evil Arwan is gaining power. To stop him, Gwydion gathers a crew of loyal Prydainians to sneak into his fortress and steal the black cauldron—the wicked pot he uses to create undead warriors for his army. Naturally, everything goes wrong, and Taran must learn what it means to make hard choices—all by himself.

This book was better than the first one, and I think it’s worth reading the first book in order to experience this sequel more richly.

This is HIGH fantasy in the same vein as Tolkien. It’s hard to miss the parallels between LOTR and these books. But, these books are much shorter and accessible to a younger audience. My 7- and 8-year-olds wouldn’t be able to read them solo, but they can understand them perfectly well when I read aloud (and clarify some of the high-brow vocab). The books are written in a lofty, grand tone.

Again, this book was great because of the series of difficult choices that the characters faced. I felt like the plot was tight and economical. Overall, YES.

Content warnings: Nothing overly concerning. Several characters die, and one must sacrifice him/herself in one scenario.

Check out ALL my book reviews

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1 Comment

  1. Mary

    I have The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry on my nightstand – can’t wait to get to it, because I loved her first book!

    Reply

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