The Agitated Elocutionist by Richard Behrens

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Agitated Elocutionist: A Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mini-Mystery by Richard Behrens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

In those few hours, she took me on an adventure, one that involved intrigue, police maneuvers, various physical assaults, and a jewel theft…and it was not even time for dinner.

In 1875 Fall River, Massachusetts, Mrs. Arbuthnot, an elocutionist, reports the disappearance of her costly gem, the Star of Swansea. To nab the culprit responsible for the theft, Mrs. Arbuthnot enlists the help of Lizzie, a young, private consulting detective in The Agitated Elocutionist: A Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mini-Mystery by author Richard Behrens.

Although I’ve not read the tale that must precede this series of shorts, I felt comfortable diving right into this adventure. It’s told from the perspective of Sarah, Lizzie’s cousin, so the degree of distance from Lizzie’s inner workings required a bit of patience on my part, at times. Yet, seeing Lizzie’s mission through Sarah’s eyes ultimately adds a fitting layer of theater to it all.

I got a kick out of this story’s style: old-fashioned, clever, dryly humorous, with little dashes of the outrageous. Quirky characters, creative turns of phrase, and a somewhat greater number of twists than I was expecting gave me a satisfying hour with this historical mystery. A delightful opening to a series of minis.

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Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mini-Mysteries Series

  

 

 

Joe by Jessica Marie Holt

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Joe: Book Three in the Homecoming Series by Jessica Marie Holt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

“If you don’t heal what’s inside, you’ll never feel content, no matter where you go.”

Despite the aspects of his life that have turned out pretty well over the years, Joe hasn’t gotten over a tragedy from his past. When two strangers show up in his coastal town, it might bring just the change—and challenge—he needs in Joe by author Jessica Marie Holt.

I was no less than captivated by the two preceding short stories in the Homecoming series, so I was anxious to see how this novella would wrap it all up. As I mentioned in my review of the previous story, I appreciate the series for illustrating how people can take new risks (chances) and have new adventures later in life.

I’ll admit the pattern of somber openings to the stories started to wear on me this time. Fortunately, this story seems to reach some of the turning-point activity a bit quicker than the others.

Now, something about the development of events is a bit choppy here and there, even kind of chaotic at one point. And now and then, Joe’s role as a bystander near the returning characters’ lives seems somewhat contrived, serving as a substitute for those other characters’ perspectives earlier in the series. The dialogue/paragraphs sometimes made it tricky to identify the speaker, there’s a good amount of double-dash overuse, and it was a little awkward to arrive at “Part 2” when nothing at the beginning of the book said it was a “Part 1.”

Nevertheless, I like this story’s message about self-pity and cowardice, the ending is simply beautiful, and the series as a whole is one of hope. Anyone else who can enjoy wholesome and uplifting contemporary fiction should give this series a go.

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Here’s my review of the first story in the Homecoming series, Elsie.

  

 

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. BookLook Bloggers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Although it’s unheard of in Caldon for women to go to college, Rhen Tellur wants to do just that and become a scientist. Her chief point of motivation is the fact that her mother is dying from a disease that Rhen hopes to develop a cure for. The upcoming, annual, hazardous competition in a labyrinth will earn one college hopeful a full scholarship to Stemwick University, and Rhen schemes to become the competition’s first ever female contestant in To Best the Boys by author Mary Weber.

As I read this fantasy novel, the class division and simmering of social unrest in Caldon is what tugged at me the most. It reinforced to me how problems that some can downplay by labeling as “just politics” (likely because the issues don’t directly or personally affect them) are critical matters for other human beings’ lives. I cringed at politicians’ attitudes in the story. I cringed at the depictions of citizens’ rising anger stemming from desperation. I felt every bit of Rhen’s dire desire for change.

And I love how the feminist message in the tale doesn’t suggest that all women have to be like Rhen in order to be legit and worthy as women.

Now, the overall story didn’t quite “wow” me or throw me for any loops. Some of the turns of phrase struck me with their beauty while at other times the writing would spell out the obvious or overuse italics for emphasis. I found a number of parts to be creepy and/or fairly gross, with much ado about ghouls and dead bodies and excess references to characters either retching or coming close to doing so. The way the young men so easily fall for Rhen’s scheme is unbelievable, and the big labyrinth sequence didn’t really amaze or surprise me much. My interest waned during parts of it.

Nevertheless, as a YA novel featuring an ambitious heroine determined to flesh out her purpose against the odds, this is a worthwhile read.

 

Of Fire and Lions by Mesu Andrews

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Of Fire and Lions by Mesu Andrews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Exiled from Jerusalem. Bound to slavery in Babylon. And holding secrets that shackle her to shame. Belili has spent her long life surviving under the rule of Babylonian kings. But when her husband, Daniel, faces a fateful test in faithfulness to their God, Belili will have to decide between secrets and truth in Of Fire and Lions by author Mesu Andrews.

Although I’m not the quickest to jump at Biblical Fiction these days, this novel became a must-read for me from the moment I first heard about it. Yes, the obvious references in the title to the legendary fiery furnace and the lions’ den were a major factor, but it would also take some colossal kind of stubbornness for me to resist the book cover.

I mean, come on—a woman in vibrant red, sweeping her lengthy, soaring garment over the head of a lion with smoldering eyes and a mane ablaze with flames? How much more vivid artistry and dramatic allusion can you harmoniously fit into a book cover image?

So, yes, the immediate thematic presentation enticed me to read the novel, and Andrews is no novice when it comes to this genre. She illustrates so much in this dense story, including political intrigue and peril in the Babylonian court; the toll that untruths and bitterness can take on a family; life before and after the height of spiritual pinnacles; and some of the tragic irony of fulfilled prophecy.

Now, for much of the book, I had trouble following and connecting with the characters emotionally. With so many events (and years) to cover, the shifts from one incident to the next, and the character and emotional development within those shifts, felt choppy to me in a lot of places. Once I did get into the emotional flow later in the story, it almost became too depressing for me.

But the faith narrative of flawed people here is compelling, and the climax is powerful. If you’re a fan of Biblical ChristFic, this novel is one you won’t want to pass up.